§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sainsbury.]8.17 pm
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
During the last Adjournment debate that I initiated, on the subject of sporting links with South Africa, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment commenced his remarks by telling me that he felt that I had said some things which, in his words, were better left unsaid. Since we now have a fair amount of time for this debate, I hope that he will take ample opportunity, as possibly will other hon. Members, to explore this very relevant and important subject of the loss of playing fields and sports facilities.
I am particularly grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to enlarge upon this subject because of my deep disappointment that on 25 January I was allowed only a few minutes in which to introduce my Sports Fields and Recreational Facilities Bill. I was disappointed because of a seemingly deliberate Government tactic to prevent me from developing the argument. I was also disappointed because other hon. Members who wanted to speak were unable to do so. My disappointment was best summed up by Mr. Peter Lawson, the secretary of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, who referred to the Bill beingcallously talked out by indifferent and insensitive politicians.Many sportsmen and others cannot understand parliamentary procedure, and it is disappointing that a fairly modest Bill which would have cost the Government very little was deliberately talked out and now has very little chance of reaching the statute book. That is why I am particularly grateful for this opportunity, not to go over old ground again but to provide fresh evidence and, moreover, give my hon. Friend the opportunity to make a full and detailed reply.
At a time when relations between Parliament and sportsmen are probably at an all-time low because of the various controversies involving football hooliganism, the abolition of the Greater London council and the consequential uncertainty for sport and the controversy surrounding the Sports Council, it does this House no good if certain modest and reasonable Bills which have all-party support are prevented from being discussed on the Floor of the House. I hope that this Adjournment debate will give an opportunity to the Government and my hon. Friend to mend a few of the fences which were broken on the previous occasion. That is the first reason that I bring this subject to the attention of the House.
The second reason is the welter of correspondence that I have received since the Bill was launched in December and the mass of evidence that has been brought to my attention, to the attention of other hon. Members and to the CCPR of the real threat to our sports facilities and playing fields. There is a real danger that some of those facilities are being lost. Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that nobody seems to know, not even Her Majesty's Government, exactly how much land has been lost and what land is in danger of being developed.
Since the short debate on the Sports Fields and Recreational Facilities Bill, I have received numerous pieces of evidence from a mass of individuals and some fairly high-powered organisations. For example, the National Playing Fields Association has been in touch with 848 me, as has the London Sports Council; the National Council for Schools' Sports: Hampshire county council; Highgate Harriers athletics club, an old and famous club; the Football Association; the Association of Kent Cricket Clubs; numerous residents groups throughout the country, mainly from England but some from Wales; numerous parent-teacher associations, local councils and local councillors and numerous individuals from cities, towns and the countryside, all with a genuine fear that our sports fields and facilities are under threat from developers and that we in the House, and we as a Government, are not taking enough notice of that threat.
Let me quote three examples to illustrate my point. An article appeared in The Birmingham Post which will be of particular interest to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who I am pleased to see in his place on the Opposition Benches. A long article talks aboutThe lost fields of glory".It talks about the fight that various authorities and interested parties have been taking to Birmingham over the past few years and the rather desperate plight in which they now find themselves. As the article says:in the past five years they have been too late to save 10 industrial or social club football pitches"—"they" being the Sports Council—too late to stop four cricket squares and one rugby pitch from being ploughed up; too late to prevent 11 netball courts, three bowling greens and 21 tennis courts from closure; too late to rescue 43.3 acres of lost land in Birmingham 1972–80, 24.6 acres in Wolverhampton, four acres in Dudley, 11.1 acres in Sandwell, 11.5 acres in Walsall; nearly 100 acres in all. And these figures are by no means complete. They were supplied by industry—who, often the guilty party, was being asked to give evidence against itself.In the same article the local area chairman, Judith Mackay, is quoted as saying:We must take aggressive action to preserve and improve. And people must be alert to possible closures. One borough council asked us what we knew about one site and it was discovered by accident that five or six others were in jeopardy.I do not believe that Birmingham is an isolated case in the instances that I have just listed.
I received a letter from the British Amateur Rugby League Association which, again, will be of particular interest to my hon. Friend the Minister, who I believe was at the magnificent rugby league cup final on Saturday.
§ Mr. Carlisle
It may well have been. I accept that from the hon. Gentleman.
In a letter to me dated 25 January 1985 the British Amateur Rugby League Association said:One of our major problems has been acquiring playing fields to cope with our phenomenal growth in recent years, and I know that many other sports also have difficulties in acquiring playing fields.The third quote I received only this evening from the chairman of Chelsea football club, from where I was prevented from going to watch my team, Luton, in action by the earliness of this debate. I spoke to Ken Bates, the chairman, who has been in correspondence with me about the Bill and who has expressed his disappointment that the Government did not see fit to give it more time. He says:We owe it to succeeding generations to preserve our playing facilities at all levels of the game.That is from the chairman of one of the most successful first division sides in the country.
849 Finally, let me quote the words of my hon. Friend the Minister at the CCPR conference on 23 November 1981 in Bournemouth, when he talked about land use. He said:We must all use our imagination, With land, for example, that precious resource we must harbour for our and future generations, we must keep and make the most of what we have. We must also watch opportunities for extending our stock. For example, there is sometimes available land of apparently poor potential; that is small or oddly shaped and of little use to the conventional builder or developer. This land may well be sold cheaply and could then be used for a range of sporting activities—squash courts, or urban ski slopes, kick-about areas or playgrounds.I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember that well and I think that every hon. Member will support those words.
Of the various powerful lobbies that have brought evidence before me, the two most powerful are the CCPR, which I have already mentioned, and the Sports Council. At the annual general meeting of the CCPR about two weeks ago the matter was brought up yet again. In his report at that meeting, the chairman again emphasised the sale of so-called surplus playing fields and the CCPR's alarm that that matter was not being closely monitored by the Government. That particular meeting was presided over by His Royal Highness Prince Philip. He is an interested party in this subject and is also president of the National Playing Fields Association.
The chairman of the CCPR, speaking with the authority that he does, has time after time brought the matter, as indeed has the CCPR, to the attention of hon. Members and the Government. They have fought and instigated a vigorous campaign which resulted in a document which they circulated to all hon. Members, called "Sports Fields at Risk".
The CCPR also has a national register which in 1982 reported that some 2,370 acres were on the land register for disposal, and within a year another 1,277 acres were added to that survey. The estimated acreage now is some 5,500 which is on the register of land subject to disposal. The CCPR has for some time urged the Government to remove that land from the land register. I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend has to say about that. Suffice it to say that vast tracts of land are at risk because they are on the land register.
Of course not every acre and playing field could justifiably be kept for sports facilities, but those figures show the magnitude of the problem that we face. In the "Sports Fields at Risk" pamphlet, the CCPR concentrates almost entirely on falling rolls in schools. It quoted DES figures that between 1983 and 1990 rolls will fall by some 23 per cent. in the secondary sector. There is no doubt that local education authorities, under the DES instruction of pamphlet 909, are considering selling more land now for building than ever before.
We should not be surprised at that, given the falling rolls. I understand that some fields are bound to come up for reasonable disposal. But what worries me is that when the numbers start to rise again, as they will—there is already some sign of that—some sports fields and facilities will have been developed and will be concrete for ever.
I am also worried that in some inner city and urban areas children whose only fields are school sports fields will, when that school closes, find that a blade of grass is almost a rarity, which people have only in their gardens. 850 Space in towns and cities must be conserved. It is a sad fact that the Inner London education authority is bussing children out of town because no space for games is available near their schools.
Another powerful lobby, the Sports Council, has expressed concern about the Minister's co-operation. I add my tribute to that of the Minister to the retiring chairman, Mr. Dick Jeeps, who spoke up for sportsmen and for their freedom to play wherever they want to play. He was a tireless worker and will be a great loss to the Sports Council. I regret the manner of his going. But perhaps we should not discuss that tonight. He will be sorely missed and it is unfortunate that he thought it necessary to resign.
The Sports Council produced in 1984 a document on the loss of industrial sports grounds and set out the targets that should be acknowledged as interest in sport grows. For example, about 3 million people play soccer—and the numbers are rising. In almost every town and village all the available pitches are used fully. In Birmingham, 44 pitches are still needed by the Birmingham football association.
The Football Association says that in 1971 a total of 36,904 clubs were members. In 1980, the last year for which figures are available, membership had risen to 39,730 clubs. The Rugby Football Union reported a membership in 1965 of fewer than 1,000 clubs. In 1979 it reported 1,840 clubs as members. If sports fields continue to disappear and be developed, the need for them will outstrip the facilities, particularly as the amount of leisure available increases alongside the popularity of the sports.
The Sports Council, funded by the taxpayers, states in its document:The basic conclusion is that the loss of one strategically located playing field can be critically important.A field which is no longer available is lost forever.
We should look ahead and hope for constructive movements. I salute the Government's attempts, through the Sports Council, to make people more active in sport, but the facilities must be made available. It is nonsense to spend £500,000 on encouraging people to be active in sport when pitches are being lost to the developers. We must take account of the increasing number of school leavers who will want sports facilities. All our citizens are bound to have more leisure time. We must consider the health of our citizens. The Government are trying to promote healthy activities, but they must provide facilities for the various sports.
We must also think about conservation. The Wildlife and Countryside Act is popular and well used. It has conserved parts of the country that would have been lost without it. Perhaps special parcels of land should be set aside for sport so that they cannot be built upon. In terms of national prestige I am also worried about the quality of our national games, particularly those played upon grass fields. If pitches are not available that must have some effect on how well we do.
I support the Government stance on the Olympic games. It would be a great fillip to sport if the Olympic games came to Britain, but it would be a shame if the number of pitches and fields available on which people can train were reduced.
No one seems to know exactly what the problem is. No Government Department has been able to tell me what acreage of school playing fields has been lost. I pay tribute 851 to the initiatives taken industrially with the 100 firms. However, the Government should not be remembered for losing playing fields and other sports facilities for ever.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I disagree deeply with the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) on a number of issues, but tonight he has done a considerable service to the House by choosing this subject and by the manner in which he has described some difficult problems.
I am a member of the main organising committee of the 1986 Commonwealth games in Edinburgh. My capacity is not merely honorary, because I have attended all but one of the meetings and I have taken my membership extremely seriously.
I must say bluntly that bids for hosting the Olympic games—whether by Manchester, Birmingham or London—will be harmed unless we can be sure that the Commonwealth games will be organised efficiently in the best British tradition. It will do no one a disservice if I say that that is in doubt. I speak frankly as a member of the organising committee, with butterflies in my stomach about what will happen in 1986.
My right hon. Friend for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and I went to many of the functions and events organised in 1970. We were relaxed because we thought that the Edinburgh games would be a success. I pay tribute to Sir Herbert Brechin, who was chairman of the games committee, and others. We never had any doubts that on the day all would be well. However, today, a year ahead, I have a queasy feeling about the 1986 games. Does the Minister share the uncomfortable feelings and suspicions that all might not be well on the day?
There are a number of issues involved, one being the vexed question of the velodrome. Rightly or wrongly, it has been open to the wind and rain and is warped. I have seen it and I know that it is unsafe in anything like its present condition. It will not be acceptable to cyclists riding at any speed. Does the Minister share our concern? If so, what should be done? If we do nothing, either we will come into disrepute not only with the cycling fraternity but with many others who believed that Edinburgh could provide the facilities. We need a new velodrome, which must be covered at considerable expense or it will go the same way as the present velodrome in the Scottish climate. We must face the fact that we cannot have an open-air velodrome. That means money with a capital M——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I realise that the hon. Gentleman is raising an important point, but it is a little wide of the subject of the Adjournment. The Minister might find it difficult to reply to his points. Perhaps he could relate his remarks to the subject of the Adjournment, which is the loss of sports and recreational facilities.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I understand your ruling, you will appreciate that all the facilities to be provided for the Commonwealth games and, if we have them, the Olympic games, will be designed and intended for the recreation of the mass of ordinary people. Therefore, the subject of the velodrome to be provided for the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh must be important to the recreational needs of Scotland. I ask you to consider that aspect.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will be able to link his remarks to the subject of the Adjournment.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The subject on the Order Paper is the loss of sports and recreational facilities. I am talking about the loss of a velodrome, which is definitely a sports and recrational facility. Because of a whole series of circumstances and because of an unwillingness to pay the money to cover the velodrome last time around, we now have an unsatisfactory velodrome. Are we to turn to our Commonwealth partners and say, "Sorry, we cannot afford to do anything about it."? At the end of the day, the reputation of the British people and the Government are at stake. If we say sorry to the cyclists at this stage, questions will be raised about our fitness to provide facilities. I emphasise that it is no good bidding for the Olympic games if we have a smudge on our copy book because we have not provided the promised facilities for the Commonwealth games.
I do not want to go into the problems of facilities for boxing and various other sports, unless the Minister would like to say something about that. The problems are real, but the subject may be out of order. However, it is legitimate to raise a matter that worries the organising committee of the Commonwealth games. What happens if, at the last moment, Commonwealth countries decide to pull out of the games because of the New Zealand rugby tour? It is high time—and the sooner the better—that the Government made it clear to the New Zealand Government that we disapprove of the rugby tour of South Africa——
§ Mr. Dalyell
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a different view, but I am entitled to say that we are concerned about a fiasco at the last moment. I want to know what the Minister thinks about it. There is only a year to go and time is not on our side.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), amid some ribaldry during Question Time this afternoon because he was thought to be paddling a Scottish canoe, said that if there was a bid for the Olympic games we should do what other countries have done and have some of the events 400 or 500 miles away from the main centre—as, indeed, happened at Los Angeles. I support the serious bid by Manchester, which I visited recently. There is a considerable argument for staging the Olympic games in a city in the north of England. However, I hope that serious thought will be given to the possibility of spreading some of the events.
I have known Colonel Satterthwaite since my Army days and I pay tribute to him for what he has done. At one stage he had the dubious distinction of being my commanding officer. I think highly of him. For more than 30 years he has played a great part in the provision of facilities. Like the hon. Member for Luton, North, I have listened to his arguments and I hope that the work of the National Playing Fields Association will be fully supported. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the CCPR and the falling rolls—a problem that has been fully explained by our mutual friend, Mr. Peter Lawson.
853 I was attracted by the hon. Gentleman's idea of SSSIs. Planning permission for valuable community land is far too easily given by local authorities of all parties, which should know better, for short-term financial gain.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that in many cases unfortunate decisions are made by the Secretaries of State on appeal. In several cases where local authorities have been against development, the Secretary of State concerned allowed the development to go ahead. That is why the Government should be involved.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I know of two such cases, and it was wrong of the Secretaries of State involved to give assent to development plans. They involved traditional sporting facilities in communities, and one was the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is no good saying that there are alternatives, because they all take time.
I echo the question posed by the hon. Member for Luton, North. What about SSSIs for sporting facilities? Together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath I spent 100 hours of my life in the Committee stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and I know the difficulty of SSSIs, but, given the frailty of certain local authorities and certain Secretaries of State—and not confined to one party—there is an argument for SSSIs. I do not expect the Minister to produce an answer off the top of his head tonight, but it is an idea worth consideration.
I do not want to rub salt in the wounds, because I know that the Scottish Conservative party conference is taking place and I do not want to take advantage of grief. The West Lothian county cricket club ground at Bogfall, which is a modest ground with small attendances, is paying twice the rates of the place where I shall be making a speech on Monday evening—the city of Worcester. Worcester has a famous county cricket ground that welcomes the Australians and heaven knows who else, but it pays half the rates of the modest Linlithgow ground.
This is not the time to go into the problem of Scottish rating, but there is a heck of a problem for junior football clubs, cricket clubs and other sporting facilities that are being hit amidships by the level of rates. However, if anyone could have offered comforting words on that subject, it would have been done before now. I cannot restrain myself from saying that it is a very real problem for sporting facilities in Scotland.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
I was pleased to be a co-sponsor of the Sports Fields and Recreational Facilities Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) presented some weeks ago. In that measure, he sought to establish a form of registration of sporting land, and I entirely support his concern for the protection of land that is suitable or is currently being used for sporting and recreational purposes.
In a climate of high unemployment—a social problem that will be with us for a long time—the ability to offer the people an outlet for their energies by way of sporting activities is a small but important way of easing the depressing burden of enforced idleness due to unemployment.
854 I accept that not all land is being used properly. I have no doubt that, on careful inquiry, it might be found that some land is surplus to requirements or is unsuitable. However, we should handle this issue with the greatest care because land currently being used for recreational purposes, once lost is extremely difficult to bring back into that use.
I particularly draw the attention of the Minister to what I can only describe as the extraordinary activities—I am being remarkably polite in using that phraseology—of my county council in Nottinghamshire. A memorandum in October 1983 said:As you know, neither the Chairman of the Education Committee nor the Director of Education is aware of the investigations which have been taking place.In a letter, one of the officers wrote:No site has been discussed with the District Councils and it is quite possible, therefore, that these proposals may well conflict with the thoughts and ideas of the District Councils.I was one of those district councillors. I was indeed highly surprised at the outcome of those so-called investigations and the bald announcement that large areas of land in my area were up for grabs. Many of them were school playing fields that were properly being used for sport and recreation, and they should continue in that use. Happily, some of our district councils have used the planning mechanism to ensure that that little subterfuge did not become a practical reality, at least not in large measure.
Precisely because of that behind-closed-doors practice, which is still possible, we must seek from the Minister some way of protecting ourselves against the loss of sporting and recreational land in that way. We talk of local automony, local democracy and so on. Nevertheless, this place must have a role in national policy in this sphere and must offer hon. Members a means by which we can protect ourselves if and when a local authority abuses the autonomy that it is given. There must be a means by which we can say, "That is unreasonable. That is unjust. You are selling land in your area that is rightly reserved for recreation."
It was reasonable, therefore, for my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North to seek a mechanism by which the public at large would be aware of the existence of a register of land designated for sport and recreation. Then, if a local authority—it would be acting properly in certain circumstances—claimed that certain land was surplus, that would be public knowledge, there would be public discussion and the ultimate decision would be reasonable and fair and be seen to be so. At present, under existing legislation, that protection is not available because there is no such register. I know what happened in my county. I would not wish it to happen elsewhere.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) on taking advantage of the opportunity to widen the scope of the Adjournment debate that he has initiated. I also congratulate him on following through from his unfortunate experience with his private Member's Bill.
We have far too few debates on sport, as I know from experience. I am sure that the Minister shares that view. Indeed, it does not help Ministers if pressure is not placed on them by hon. Members and if insufficient interest is shown in the whole subject.
As we are discussing recreational facilities for the broad mass of the people, I can tell the House from experience 855 that sport is a cultural pursuit—it is the people's culture—which attracts the excitement and attention of a greater proportion of the population than is attracted to any other leisure pursuit, and I define "sport" in terms of recreation, too. We are, therefore, grateful to the hon. Member for Luton, North not only for providing this opportunity but for raising half a dozen or more subjects of considerable interest.
I join him in expressing appreciation to Mr. Dick Jeeps for his work as chairman of the Sports Council. He was originally appointed by me. He brought a breath of fresh air into that organisation and we are grateful to him for that. The hon. Gentleman referred to Mr. Jeeps' comments about sportsmen playing wherever they wished to play. I am not sure that in public Mr. Jeeps went as far as the hon. Gentleman suggested, although in private he may well have done so, and that is the one reservation I have about his chairmanship. Nevertheless, the House should express its appreciation to him, as I do from the Labour Benches and as I am sure the Minister will.
The Minister will forgive me for saying that if the newspaper reports are accurate about Mr. Jeeps' successor, we on these Benches will be glad to welcome him. When I was Minister, Mr. John Smith produced an outstanding report on the future of lawn tennis. He is chairman of one of the most successful football league clubs and is a business man of great acumen.
I do not ask the Minister to comment on whether the rumours are right, in advance of his statement tomorrow, but if the rumours are right, as I believe them to be, we shall be fortunate to get Mr. Smith to give time for the chairmanship of the Sports Council. We wish him well and assure him of our support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised two important points concerning the Olympic games and the Commonwealth games. I have always believed that one cannot divorce the relationship between sport at the highest echelons—the winning at that level of gold medals and the rest—from the inspirational effect that that has for large numbers of youngsters at the grass roots of society. The two aspects are linked.
Whenever Britain has been successful in sporting events—recently, we had four distinguished gold medal winners in ice skating events and, going back to my days as Minister, I recall when Ann Jones won at Wimbledon—there has been an upsurge of interest in sport. The tragedy is that we are not prepared to provide the necessary facilities for people who think, "If Torvill and Dean can win a gold medal, perhaps I should have a go at that." The justification for Britain's participation in international sport—apart from the fact that it inspires pride in our country, establishes goodwill internationally and sets standards—has always been the inspiration to play sport that it creates throughtout the land, and that should not be taken lightly. Britain's bid for the Olympic games, in which, I believe, the Under-Secretary of State is very much involved, is justified on the ground that the games will create enormous interest and result in new facilities.
It is important to consider who will finance the games, which may cost several hundreds of millions of pounds. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State says that he would like a private enterprise Olympic games, as was the case in Los Angeles. That is why the hon. Gentleman has supported the proposal and has encouraged various cities, including London, to bid for the games. One would hope 856 that private money would be raised to finance the games, but an enormous amount of public money must also be found and decisions of great public importance must be made. Each of the cities involved in the bidding—whether it is London, Birmingham, Manchester or anywhere else—is short on infrastructure and facilities. It will cost a great deal of money to provide them. For example, London has nowhere to put a village. It would have to build a village capable of housing between 16,000 and 18,000 people. That would require public investment. That was the point that I was trying to make during Question Time today. Even if London has the necessary stadiums and private enterprise facilities, an enormous amount of public investment is still required.
The bid to host the Olympic games will not be taken seriously until the Government state their intentions with regard to providing opportunities and infrastructure. The Government's silence on those matters has createc great concern.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned those cities that are bidding to host the Olympic games. I join him in hoping that Britain succeeds. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in putting Nottingham's claims to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State? That city—the "queen of the midlands"—has the national water sports centre and has the ability to be the venue for three of the Olympic disciplines. It does not need a penny to be spent on infrastructure, because the infrastructure is already there.
§ Mr. Howell
As I was partly responsible for the decision to site the national water sports centre in Nottingham, I fully endorse the hon. Gentleman's point. We are unlikely to be able to hold the rowing and canoeing events in a city other than Nottingham. Nottingham is bound to play a central role. A word of warning is necessary, however. It is a city that must bid for the Olympic games. With the exception of the rowing and canoeing events, possibly the shooting and equestrian events and the yachting events, which obviously cannot take place in a city but must take place near a coastal area, the International Olympic Committee will expect all events to be held within a city. The IOC will expect one village and not two, as was the case in Los Angeles, to be created. That is why I referred earlier to the siting of an Olympic village. I think that what happened in this respect in Los Angeles will never be repeated.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
I regret that I was not in the House this afternoon at Question Time, but I was helping to open a sports facility at Flitwick in my constituency. Will the right hon. Gentleman allay the fears that some of us have about some of his earlier reported remarks? When it was mooted that the Olympic games should come to a British city, he gave the impression that he was somewhat against the idea. Can we have his categorical assurance that he would fully support the British Olympic Association and any part that the Government may have to play if the Olympic games were to come to this country?
§ Mr. Howell
I do not know why Conservative Members persist in leading with their chins. The hon. Gentleman has done so. I shall support the bid and in 1979 when I was the Minister responsible for sport I said that the British Olympic Association's bid to bring the games to this country had the Government's full support. I do not 857 blame the Minister, but the incoming Conservative Government promptly ditched that bid. If they had not done so, we should have had the 1988 Olympic games, which are due to be held in Seoul. The Conservative Government were completely opposed to the idea and refused to support the British Olympic Association. I do not want to go over history. I am glad of the conversion and I support the bid.
The hon. Member for Luton, North may have misunderstood my comments. There is some scepticism in the world of sport about the ability of anywhere, except possibly Barcelona, to hold the 1992 games. Barcelona is the home town of the president of the International Olympic Committee. He is likely to retire in 1992 and he is committed to having the games in his country in that year. I understand that.
I fully support the bid, if it is a practical proposition, but I think one is entitled to express realism or scepticism.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow for mentioning the Edinburgh games. We are back to the essential problem of the Olympic bid—what money are the Government prepared to put into the games? My hon. Friend kindly mentioned the 1970 games with which I was considerably involved. The Labour Government gave financial support. The existing stadium—not the swimming pool which, to its credit, Edinburgh council built—and the velodrome were the result of considerable Government investment.
As I understand it, the Government have not offered a penny to Edinburgh for the 1986 games, and have no intention of doing so. That is not the way to convince the world that we are serious about international sport. Some things are rightly left to private enterprise. I am not against that, but I am against them being left completely to private enterprise.
The Minister should ensure that funds are available for the velodrome, which is a matter of great anxiety. It will be a tragedy if those facilities are not provided. I know that the Minister is as anxious as we are that the games should succeed. I ask him to intervene, and if funds are a difficulty, to ensure that the problems are quickly overcome. It is not asking too much of the Government that they should put some money into facilities for the Edinburgh games.
I shall not comment at length about what my hon. Friend said about the New Zealand rugby tour. I am not sure that he is being as fair to the New Zealand Government as he should be. No Government could have been more forthright. In conference, the Commonwealth Prime Ministers have twice asserted their support for the Gleneagles agreement and the importance of maintaining it. It is no credit to the Rugby Football Union that it persists in following a selfish attitude.
§ Mr. Howell
Of course people are free to take their own decisions, but freedom means accepting responsibilities as well as asserting liberties. The difficulty with the RFU is that it asserts its liberties but refuses to accept responsibility for the state of sport within the Commonwealth or for any sport other than its own.
That is a lamentable situation.
I deal next with some of the important points that were raised by the hon. Member for Luton, North. I can endorse 858 almost all that he said. I am grateful to him for referring to the Birmingham experience. A large number of sports grounds have been lost in the area. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Ottaway) made an important point in giving his experience, particularly with regard to planning refusals.
Nothing like enough is being done by planning committees, and certainly by Ministers and Government, to assert the importance of green belt and open space land. When planning requirements are being considered, the role of open space in an urban situation, particularly for people living in towns and cities, is a matter of cardinal importance at an inquiry. I must accept a little responsibility because I served as a Minister at the Department of the Environment, so I am in no way trying to make a point against the Minister in party terms. However, we do not assert sufficiently the need, when inquiries are being held, to include in the equation the community good and the importance of open spaces, playing fields or sports fields.
Industrial sports fields in Birmingham have been lost mainly because industrial sports on a Saturday afternoon are no longer as important as they were when people worked a five-and-a-half-day week before the last war. There has been an enormous change in the number of industrial sports fields. To go back almost 20 years, an inquiry into these matters was conducted by a member of the Sports Council. I asked an eminent executive of ICI, Bob Gibb, to conduct it. We might do well to take the Gibb report on industrial sports fields out of the pigeon hole and consider it again. Its theme was that when a sports field becomes surplus to the use of the employees of a firm, it should go the community as a whole. He also said, rightly, that industrial sports fields should not just be open air, but the concepts of an industrial sports club must include the provision of indoor facilities.
I hope that the Minister will tell the House that he can do something to instruct planning committees and inspectors to take into account the recreational needs of the community as a whole when taking their decisions.
The Government got into difficulties when they issued a recent circular to education authorities and universities instructing them to sell off their surplus land. In an urban situation there cannot be any such surplus sports land at a time when 4 million people are unemployed. The need for a leisure service is greater now than it has ever been in the history of the country. How can we talk about football hooliganism on the one hand, which is an inevitable result of the boredom of the unemployed in society——
§ Mr. Howell
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman. If one makes an analysis of many of the people who get into trouble, one will discover that this occurs because the discipline of work and of the workplace no longer exists in their lives.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I challenge what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He stated that football hooliganism was almost a direct result of unemployment. He will understand, because he is much travelled and is experienced in these matters, that in the worst unemployment areas, particularly in the north and sometimes in Scotland, the amount of football hooliganism relative to the the population is tiny. All the 859 problems that have arisen in the last few months in particular have been in the south. How does the right hon. Gentleman relate the lower unemployment rate in the south and the higher unemployment rate in the north to what he has just said?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We are going rather wide of the Adjournment debate, which is about the loss of facilities.
§ Mr. Howell
The problems last Saturday with Manchester City supporters in the hon. Gentleman's constituency had nothing to do with the south of England. That adequately answers the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It could not have had anything to do with the south of England because Notts County was playing Manchester City. The hon. Gentleman will not deny that vandalism and associated problems are on the increase. This debate is about whether we have the facilities, whether they are available to the public and whether we have leadership. It cannot help the 4 million unemployed to sell educational playing fields. I would be astonished if the hon. Gentleman denied that. That is the simple point which I have sought to make in this part of our discussions. I am glad to see from the hon. Gentleman that at least we have reached agreement again.
I shall now deal with the pricing policy of many local authorities for facilities. Although we are debating the loss of facilities, the Government's policy on rates, which effectively prices out the people whom we wish to attract to our sports facilities, is doing no good. I hope that the Minister will think it right to take an initiative on that. Unless we see sport as a social service to the whole community, in the same way as the health and education services are, we shall never get the matter right. It depends on pricing policy.
Many people have come to see me, including some Manchester United supporters. I asked them why they got into trouble, and they replied that they wanted to play five-a-side football but none of the local sports halls would let them in because they could not afford the high charges. Pricing policy is an important aspect of sports halls, swimming baths and similar facilities.
I now come to the rating policy, from which we are suffering. In Birmingham we have recently had an action sport programme. It was well thought out, and designed to have sporting leaders, such as great athletes, going out into local communities to persuade people to use the facilities and to be active. In answer to a question earlier today, the Minister or one of his colleagues said that all our programmes were pump-priming exercises. The Government get them on the road and then hand them over to local authorities. The Sports Council suddenly told Birmingham city council that, although it had paid the whole cost last year, it would pay 50 per cent. this year, 25 per cent. next year and nothing thereafter. That would be all right if Birmingham could spend what it wanted to spend on the programmes within its rate resources. However, a Department of State has told the council that it cannot do that, and that if it does, that Department will rate-cap it and ensure that it limits its expenditure. There is an inherent contradiction in the social policies that the Government wish to follow and the rating policy which prevents local authorities from following that same policy. I do not want to be party political——
§ Mr. Howell
All the most intelligent statements come from the Labour party, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I am seeking to raise genuine problems, which I hope the Minister will consider. Certainly, rating is a matter of the greatest importance.
Another aspect of rating policy——
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicester, North-West)
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that rating is a matter of priorities? The local authority must work out its priorities. If it works them out badly and goes over the limits, it will be rate-capped. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is false.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the House will not get into a debate about rating policy, which is wide of the subject of the Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Howell
You will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I move on to the removal of buses to take school children to playing fields and swimming pools, how related those matters are. It is no good having swimming baths if the local authority cannot afford to transport children to them. That is happening in my constituency. School after school is writing to me and saying, "Because of the restrictions on rating expenditure, the education department has told us that our children cannot go to the playing fields or swimming baths." I simply relate the problem without dwelling on it for too long.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
The right hon. Gentleman is using the licence of the Chair to an extraordinary extent. Nottinghamshire county council is seeking to prevent children from non-maintained schools—private sector schools—from using swimming baths, playing fields or other facilities that their parents have paid for through rates and taxes. The loss of school buses has nothing to do with the problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) said, the priorities are in the hand of the local authority, which has thoroughly abused them.
§ Mr. Howell
I do not understand the language that the hon. Gentleman is using. If what I said has nothing to do with the problem, why is he raising it? Why is he telling us that the action of Nottinghamshire county council is adversely affecting those people? I shall acquaint myself with the problem, because the leader of Nottinghamshire county council used to be a councillor in my constituency. He is a good friend of mine and I shall talk to him about the matter. I believe that all schoolchildren should be encouraged to use facilities for physical education——
§ Mr. Howell
I cannot give way again, because I have given way many times. I am glad to provide this seminar for Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Howell
I am glad to hear that, but I shall not give way, because I wish to move on from playing fields and swimming baths——
§ Mr. Howell
No. I am a good referee, and once I have taken a decision I, like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, stand firm. I do not wish to produce yellow or red cards.
I commend to the Minister the policy in Birmingham, in the hope that he will review it sympathetically. The city council has just decided—it is a magnificent all-party decision—that the use of schools and educational facilities outside school time should be the responsibility of the leisure services department. The Minister and I have made many speeches about the importance of educational facilities being used outside school hours and at weekends. I am glad to report to the House that Birmingham has agreed such a policy. There will be difficulties with the present financial climate, but the policy is that all Birmingham schools, playing fields and swimming pools can be used by the entire community at all times outside school hours. We should be grateful for the lead of Mr. Demian, the director of leisure resources in Birmingham, and for the fact that the proposal has been taken up enthusiastically by party leaders on both sides of the council.
§ Mr. Ashby
It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman has said that Birmingham is trying to encourage all school children to use the facilities. Will he prevail on the Greater London council, particularly the Inner London education authority, to do exactly the same? The GLC has what is really an apartheid policy, in that if one is in the state system, one may use all the facilities, but if one is outside the state system, one does not have a hope. Can we not have equal treatment, because, after all, children are children? Will the right hon. Gentleman prevail on the Labour ILEA to do the same for all children?
§ Mr. Howell
I am sorry that I gave way, because it is obvious that the hon. Gentleman was referring not to the point that I was on, but to the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). I shall comment on it only to say that I shall acquaint myself with the problem, which I undertook to do with the hon. Member for Nottingham, South as well.
It is not for us in the House fully to endorse the policy of any one local authority. However, a local authority has now decided unanimously, on an all-party basis, to endorse, after all these years, the very policies that we have been putting forward, to ensure that school facilities are used, and opened up for the adult population at times other than school time. I hope that the Minister will find it possible to say a word of support.
I should like to refer to children's play. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said about Colonel Bob Satterthwaite and his wonderful work with the National Playing Fields Association. That organisation has embraced the needs of children's play. The Minister has been coy recently about that area. I remember the Prime Minister making a statement that the hon. Gentleman would be specifically responsible for children's play in future. That announcement was made 862 about two years ago, since when not one word has been uttered about it as far as I can trace. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."] I am pleased to hear it.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)
Where has the right hon. Gentleman been?
§ Mr. Howell
I have been watching the Minister, which is probably why I have not heard anything.
If the Minister has been active in the area, perhaps he can tell us what initiatives have been taken to extend play facilities for children around the country. As the National Playing Fields Association does not feel that much has been achieved, I hope that the Minister can set its mind at rest. Only three weeks ago I went to a conference in another part of the House, in which Colonel Bob Satterthwaite was a leading participant, speaking on this subject. He gave instance after instance of the effect of rate support grant policies on the withdrawal of playing facilities for children. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman has been active and if there is a good story to tell, by now it should have percolated to the National Playing Fields Association and others in that area. I am happy to raise the matter now so that the Minister can inform us about what is happening.
This has been an interesting opportunity to raise many matters that are of mutual concern, even if we do not entirely agree on everything. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Luton, North for raising the matter, and giving the Minister the opportunity to reply in detail to the many points that have been raised.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)
I checked the Order Paper for 8 May 1985, and began to wonder where I should have been tonight. It states:On the Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 1 Mr. John Carlisle proposes to raise the subject of the loss of sports and recreational facilities.That is a most important subject. Many equally important subjects have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but they will understand that the most important element and main thrust of the debate is the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle).
My hon. Friend has pursued the matter for some time. He feels passionately about it. I regret that a certain air of levity has entered into the debate with one or two comments by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). He must understand that one of the first things that I shall do is to ask my officials to guarantee that between 1964 and 1970, and 1974 and 1979, not one half an acre of land was lost for alternative development purposes. That is one of the most important things that I shall check.
I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North and by the right hon. Member for Small Heath about the chairman of the Sports Council. I wish to be associated with their comments, and those remarks in the media should not be pursued too far. I regret that Mr. Jeeps is resigning and we all wish him well.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has raised a number of points, and it is difficult for me to comment in too much detail on them. I have been to Edinburgh twice in the past 21 months, given the concern 863 of Kenneth Borthwick and his committee, to have a look at the various facilities. The hon. Member for Linlithgow understands the roles of the Scottish Office and my Department in this and he knows that I should like to have an update to see where things stand and how things are. I guarantee to pass on his comments to my hon. Friend in the Scottish Office and to try to find out a little more about the programme. I understand the urgency in all this and I wish to try to find out from the organising committee what its views of his comments are, because that is important.
Like the right hon. Member for Small Heath, I do not wish to be party political. However, there must inevitably be a question mark whenever there is extremism in county hall or city halls. There must be mounting anxiety about some people who have made observations and comments, and we see that in a number of city halls.
I shall not comment about the effect of rugby tours because it is too early to do so. The British Lions tour is due to take place in South Africa next year and a tour by the All Blacks may take place next year. That will undoubtedly force its attention on members of the Commonwealth, but I am satisfied that the Government do all that they can to ensure that everybody understands that the Government are full supporters of the Gleneagles declaration. I understand the hon. Member for Linlithgow's concern about these things, but I cannot comment because I am not up-to-date about the precise preparations for the various facilities on which he touched. I shall find out a little more and come back to him later.
§ Mr. Dalyell
When the hon. Gentleman goes on his visit, will he have a quiet, listening meeting with the Edinburgh district council? It is all very well to talk about extremism in city halls, but they have extreme problems. I assure the hon. Gentleman that Alec Wood and his colleagues have a serious point of view to put. The Minister should listen and talk to them.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I listen and talk to everybody who is elected. Sometimes, the vibrations of the actions of people in city halls can have an adverse effect and give rise to failure and lack of confidence, as my hon. Friends would agree.
Many matters have been raised this evening. I cannot comment on all of them, because my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) has caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and is to introduce an Adjournment debate on a subject that interests him. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North has rightly drawn some specific matters to the attention of the House. Like him, I am anxious to ensure that the Sports Council and the provision of opportunities for sport and recreation today meet the needs of the communities. We are all familiar with the growth in the demand for all manner of sporting activities. We all welcome the increasing participation in recent years, as everyone's leisure time has expanded. We recognise the benefits for the community in health, fitness and sheer enjoyment. As the right hon. Member for Small Heath said, it is the people's culture.
The Government have made clear their commitment to help meet this important need, particularly in the deprived urban and rural areas, so I understand the broader anxieties behind the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North shares our concern that there should be adequate facilities for local communities. The debate is not about 864 aims and concerns, because we share them. It is about gaining a balanced assessment of overall provision, taking account of the gains and losses of facilities to gauge the nature and level of a problem about which my hon. Friend has talked, which is undoubtedly real in some areas and situation. I do not deny that for a moment.
My hon. Friend has concentrated on the losses, but we must also consider the general context. He gave a graphic illustration of the losses in Birmingham, as did the right hon. Member for Small Heath, but from my knowledge of that excellent city I should have thought that what the city council has achieved more than compensates for the losses. There are some superb new facilities which automatically reduce the net loss.
All the providers of facilities in this country—the the public and private sectors, the voluntary movement, and so on—are united in the aim to achieve more and better facilities and opportunities for sport and recreation. The common efforts have been successful and we must all strive to ensure that that trend continues. There are more and better facilities in this country than there were 20 years ago when some of us here today were more actively and pleasantly employed participating in sport on a regular basis.
For example, we now have the better part of 1,000 public swimming pools and more than 1,000 indoor sports halls of more than 26 m by 16.5 m. In 1970, there were only 24 sports centres in the whole of England. There are now 27 ice rinks, a net gain of 10 since 1970. We have 66 synthetic athletics tracks compared with 12 in 1970, and 210 purpose-built tennis courts compared with 100 in 1970. We now have 50 all-weather artificial grass pitches. In 1970 there were none. There are also many non-grass artificial pitches. We now have more than 1,000 golf courses, 185 indoor bowls halls and 65 artificial ski slopes. It seems that we are now tending to go indoors.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
I acknowledge those improvements; both Governments can take pride in the additional facilities that have been provided. My hon. Friend will, acknowledge, however, that some of our great national sports—including cricket, his own first love—need grass pitches. Does he agree that if those grass pitches disappear, the compensation offered by indoor or all-weather pitches will not necessarily produce champions in those sports?
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I sympathise with that observation and I shall come to it in a moment. I wish to emphasise the Government's record, which I am sure is important to my hon. Friend and indeed to the whole House.
First, I remind the House that we have increased the Sports Council grant from £15 million in 1979 to more than £30 million in 1985—a cash increase of more than 100 per cent. In addition, there has been a substantial investment in sport and recreation facilities through my Department's urban programme and other relevant programmes such as the derelict land scheme. Such investment is currently about £35 million per year. More than 1,700 facilities have been built with the aid of central Government funds in the last two years alone.
Of course, the major contribution to providing new and improved facilities has come from local authorities and from the efforts of voluntary bodies and the private sector. In sport and recreation we can still find a common thrust uniting all sectors of the population which I am sure many 865 of us would like to see repeated in other areas of endeavour. The private sector, too, has risen to the challenge of increased demand for provision—both on its own and in partnership with the public sector. Excellent examples of recreation provision for all ages and interests are Thorpe Park and Alton Towers and partnership schemes include the new docklands arena and the Westminster children's sports centre.
As the House knows, there has been a particular growth in minority sports. Traditionally, when most of us were at school we played football or rugby and cricket and did some running when it rained. There was not much variety, but nowadays the range of opportunity is almost endless. When the right hon. Member for Small Heath first came to office he probably grant aided about 20 sports. There are now more than 140 governing bodies of sport. This is reflected in the diversity of sports grant aided by the Sports Council. We recognise 150 governing bodies of sport and other sporting bodies such as the British Olympic Association, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, the Sports Aid Foundation and the National Playing Fields Association. I, too, pay tribute to Colonel Satterthwaite and I am much relieved to know that the background of the hon. Member for Linlithgow includes a spell of service under his excellent leadership.
Current grants to governing bodies for 1983–84 totalled £5.8 million for administration, coaching, training and international competition. At the grass roots level, the Sports Council grant aids many clubs and organisations throughout the regions to encourage participation. In 1983–84 it gave capital grants and loans totalling £5.7 million to a wide range of projects.
Many of the new facilities are geared to the boom in interest in indoor activities. This may in part be due to the desire to escape the British weather, but needs change, and the type of provision must reflect that. Indeed, the general household survey has shown that participation in indoor sports more than doubled, from about 10 per cent., or nearly 4 million, of the adult population in 1973, to a massive 22.7 per cent., or more than 8.5 million, in 1980.
The continuing growth in demand for indoor facilities is reflected in the phenomenal increase in indoor sports centres which I quoted earlier. Phenomenal growth means constant demand, and one way in which that demand is being met is the Sports Council's standardised approach to sports halls. This was introduced in 1984 as an off-the-peg local facility built to a standard design with the aim of providing a venue for many facilities. This has developed in partnership with the construction company Bovis. Ten "SASHes", as they were called—standardised approaches to sports halls—were built in 1984, and at Bitterne in Southampton, 6,000 people used the facility on its opening weekend. In Eastbourne, 2,000 memberships were sold during the first two weeks of the operation.
It is interesting to note that the Sports Council has invested some £2.25 million in that initial programme. In 1983–84, grants totalling £2.8 million were allocated towards the provision of 30 local indoor dry facilities, 22 dual indoor dry facilities, six new playing pitches, six upgraded playing pitches, 18 changing room pavilion accommodation facilities, 14 artificial outdoor surfaces, 866 nine new swimming pools, three refurbished pools, 10 water recreational countryside schemes and 19 specialist facilities—for example, for bowls, riding and golf.
I do not apologise for giving that shopping list, because my hon. Friends must understand exactly what the alternative development and diversification now is as a compensation towards the losses which may be occurring in the traditional sort of sports which we played.
Another example is the huge increase in artificial grass pitches, which have many obvious advantages over natural grass. They lend themselves more readily to multi-use, such as hockey, football and volleyball, and to more intensive use. Thereby, they reduce sport's dependence on natural grass.
This range of opportunities and type of provision represents a substantial change and achievement which we should not ignore in a debate of this kind. Some playing field losses may be a result of this change of character of demand, which is now catered for through new provision of a different kind. We now go indoors more than previous generations to play sport.
The general household survey has shown a fall in the number of adults participating in football—perhaps the sport most associated with outdoor "natural grass" playing fields—from 3.3 per cent. of the population in 1977 to 3 per cent. in 1980. The growth rate of football clubs has slowed significantly in the last decade, although there are still some 40,000 clubs, with 1 million people playing each weekend. Perhaps the advent of artificial pitches with their more intensive use may prompt an upward swing in participation. I do not know, but we must be ready for that moment.
On the other hand, water sports recreation has grown phenomenally over the last decade, both in participation and provision. This is an additional sector which my hon. Friend must consider. For example, in 1970 it was estimated that there were 3,280 members of water ski clubs; by 1980, membership had increased to 10,000. In 1970, there were about 31,000 members of sailing clubs; by 1980, that had reached more than 65,000. To match the growth in participation, new facilities have been developed, including Grafham water, Rutland water, Kielder, Cotswold water park, docklands and Thorpe park.
However, our proud record is not just in new provision. We are also very good at making the best use of existing facilities. I am in a particularly good position to make that statement, because a year or so ago I took an initiative to find out how much community use there was of sports facilities owned by industry and commerce. As my hon. Friend knows, I wrote to the chairmen of the 100 top companies and nationalised industries asking them about community use of their facilities. I learned that most of these facilities are already open to the local community, and I am glad to say that the companies concerned have confirmed their commitment to local people and to continuing this vital contribution to the community.
There remains, of course, some potential for expanding community use of industrial facilities. The Sports Council has undertaken discussions at the local level with some of the companies I wrote to, and it looks as if some new opportunities may emerge. The Government, the Sports Council and sports bodies generally must all continue to look for fresh or improved opportunities of this kind, but it is clear that we are already doing very well, and I express 867 my gratitude to all those companies which are helping us nationally and locally to make the best use of the facilities we have.
Additionally, my colleagues in the Department of Education and Science have confirmed in a recent survey that most schools allow some dual use of their sport and recreational facilities. All of us involved in sport regard schools as a vital stock of facilities. I was encouraged by what the right hon. Member for Small Heath said about Birmingham. My admiration for the director of leisure services in Birmingham is endless. There is scope for opening up new opportunities. We have therefore launched with the Sports Council a new initiative, under the tital "Opening Doors". A very useful booklet has been issued setting out the lessons of good practice through examples from all around the country. I am grateful for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North on this subject. Backing up this fresh publicity is some additional money in the Sports Council's grant for this year and next year for allocation to new dual-use schemes.
In this general context of achievement and progress, losses in facilities must not become a negative force. I understand the concern that we should not take more steps backwards than forwards. That is clearly not the case, as the record of provision shows. A recent survey by the Sports Council clearly showed that in all areas losses are well outweighed by gains in facilities.
No doubt, however, there are losses in particular places that the local community regrets. That is a matter of genuine concern, which I can understand. Some losses are inevitable, as they always have been, when owners, public or private, dispose of land. Land obviously remains a scarce resource in this country. Sometimes it will be used for other pressing local needs—for example, for housing or industry—which my hon. Friend will understand only too well. People need houses in which to live. New units for the new technologies are needed. Progress in this direction is essential.
Here is another important context for this debate. The Government encourage local authorities to dispose of surpluse land. I am sure my colleagues will agree that that must represent sound financial management. We must all take the broad view of need. Sometimes the urgent requirement locally will be for a use other than recreation. That is inevitable. It is up to the local authority. The House will also be aware that falling school rolls inevitably mean that some schools can shed facilities. Statutory instrument 909 prescribes minimum requirements. We should regard it as a protection rather than as a threat, because for the first time ever it provides minimum requirements. I take my hon. Friend's point about the possibility of a marginal increase in the birth rate in some areas which will affect attendance at certain schools. This is possibly a threat, but we can pursue the matter with the Department of Education and Science and find out what the trend is.
There are realities that the House will accept, but let us continue to agree about the objectives and concerns in sports provision. My hon. Friend and I can agree about these, as well as about the realities. However, let me come to the question of what actions might be considered to overcome the problem of losses.
My hon. Friend has suggested in the past, through his recent private Member's Bill, and today that there is a need to centralise control, monitor the loss of sports facilities and introduce new statutory provisions. Is there a need for a new and centralised control? I am bound to wonder 868 whether this is appropriate. The need and demand for any sports facilities can only be assessed locally. Let us look at the existing statutory and local controls to see whether they meet the concern expressed by my hon. Friend.
There are provisions in the planning Acts which give ample opportunities for organisations and individuals to express views and objections on proposed disposals, or changes of use, of recreational facilities. Local inquiries into planning appeals and applications called in for decision by the Secretary of State are normally held in public, giving a further opportunity for interested organisations and individuals to put their views and objections. In addition, schedule 23 to the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 requires local authorities to publish notice of their intentions to dispose of open space land in the local press for at least two weeks. Local authorities are also required to consider any objections before taking any final decisions. Also, of course, any development of privately owned recreational land requires planning permission and must thus be subject to local scrutiny and objection. That is how the system works.
My hon. Friend has also proposed that local authorities and other owners of recreational land should be enabled to sell that land to sports organisations at less than the market value. Local authorities are already able to do this, with the Secretary of State's approval, and similar provisions apply to other bodies mentioned in schedule 16 to the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.
My hon. Friend has also suggested a need to introduce a new requirement, that an applicant for planning permission shall be obliged to accompany his application with a certificate stating whether the proposed development does or does not involve sports facilities, and, where such facilities are involved, that the applicant should notify the Secretary of State of the application.
The first of those requirements, which would apparently apply to all planning applications, would further add to the documentation accompanying applications for planning permission, and to that extent would be contrary to the Government's general policy of reducing such documentation to an absolute minimum.
Moreover, if, as it appears, the essential aim of the proposal is to ensure that all applications involving the development of sports facilities are brought to the attention of the Secretary of State so that he may consider calling them in for his own decision, there are existing powers—in section 25 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and article 15 of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1977—by which that purpose could well be achieved.
However, it would be most unlikely that there would be an extensive use of the powers of call-in of applications relating to sport and recreation facilities. Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, Parliament has entrusted the primary responsibility for the day-to-day control of development to local planning authorities. Therefore, it can only be in the exceptional case, where, for example, matters of more than local importance arise, that the Secretary of State's intervention could be justified.
Additionally, the Secretary of State already has a power under section 25 of the 1971 Act to prescribe the form of applications for planning permissions.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said in the last four or five minutes, because 869 it is of considerable importance. It would help to give confidence to sports bodies if he were able to assure the House that when any contested planning application is being decided in his Department where a sports issue has arisen he will be involved in that decision. If he can tell us that, I am sure that it will go a long way to assist us to accept what he is saying.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
Where applications are brought to the attention of my Department and not resolved locally, I involve myself very much in such issues and developments. That is an integral part of my responsibilities in the Department.
This is a useful debate because it was a pity that technically my hon. Friend's Bill was talked out some months ago. That is a slightly unfair assessment because the Opposition spokesman had only about two minutes on his feet. I do not want the House to be misled. Time was short.
Somewhere there is a misunderstanding by the CCPR about the application of land registers and the role of the Secretary of State and local authorities. It is important to understand that. The suggestion that the Secretary of State should compile a register is inconsistent with our wish to reduce administrative burdens on local authorities and also with the nature of what is essentially a local matter. I do not want us to compile another central register.
Land registers exist to promote the better use of land. They are designed to bring to light the unused and under-used land in the ownership of pubic bodies and expose their plans for that land to public debate. Equally, local authorities are required to make the registers available to the general public. My Department has instructed public bodies not to include on the registersland which is both held and used as public open space or for recreation.Thus, any playing fields that are recorded are either unused or under-used.
An instruction also states that land held for future operational needs should be included. Therefore, it does not follow that land on the registers is to be disposed of or lost to sport. I want to make it clear that using the registers as a basis for assessing the loss of pitches is, at best, misleading.
Already, the Sports Council regional offices are using the copies of the registers at my regional offices to identify sites of odd shapes, sizes or locations which properly command low prices in the general market. I am touched that my hon. Friend referred to my excellent words of 1981 at the CCPR conference, because they get better with the passing of years. One of the better ways to use sporting and recreation organisations is to try to find land which can be used.
870 My hon. Friend raised many matters, including the Olympic games. I shall write to him about aspects with which I cannot deal tonight. We shall have to wait for the feasibility study. I am aware of the limitations and shortages and of what has to be done. We can speculate, but we all know about the gaps in the network of facilities in our major cities. I do not push the interests of any one city, but I am anxious to ensure that the Government work closely with the British Olympic Association. I remain at its disposal when it has completed its feasibility studies.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I understand what the Minister says and I have every confidence in the British Olympic Association. It has to make an assessment of the various cities which have put in a bid and as that involves substantial public investment the Government cannot opt out, even in the early stages, of assisting in the making of that assessment.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
The Government are not opting out, nor will they. Some of the right hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks were a little fudged in that because of the passage of time, they did not bear any resemblance to the facts. No guarantee was given that the games would come here in 1988. The selection depends upon many factors. There was no guarantee of a London selection.
We must examine my hon. Friend's arguments closely. I shall reply later to any points with which I do not deal tonight because the subject is important, although it has been exaggerated in some respects. I do not single out any individual, but we should not deny that substantial progress has been made in recent years. Public, private and voluntary sectors have co-operated to expand local opportunities for sport and recreation. We must continue that progress. In doing so, I agree that we must guard against hurtful losses, especially in sensitive areas.
This debate is about means and not objectives. It is not for the Secretary of State or me to sit in judgment on local losses of sports fields, except where that is necessary and appropriate through the planning appeal system.
However, perhaps more locally based machinery of some kind is needed to provide a reliable database of overall provisions which, in turn, might better inform local decisions. I therefore suggested at a meeting that I had in February with the chairman and secretary of the Central Council of Physical Recreation that they get together with the Sports Council to see whether there is a need for, and a means of, better monitoring gains and losses in sports provision in the regions. Something might be done through the Sports Council regional offices, or the regional councils for sport and recreation which already play a vital role locally. Any new proposals will I hope take account of my comments today. I shall keep the House informed.