HC Deb 01 July 1988 vol 136 cc652-65
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

With permission. Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government's proposals following the recent consultation exercise on competition in the management of local authority sport and leisure facilities.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Wales and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have considered very carefully the wide-ranging responses to consultation. They have decided that the competitive tendering regime provided for in part I of the Local Government Act 1988 should be applied to the management of sport and leisure facilities. We will therefore lay an order under section 2(3) of the Act to make the management of sport and leisure facilities a defined activity for the purposes of the Act. Before laying the order we shall undertake the consultation on it provided for by section 2(4).

The competitive tendering regime should yield greater value for money from local authority expenditure on sport and recreation through more effective management arid marketing of facilities, and a greater sensitivity to the needs of the community. At the same time, we have recognised the main concerns raised by consultees. As a result, subject to consultation on the terms of the order, we propose, first, to exempt from compulsory competition the management of all sports facilities provided or made available for community use under section 53—whether alone or in conjunction with section 41—of the Education Act 1944, and, in Scotland, under section 6 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. This applies to facilities at primary and secondary schools and further education establishments. The exemption from compulsory competition would also apply to facilities that are termed "dual-use" and "joint use" facilities, and to community centres in Scotland.

We propose, secondly, riot to limit or restrict local authorities' existing discretionary powers over pricing, admission and opening hours policies under section 19 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 and section 16(1) of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982.

Those decisions should help ensure that significant further progress is made towards maximising the use of educational facilities provided by ratepayers and taxpayers, and that disadvantaged groups and promising young sportsmen and women continue to have every opportunity to make use of sport and leisure facilities.

We propose that compulsory competition should apply to a range of facilities provided by local authorities under section 19 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 and, in Scotland, under section 15(2) of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982. Those facilities would include sports centres, leisure centres, swimming pools, leisure pools, golf courses, bowling greens, putting greens, tennis courts, athletics tracks, pitches for team games and other games, cycle tracks, water sports and leisure facilities whether inland or coastal, bowling facilities. Community or village halls, where sport is a secondary or minor activity, would not be included.

We also propose that the management function should include taking bookings; collection of and accounting for fees and charges; cleaning and day-to-day maintenance of buildings, grounds, sports surfaces, plant and equipment; supervising activities—for example, lifeguards at swimming pools; providing instruction in the sport and recreational activities offered; catering and the provision of refreshments; provision and hire of sports equipment; paying for heating, lighting and other services; marketing and promotion of the facilities; employment, and relevant training of staff to undertake these duties.

There is some overlap between that management function and other activities aleady included in the 1988 Act. Under section 2(5) of that Act authorities will be free to decide whether the catering, cleaning and ground maintenance aspects of the management function are best treated as part of sport and leisure management, or as part of those other activities. It would also be for local authorities to decide whether tender specifications for the management of their sport and leisure facilities should be drawn up on an individual facility basis or otherwise.

As regards the implementation timetable, we appreciate the concerns of many local authorities and the private sector about the potential difficulties of bringing competition to this activity in addition to the activities on the face of the Act. We accept that authorities and the private sector need time to prepare for this aspect of competition. Consequently we propose that all counties, non-metropolitan districts, parish councils, local authority joint committees and Scottish local authorities will have to have exposed the management of their facilities to competition by 1 January 1992; that half the London boroughs and half the metropolitan districts will have to have done so by 1 August 1992; and that the remainder of the London boroughs and metropolitan districts will have to have done so by 1 January 1993.

We further propose that those London boroughs and metropolitan districts included in groups 1, 2 and 3 of the Department's "Implementation of Competition" letter, issued to all chief executives on 30 March, should comprise the authorities that will be required to introduce competition to their sport and leisure facilities by 1 August 1992, and that authorities in groups 4, 5 and 6 of that letter should do so by 1 January 1993. A separate announcement is being made about the proposed implementation timetable for Wales.

We appreciate and welcome the desire of some local authorities to press on voluntarily with competition in this activity in advance of the necessary legislative provision. We hope that, in advance of the necessary consultation on the terms of the order, the information set out above is helpful to those authorities. We aim to begin consultation on a draft order before the turn of the year.

Finally, and further to my reply to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on 25 January, in column 40, copies of the responses to the consultation paper issued in September 1987 have been placed in the Library.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

The confused thinking in the Minister's statement clearly explains why the Minister hoped to make his announcement by means of a written answer, which would have been outrageous and no doubt accounts for the leaks in this morning's editions of The Times and The Independentabout what he would say. The statement should have been made in the House right from the beginning. Hon. Members are entitled to know the result of such disastrous and confusing Government policies.

The decision to exclude educational and dual-use facilities and to allow local authorities to set pricing policy and determine public interest policy—that is, the philosophy of sport for which they are providing—is to be welcomed. It will, however, make nonsense of everything else that the Minister has told us today. It is important to clear up the confusion about the right of local authorities to decide pricing policy.

On 22 July last year. the Secretary of State said: The enabling power … will also allow the level of fees and charges under existing, new or amended charging powers to be prescribed or varied."—[Official Report, 22 July 1987; Vol. 20, c. 277.] Does the Minister's statement repudiate the Secretary of State's overall doctrine, or is he now saying that, although local authorities can decide their own pricing policy, the Secretary of State retains the right to intervene and instruct them on prices—which would make nonsense of the statement?

The evolving contortions of the Government are a recognition of sustained hostility towards all sport and local government. I have not yet had time to look at the responses that the Minister has only this morning put in the Library for hon. Members to see. That is an outrage. Before any statement of this nature is made, we are entitled to have time to consider the purposes on which the Minister has based his statement.

This started out in the consultation document as an intention to privatise all local authority sports facilities—including, so we were told, those in schools. The Minister, to his credit, was obviously often distressed at having to defend that policy. Then we had phase two of the policy on sports and local government, which was that the facilities would not be privatised, but the management would. Now in phase three we are told that that is not exactly correct and the Government are allowing local authorities to retain control of pricing and public policy. Wherever this has been tried it has had a disastrous effect on the users. Local authorities which have privatised these facilities ahead of the Government's intention have made no real savings whatever.

Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)


Mr. Howell

They have not, and cannot make savings for the simple reason that they are left to pay the loan, maintenance and insurance charges and to meet the cost of equipment and plant. That is a substantial cost on local authorities and ratepayers which is excluded from all these management considerations.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

It is theft.

Mr. Howell

Yes, it is theft and piracy. No wonder that throughout the country local authorities which have tried this have fallen flat on their face.

The facilities in Wandsworth and at the Castle centre in Blackpool were privatised, both went bust and the facilities had to be returned to the local authorities. Wandsworth decided to privatise its swimming pool and called it Splashland. Before it did so, the charge to the public was 50p; after privatisation the charge increased to £5 for adults and £3 for youngsters. No wonder the company went bankrupt. I am told that it still owes many thousands of pounds. The council has had to take it back into municipal ownership and the charge is now £1.50. In other words, the charge is now three times what it was before this lunatic exercise began. What lesson has the Minister drawn from those debacles?

I wish to ask the Minister a detailed question on contract compliance under the Local Government Act 1988. Will local authorities be entitled in these contracts for management to insist that all employees at, for example, swimming pools, are properly qualified in life saving and resuscitation procedures and, in all other sports facilities, in first aid and public health protection? That is important. Every local authority must ensure that that is the case and we need assurance on that from the Minister.

At a time when vandalism, hooliganism and anti-social activities are rampant and on the increase in all our communities, both rural and inner-city communities, this action is a massive distraction to local authorities in the performance of their duties, and a complete disincentive to the voluntary work of governing bodies of sport. It is a disgrace, and if the Minister had any self-respect he would resign immediately.

Mr. Moynihan

The right hon. Gentleman spoke from a written note about confusion in a statement which he had not even heard. I am appalled that throughout his blind campaign——

Mr. Denis Howell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No. The right hon. Gentleman will have a chance to reply later.

Mr. Moynihan

—the right hon. Gentleman continually resorted to misleading and wholly inaccurate gloom and despondency on this issue.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What the Minister said is plainly false. A copy of his statement, as is customary, was supplied to my right hon. Friend, who read it and based his response on it. We demand that the Minister withdraws his wholly false allegation.

Mr. Speaker

That is up to the Minister. What he said was not out of order.

Mr. Moynihan

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman referred to confusion in a statement which he had not heard, and that is precisely what I said: he had not heard my statement.

If the right hon. Gentleman had read the statement, he would not have talked such blatant nonsense on pricing policy. Where a council wishes to continue to subsidise its pricing policy, it is perfectly entitled to write that into the contractual arrangements. That is the major difference between Wandsworth and these proposals. Local authorities can retain their discretionary powers over pricing, opening hours and admission policy. If they choose, they can draw that up in the tender specification.

I repeat—obviously this was neither read nor listened to accurately by the right hon. Gentleman—that that means that the free market must not control completely the pricing level. We have rightly taken into account the fact that local authorities should decide local priorities for sport and recreation. If they wish to continue with a subsidised pricing policy, they can do so. We are talking about putting out contracts to competitive tender to get value for money in local authority expenditure and more effective management of facilities.

I, too, attach importance to safety. Health and safety at work legislation requires owners and operators to pursue strict conditions, and guidelines for swimming pools were set down only this year. It will be up to local authorities to write safety guidelines into specifications.

The right hon. Gentleman expressed concern about the fact that he had not read all the replies received from those whom we consulted. Clearly there are many months before the end of the year and the order is tabled for debate, so he will have adequate time over the summer months to review in detail all the replies to our consultation exercise in order that he may be fully briefed, possibly for the first time, before we debate this issue.

The right hon. Gentleman is worried about the implications of this statement on hooliganism, and towards the end of his comments he somehow linked the two. That is utter nonsense. Where contracts placed in the public domain for the management of these facilities are available and pricing controls remain, if that is the council's wish, it can only be right for other companies to consider the specifications for tender documents and to assess that the best way of making a profit is by getting more people through—

Mr. Dobson


Mr. Moynihan

Yes, profit—and by increasing efficiency. By doing so, the main objective of sport for all will be achieved because the motivation will be to get more people using the facilities.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the decision that he announced this morning is most welcome because local authority ratepayers are as much entitled to expect value for money as taxpayers? The most sensible way to ensure value for money is to put local authority services out to competitive tender so that we can see whether they are being provided economically, efficiently and effectively, and whether they are being adequately and competently managed.

Mr. Moynihan

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right in saying that by putting local authority facilities out to private tender we shall see whether there is value for that expenditure. For the first time many local authorities will be required to identify the specific costs of operating those facilities, and that must be good for future community charge payers as well as users.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Does the Minister realise that he has pleased nobody by this dog's breakfast of a statement? Clearly it is a victory for dogma over common sense. Even private contractors could not make the profits that they would want under the proposals that the hon. Gentleman has announced unless they cut corners by cutting staff and health and safety standards, despite what the hon. Gentleman says. Will it be optional for local authorities to make specifications for health standards?

I should like to refer to the final paragraph of the Minister's statement. He knows that I asked him on 25 January to place in the Library the responses from the consultees. They were placed in the Library at 10.55 this morning, 158 days after he had promised, and after many courteous promptings to his office. He has treated hon. Members with a great deal of contempt.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said, we shall oppose the measures, but I should like to ask specifically about football and cricket grounds owned by local authorities, such as Leeds United, Halifax and many others. Will they, too, be subject to the conditions that are laid down?

It is clear that the Minister cannot stand up for sport against his philistine boss. Should he not reconsider the proposals?

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman needs only to look at the range of facilities that are already managed by the private sector, not least by Crossland Leisure and Sport and Leisure Development plc, to see that it is absolute nonsense to say that companies have cut corners and reduced health and safety standards. Hon. Members who represent the constituencies concerned will know that there has been increasing participation, more effective management and far better value for money for the local authority ratepayers in those areas.

The hon. Gentleman referred to football clubs. We are talking not about the ownership but about the management of football clubs. If the hon. Gentleman examined the matter closely, he would see that the only people who would be subject to this form of competitive tendering would be those who are paid by the local authorities to run football clubs. There is no example of one of those in the four divisions of the football league. We looked at that carefully when the hon. Gentleman brought that point to our attention in advance.

I have been asked to name one of the facilities. I could name many, but hon. Members need only to look at the Arena leisure centre of Surrey Heath borough council, the Albion leisure centre at Erewash, the Kingfisher leisure pool and Hadleigh swimming pool of Babergh district council, Cromwell squash and snooker club of Alton town council, and the Romford ice rink, owned by the London borough of Havering and run independently by Sport and Leisure Development plc. Thus there are not just a few but many examples of where this system is working effectively.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

In general, I welcome my hon. Friend's statement, but will he assure the House that any reasonable reductions for the disabled will not be obstructed by the Government? What provision will be made for quickly removing control from operators that cannot measure up to the standards that are required? It would not be satisfactory to let a facility to be run badly for a long time when young sportsmen, in particular, rely on services so that they represent our country.

Will my hon. Friend consider laying down much more stringent regulations on first aid? Despite what he said, authorities, paticularly St. John Ambulance, are genuinely concerned about standards, particularly in clubs, where the provisions that are laid down by Act of Parliament do not necessarily apply.

Mr. Moynihan

On my hon. Friend's first point, local authorities have the discretion now with their facilities to make appropriate pricing policies for certain groups. My hon. Friend mentioned the disabled. It will be proper and in order for those local authorities to continue to exercise their current discretionary powers over pricing for the disabled, and they will be able to write that into the tender specifications.

With regard to the contract period, that issue must rightly be addressed and reviewed regularly to avoid the potential problem that my hon. Friend raised. That will be looked at in detail when the draft order comes out for consultation. My hon. Friend voiced his concern about safety, particularly at sport and recreation facilities. Incidentally, the matter goes far wider than merely facilities run by local authorities. Safety is a matter of concern for the Government. We are actively looking at it and welcome the fact that guidelines have already been issued for swimming pools. We shall consider in more detail whether to propose additional specifications. That will be examined in the context of the draft order.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Is not the Minister confirming that the consultation was a charade, because the whole of the informed sporting world and all local authority associations were against compulsory competitive tendering? Indeed, the Association of District Councils said that it was especially inappropriate in relation to sports and leisure management.

The Minister gave the game away when he said that the provision would produce greater sensitivity to the needs of the community. In reality, that just shows the Minister's insensitivity and lack of belief in local government. Instead of community facilities being paid for collectively by the community, all over the country there will be higher charges at the gate and the door. With the announcement, the Minister is putting the playing fields of England—Scotland and Wales, too—up for grabs and for profit. Instead of more sport for all, there will be more sport for all who can pay and less for the rest.

Mr. Moynihan

That is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Denis Howell

It seems that everything is nonsense.

Mr. Moynihan

The right hon. Gentleman may say that, but virtually everything that I have heard from the Opposition Benches has been nonsense. It must be nonsense to suggest that prices will go up, because local authorities will retain control over pricing if they wish, so what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) says militates against logic.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the consultation exercise. Many points were raised which were taken on board in the statement by the Government, not least the timing of the introduction of the system and the main concern expressed by many local authorities and governing bodies, in all their replies, about pricing policy, admission and their desire in some cases to continue with an appropriate level of subsidy. We have responded positively to all those points, so it is inaccurate to say that all governing bodies in all the sports are against the proposals. If the hon. Gentleman takes time over the next few months to read the 347 responses, he will see that many of the points that I have raised have been taken into account. I am certain that, as a result, the proposals will be widely welcomed, in seeking greater efficiency and increasing participation and use of those facilities.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have an important Irish debate today. I shall allow questions on the statement to continue until 11.45 am, then we must move on. I ask for brief questions. I also remind the House that the matter will be subject to debate later.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

If, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) said, this is a matter of political dogma, and if it is political dogma to increase the scope for traditional Labour councils such as mine to offer services to the public at lower cost when the community charge is introduced in a few years' time, is not that political dogma to be welcomed?

Mr. Moynihan

I very much hope that value for money is not an issue that will divide the House. It should not be an issue for political dogma.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Let them decide.

Mr. Moynihan

We need to ensure, as the hon. Gentleman says, that local councils are able to decide and to judge the difference between the service that is currently provided by their direct labour organisations and the opportunities that can be made available for other people to manage more efficiently and in the greater interests of the local electorate, even within price controls. For example I cite the interests expressed by the Professional Golfers Association, which looks with considerable interest at the possibility of managing a number of municipal golf courses. If it can do it, it should be allowed to do it.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Is the Minister at all concerned about access to sports facilities in the inner city for young people, black and white, given that unemployment among young people in inner cities is as high as one in three? Given that access is not simply a matter of pricing but depends on how sensitively facilities are managed, it is perfectly possible to manage facilities in a way that specifically excludes poor and unemployed people, although the price may be set at a certain level.

The Minister has said a lot about local authorities' power over charging, but it might still be possible for a local authority to subsidise charges to unemployed people on benefit and for the private contractor managing the facility to restrict such people to certain unpopular hours, leaving the popular hours for people driving Porsches from outside the inner cities, and paying full charges. How will that conflict be resolved.

Mr. Moynihan

Very easily—by writing it into the specification for contract. Of course we recognise the need for the continued use of facilities by disadvantaged groups and promising young sportsmen and women. That is why local authorities will retain discretionary powers over pricing, opening hours and admission policy.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Will the Minister assure the House that he has no intention of giving in to the bogus howls of anguish that we are hearing from the Labour party and that we are certain to hear from local government, since the cosy monopoly of local government services provision is bad for users and payers? Will the Minister confirm that councils will be forced to hand over services only if they cannot get their house in order and do it properly themselves? Does he agree that the introduction of competition will lead to new investment, new facilities, better services, better safety and better value for money for those who foot the bill?

Mr. Moynihan

I agree completely with my hon. Friend. It ill becomes anyone who purports to promote participation, competition and excellence on the tracks to champion a cosseted trade union monopoly protecting the local councils' direct labour organisations to manage facilities.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

It is a pity that no Scottish Minister is present on the Front Bench, but the hon. Gentleman will be well aware that some local authority leisure and sports services are unique facilities of world-wide significance. I am thinking in particular about St. Andrew's golf course, which is the home of world golf and has been run successfully by local authorities not only for decades but centuries. The prospect of St. Andrew's being put out to private tender, and the prospect of souvenir shops over the Swilken burn, and hamburger stalls on the 18th fairway would make old Tom Morris turn in his grave, and cause offence to the great names that have been associated with that golf course.

What steps does the Minister intend to take to give local authorities the power to protect such unique facilities? Has he considered the effect on St. Andrews if, for example the Royal and Ancient golf club decided that the privatised golf course was no longer suitable for the Open?

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Member should he aware that we are talking about not the privatisation but the management of facilities. The tender document and the specification, which rightly should be detailed, will cover all the points of concern that he has expressed, because local authorities will continue to write into the tender document whatever specification they believe to be right. On that basis the private sector will be able to assess whether it wishes to compete against current local authority management.

Mr. Wood

Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be a wide welcome by Tory Members for the distinction being drawn between the duty of a local authority to ensure that sports facilities exist and the management of such sports provisions? Most people are aware of the gross inefficiency of the sports provision in many local authorities, and want competitively-provided sports facilities so that participants will have better value for money and there will be a greater take-up of facilities and, at the same time, there will be a better deal for local government and for the taxpayer.

Mr. Moynihan

My hon. Friend is right. We are seeking not only more effective management of facilities and better value for money, but a private company managing such facilities will be keen to increase the throughput and make sure that as many people as possible use those facilities. Given that that is its interest, it will have a joint interest with the Government and with all local authorities to increase participation and throughput and make sure that the facilities are used to maximum possible extent. That is better marketing of facilities. That objective is in common with the Sports Council's sports policy and will have my full support.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Does the Minister realise that in the Local Government Finance Bill the Secretary of State has 344 new powers? The Secretary of State can compel local authorities to charge when they do not charge now and to increase charges when he does not consider them sufficient. Therefore, where did the Minister get his information that local authorities are free to subsidise? Is it not a fact that by "subsidisation" the Minister means subsidising for profit and not subsidising for the community? Is he aware that the Sports Council comes down heavily against this idea and is most disturbed that the excellence that has been provided through local authorities to Olympic and international standards will gradually disappear and that we shall have not sport for all, but sport for all who can afford it and not for those who cannot afford it?

Will the Minister answer a question about ethnic minorities and about disabled and mentally handicapped people who have private facilities at sports centres because of the nature of their problems? What will the local authorities do if sports facilities which are run only on a profit-making basis go bust and disappear?

Mr. Moynihan

With regard to the powers of the Secretary of State, a draft order will be coming before the House on the regime of competitive tendering specifically for the management of sport and leisure facilities. It is recognised that an appropriate level of subsidy, if required, not by the private sector managers but by local authorities, to achieve certain objectives of the sports policy of a particular council—and the hon. Gentleman was right to cite some important considerations of local councils—will enable local authorities to continue a specific level of subsidy to achieve the goals about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I must declare an interest as I am the honorary president of two sporting organisations for schoolchildren from London. Like other hon. Members, I hold coaching qualifications in several sports.

I welcome the Minister's statement. He must do something about providing coaching for children and adults because of the serious decline of the teaching of sport in schools. In many areas, only one in eight primary schools teach cricket. The statement will help in that respect.

As a result of the statement, will more children be taught to swim and will poor people be safeguarded in their access to sporting facilities? Will my hon. Friend the Minister underline what he said to the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott)? Will the statement lead to more sport being taught to more children and adults in public sports centres, as I believe it will?

Finally, will my hon. Friend take note of the fact that many hundreds of adults, pensioners and others use private facilities in my constituency to go dancing and take part in healthy sporting activities, and that his statement will help them, too?

Mr. Moynihan

A private sector manager must respond to the increased participation trends for sport and recreation. The figure increased from 17 million in 1977 to about 23 million now. He will also note the national trend to be involved in a wider range of sports than previously was the case. As a result, he will be keen to respond to demand, and for that reason he will ensure that as wide a group of people as possible come through the door and are catered for by as wide a range of sports as is demanded. I am confident that that objective will be achieved.

Swimming pools are equally important. There is much demand to learn to swim, and the number of swimming pools has increased from 910 in 1982 to 1,032 now. Managers will be keen to ensure that more people learn to swim, which is essential, and I welcome my hon. Friend's support for that campaign.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Does the Minister realise that the average deficit on a swimming pool is £200,000? Does he believe that all this ideological claptrap will mean anything to people other than those who wish to make a profit? Does he believe that the sports which are improving the health of our people will thrive as a result of what he has said? Is it not a fact that since 1972 the number of sports centres has increased from 20 to 1,500—all of them provided by local authorities—and that their growth has been limited only because the Tory Government have robbed local authorities of funds?

Mr. Moynihan

It will be of interest to the House to know that there has been a more rapid increase in the number of facilities provided under this Government than there was under the Labour Government.

There will need to be recognition of the sensitivity about providing sufficient subsidy where that is thought appropriate by the local authority. That will be critical in drawing up the tender specification. But I am confident that, given more positive marketing, more efficient management and better value for money, we shall achieve greater sensitivity to the needs of the community, which will lead to more participation.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, if his proposals lead to the better management, marketing and promotion of sports facilities, and that if that draws more people in, it will reassure those of us who are worried about the diminution of sport in schools? Will he answer two specific questions? Has he thought how his proposals will affect centres such as the Black Lion facility in my constituency, which is jointly managed between two local authorities? Will his proposals cover ancillary facilities such as sauna baths and beauty treatments which are currently undertaken in that centre?

Mr. Moynihan

On the second point, where they are managed by local authorities the answer is yes. The joint management of facilities by two local authorities will be covered by the draft order that we shall publish later in the year.

Mr. Frank Cook

I sympathise with the Minister because I cannot believe that his heart is in this statement. But I offer him the assurance that he will go down in history as a handicap. Ironically, he is both the smallest and the largest handicap ever visited upon sport and leisure.

The Government have called for competition in sport. Now we know what they are after: competition for profit. Will the Minister take note of the fact that the Billingham Forum in my constituency, Clareville stadium in Middlesbrough and the Gateshead facility on Tyneside are all centres of excellence of national and international prestige that were built with local money? Whatever some Conservative Members would have the public believe, we do not mind private establishments. We are against the fact that, after paying the risk capital to establish them and then paying the on costs, facilities will be taken away from local authorities and given to someone else who will cream off the profit that belongs to the ratepayers. That is what we are against, and that is what I charge.

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman's allegations are wrong. If they are to compete and win contracts against the direct labour organisations, the new management teams will have to identify opportunities for greater efficiency and ways to attract more people to use the facilities. It will be a real incentive to achieve sport for all.

Mr. Denis Howell

Does the Minister accept that, in the history of local government provision and private enterprise practice, there has been nothing to stop private organisations building any sports facilities that they wished? They have completely failed to do so, and that is why local authorities have had to provide this social service for the community and for sport.

Mr. Moynihan

That is not true.

Mr. Howell

It is correct. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will give us examples of where he says that has happened.

Will the Minister confirm the calculations that we have made in the past 35 minutes while the debate has continued? From the responses that he placed in the Library at five minutes to 11, it would appear that the consultation exercise produced 340 organisations opposed to his proposals and five in favour. If those figures are accurate, it explains why he tried to avoid giving a direct answer to the House today. The Minister placed those replies in the Library at a time when he thought we would not have an opportunity to read them. It was disgraceful treatment of Parliament and of sport.

Will the Minister provide Government time for a full debate—not just for one and half hours—on the social implications of the draft order?

Mr. Moynihan

The right hon.Gentleman's arithmetic and speed reading are at fault. Many of the responses—[HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] We can go through them all if hon. Members wish, but I can say that 93 local authorities expressed doubt. They did not come out against the proposals, but mentioned issues that have now been satisfied in my statement—[Laughter.] Opposition Members laugh because they do not like the facts. Far more of the governing bodies than the right hon. Gentleman mentioned came out in favour and, completely contrary to what was said earlier, the Sports Council is in favour of any proposal that leads to more effective management and value for money. Private sector companies were in favour, as were professional bodies and trade unions. Other organisations that responded were also in favour. The Opposition have not read the responses—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should allow the Minister to finish.

Mr. Moynihan

I take heart from the fact that the core objections from the Opposition relate to the number of responses and the views in the responses placed in the Library. They will not face facts and accept that obtaining better value for money through the range of proposals that we have introduced will benefit sport and ratepayers and will provide more effective competition in the provision of local authority services.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Documentation is always a matter for the House. On 25 January my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) received an answer saying that documentation would be placed in the House as soon as possible. You have heard that it was not placed in the House until 10.55 this morning. The Minister had also recently provided written answers to my hon. Friend about what the responses contained. In answer to my hon. Friend's question, the Minister did not explain why it was impossible to place those documents in the House between January and this morning. It is now for the Minister, perhaps by rising on a point of order, to explain why it was not possible to do so.

Mr. Speaker

That is patently not a matter for me, but perhaps the Minister will assist.

Mr. Moynihan

I will help the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) is aware that we placed a condition upon the publication of the documents that we should consult each and every consultee to make sure that they were happy for their individual responses to be placed in the Library. Regrettably, that consultation exercise could not be done overnight given that there were some 347 responses.

The key point is that it is unnecessary to place full documentation of that kind in the Library for a statement. It is absolutely critical that such information is in the Library for a debate; but the debate on the order will riot take place for another six months.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an Irish day and it is unfair on Irish Members and others who have come here to discuss an important matter to continue with this subject.

Mr. Dobson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have no wish to be unfair to those people who wish to debate important matters connected with Ireland. It is not the Opposition's fault that the statement had to he dragged out of the Government today. If what the Minister has said is true and certain inhibitions existed that prevented him from putting the English responses in the Library, why were the Welsh responses put there in good time?

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)


Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman seeking to be called in the debate?

Mr. Flannery

I have not stood up to he called at all except on this. I wish to raise a point of order about the habit that is now developing of making statements in the midst of debates on Fridays. It is disgraceful. Nearly everybody went home last night because they did not know that a statement would be made,.

Mr. Tim Smith


Mr. Flannery

Most hon. Members did not know that this statement would be made, and it was wrong to interrupt the serious Northern Ireland debate.

I used to run athletics in Sheffield and I know what will happen when people hear about this statement. I want to know why we are interrupting an extremely important debate on Northern Ireland—one of a length that we practically never get, except late at night—and it is a disgrace that this statement is intruding on it. The statement has an importance of its own.

Mr. Pendry

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister has rightly said that there was a condition that the consultees had to agree to their responses being placed in the Library. I have been in touch with some of those consultees and they gave their authority months ago. Therefore, what the Minister has said is not an excuse. Will he therefore place in the Library the responses to his request for them to be placed in the Library?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There have been several questions about the authenticity of the documents that went missing for some considerable time and which were not placed in the Library until five minutes to 11 today. Investigations have been carried out at certain levels and it transpires that the documents were sent to Westminster council for verification. No doubt that was done in view of the fact that it is expert at selling off cemetaries for 15p and that it was thought advisable to check with Lady Porter. The result is that the Government have learnt no lesson from Westminster council, which should face a surcharge. That council is chucking away the assets of ratepayers. The Government should learn a lesson.

Mr. Speaker

None of that is a matter for me.