HC Deb 04 March 1996 vol 273 cc10-1
9. Dr. Spink

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement on her Department's role in promoting greater public involvement in sport. [16359]

Mr. Sproat

My Department fully recognises the general benefits of sport and recreation, and aims to improve opportunities for both champions and the general public. That is why we issued the sports policy paper last summer, which outlines our proposals to improve sporting opportunities, starting with young people in schools. We are also involved in promoting the benefits of sport in "The Health of the Nation" initiative.

Dr. Spink

Will my hon. Friend spell out the Government's policy on the selling off of school playing fields? Is he aware that Essex county council is trying to sell off a playing field that currently serves Hadleigh junior and infants schools in my constituency? Does he agree that those fields should be retained for the children's use and that communities in that area should be protected from further house building?

Mr. Sproat

On my hon. Friend's specific question about Hadleigh junior school, I believe that today is the last day on which representations on the appeal to allow what he wants can be made to the Department of Education and Employment. Then it is up to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. On his general point, we want school playing fields to be protected and we are consulting about whether the Sports Council should become a statutory consultee in all future sales of school playing fields.

Mr. Pendry

Does the Minister agree, in spite of last week's helpful announcement by the Sports Council of a national junior sports programme, and while recognising, as did his department's document "Sport: Raising the Game", that there is no substitute for introducing sport to the wider public through sport in schools, that local authorities have a vital role to play, too? If he does agree, why have 75 per cent. of local authorities been forced to reduce expenditure on sport and recreation over the past year, why has the sportsmatch scheme been cut by 15 per cent., and why has the Sports Council's budget been reduced by £2.3 million? Is he aware that these cuts must be viewed against the background of a decline in the number of PE teachers from 42,000 to 24,000 and of the selling off since the Conservatives came to power of over 5,000 playing fields? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if he wishes to promote greater public involvement in sport, he should do it not merely by throwing lottery money at the problem—robbing Peter to pay Paul—but by putting in place a well-structured sports policy. When are we going to get it?

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman has got it. It was called "Sport: Raising the Game" and it came out on 14 July last year. That document clearly states that an extra £1 million will be put towards training teachers, £1 million from Sportsmatch will go to schools and another £2 million will be put forward to be bid for so that schools and clubs can improve their links, one with another. On playing fields, we are consulting about whether the Sports Council should become a statutory consultee. In addition, there is PPG note 17 and the 1981 regulations that stop schools selling off sports grounds where there is not a certain ratio of pupils to hectares.