HC Deb 11 March 1998 vol 308 cc618-20 '.—(1) Except with the consent of the Secretary of State, a body to whom this subsection applies shall not dispose of any playing fields—

  1. (a) which are, immediately before the date of the disposal, used by a maintained school for the purposes of the school, or
  2. (b) which are not then so used but have been so used at any time within the period of 10 years ending with that date.

(2) Subsection (1) applies—

  1. (a) to a local authority; and
  2. (b) in any case where the consent of the Secretary of State is not required to any such disposal by virtue of either of paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 22—
    1. (i) to the governing body of a maintained school, and
    2. (ii) to a foundation body.

(3) Except with the consent of the Secretary of State, a local authority shall not take any action (other than the making of a disposal falling within subsection (1)) which is intended or likely to result in a change of use of any playing fields—

  1. (a) which are, immediately before the date when the action is taken, used by a maintained school for the purposes of the school, or
  2. (b) which are not then so used but have been so used at any time within the period of 10 years ending with that date,

whereby the playing fields will be used for purposes which do not consist of or include their use as playing fields by such a school for the purposes of the school. (4) Subsection (3) does not, however, apply where the land in question will, on a change of use falling within that subsection, become used in connection with the provision by a local authority of educational facilities for a maintained school or any recreational facilities. (5) For the purposes of this section the Secretary of State's consent may be given in relation to a particular disposal or change of use or generally in relation to disposals or changes of use of a particular description, and in either case may be given subject to conditions. (6) This section has effect despite anything in section 123 or 127 of the Local Government Act 1972 (general power to dispose of land) or in any other enactment; and any consent which a local authority are required to obtain by virtue of this section shall be in addition to any consent required by virtue of either of those sections. (7) In this section— "local authority" includes a parish council;

(8) For the purposes of this section any reference to a maintained school includes, in relation to any time falling before the appointed day, a reference to the school as—

  1. (a) a county, voluntary or maintained special school, or
  2. (b) a grant-maintained or grant-maintained special school, within the meaning of the Education Act 1996.

(9) Nothing in this section applies in relation to Wales.'.—[Mr. Blunkett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 77, 76 and 78.

Mr. Blunkett

The new clause is intended to fulfil another of our manifesto commitments, this time to ensure that the wholesale sell-off of playing fields is at last put to an end.

We have agreement across the House. In 1991, the then Department of Education and Science went out to consultation; seven years on, that consultation is gradually coming to an end. The previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), promised to put a stop to the sale of playing fields, having sold 5,000 of them over the years. In fact, about 40 playing fields a month are still being lost to us. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that, tonight, we can join together to say that enough is enough, and today is the day when we agree to put a stop to this environmental vandalism.

In rejoicing in doing that, we can also ensure that common sense prevails. Where it is appropriate for a swap to be done to provide facilities, that can be agreed. Where the criteria need to be worked out, that can be done in conjunction with the Sports Council, the National Playing Fields Association and others. We can apply common sense, work together, ensure that everybody gains, and provide children with adequate facilities for play and for sport. We must ensure that the environment in which they find themselves is acceptable as we approach a new century.

As I am totally against waffle, I shall sit down.

Mr. Dorrell

I am as opposed as the Secretary of State to waffle, so I do not propose to speak for more than a few moments on the new clause. The right hon. Gentleman correctly anticipated the reaction of the Conservative party. I welcome the provision being written into the law, not least for the various reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman relating to the history of the proposal during the lifetime of the Conservative Government.

In my year as Secretary of State for National Heritage, I was responsible for the early drafting of a White Paper that was then published by my successor, and which contained exactly this proposal within it. I am pleased to support the new clause.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)

The Liberal Democrats will not engage in waffle on this subject, either. However, I want to make a few brief remarks.

The physical fitness of those undergoing education is vital. We are concerned that so many playing fields have been sold, but a number of swimming pools are also being closed. We all know of examples of that in our constituencies.

When I visited the Army recently in Germany, I was told that the physical fitness of new recruits is bad. One reason for that is the selling of playing fields. We must remember why playing fields are sold—to raise cash because schools are short of money. The underlying point is that if schools are not to be forced to sell them, they must be properly financed and receive the right amount of support from the Exchequer. We hope that that will be the case under this new Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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