§ 5. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab)
If he will make a statement on allotment provision. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope)
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister actively supports the development of green spaces, including allotments, parks, city farms and playgrounds. We have introduced tighter restrictions on the disposal of allotments and distributed guidance on allotment management.
§ Mr. Chapman
Is my hon. Friend aware that allotment usage has been in long-term decline and that sites continue to be under threat, sometimes from developers, but often from vandals? Yet they provide a healthy leisure activity and are an excellent source of food. Should not the Government do more for allotments and the many people who use them and make greater efforts to sustain and promote them?
§ Phil Hope
My hon. Friend is well known for championing the cause of allotments and he is right to do so. The decline in the number of allotments between 1978 and 1996—during the years of the Conservative Government—was appalling. It dropped from 479,000 to 296,000—a cut of 62 per cent. in the Tory years. I saw at first hand in Nottingham at the launch of our sustainable communities report the benefits that allotments can bring, which my hon. Friend described. I can tell him that the Government recognise that allotments are a key element of good liveability in our local communities and will continue to be promoted as part of our wider policies on support for green spaces.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)
I share the Minister's enthusiasm for allotments, which are very important to the life of Salisbury and south Wiltshire villages. Will he consider representations from Durrington parish council in my constituency, which wants more allotments in the village? The Ministry of Defence is so strapped for cash that it is selling off fields, including those wanted by the parish council for allotments, in favour of building on greenfield sites.
§ Phil Hope
I cannot speak about the specific example that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but as a former allotment holder myself, I can tell him that I value and recognise the benefits that allotments can bring, 751 particularly for pensioners and the unemployed. More women are also taking up allotment holding nowadays—and a very good thing it is, too.
§ Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
Does my hon. Friend recognise that, in former coalmining areas such as North Durham, many allotments go unused? Will he join me in supporting some communities, such as Sacriston parish council, that want to find alternative uses such as house building on those unused allotments? Will the Minister give some consideration to alternative uses? [Interruption.]
§ Phil Hope
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is the local authority's duty to provide allotments where there is a demand and it is supported by policy planning guidance note 17—a comprehensive statement on how local authorities should operate in this area when deciding whether to promote allotments or develop them for other uses. It is a matter for the local council rather than the central Government, but we have issued planning guidance to ensure that, when allotments are wanted, people can have them.