HL Deb 10 April 1973 vol 341 cc625-35

7.50 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM rose to move. That the Draft Recreation and Youth Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, laid before the House on March 29 be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the third of the Draft Orders in Council standing in my name on the Order Paper. This Order has two aims. First, it makes provision for the exercise of responsibilities for recreation and the youth services following the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland and the replacement of the present local authorities by 26 new district councils later this year. Second, it provides for the continuation of those services with which, for the past 24 years, the Central Council of Physical Recreation has been concerned. As some noble Lords may know, the functions of this body in Great Britain have recently been taken over by the Sports Councils established under Royal Charter.

The proposals put forward to achieve the first of these objects represent a significant change in Policy towards the provision of recreational facilities in Northern Ireland. While the present legislation enables financial assistance to be given by the Ministry of Education to local authorities, it is permissive in so far as it relates to the functions of the authorities. The proposals in the Draft Order, on the other hand, lay a definite duty on the new district councils to see that their area is adequately provided for as regards facilities for recreational, social, physical and cultural activities. The area boards established under the Education and Libraries Order of 1972 have a similar duty since, as education authorities, they will be concerned with the provision of recreational facilities primarily for school use. In addition, they have an overall responsibility for the youth service in their area. The Minis, try of Education, which is the Ministry responsible for administering both the Orders, is in a position to co-ordinate the programmes of the 26 new district councils and the 5 area boards, and to see that those facilities which are judged to be necessary are provided by a council or by an area board as appropriate. The Order also enables a district council, with special approval, to provide a regional or even a Northern Ireland centre, either for a particular activity or as a general sports centre. We believe that these proposals will provide a framework within which the new councils will be able to carry on the considerable programme now being mounted as part of the 1970–75 development programme.

The earlier part of the Order—that is, Articles 3 to 8—relates to the establishment of separate bodies for youth and for sport in place of the present Youth and Sports Council, a combined body set up under the 1962 Youth Welfare, Physical Training and Recreation Act. The present body already operates largely as separate youth and sports committees, but the change is being made to allow the formation in Northern Ireland of a new organisation which will assume responsibility for the services provided in the past by the Central Council of Physical Recreation. The proposed Youth Committee will carry on the advisory role of the present Youth and Sports Council as regards the youth services, while the proposed Sports Council will employ staff and carry out a range of functions relating to sport and physical recreation, as well as advising Government Departments and others. In particular, both bodies will consider and make recommendations to the Ministry on applications for grants, and the Sports Council will itself deal with non-capital grants to voluntary sports bodies. I should add that these proposals are made after consultation with the Sports Council in Great Britain and the C.C.P.R. The Ministry of Education has given assurances about the take-over by the Northern Ireland Sports Council of the C.C.P.R. staff in Northern Ireland, and has received assurances of close liaison between the Great Britain Council and the new Northern Ireland Council. The Northern Ireland Sports Council will be able to draw on the much greater resources and experiences of the organisation in Great Britain, just as the Northern Ireland section of the C.C.P.R. was able to do.

In both sport and youth welfare, voluntary organisations have a large and important part to play, and the proposals will ensure a continuation of the support now given to voluntary organisations. As at present, grants will be available to sports and youth organisations for both capital and recurrent expenditure, and the assistance, direct and indirect, given to them by local education authorities will be continued by the new area education and library boards. We hope that, when the new Area Boards have had time to settle down, it may be possible to strengthen their links with local youth organisations by transferring to them the responsibility for assisting youth clubs with their recurring expenditure, while the Ministry remains responsible for capital grants, as for sports bodies. My Lords, I think we have all come to recognise over recent years the increasing importance of providing better and fuller opportunities for recreation and leisure. In Northern Ireland, perhaps more than anywhere else at present, there is a great need to do everything one can to encourage people to widen the range of their interests and activities. It is in that context that this Order—and I am afraid that in some ways it is rather a technical one—should be seen: and it is in that spirit that I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Recreation and Youth Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, laid before the House on March 29 be approved—(Lord Windleshani.)

7.57 p.m.


My Lords, this is an extremely important Order. Indeed, it is another example of what is really an Act of Parliament which we will pass very rapidly; but it is so important that I am rather conscious that I shall not be able to do justice to it.

I would indeed have preferred my noble friend Lady Serota to deal with it, but she was not here last week because she was away on duty with the Select Committee on Sport and Recreation. I hope that perhaps she may intervene briefly, because this is of great importance to the people of Northern Ireland. Nor-them Ireland in fact have a very great sporting tradition, in the same way as they have had a great military tradition. We all remember Mary Peters, the Olympic gold medallist; and a very distinguished footballer who seems to have dropped out of the news a bit lately. I remember that there were some very active football leagues in Northern Ireland before the war, and no doubt there still are: and anyone who saw the seven-a-side rugger tournament at Murrayfield on television on Saturday will realise that it was a miracle that England in fact succeeded in beating Ireland, which of course includes Northern Ireland. I myself hope that they will in fact win when they play France, even though that will mean that the entire championship will be shared by all five countries.

My Lords, it is against that background that we need to look at the Sports Council, which, incidentally, I think has not yet been debated in another place; nor, indeed, has the whole of this Order. It deals with a situation which, constitutionally and structurally, is different from that in Britain. Therefore, there are some questions I should like to ask, albeit they are asked in ignorance of the precise circumstances and the reasons within the Northern Irish set-up for this particular arrangement. I wonder, for instance, whether there is a reason for the fact that, under Article 3(3), there are to be assessors appointed to the Sports Council. No doubt there is a good reason. It may be just another way of enlarging it beyond a certain size. Incidentally, I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us something about the membership. Then, when one looks at Schedule 1, Part I. paragraph 2(1), one notices that, as to the constitution of the Sports Council, the Minister is to appoint after consultation with such persons as appear to him to represent district councils education and library boards and participants in sport and physical recreation,… While the Council will include the chairman of the Youth Committee, there is no provision (as there is with regard to the Youth Committee for Northern Ireland) for consultation with the youth committees or the voluntary bodies engaged in youth work. Unfortunately we cannot amend the Order. It may be that the Government can give us an assurance, or there may be a reason why this has not been done. We feel that the chairman of the Youth Committee as a member is enough but here we are taking about consultation.

One is a little concerned about the complicated method of making applications for grants. I understand that in this country an organisation like the Boy Scouts makes application direct to the Department of Education and Science. This will not be the case in Northern Ireland in regard either to the Sports Council or the Youth Committee. While it may have been necessary to devise this procedure, it is important that these additional obstacles in the matter of grants should not lead to frustrating delays. I wonder whether the noble Lord can give any assurance that very special efforts will be made—because it is more complicated and however desirable this procedure may be—to ensure that in the end there is quick operation. In view of the importance the Minister has attached to this side of activities in Northern Ireland, and it is particularly important in Northern Ireland, it is also important, because we move rapidly in these matters in passing legislation, that this is matched by rapidity in administration.

I am wondering too whether under Article 7 it will be possible for the Youth Committee, as is provided for the Sports Council, to visit other parts of the United Kingdom and other countries. I have noted that the noble Lord has indicated that the Sports Council will be able to look to British organisations generally for help. I hope this will also apply to youth organisations.

Although the noble Lord may be unable to go into details now, none the less it is important if people are to welcome this Order, as I think they should, that answers to these questions should be given and, if possible, be given in public. There is nothing in the Order—and no reason to expect that there should be—about what might be called adventure activities which could be sports or youth council activities. I take it that there will be parallel facilities to those existing in the rest of Britain and that it will be possible. for instance, if there is not a suitable training centre in Northern Ireland for use to be made of the facilities in North Wales at Plas-y-Brenin. I hope the Minister can tell us something about the provisions of youth adventure activities which are of growing importance and a marvellous outlet for energies which, particularly in a Northern Ireland situation, might be turned in more dangerous directions.

I should like to ask the noble Lord how Northern Ireland compares generally with the United Kingdom in regard to the provision of sports facilities. I am not myself aware of any recent report. There may have been one and this Order is based on a report. It may be that my noble friend, who I hope will intervene, may also have considered this point. It would be interesting to know. At least we have seen in the papers that they have one of the largest indoor recreational sportsdromes. I am not sure whether this is significant in comparison with those in other countries.

Finally, may I ask the noble Lord what are the ultimate arrangements likely to be if the Government White Paper is successfully implemented, and assuming that the elections for the Assembly go ahead and that all the Government's hopes for the Assembly and the setting up of a new focus of Government (not quite on the Stormont pattern) are realised? Will the provision of these facilities be the kind of responsibility that would come under the Northern Ireland Executive answering to the Assembly? It may be that this is too hypothetical a question for the noble Lord to answer but, naturally, it is one that occurs to us. Certainly we welcome the Order which we believe to be of extreme importance.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies to my noble friend, I wonder whether I might follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, and intervene for a brief moment in what is normally a private debate on an Order of this kind. I simply want to congratulate the Government and the Minister on Article 9 of the Order. It sets out in most comprehensive terms the duty which is, as I understand it, now to be a statutory duty on the district councils to "secure the provision" for their areas of adequate facilities for recreational, social, physical and cultural activities". For that purpose they may combine together with another district council or any other person.

The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, pointed out to the House that this represents a significant change in policy towards the development of comprehensive recreational facilities which include, presumably, leisure facilities as well as sports facilities. I was encouraged to see the approach the Government were making in this particular Order. I see it with some envy because it goes even beyond the conclusion of the interim report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Sport and Leisure which was published only on March 29. In one of our conclusions we set down the recommendation—and this is only an interim report—that a statutory duty should be placed on local authorities to make this provision for recreation; although we did not set it out in such excellent and comprehensive terms as are used in this Order. It will encourage me to go back to the Select Committee and see that our final report is strengthened. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the Government on a most progressive provision which I hope, and I am sure we all hope, will lead to the provision of recreational and leisure facilities in Northern Ireland, where they are desperately needed, particularly for the younger generation which have suffered so much from the present troubles.

8.9 p.m.


My Lords, we are fortunate to have a contribution to this debate from a member of the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure and to find that what we are doing in Northern Ireland corresponds with what the noble Baroness and other members of the Select Committee would like to see here. The last question put by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition was on where the' responsibility for providing recreational facilities would lie after a new Assembly is elected later this year. The position is that the responsibility will lie with the new district councils, as the noble Baroness has just said. It will be for them. This follows on the Report on the Reorganisation of Local Government in Northern Ireland under the chairmanship of Sir Patrick Macrory who felt it to be important, at a time when district councils were losing some of their powers which were being transferred to regional bodies, that they should be left with some significant area of activity under their direct control. So it is the district councils, rather than the new Assembly, which will be mainly concerned; although the Assembly will be, in much the same way that the Ministry of Education is at the moment, concerned with overall policy, with expenditure and with determining priorities.


My Lords, may I intervene? I am nothing like as expert as my noble friend Lady Serota, but am I to gather that the grant-making will be removed from the Ministry and that it is the control of the Ministry which I assume will still continue, even though I welcome the increased responsibility for the local authorities in this matter? I may have got it wholly wrong.


No, my Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is wholly wrong. I think he is merely jumping a little far ahead. First, we have to try to get an Assembly elected. The noble Lord will remember from the debate on the White Paper that what follows thereafter is a period of negotiation between the Secretary of State and the elected members of the Assembly as to the form of the Executive. Only when that has been agreed upon, and the responsibilities of the functional committees, can the machinery of Government be recast to fit in with the new framework. But this is looking rather further ahead than we should do this evening.

The noble Lord asked about assessors to the Sports Council. The assessors will be officers of the Ministries of Education, Agriculture and Development, all of whom are involved in the affairs of the Council and will be able to assist it. As officials they should not be members, but assessors.

The noble Lord next asked what the procedure would be for making applications, for financial assistance and stressed the need for quick action. We are very anxious to see that the system as regards both the Youth Service and also sport should be as flexible as possible. The existing procedure is that applications are referred to the present Youth and Sports Council for Northern Ireland which was established under the Youth Welfare, Physical Training and Recreation Act in 1962. The present Council has shown itself ready to meet regularly and to set up sub-committees which can meet as often as may be needed in the circumstances, weekly if necessary. We are confident that the new Youth Committee will want to do the same. I am not aware of any criticisms from voluntary or sporting organisations alleging undue delay or unnecessary bureaucracy.

I should call the attention of the noble Lord to the opening words of Article 10(1) of the Order dealing with grants: Except in such cases as may be agreed between the Ministry and the Sports Council or, as the ease may be, the Youth Committee. applications for grants under this Order shall be referred to the Sports Council or the Youth Committee… It will be seen from this wording that there is a range of cases which will be excluded from the obligation to consult the Youth Committee or the Sports Council. This follows existing practice, and means that many minor or routine applications which are already covered by a decision in principle—for example, the provision of tents for a particular group of Scouts or a Boys' Brigade group—need not go to the Council at all if it has been agreed in principle. I understand that this exception already covers a considerable volume of applications and it is intended that the practice should continue in the future.

It is important in reaching decisions, not just on individual applications for grants but also, for example, on the shape of the Youth Service and priorities in the Youth Service, and in the provision of sporting facilities, that all the interests, statutory as well as voluntary, should be involved. Voluntary organisations and people in sporting organisations will be represented on the new bodies; and so should there be a balance between the rural and the urban areas. We must get away from any suspicion that everything has been decided by some remote bureaucrat sitting in a Government Department.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also asked whether the Youth Committee could visit the United Kingdom and other countries. I understand the answer is that they will be able to do so. The provision of youth adventure activities was another point raised by the noble Lord. The Sports Council will have power to provide and to manage centres and indeed there are already certain centres such as the one at Tollymore, the mountain centre in The Mournes. I agree with him absolutely on the need to have increased provision for adventure facilities of this sort.


My Lords, I apologise that I failed to do the matter justice because I had forgotten about Tollymore. I thought that there must be one somewhere.


My Lords, I am not as expert in the subject as I should be, but I believe there is quite a wide range of activities, not only in the Mourne Mountains but also around the North Antrim coast. The Youth Hostels Association, in which I know the noble Lord is interested, have number of hostels, for climbers and others, and I certainly agree about the importance of trying to see that this aspect is pressed on with as hard as possible.

I want to end by giving some more information about the scale of the capital programme for recreation and Youth Service. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition rightly said that there was not a great deal known about what is being done in this field in Northern Ireland. Like him, I regard this as a good opportunity to provide some information, to do so in public, to put it on record. There is a comprehensive programme for the provision of indoor sports centres, leisure centres, swimming pools, playing fields, youth centres, youth clubs, and centres for outdoor pursuits or field studies activities. The estimated expenditure on capital schemes in the period up to 1978 is expected to be of the order of £14 million. There are seven major schemes planned for the new Belfast district. One of the indoor sports and leisure centres outside Belfast will be at Craigavon which, as some of your Lordships will know, is a New Town. Work is now in progress on this. It is a substantial project and is likely to cost something of the order of half a million pounds. Swimming pools have already been provided at Lurgan and Portadown, the two existing communities which are linked by the new development at Craigavon. I have not seen the indoor sports and leisure centre which is being constructed at Craigavon, but I have had an opportunity to visit the first of these major indoor sports centres, the Forum at Antrim, which opened soon after Christmas. This is a very extensive and handsome facility including two swimming pools, one full size and one for children; a large indoor sports hall for badminton, five-a-side football, table tennis; and several squash courts. There is a gallery for archery; facilities for weight lifting; sauna baths; outdoor bowling. The cost in all was of the order of £700,000.

That is only a brief summary, but it is a fitting conclusion to our debate to show the amount of capital spending on recreation and leisure. Fourteen million pounds in terms of the Northern Ireland budget over five years is a very substantial sum indeed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.