HL Deb 04 December 1980 vol 415 cc517-9

3.14 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, I beg, leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they realise the disastrous effects of their announcement of 19th September on the change in capital grants for youth and community projects by discontinuing the village halls grant aid scheme, and whether they will reconsider that decision.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the Government's purpose is not to end the scheme, but to place the full responsibility for the support from public funds of local voluntary youth and community projects in the hands of the local authorities, where it properly belongs. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science hopes that they will find it possible to maintain the present level of support, and provision will be made through rate support grant to help them to do so. The Government's expenditure forecasts do not assume any reduction in this support.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, while thank the noble Baroness for that reply, may I ask her three questions? Does she realise that the abrupt withdrawal of the grant aid scheme does not take into consideration the years of work that have been done by local people to get the 25 per cent. grant which was available under the previous scheme to obtain their village halls? Would not four years have been a more reasonable time to give notice of withdrawal? Secondly, does the noble Baroness realise that we cannot see how, if the money is passed down as a part of the rate support scheme, it will reach the village halls unless it is specifically earmarked? Lastly, does she realise the added importance of village halls to voluntary local youth organisations, organisations for the elderly and invalids? Coming on top of the loss of local bus services, sub-post offices and village schools, this can only be interpreted as showing a lack of concern on the part of the Government for rural communities.

Baroness Young

My Lords, on the first point, I should like to reiterate that the expenditure on the youth service generally is not being cut, and our current plans for public expenditure assume that it will continue at the same rate. On the point about specific earmarking through the rate support grant, I should like to explain that the proposals that have been made are a logical extension of the step taken some years ago when local authorities were made responsible for the selection of projects for support: the DES has simply supported those projects which the local authorities themselves have chosen to support from the voluntary organisations. On the last point, I should like to confirm that of course I and my colleagues recognise the importance of village halls, and the importance of village life in the community.

Lord Alport

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether she can give the figures of the cost to the Department of Education and Science of their share of the contribution made to the creation of village halls during the past financial year?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the amount of money that is being spent on local youth and community projects in the current year—that is to say, 1980–81—is £3.8 million. I cannot say whether all that is going on village halls, but it is on those projects for which specific grant would be paid.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask whether the Minister really believes that the money being handed over to local authorities within the rate support grant will be used for this purpose, considering the squeeze that there is on local authorities to cut their expenditure? Could one of the reasons for the change of method of giving a grant be that the DES wish to cut down the number of staff who used to deal with that particular aspect?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I have already indicated, this is a logical extension of what has been happening for some time, and it follows that it is our policy to reduce the central influence in matters which we believe to be essentially for local decision. It is true that there will be some saving of staff in the DES as a result of this. It is, as I say, a logical extension of policies which have been initiated in the past.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as the chairman of the trustees of my village hall I am about to be very grateful for a small grant from the local authority, and that the noble Baroness may therefore take comfort from the fact that this money is filtering through to the place that it is meant to go?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am always very grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent for his kindly interventions.

Lord Young of Dartington

My Lords, if one of the main motives in making this decision is to save manpower in the Department of Education and Science, may I ask whether the noble Baroness and her colleagues have considered the proposal that has been put to them by the Standing Conference on Rural Community Councils that a community building trust might receive the money that was formerly earmarked for village halls and village improvements? That would mean that none of the burden of the work would fall on civil servants in the department for which the noble Baroness is responsible.

May I further ask whether, as a compromise proposal, the noble Baroness would be prepared to urge on her right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the very least that the proposals for new village halls and extensions—for example, additional rooms added to a hall so that doctors can hold their surgeries there and thus maintain a vital service in their villages—that have already been made and are in the pipeline should be allowed to go through and not be affected by the cuts which were announced on 19th September?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the two particular points mentioned by the noble Lord were similar to proposals put to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services a short time ago. My right honourable friend is considering these two matters, and I will draw to his attention the points made by the noble Lord.