HL Deb 02 December 1986 vol 482 cc779-86

7.52 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Recreation and Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 which was laid before your Lordships on the 18th November this year be approved.

This draft order which we have before us this evening will re-enact, with some amendments, the Recreation and Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1973 and also the Recreation (Northern Ireland) Order 1975. The two main amendments—in fact there are several main amendments—relate to the functions of the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and the arrangements for payment of grants under the order.

The Recreation and Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1973 provided for the establishment of a sports council and a youth committee for Northern Ireland and required district councils to secure adequate provision of recreational, social, physical and cultural activities. The Recreation (Northern Ireland) Order 1975 amended the 1973 order by enabling district councils to vest land for the purposes of the 1973 order and enabled the Department of Education to make grants towards the expenses of voluntary organisations which provided facilities for social, physical and cultural activities (in addition to those voluntary organisations providing for sport, recreation or the youth service as cited under the 1973 Order).

I wish to stress the excellent co-operation that has existed during the past 13 years between government departments, statutory and voluntary bodies, the sports council and the youth committee, each of which has played a significant part in the furtherance of sport, recreation and the youth service in Northern Ireland.

The proposal for a draft order was widely circulated for consultation and, as a result of recommendations made by the former Northern Ireland Assembly and the comments of other interested bodies, three changes were made to the proposal. These are incorporated in the draft order which is before your Lordships this evening.

The first of these changes is that Article 3 will enable the sports council to assist financially a non-voluntary organisation, provided that the Department of Education's prior written approval is obtained.

The second change is that Schedule 2 of the order before us this evening will provide for consultation with respresentatives of district councils regarding the membership of the youth committee.

The third change is that Article 11 (7), which your Lordships will see on page 9 of the order that is before the House this evening, will provide that where, in the opinion of the Department of Education, grant-aided premises cease to be used in accordance with the grant conditions, or cease to be required for the purpose for which they were grant-aided, the department, in recovering the grant and also the enhanced value of the premises, will have discretion as to the date from which interest on those sums will accrue.

Perhaps I may take your Lordships on a brief tour of the draft order. It is a relatively short measure consisting of 14 articles and three schedules. I should like to take your Lordships through the main changes to the existing law. First of all, if we look at Article 3 (3) we see that this will revise the functions of the sports council. It will no longer be required to fulfil a facilities planning role, because since the publication of the proposal we have found that the article has been extended to allow the sports council, with the Department of Education's prior approval, financially to assist these non-voluntary bodies. We may take as one example the purchase of a specialist piece of equipment which is required for a sporting event at a university or a public facility.

Further, looking at Article 3 (9), which is at the foot of page 3 of the order, that extends to the Sports Council the Commissioner for Complaints Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 and also Sections 19 and 21 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. These two Acts already apply to other public bodies in Northern Ireland—for example the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Education and Library Boards and Enterprise Ulster. Therefore we think it is consistent to bring the sports council within their ambit.

The Commissioner for Complaints Act empowers the Commissioner to investigate complaints concerning actions taken by the public body in the exercise of its administrative functions. The application of the sections of the Constitution Act will make it unlawful for the sports council to discriminate on grounds of religion or politics or for the sports council to require an oath or declaration as a condition of service or employment. Article 4 enables the council to make loans to its officers to enable them to purchase motor vehicles considered essential for their official business.

Article 6 enables the sports council to borrow temporarily any sums which are seen to be necessary to meet its approved expenditure. These borrowing powers are to be subject to certain limits and conditions which will be specified by the Department of Education and any sums borrowed are to be repaid before the end of the financial year in which they are borowed. I hope that your Lordships will see that that is short-term borrowing and it will be very closely monitored.

If we look further to Article 11—which is entitled Grants and your Lordships will find it on page 7 of the draft order before us—that re-enacts with amendments the Department of Education's power to pay grants to district councils in respect of their functions under the order and to voluntary organisations which provide facilities for recreation, sport, the youth service or for social, physical or cultural activities.

The main amendments which are made to the existing legislation are that there is no longer a requirement for the department of education to consult the sports council about applications for grant; and the power of the department to make grants to persons following approved courses of training for employment in connection with recreation, sport or the youth service is extended to courses for employment in social or cultural activities and will include part-time courses as well as full-time ones. Article 11(3) enables the Department of Education to attach such conditions as it considers necessary when making grants.

These conditions will include a requirement for those in receipt of capital grants to make repayment when grant-aided facilities are disposed of or, in the opinion of the department, cease to be used or required for purposes for which they were originally provided. With the significant increase in the value of property in recent years, it has been necessary for the Department of Education to seek additional safeguards to ensure that, where grant recovery is being sought, the department may also recoup an equitable share of the enhanced value of these facilities. Provision has also been made to enable interest to be recovered on the sums repayable from a relevant date to the date on which repayment is made to the Department of Education.

Schedule 1 Part 1 sets out the constitution and powers of the sports council, arrangements for the appointment and removal of members, and for setting up committees. The law is not changed except that the chairman of the youth committee is no longer a member of the sports council as of right, but both the sports council and the youth committee have agreed that each will have observer status on the other.

Schedule 2 sets out the constitution of the youth committee. Following publication of the 1984 proposal, an amendment has been made to provide for consultation with representatives of district councils when the head of the Department of Education for Northern Ireland is considering appointments to the youth committee. The chairman of the sports council will no longer be a member of the youth committee as of right but, as I have said, both bodies have agreed to be cross-represented by means of observers.

That concludes my brief journey through the draft order. I hope that I have not delayed your Lordships too long. I thought it wise to point out the main amendments. If there are any points which noble Lords wish to raise, I shall do my best to reply this evening. If not, I shall certainly write to your Lordships. With that, I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th November be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

8 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, am I to understand that the Minister has taken both orders together?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, no, just the Recreation and Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. I shall make brief reference to the next order.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am more than grateful. From these Benches we approve the action of the Government and the thrust of what they are doing. We all appreciate, perhaps even more so in Northern Ireland, the value and benefit of properly funded recreation and sports facilities. We know just how big a boost it was to Northern Ireland when Mary Peters won the Olympic Gold Medal, and we know just how devoted are the soccer fans and the boxing fans. However, they are the names that hit the headlines. There are literally hundreds of thousands of other men and women, boys and girls, who enjoy this, so we do not intend to be obstructionist in any way.

The Minister talks in terms of powers and rights. I wonder whether he can introduce some sums of money or figures. After all, these are constitutional changes. Although finance ought not properly to form part of this, for the benefit of the House and for my own benefit, I should like to know exactly what we are discussing. It would help if he could give a general framework. I do not want to make a point about reducing the amount of money, but I should like to know what we are discussing.

The Minister talked about bringing the sports council within the ambit of complaints procedure practices. Can he tell us not only why this has been done but whether there are instances that cause him to believe this is necessary? This may be what the Minister would call a precautionary arrangement to make it all of a piece with other bodies. I should like to know whether he can quote some evidence.

In respect of the loans to officers, what he said sounded to me eminently sensible. Can he tell us what has triggered off doing this at this time? Have representations been made or dissatisfaction expressed? Is there an attempt to unify practices in a number of places?

Article 11(1) says, make grants towards the approved expenses of a district council in carrying out its functions". Can the Minister give us some illustrations of the kind of matters for which he believes grants will be given? I appreciate that this may be a hostage to fortune. People may well be waiting, saying, "I wonder what we can apply for. The Minister in the House of Lords last week has in mind this, that and the other". On the other hand, to be fair, I assume that the Minister wants this to be useful and to be used, so it is not wrong to encourage people to do certain things that we like and of which we approve, for which public money is available. If the fund can bear it, one has to consider it.

One sees also in Article 13 that: A district council may acquire land otherwise than by agreement for the purposes of the section. Can the Minister tell us some other ways? Is he talking about compulsory purchase in "otherwise than by agreement"? I can understand a public body needing a piece of land that somebody refuses to part with, but are we talking about compulsory purchase?

Regarding Schedule 1, the Minister talked in terms of the chairman of the sub-committee. I understood that it was someone who previously as of right sat on the sports council, and I thought that the Minister referred to some other body, but now it is not as of right.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I shall come to that. It is the youth committee and the sports council.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, these provisions are not dreamed up by civil servants for the sake of it—although on the other hand they may be. However, if they are not, they clearly rest upon some experience. I should like the House to be told why the Minister feels that it is proper to do that at this time.

With those few observations, I wish the operation of the order well.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order. In an area where unemployment is so high, it is of particular importance. I notice that the original format has been amended at the recommendation of the Northern Ireland Assembly and other interested bodies. It is absolutely right that local opinion should be allowed to play its full part. It is a great tragedy that the Assembly, which could have done so much, does not at present operate.

To summarise, the continuing functions of the sports council are to advise, encourage and assist as relevant. The council is empowered to make loans to its officers to help them buy cars or motorcyles for use in their work. Can the Minister say what the current rate of interest chargeable is? The sports council is itself to be allowed to borrow. Can the Minister say what rate of interest is here payable?

We are told that there shall continue to be a Youth Committee for Northern Ireland to advise the department, to co-ordinate the youth service and to encourage the provision of facilities. Are any young people invited to sit on this committee?

Lastly, we are told that a district council shall secure the provision in its area of adequate facilities for recreational, social, physical and cultural activities. When grants are considered, who decides whether the facilities at present available are inadequate?

I shall be glad to know the answers to these few questions. With that, we support the order.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, your Lordships will, I am sure, be grateful, as I am, for the close attention paid to the order by the two noble Lords who have spoken, Lord Graham of Edmonton and Lord Hampton.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, was kind enough to mention the famed sporting achievements of Northern Ireland. He drew attention to Mary Peters, who of course has had marvellous athletic facilities named after her. He will be aware that tomorrow night Mr. Pat Jennings, Northern Ireland's famous goal keeper, is having a jubilee match to which footballers from all over the world are coming. That will be a great sporting night for Northern Ireland and for Mr. Jennings. The noble Lord mentioned Mr. Barry McGuigan. I wish to add my tribute to Mr. Joey Dunlop who has done a great deal for the motor cycle industry and for Northern Ireland sport and who is something of a folk hero in North Antrim. That is the glory of sport. All those ladies and gentlemen take the smiling face of Ulster around the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked about figures. I shall not take the noble Lord into the algebra of Article 11(5) on page 8.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Please, my Lords.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, not tonight. The dinner hour calls and we may discuss the point later. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if we leave out the algebra this evening. He asked about the budget and what figures we were thinking of. I have a huge list of figures of what are called recurrent grants and capital grants. Since its inception in 1974, the sports council has received fairly large sums from the Department of Education, which is the sponsoring government body. I have not added the total, although perhaps I should. In 1985–86, the recurrent grant paid by the Department of Education to the sports council amounted to about £1,082,000. It paid about £36,200 in capital grants. Your Lordships will see that the amounts of recurrent grants are fairly substantial. For 1986–87, the estimate is £1,112,000. Capital grants have fallen, but they have fluctuated during the sports council's life under current legislation from £20,000 in 1974–75 to nearly £183,000 in 1979–80 and to as low as £5,500 in 1983–84. There is a fair amount of fluctuation in the amount of capital grants. I have no reason to believe that there is any shortage of capital grants for facilities that the sports council may want. There is a fair sum available, and £26,000 is estimated for this year.

The noble Lord also asked me about the sports council being brought under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Complaints Act (Northern Ireland) Act 1969. We used the opportunity of the draft order to extend that 1969 Act to bring the sports council into line with other public bodies in Northern Ireland; for example, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Education and Library Boards and Enterprise Ulster, with which we shall be dealing in a few minutes. We believe that that was right and consistent and will not have any practical effect on the day-to-day life of the sports council.

The noble Lord also asked me about district councils and the type of facility that they provide. They range over a fairly wide area from multi-purpose district centres which comprise swimming pools and sports halls—the type of thing that I as a layman would call a "complex"—with swimming pools, sports halls, and small gymnasia with circuit training and so forth, to arts and community centres and fairly small playgrounds. They will cover sport and play, if one can call it that, over a fairly wide area.

I am advised that capital grants for district councils in the current year amount to about £3 million and that capital grants for voluntary sports clubs are about £230,000. Voluntary sports clubs include athletic teams, football teams and all the village and community sports clubs about which we read in the local newspapers. As the noble Lord pointed out, they do a great deal for the young people of Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord also asked me about what I would call cross-representation between the youth committee and the sports council. They were originally combined as the Youth and Sports Council. When we formed the separate bodies under this legislation, we did not think that there would be too much duplication of interests. The sports council and the youth committee have agreed that each body will have one or more members from the other body taking part in discussions. I understand that they will not technically be members of the sports council. The youth committee will be able to send at least one person, and maybe two, to represent it in the sports council, purely as an observer. I understand that such representatives will be able to speak but will not be able to vote. They will not be classified as members of the sports council. I understand that a similar arrangement will apply to the youth committee. I hope that that covers the point raised by the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, asked four questions. I had intended to write to him, but the winged messenger seems to have given me some information. The borrowing rate about which he asked is classified as the bank rate. We had better not go into that too deeply. I think it is the bank base rate. I do not think that the commercial rate would be much above bank base rate. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord with clarification of that point. I promise to be brief in my written communication to him.

As to the adequacy of facilities, I understand that district councils will have the responsibility for determining that. District councils pay close attention to the sports council. That is their channel.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked about the acquisition of land. I understand that district councils have powers of compulsory purchase but only after the normal procedures, including local inquiries, have been completed. I understand that compulsory purchase powers for sports or recreational facilities have been used only ten times since they were originally enacted in 1975. I hope that the noble Lord will see that there is no likelihood of any grave injustice being caused.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, asked about the age of members of the youth committee. I understand that young people are represented on the youth committee. I had perhaps better not go into the definition of "young people". They will be over 16. I think that they will be 16, 17 or 18. I assure your Lordships that the youth committee lives up to its name. Its members are not stiff and geriatric like some of the spokesmen in your Lordships' House.

I hope that I have covered most of the points raised by the noble Lord. I shall peruse my remarks and if I have missed anything raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, I shall write to him. I promise to be brief.

On Question, Motion agreed to.