HL Deb 25 March 1987 vol 486 cc173-5

2.55 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will refuse planning permission to recently publicised schemes for the redevelopment of a number of London football grounds.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, it would be quite wrong for the Government to prejudice the outcome of any future planning applications by indicating in advance whether or not permission should be granted for the redevelopment of football grounds. Every case needs to be carefully considered on its own merits, in the first instance by the local planning authority.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he accept first of all that the action announced yesterday by the Minister for Sport is welcomed not least because that Minister also has planning responsibilities? Does the Minister understand that when a property speculator buys out the shareholdings in a football club it does not merely represent the making of a quick £1 million or £2 million but is also an attack upon the heritage and culture of a community? Surely the Government have a responsibility to monitor these matters and take appropriate action.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I do not believe that the two actions to which the noble Lord pointed in his supplementary question are mutually exceptable because the listing of a building simply marks its special architectural and historical interest. On the other hand, the loss of a football club is clearly not a planning issue; it is a commercial decision which has to be taken by the management of the club. It is not a matter for the Government.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that whereas his general understanding of the planning position is impeccably correct, as one would expect, there is special procedure known as "call-in applications" whereby the initial jurisdiction passes directly to the Secretary of State?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, I accept my noble friend's point absolutely. Of course, the call-in procedure exists for those applications—and I must point out that in this particular case to the best of my knowledge and understanding an application has not yet been made—on issues which are of more than national importance.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to clarify one aspect of this question? I understand that it was said that the Minister of Sport had special planning permissions. Where does that statement come from? How does he have powers for planning permission? Is it not correct to say that these matters are first an issue for the local authority and then, quite rightly, if there is an appeal it is for the Minister to decide whether to call it in?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary (who has responsibilities for sport among other things) acts in the same way as I and any other Minister in the department on behalf of the Secretary of State from time to time. He was not acting in either a planning or a sports capacity when he suggested that this should be a case for listing a building on architectural and/or historical grounds.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, has the Minister seen reports today of a statement by Sebastian Coe, speaking as vice-chairman of the Sports Council, in which he contrasted the poor membership of British sports clubs with that of clubs in the Netherlands and Germany in particular? Do the Government have any ideas about getting into touch with local authorities where appropriate to ensure that professional football grounds and local authorities work together in the interests of developing sports activities for the community?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have not seen those remarks or any reference to them, but I shall certainly draw the noble Lord's point to the attention of my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister accept that, as in the case of Fulham and Queen's Park Rangers, situations develop very quickly? If one accepts completely the propriety of acting in relation to planning permissions, does he think it will be helpful to urge local authorities which have football grounds in their areas to monitor events very closely so that the Ministry and the local authority can keep closely in touch and act quickly in these matters rather than arrive too late on the scene?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I think the general answer to that question is that local authorities are responsible, among other things, for the welfare of the people in their electoral areas. I am quite sure that they will consider all the factors should a planning application come before them.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, will my noble friend take note that if there were stronger support from local education authorities for football and other games in schools, public opinion would be more favourable when matters of this kind come up for consideration?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am sure that that is a very valid point, and I am grateful to my noble friend.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, while noting the impeccable Answer given by the Minister on this occasion, may I ask him whether his recollection extends back to his Answer in regard to County Hall, and does he remember that his reply then was not so impeccable? In regard to this matter, will he take a hint from his noble friend and consider that this is an aspect of national importance and therefore a proper issue for the Minister to call in as a matter of policy if and when an application is made?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am interested to note that the noble Lord should have such a good memory that he is able to contrast this Answer with an earlier Answer that I gave on a not dissimilar subject. Perhaps we have all learnt lessons from that occasion. So far as his real point goes, it is of course hypothetical but I have heard and listened to what my noble friend sitting behind me said earlier.

Lord Morris

My Lords, does my noble friend consider that if the real-estate assets of football clubs were invested in a trust rather than in a company, the temptation to asset strip the football clubs would disappear?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I suggest that in that event the issues would fall to be considered by a different body. I do not think that the issues would necessarily be dissimilar.