HL Deb 01 December 1992 vol 540 cc1247-8

Lord Howell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the Department of Education wrote to all grant-maintained schools on 28th August informing them that in future swimming pools, sports halls, hard play areas and libraries must now rank as ineligible projects and what they calculate to be the effect of such a policy upon the community provision for sport and the arts and the role of the grant-maintained schools in contributing to such policies.

The Minister of State, Department of Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, my department's letter of 28th August invited grant-maintained schools to submit bids for the 1993–94 capital programme. In response to a request from schools themselves that advice should be given about priorities so that expenditure was not incurred in preparing bids which were unlikely to succeed, the letter indicated those projects which would not be eligible for funding. Priority areas such as essential health and safety work must take precedence.

Lord Howell

My Lords, although I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation, may I ask her how grant-maintained schools can maintain their obligation under the curriculum requirements to provide physical education if they cannot provide hard play areas, playing fields, swimming baths and the like which are absolutely essential for physical education? If we add that to the problem with dual-use schools and to the recent threats of local authorities to sell playing fields (which resulted from the Chancellor's statement on capital receipts), may I ask the noble Baroness what policy the Government have on sport?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we know of no problems with grant-maintained schools in this respect. A survey of grant-maintained schools that was published on Friday shows that their sports pitches have been used by the wider public for football and lacrosse; gymnasiums and swimming pools have been made available for local people; premises have been used for adult education and other lettings; and music classes have been offered. Unfortunately, however, although some schools have said that they would like to extend their facilities even more, many local authorities simply will not allow it and are being obstructive.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, bearing in mind the importance of sport and recreational facilities in improving life for those who live in the inner cities, when the national lottery Bill is introduced will the Minister encourage allocating money that is raised from the national lottery to be used for sport and recreational facilities? Is the Minister aware that there is one indoor tennis court for every 136,000 people in Britain, compared to France and Germany where there is one indoor tennis court for every 9,000 and 18,000 people respectively?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is not only a question for another of my noble colleagues; it is also a question for another department.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, following that last reply, does not the decision by an educational assets board to remove a sports centre from community use, together with the Chancellor's statement encouraging schools and local authorities to sell their sports fields, to which my noble friend Lord Howell referred, threaten to reverse 30 years of sports policy in the United Kingdom, which was to encourage community sports participation through the dual use of facilities? That has been the policy. It was the policy when I was a member of the national Sports Council a quarter of a century ago. May I ask the Minister who is actually deciding sports policy in this Government? Is it the Department of Education or the Treasury? Does the Department of National Heritage approve of a reversal of sports policy? When will the Minister responsible for sport speak up for sport?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is no reversal of sports policy. Policy is determined by my department for national curriculum purposes. May I ask the noble Lord which decision has been taken to remove which sports hall from which local authority or from which school?

Lord Howell

My Lords, may I refer back to the noble Baroness's earlier answer to me about sports being played on the sports grounds of opted-out schools? I entirely agree with that, but all those facilities were supplied by local authorities before those schools opted out. What we are now talking about in this latest circular—

Noble Lords


Lord Howell

My Lords, is it not the case that what we are now talking about in the latest circular is how the opted-out schools will contribute to community sports policy in the future? I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that that is absolutely essential when we have 1 million youngsters out of work. We need to attract them to recreational and sporting facilities.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the point that I made when I was answering the noble Lord is that, since those schools became grant-maintained, there has been a much wider use of their facilities, not only by the schools, but by the wider community.

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