HL Deb 11 November 1992 vol 540 cc177-8

2.54 p.m.

Lord Howell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware of the threat to the provision of local authority facilities for sport and recreation implicit in a recent decision of the assets board arising from the opt-out of Great Barr School, Birmingham.

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

My Lords, the Education Assets Board has not made a decision: it has made recommendations and referred the case to the Secretary of State. The Government do not consider that that case represents a threat to the provision of local authority sports and recreation facilities as user rights are protected under the Education Reform Act 1988.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is it not the fact that 731 schools have sports facilities of excellence because the local authorities and the Sports Council have added money to educational money so that the schools will benefit and the community will have seven-day facilities available to it throughout the year? The absurdity of the asset board's recommendation can be seen in respect of Great Barr, where it suggests that the school should have the £1 million sports hall but the local authority should be left to pay the £120,000 a year interest charges; and, furthermore, that the ownership of the recreational field should be divided. That seems to be an absurdity to anyone who knows anything about the management and control of recreation grounds. Will any local authority in its right mind in future put any of its resources into dual-use sports facilities if they can be taken off it immediately a school opts out?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Great Barr case is under consideration, and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to enter into the detail of it. This country has a proud record of dual facility use with schools and the community? As I said in my original Answer, there is no threat to the community using the facilities because the rights of all users, whether they are community users and/or education users, are protected under the law.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not just sports facilities that are affected? A great many arts and cultural activities go on in community and adult education in schools. Many people involved in community education are worried about what may happen in this case. I hope that the Minister will use her influence to see that such people retain their rights to use the premises.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, again I repeat that where dual arrangements have been entered into those rights are protected.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that there is no bar to a grant maintained school renting out any facility that it happens to have on its campus to a local authority or anyone else?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is true, but it is also true of LEA maintained schools.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, following the Minister's answer to the last question, will she confirm that it would be inappropriate for a grant maintained school to rent out such facilities? They should be available freely to the local population, which has paid for those facilities through the community charge. Is she also aware that the Sports Council has frequently invested money in such facilities and was not expecting schools to charge for them?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Baroness ignores the running costs of such facilities. That is important. If they are to be free to all users, then of course their use will be limited. Where there can be an income stream, it means that the facilities are extended to more people.

Lord Howell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 4th March during the Committee stage of the Education (School Premises) Bill in another place when I led for the Opposition, the then Minister for sport, Mr. Robert Atkins, gave a specific undertaking that the ownership of such facilities would be protected in the Bill and that the Government would make the necessary provision by order? That being the case, it was recognised that a major policy matter arose out of this incident, and so why have the Government not acted to redeem the promise made by the Minister as recently as 4th March?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord is probably aware that the contents of that Bill are resurrected in the Education Bill which is now before another place. It is hoped that it will ensure that all dual-use arrangements which have been entered into and which will be entered into in the future will work for the benefit of the school community and the wider community.