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Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is not this the Government who constantly say how important sport and recreation are to the nation as a whole? I hope the Minister will correct my figures if they are wrong, but I understand that since that circular was issued some 5,000 playing fields have been sold, and perhaps half as many again are being considered for that purpose. Does not the fact that the Government have now instituted a register of recreational land demonstrate that they are now concerned about what is happening? Does this not call for a fundamental change of policy to stop the haemorrhage of this most valuable asset?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot confirm the noble Lord's figures. However, I think it is important that both LEAs and grant-maintained schools should have the freedom to dispose of assets if they are surplus to requirements. Obviously we think it is important that they should retain sufficient land to meet their sporting requirements and that is why we have regulations laid down that deal with that very subject. I think it would be wrong to have an absolute blanket ban on all sales, particularly as sales can often lead to better provision in some other field, or even better provision in the sporting field.
Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister not realise that the kind of damning statistics the noble Lord has put forward justify a warning given over 10 years' ago about what would happen to sporting facilities? Does he not think it obscene that at a time when hundreds of
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am afraid I have to reject what the noble Lord had to say. I do not believe there has been no encouragement from the Government in terms of encouraging sport at the grass roots. One only has to look at the White Paper published last year by the Department of National Heritage entitled Raising the Game and at the support we give to sport in schools in the national curriculum. That is why we lay down minimum standards governing the amount of space schools should keep. But, as I said, I think it is right that LEAs and schools should have the freedom to dispose of surplus assets. We have adequate controls to make sure they do not get rid of more than is necessary. We shall continue that policy.
Baroness David: My Lords, the Minister said when these fields were sold that the money obtained from those sales might be spent on other, more useful things. Do the Government follow up what the money is spent on? Can the Minister tell us what useful things have been bought as a result of the sale of these playing fields?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I cannot give any figures to the noble Baroness. However, the point I was trying to make--I think it is a very important one--is that there should be that freedom, and it can be a freedom that can allow much better provision to be created in due course.
Lord Elton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he is absolutely right to say that this money can be better used? I know of a school which sold its local playing field and was able to build an entire new block of schoolrooms and a new sporting facility at a slightly greater distance with a pavilion out of the proceeds. That must be common sense.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those comments. It points to the fact that it would be wrong, foolish and unwise to have the sort of blanket ban that noble Lords opposite collectively seem to be requiring.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, is the Minister able to tell us what has happened to some of the recreational grounds in the former coalfield communities? Is he aware that the DTI and British Coal have given a public commitment that these sites will be retained in perpetuity? Does the Minister know what has happened? Has any progress been made in discussion?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does my noble friend share my pleasure that the Benches opposite appear to be supporting playing fields and therefore perhaps competition? Would he dare to share my hope that their support for such competition might eventually extend to the classroom?
Lord Peston: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows I never discuss politics in your Lordships' House, and therefore I shall not follow his noble friend's line. The noble Lord said--if I understood him correctly--that he agreed with what his noble friend Lord Elton said. However, what his noble friend Lord Elton said was anecdotal. The central question which we must put to the Minister is the one that he himself presents to us. His department collects no figures and therefore the Government do not have the faintest idea what the consequences of their policy are, and have no way of discovering whether the state of affairs is satisfactory. Is not that the nature of the problem--if one does not obtain any data, one cannot express a view?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not believe there is a problem. As I made clear, in the case of grant-maintained schools we shall review every application. In the case of all other schools, there are minimum space regulations which the schools are bound to follow. They cannot dispose of land unless it is surplus to those requirements.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, the freedom to which the Minister has referred is the same as the freedom to dine at the Ritz. What he is forgetting is that local authorities have been squeezed so much by the financial directives of this Government that many of them have had no choice but to sell playing fields.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I totally reject that. We have increased the amount of money available to schools by £878 million this year, and over the past three years we have made an extra £2 billion available for capital projects.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, we have already succeeded in removing any restrictions on the export of semen and agreeing conditions for the export of gelatin and tallow. This is an important first step. Our policy on the next steps is to agree a framework which sets out clear and agreed conditions which have to be met to lift the export ban progressively. Negotiations with our Community partners on this are proceeding and we will keep the House informed of progress.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, may I express my sympathy to the Government for sounding the bugles of advance to cover their retreat. Is it not becoming increasingly evident that the policy of boycott, far from securing the desired timetable, is in fact having the effect of making our partners in Europe determined to try to find a way round British obstructionism, as they see it, contrary to our interest? Is it not a fact that the fiasco of the past month--probably the biggest diplomatic disaster since Suez--can only give satisfaction to those who wish to see us leave the European Union altogether?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, with respect, what a load of rubbish! The policy we have pursued over the past month shows every sign of producing results in the very near future--not only of producing results, but producing exactly those results that we had hoped for.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House under which powers Her Majesty's Government propose to enforce the killing of healthy cattle, as opposed to cattle which may be infected?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will be prepared to wait for us to bring before this House the necessary orders. He may recall that during the foot and mouth epidemic we killed whole herds, not because every animal was proven to be infected but because infection was in the herd. I do not think he need worry about our not having the necessary powers.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we already know that the Prime Minister is a master of appeasement and climbdown, and has already shown that to be so in the case of the further mass slaughter of cattle? Will he give the House an assurance that, at the Florence Summit, the Prime Minister will not agree to any other matters being discussed until the proposals put forward by the Commission have been agreed by all heads of government? And will the Prime Minister reprimand the president of the Commission for his gross interference in our internal political matters, and for the threats and bullying of the past week or two?
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