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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in my initial reply, specific funds are being allocated to all hospital trusts to deal with their waiting lists. Naturally, the Marsden hospital will receive funds under its allocation.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many people are delighted that patient care is high on the Government's list of priorities? Will she ensure that the tests for cancer are all accurate, and that when people are diagnosed they do not have a long wait between testing and diagnosis and the operation?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. As she will be aware, one of the headline targets we set in the White Paper on the new NHS published before Christmas referred specifically to cancer waiting time targets. We have agreed that we wish by next year to see an arrangement whereby those who have breast cancer are seen within two weeks of the first referral, and that for all suspected cancer patients that target is reached by the year 2000.
Earl Howe: My Lords, in their manifesto the Government pledged to end waiting lists altogether for cancer surgery. Given that the method of presentation of waiting lists provides no breakdown between conditions, how shall we know when that target has been met; and when is it likely to be met?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of allotment gardening for food provision, recreation and the sustainable regeneration of towns and cities. Local authorities in England and Wales have a duty to provide allotments where there is a demand for them. There are currently more vacant allotment plots in England than there are people on waiting lists. Local authorities are not able to dispose of statutory allotment sites without providing alternative sites or demonstrating that there is genuinely no local demand.
Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, especially the last part. However, is she aware that, since the general election, over 46 community allotments have been closed, reverting to councils or other owners? Is that really encouragement? I understand that the decision was taken at Civil Service, not ministerial, level. Is it fair to those who very much enjoy allotments and produce a great deal of food for themselves and their families, and especially young people who produce organic food?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I understand the concern expressed that Section 8 agreement has been given to the disposal of allotment land. However, I can reassure the noble Baroness that it is done on a careful case-by-case basis. In some of the areas concerned, no objections at all have been raised to the disposals. The alternative use to which the land has been put is, as it were, equally green. I refer, for instance, to millennium projects for open spaces. Local authorities are under a duty to provide allotments; they are not under the same duty in relation to other recreational pursuits when there is a local demand for them.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the value of allotments to people who have to live in modern houses with no access to the open air, still less a garden? Her honourable friend Angela Eagle recently stated to a Select Committee that local authorities would be required to provide proof that allotments were not wanted before selling them off. Can my noble friend say what that proof consists of? Is there any way in which she can make sure that local authorities advertise fully
Baroness Hayman: Yes, my Lords, the Government are aware of the value of allotments to the whole community, as well as to the individuals who use them. We feel that local government might well examine the role that it plays in promoting sustainability in its plans under Local Agenda 21. I am aware of the concerns expressed by my noble friend. That is why my honourable friend Angela Eagle announced to the Environment Select Committee in another place that we are examining ways of allaying the fear that has been expressed that, in the past, local authorities have been less than enthusiastic in promoting allotments locally. In future, we shall be requiring sufficient information from councils so as to form a clear opinion as to whether there is a demand for allotments in their area. I do not think that we can be prescriptive about exactly what form that will take. However, a mere statement that there are not numbers on the waiting list will not be sufficient.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in addition to assets in the form of valuable wildlife habitats, open spaces, leisure facilities and community development listed by the evidence of the Local Government Association to the committee in another place, there is an important point about food security? In an increasingly unstable world, although there may be no danger of major wars in Europe, we should not lose the opportunity to produce as much of our own food as possible for ourselves.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I said in earlier answers that the Government recognise that both the method of food production on allotments and the activity itself can be of great value. However, it is essentially an issue where local councils are in the best position to determine local needs. I go back to the original statement of the position. There are many more vacant allotments at the moment than people asking for them.
Lord Geddes: My Lords, in reply to my noble friend Lady Sharples, the Minister referred to the obligation of local authorities to provide alternative sites. Are there restrictions on the distance of those alternative sites from existing sites? Does the Minister agree with me that in theory anyway alternative sites could be provided such an inordinate distance away that they would effectively not be alternative sites at all?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there is an amount of case law on the subject because there has been a challenge as to exactly what is an alternative site. It takes into account a variety of factors. However, because there is a duty to provide alternative sites, for that duty to be enforceable there must be a degree of flexibility as one cannot provide exactly what has been changed.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that not only older people but also younger people are nowadays seeking plots? The enactment to which the Minister referred, under which the Secretary of State seeks guidance, is the Allotments Act 1925. Does the Minister consider that it might be wise, given the increased pressure for housing on brownfield sites, to have a review and set stricter guidelines for local authorities? I accept that allotments are not brownfield sites but greenfield sites. However, should not local authorities be deterred from using them for unsuitable purposes?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am tempted to say that I shall not promise another review unless the Opposition Front Bench promises not to complain if we have one. It is important to recognise that allotments serve local needs. Therefore, local authorities are best placed to take a view about the competing demands for resources for other recreational activities and local services. The cost of allotment provision must be weighed against other priorities at a local level such as the part that local allotments can play, for example, in Local Agenda 21. It is important that we leave that kind of decision-making at local level where matters can best be assessed.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is it possible that many more allotments would be taken up if people realised the difference between the cost of production as paid to the farmer and the cost in the shops?
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