Lord Pender: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Following the voting down of this proposal by the local residents by a 3:1 margin, and the fact that the status quo was accepted by the local officers only to be overruled by the leader of Dover District Council, does not the Minister consider that that might be construed as gerrymandering?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not see how the matter can be construed as gerrymandering because it has no implications for the structure of the district council itself; it simply relates to the town council of Sandwich. Although it is true that the majority of those who responded to consultation were against the measure, that did not constitute the majority of those whose views were sought. As I say, it is a matter for the district council under the legislation passed in 1997.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that my name is Trumpington of Sandwich? Is it usual to split electoral constituencies where the population is under 4,000? The population of Sandwich is 3,836. Is the Minister further aware that Sandwich people very much resent being bullied against their will by Dover District Council?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in this context the town council in Sandwich is a parish council, despite its glorious history; and, as I understand it, it is quite common to have smaller parishes than is envisaged in this case. I am aware of some of the local feeling, but at the end of the day this is a matter for Dover District Council.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I rather feel that the noble Lord has done pretty well without any advice from me. The tabling of Questions and the acceptability of Questions is a matter for the House authorities rather than for me.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, further to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, does the Minister agree that the sandwich has always traditionally been divided into two and what matters to the people is the filling in the middle?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my department is currently working with the Local Government Association, council representatives and allotments interest groups in order to produce best practice guidance on allotments for local authorities. The Government recognise the importance of the promotion of allotments and in March placed an additional requirement on local authorities to demonstrate the active promotion of allotments before they can dispose of statutory allotment land.
Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that in many journals, local papers and newspapers great concern has been expressed about the number of allotment sites that have been sold off for development? Is he further aware, and does he agree with it, that Birmingham City Council has been active in promoting allotments, especially for use by ethnic groups and women? I am sure that many of the women could do with the exercise.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I accept much of what the noble Baroness said, even the last point. It is important that publicity be given to the facilities. However, at the moment the background is that the vacancies far outnumber the applications. That is one of the reasons why we asked local authorities to give greater consideration to publicity. I understand that a number are doing so.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in so far as this relates to the allocation of allotment plots, I believe it goes beyond the terms of ministerial responsibility here. However, in certain circumstances it may be a matter for local authorities.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, in his Answer, the Minister mentioned the disposal of statutory allotment sites. It used to be the law that where a disposal was in the offing, allotment holders were offered alternative sites or a new allotment. Is that still so?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is still the case where there is a significant number of plot holders in place. With many of the allotments which have been disposed of recently--certainly those which have come to the Secretary of State for approval--there are no extant plot holders.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for that Answer. I declare an interest as a former and long ago chairman of the Museums and Galleries Commission, deeply honoured to be so and totally unpaid.
However, is it not a fact that in the DCMS consultation a significant majority of the respondents were entirely against any union of the Museums and Galleries Commission and the Library and Information Commission? In the MGC's own consultation exercise, the responses were three to one against any such merger. Can the Minister explain what arguments in favour of
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am afraid I cannot accept my noble friend's statistics. Of the responses to the consultation on the issue, 63 were in favour, 21 were against and the remainder-- a minority--were neutral or made other comments. So it is not the case that a majority of respondents were against the proposed merger.
It is true that the Museums and Galleries Commission and the National Museum Directors Conference were both opposed to the merger, but the Library and Information Commission and a large majority of local authorities were in favour.
Perhaps I may seek to go a little further than that factual reply. There are matters in common between museums and libraries as they move from a responsibility for display and conservation into the field of information and education and, generally, into knowledge and understanding. I hope that in due course my noble friend will feel that this is the direction in which all museums, libraries and archives should move.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that observation; it is one of the considerations that we took into account. Most local authorities have departments which comprise museums, libraries and galleries. They have found the link valuable.
Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether there will also be a merger between the Arts Council and the Crafts Council?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page