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Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 90(6) (Second Reading committees), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Queen's recommendation, on behalf of the Crown, signified. 9.46 pm
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Human Organ Transplants Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of the expenses of any authority exercising functions under that Act.
Clause 2(4) of the Bill contains the provision that authorises payment out of moneys provided by Parliament. The financial effects of the Bill will be limited to the expenses of running the authority. The sum involved is very small--£20,000 per annum--which is considered the maximum total cost likely to be incurred by members of the authority in carrying out their functions under the Act. Expenses of the authority will cover such items as claims by members for travel, subsistence, overnight accommodation and meeting postage and telephone costs. Also, some minor items of office equipment, including stationery and computer software, may have to be made available to members of the authority.
We envisage that members of the authority will wish to meet frequently, following the Bill's enactment, to familiarise themselves with the handling of referrals and adopt a common approach. In time, we expect members to carry out their functions mainly by post and telephone with occasional meetings to review progress. The final decision about such arrangements, however, will rest with the chairman and members of the authority. We also expect that the authority will wish to maintain a record of cases referred to members. Some dedicated computer equipment will be provided to the authority for this purpose. This is a modest sum for a specifically limited purpose and I commend the resolution to the House. 9.48 pm
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : It seems that the money resolution, which my hon. Friend assures us is only for a small sum, is remarkably open-ended. It relates to an unspecified authority which is to be set up by as yet unpublished regulations. My hon. Friend talked about members of the authority and that is the first time that I have heard him make reference to a membership of the authority, for there is nothing in the Bill that refers to members of the authority. That membership was not referred to on Second Reading. What sort of authority will we be setting up? What do we want that authority to do? From Second Reading, we know from my hon. Friend that the policing of this Bill is central to its effectiveness, and that therefore how the Bill is to be policed must be spelt out in detail at some stage in the Bill's progress through Standing Committee, through the final stages in this House and in the other place.
We also know from Second Reading that there will be a register. Presumably it will either be held centrally, with copies in all the hospitals that are equipped to carry out transplant operations or, alternatively, a register will be held in each hospital that is capable of carrying out such operations. I am guessing at the details, but operations involving the transplant or removal of organs will be
Column 768detailed in the register. Presumably it will spell out who performed the operation, who gave the organ and to whom it has been given.
However, that still leaves me wondering whether we shall be any the wiser about whether the organ has been obtained legally or illegally. What mechanism can my hon. Friend suggest to guarantee that organs will be donated legally? I am also left wondering whether a specific duty to maintain the accuracy of the register will be imposed on hospitals that perform transplant operations. If such a duty is to be imposed, what penalty will be incurred by a hospital where the register is found to be neither up to date or accurate?
My hon. Friend the Minister has told the House that he estimates that £20,000 will be required to police the Bill. However, he told the Standing Committee with great honesty that the size of the Bill's task is unknown. The Government do not know how many commercial sales of kidneys have taken place at any stage during the past decade. In those circumstances we do not know whether we are talking about a very small number of such sales or whether they are common practice. To some extent my hon. Friend is guessing both about the Bill's task and about how he will police a system which, at the moment, appears to be outside anybody's control.
I say this with the greatest respect--I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend--but he is estimating, or at least his advisers are telling him, that for £20,000 he can set up an authority, cover its travelling costs, fund the bureaucracy that such an authority may need and hold a register, whether centrally or in the hospitals. He believes that he can do all that for £20,000, but we all know that the price of a good secretary is at least half that sum. I suggest that he will be hard pressed to introduce a workable scheme for that very small sum.
I began by saying that this money resolution is open-ended and I think it is probably better that way. Perhaps at this stage, before he has brought forward regulations and spelt out the details of the authority, my hon. Friend might be wiser not to state the figure that he thinks will be required. I have an uneasy feeling that he might find that he has considerably under-estimated.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : Although I am addressing my remarks strictly to the money resolution, I regret and feel sad that the Second Reading of the Bill was not taken on the Floor of the House. In principle, the Bill has universal support in the House and I cannot believe that any harm would have been done by allowing those of us who have strong feelings on certain aspects of the Bill an opportunity to debate it in full on the Floor of the House. Whatever the arguments--there certainly are some --for curtailing amendments which merely prolong discussion of the Bill, I cannot see any arguments against taking Second Reading on the Floor of the House, and I am sorry that that was not done.
Before you call me to order, Mr. Speaker, I will return to the money resolution. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair- Wilson) I doubt very much, although for different reasons, whether what is proposed could be carried out entirely within the modest sum that my hon. Friend the Minister has suggested. If I were a member of the authority concerned, faced with a rule as vague as that in clause 5, I should spend a great deal of
Column 769time and incur a great deal of expenditure simply attending meetings to decide what on earth the rule meant and where the remit of the authority began and ended.
Clause 5 states :
"In this Act organ' means any part of a human body consisting of a structured arrangement of tissues which, if wholly removed, cannot be replicated by the body."
At first sight, that seems quite clear, but at what point is it a "structured arrangements of tissues"? Presumably, tissue itself is not included because that can be replicated, at least by a live body. Let us suppose that a brain is removed for the use of part of it. Will that be covered by the Bill or, will it not be covered because the entire organ is not being used? I envisage a great deal of lawyers' time being spent, as well as a great deal more than the £20, 000 allocated, in trying to sort out exactly what the Bill means. For instance, when referring to the human body, do we mean both pre-birth and post-birth human bodies, or only one or the other?
My hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of the concern about the use of foetal tissue. Currently, it is only the tissue that is used, and presumably my hon. Friend believes that that does not have to be dealt with at quite the speed that he has had to deal with the sale of organs. However, as there are not even regulations for the definite separation of procurement and use of foetal tissue, what is to prevent the sudden discovery that such tissue is being sold? A year ago we would have said that we could not even contemplate the sale of organs, certainly not in this country, but we have since learnt to the contrary. If we also learn to the contrary that tissue, foetal parts or organs are being sold, will that be covered by the Bill, or will the authority have to discuss at great length whether it is within its remit to act under the Bill? What exactly does the Bill cover?
Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that the hon. Lady will not delve too deeply into the merits of the Bill, important though it is, because the Bill has had a Second Reading. There will be opportunities on Report to deal with the matters that she is now raising. The money resolution is narrow.
Miss Widdecombe : I have a feeling that the Report stage will be even narrower if it is treated in the same way as Second Reading. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will appreciate that there are perfectly good reasons, which I do not dispute, for hurrying through the Bill. I have related my remarks to the fact that we have been told that the authority is to operate at a total cost of £20,000. The Bill is vague and leaves many questions unanswered. Developments during the past year have clearly shown that there could be further developments, so that the authority could not possibly carry out its activities for the sum of £20,000. I am therefore relating my remarks strictly to the money resolution although I am aware that I might be slightly trying your patience, Mr. Speaker.
If my hon. Friend the Minister will not respond to my remarks under the terms of the money resolution--I suspect that there is not a great deal of will to deal with the problem of foetal tissue--will he say at what future stage of the Bill he expects hon. Members to have the opportunity to discuss these wider issues on the Floor of the House and not in some Committee to which we do not all have access? They are important issues which have been
Column 770crushed out. It would try your patience, Mr. Speaker, if I recited the history of their being crushed out, so I merely state that they have been.
Mr. Freeman : With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) has, once again, raised the quality of the debate. He asked me four questions relating to the money resolution. It was never contemplated that the authority would have any policing responsibility. There might have been some misunderstanding about that. Its job will be simply to review cases where there is a live donation in the offing and the donor is not closely related genetically to the recipient.
The authority will have no responsibility for the wider policing of the Act relating to donations from those who have died. Such donations account for the vast majority of kidney transplants. Therefore, the authority's role and scope are limited. Membership and procedures will be detailed in regulations, subject to procedures in the House. I can assure the House that, in Standing Committee, I will certainly ensure that there is a proper briefing for members of the Standing Committee and other hon. Members about our thoughts on the authority. We are discussing with the legal profession at this moment how the authority should proceed and operate. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, and I hope that I have allayed them.
Rev. Martin Smyth : The Minister has said that the authority does not have a policing role and that it will deal with donations. How can donations be verified? Years ago, I asked questions about trade in foetal tissue, and I found a stone wall and ambiguity. Surely there should be a policing role for the authority.
Mr. Freeman : The authority will be charged with reviewing the relatively few cases of proposed donation from non-genetically related individuals. It will certainly wish to investigate the relationship between the donor and the recipient and whether there is evidence of any money having been passed in this country or abroad. It must use its own judgment. When a donation is required, judgments cannot wait for weeks or months, they must be made quickly. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury asked about the register and the implications for expense. The register is not covered by the Bill. The register that we are discussing with the medical profession is essential not only for recording donations, particularly live donations and all transplants, but for the recording of clinical information. I am sure that it will be helpful for clinical research purposes. It is not covered by the money resolution. The expenses incurred in setting up a register will be covered to the extent that they fall upon the National Health Service in the normal course of events--that is to say, through district health authorities. My hon. Friend asked also about the task that the authority will perform in relation to the amount of money provided for in the money resolution. There are about 200 live organ donations each year. Only a small percentage of them are between non- closely genetically related people. Therefore, the balance, which is a small minority, will be those cases that the authority will examine.
Column 771historical post within his Department, Her Majesty's inspector of anatomy. The post was created on the basis of tissue and cadaver sales. I wonder whether we should increase the responsibilities of that post to police that very problem.
Mr. Freeman : I will certainly examine that point. I have not yet had the chance to read my hon. Friend's letter. It does not directly affect the money resolution except in so far as it relates to the number of people involved in reviewing proposed donations. We need a collection of wisdom, including clinical judgment. I doubt whether the job could or should be delegated to an authority, which presumably means officials, and perhaps one person in particular. Flexible judgment is required in terms of a collection of individuals who are appointed for their eminence in this medical specialty rather than as a group of officials.
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : Is my hon. Friend effectively saying that he expects someone in hospital to get in touch with the authority to say that he is concerned that an organ transplant may be taking place that is not within the terms of the law and that therefore he would like the authority to investigate? Is that how my hon. Friend considers the mechanism will work?
Mr. Freeman : I am sure that we shall go into this in greater detail in Standing Committee, but the brief answer is yes, I expect such notification to be made, although I do not envisage a detailed examination of each particular case at the hospital concerned. However, I hope that the procedures can be expedited and a quick response given.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) drew my attention to clause 5, and doubtless we shall debate that clause in Committee. My hon. Friend asked about foetal tissue. As to the foetal tissue not convered by clause 5, I explained in the Second Reading Committee that a committee due to report shortly, the Polkinghorne committee, will review entirely the regulations governing the use of foetal tissue for research. I am not, however, aware, of any commercial trade in foetal tissue and therefore, as far as clause 5 is concerned, it does not affect the money resolution, which I commend to the House.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Human Organ Transplants Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of the expenses of any authority exercising functions under that Act.
Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. John M. Taylor. )
Every four years, a large section of the British public pays its homage to sport. Furnished with high-cholesterol food and drink, such people park themselves in front of the television and marvel at the prowess of Olympic athletes. At other times they watch "Match of the Day" and the cup final, read the sport pages and engage in the gentle activity of walking to and from their cars. They die of heart disease, obesity and chest complaints.
We are lectured, sometimes rather confusingly, about what we should eat. We bemoan the fact that Britain has one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world, and we tell people not to smoke. Apart from advice, we do little in a practical manner to encourage regular physical exercise. Even when we do consider sporting facilities for the public our thoughts are more likely to centre on artificial playing surfaces, expensive well- equipped sports stadiums or recreational land on the fringes of our cities, which is accessible only to those with cars.
Every year, however, bit by bit, acre by acre, inner-city recreational land is lost for ever to development. The Central Council of Physical Recreation estimates that 100,000 acres has been lost, a figure that the Department of the Environment is unable to substantiate because it has no statistics on that appalling erosion. In the west midlands, half the private sports grounds have disappeared. In Bristol, in the past 15 years there has been a net loss of 69 acres and another 8.5 acres are under immediate threat. Everyone agrees that sports are a good thing. They improve the nation's health and productively channel the pent-up energies of young people ; and team sports foster co-operation with and consideration for others. On 19 April, however, in response to a series of written question from me, it became clear that the Department of the Environment had no idea how much recreational land there is, where it is, or whether the amount of such land is increasing or decreasing. It did not even know what should be the optimum availability of such recreational land.
Labour and Conservative Governments have been at fault. Because they have not perceived the problem, no facts have been compiled, and because no statistics have been kept, Governments have not perceived the problem. In consequence, although since 1970 there have been seven circulars, two development control policy notes and two planning policy guidance notes relating to housing development, and three circulars and one planning policy guidance note relating to retail development, the present Government circular dealing with recreational land is 18 years old. Although I accept that the Department, in response to requests from myself and others, now intends to issue a planning policy guidance note towards the end of the year covering sport and recreation, its action is belated. Much damage has been done, and further delay would be intolerable. Everyone acknowledges the value of the royal and other parks in London, of Hampstead heath and of Epping forest. We recognise that the greatness of our cities
Column 773lies in grand public buildings, sweeping crescents and imposing squares and in the delight of trees and the glimpses of green, the visual and environmental refreshment that these green lungs give to us all. No Government would dare license the development of St. James's park or Hampstead heath, yet bit by bit, acre by acre--this is unseen, unnoticed and uncounted by the Government--recreational land that in area is far in excess of all the inner London parks is lost to development.
In areas where there is no habit of travelling to take part in sport, where money is tight, where people need encouragement to be more than mere spectators, where juvenile crime is widespread and where early death through ailments associated with lack of exercise are more common then elsewhere, the erosion of recreational land is the fastest.
Inner-city sites are extremely valuable, and they are easy to build on. In consequence, they are more profitable to developers. The lack of statutory support that is given to local authorities to resist on planning grounds the loss of recreational land results in developers appealing successfully against local authorities' decisions to deny planning permission. It is not adequate for the Department of the Environment to rest its case on the lack of local structure and development plans. Such plans do not have the status of planning circulars or guidelines. Their period of gestation is so long that they are often out of date as soon as they are published. With each planning inquiry being decided in isolation, without knowledge of the wider picture, it is unsurprising that developers are taking the easier course of infilling on green field sites rather then doing what we would all prefer them to do--revivifying our cities by returning to productive use decayed and derelict inner-city areas. One of the pressures on inner-city land comes because it is difficult to build in the countryside, but it should be possible to satisfy the needs of the cities and to retain England as green and pleasant land.
I am sure that the proposed PPG will take into account the White Paper, which is entitled "The Future of Development Plans". I trust that it will also recognise that sport and recreation are of national importance. Just as planning policy guidance specifies how land should be allocated for housing, as new homes give rise to the need for more recreational space, so the Department should define the level of provision. This form of calculating need must be clear and resistant to challenge and should command wide support.
The PPG must include consideration of latent demand, recognise the special need for open space within low-income areas, accept that all-weather surfaces should be complementary to grass pitches rather than substitutes for them and appreciate the role that sports grounds belonging to educational establishments and in private hands play in protecting and enhancing our environment.
Present charity law imposes an obligation on a charity to sell its assets for the highest value. We have seen this requirement in operation in Bristol. Even if the vendor is prepared to sell at the lower recreational use value, he is prohibited from doing so. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to raise this matter with our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has recently published a White Paper on charities, and with the Treasury. My right hon.
Column 774Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment should consider extending the concept of the green belt and provide greater statutory inspection for open-air recreational land by implementing a green space policy for inner-city land. I particularly believe that that is necessary for publicly owned land, and land held by charitable institutions. However, as I recognise that we do not want creeping nationalisation, possibly there should be different rules for open space which is held in private hands. Just as the clean air legislation and the green belt policy has protected us all, so an urban green space policy will be recognised by generations to come as the action of an enlightened Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) is anxious to speak. I understand that he has permission to intervene from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), and he certainly has my permission as well. He wants to refer to specific problems in Bristol. However, I cannot finish without pressing on my hon. Friend the Minister the fact that, if we wish to have dirtier air in our cities, we need to get rid of the green space. If we want health to decline, we need to continue to dissuade people from taking part in physical sports. If we want to channel children's energy into crime, we need simply to remove the sports pitches which help them to burn up their energy.
Inner-city and urban-area open recreational space is a very valuable commodity. If we build on it, we will lose it for all time. I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister will remember that. 10.16 pm
Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) : It gives me great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), because I believe that recreational land is important to Bristol and to the nation generally. I am disappointed that there are no Opposition Members present to hear the debate.
This subject was originally drawn to my attention partly through my activities as a rugby referee, and also by the Bristols sports consultative committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East and I both want to pay tribute to the efforts of that committee in pressing hon. Members, councillors and others into public awareness of the problems which are developing in Bristol.
As my hon. Friend said, there are a series of serious threats throughout Bristol in terms of loss of land. In general, within the immediate inner city of Bristol, what limited land there is, is protected. The real problem arises from that progressive erosion to which my hon. Friend referred, particularly in what I might loosely describe as the outer inner-city belt, which in my constituency is represented by areas such as St. George, Hillfields, Speedwell and the Fishponds area, where recreational land is limited and is substantially under threat.
As my hon. Friend said, the planning guidelines date back to 1970. They are not much use to people who want to oppose a proposed loss of a sports field or for the city council opposing a proposed development.
The guidelines are unclear. Even where there is a proposal for limited development of part of a sports field which may, in some cases, save a sports club, residents and the city council oppose the development because they feel that salami tactics will develop. While one piece of land
Column 775might be lost, the automatic response from residents is that, if it is lost, in two, five or eight years the next bit of land might disappear, until there are no sports fields left in the area. I support my hon. Friend in claiming that we need a clear, coherent and urgent planning policy guidance note for all concerned.
In Bristol recently, questions have been raised about the major sports developments at Imperial, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East has made representations to the Hanson Trust. He received an assurance that at this stage there are no proposals to build on any part of that sports facility. It is one of the greatest assets on the southern side of the city and would be a disastrous loss to what I described in respect of my own constituency as the outer belt of the inner city. I hope that it continues to be the case that there will be no plans to develop it.
In my own constituency and just outside it there are proposals to develop the Butler memorial ground, part of Cleeve rugby club, and Kingswood rugby club. Some of the proposals have the support of the sports club. I do not expect the Minister to comment specifically on those proposals, and I shall not do so either. Instead, I shall highlight the threat to sports grounds at this moment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East said, it is worth considering the number of grounds lost over the past few years. According to Bristol city council calculations, those losses amounted to about 69 acres. I believe that that is an under-estimate. In the last few years we have lost the Eastfield road site of the Clifton rugby club, although that was replaced by an alternative site ; part of Golden hill ; Water lane, Hungerford road, Broomhill road, Brentry hospital ; Southmead hospital ; Frenchay road, part of Coombe Dingle ; another part of Golden hill ; Burchells green ; and Manor park hospital sports fields. That is a litany of lost land, most of it concentrated in the outer inner-city belt. It has all been lost to housing, and therefore it has been lost for all time.
I said that the city council had under-estimated the land lost, because, from reviewing that list and other documents that the council provided, it appears that it failed to identify the loss three years ago of the Scott Musson Thrisell football field, on which my own house was built, and that of Eastville stadium, where Bristol Rovers previously played. Technically, that is still an open space, but not for much longer. The scale of the problem, even in a city such as Bristol, is larger than one may imagine.
It would be unfair to expect a full response from my hon. Friend the Minister this evening, but I hope that clear guidance will be given. What do the Government expect of Bristol in terms of a policy, so that the city can identify land that it intends protecting as sports fields for all time- -particularly in advance of a Bristol development plan? It is all very well the Department of the Environment saying that, once that plan is clear, everyone will know precisely what land will be protected. Unfortunately, as we all recognise, development plans take a long time to prepare, and meanwhile we could lose a substantial part of the playing fields to which I referred.
I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister will say whether Bristol is out of step with other cities. Is it losing more sports fields? Has it protected its sports fields inadequately? Are there ways in which the city council, if it pursued policy correctly, could be more successful at protecting open spaces within areas of very high housing development than it is at present?
Column 776I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East about the continuing loss of playing fields in Bristol and in the country as a whole. If anything proves how difficult it is to regain such land after it has been lost, it is the example of Eastville. A few years ago, Bristol Rovers moved out of Bristol and now play at Chirton park in Bath, but they seek site after site to relocate within the city. They are finding it virtually impossible. That shows how difficult it is to replace land that is lost, even if it is on the outer side of city areas.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) on raising the subject of this Adjournment debate. It is one of concern not only to his constituents but to many others throughout the country. Because of my Friend's persistence, his activities have taken on the characteristics of a national campaign, and it is none the worse for that. The contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) ensured that the debate was even fuller than otherwise is would have been. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East knows, it is the Government's policy to encourage sport and physical recreation in its widest sense, and to provide more oppportunities for all members of the community to enjoy the increasingly wide range of activities that are now attracting interest. We know the tremendous benefit and pleasure that people derive from sport and recreation, both as participants and as spectators, and we are keen to see that there is as much opportunity for them as possible.
I hope that my hon. Friends will take some encouragement from the statistics. In 1983-84, 10.6 million men and women took part in indoor sports and 12.6 million in outdoor sports. By 1987-88, the figures had increased to 12.2 million and 13 million respectively. That shows the increasing participation in sport.
One important way in which to increase participation is to provide local and regional facilities. During 1987-88, the Sports Council provided grant aid of nearly £9 million to stimulate and promote new schemes. In the south-west region alone, there were 103 schemes, including 29 new hard sports facilities and seven new outdoor grass pitches.
The regional councils of sport and recreation have carried out local studies of the availability of recreational land in their areas. Those studies suggest that, although the position varies from area to area, the overall provision of recreational land has remained fairly static. In some areas the pattern of ownership has changed--for example, there has been a reduction in the number of playing fields in industrial ownership. That has been matched, however, by a substantial increase in both the quality and quantity of provision in the voluntary sector, with, for example, some 100 new artificial turf pitches being provided in the last 10 years.
Further evidence of the Government's support for sport and recreation can be found in the comprehensive approach of our action for cities initiative. The promotion of facilities for sport and recreation is an important element of that initiative, and funding for such facilities is available through the urban programme, city grant and inner city task forces.
In 1988-89, urban programme funds amounting to £17 million were granted to a total of 3,358 sport and
Column 777recreational projects, which attracted a total of over 63 million users during the year. One city grant scheme that will be of particular interest to my hon. Friends involved a grant of £145,000 to the Bristol Hawks Gymnastics club towards the cost of converting a disused building into a gymnastics centre.
My hon. Friends have concentrated on the loss of recreational land in Bristol. Although in the 15 years from 1973 to 1988 there has been a net loss of--according to our calculations--19.2 hectares of recreational land to development, Bristol can claim to be well provided with open space generally, and few places in the city are far from such space or from the countryside. That, of course, is no reason for complacency, and my hon. Friends are certainly not complacent : they are anxious that Bristol's existing character should be maintained.
My hon. Friends will appreciate that I cannot comment on any specific recent or prospective planning cases, but I assure the House that the views that have been expressed today will be borne in mind when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State makes decisions on the cases currently before him. Each proposal must, of course, be considered on its individual merits, and we must weigh the need for recreational land against the claims for other uses competing for it. That can lead to some difficult decisions, and, as my hon. Friends will know, it is seldom possible to reach planning decisions that meet with everyone's approval ; that is one of the delights of being Secretary of State for the Environment.
One piece of advice that I can give is that one of the best ways to safeguard public recreational land is for local planning authorities to include policies with that objective in their local development plans. Such plans and policies will not provide an absolute guarantee, as they will be only one of the many material considerations that planning authorities and inspectors must take into account when determining planning applications and appeals. Nevertheless, up-to-date local plans, consistent with national policies and with the relevant provisions of the structure plan, will carry considerable weight both in local planning decisions and in appeals and other cases decided by my right hon. Friend or his inspectors. I would give the same advice to people concerned generally about the intense pressure for development that undoubtedly exists in some urban areas, whether that pressure affects gardens, recreational land, or other public or private open space. There is no substitute for a well thought out, thoroughly debated and properly adopted local plan containing policies dealing with these issues. The plan should be realistic and must not, for example, simply seek to outlaw all development, but provided the plan demonstrates how housing and other necessary development can be accommodated, it will be legitimate for it also to include firm policies on issues such as housing densities and the protection of the open spaces that make such a vital contribution to the character of our towns and cities. If realistic policies are in properly adopted local plans, they will carry considerable weight.
This is the essential message of the planning policy guidance note on local plans that we issued last November. That note draws attention to the fact that large areas of England and Wales are still without formally adopted and up-to-date local plans. It urges local authorities to make
Column 778full use of this key component of the planning system to provide a clear basis for sound and sustainable development control decisions. Until very recently, there was no up-to-date adopted local plan containing policies for the protection of recreational land in Bristol. There is now an adopted local plan for Bedminster, which includes policies to increase recreational opportunities, especially for young children. Elsewhere in Bristol, the city council relies on a non- statutory 1984 report entitled "Open Space in Bristol" when determining applications and arguing its case on appeal. That report, while better than nothing, does not carry the same weight as a formal local plan which has been through the proper process of public consultations, modification--as necessary in the light of comments--and, finally, adoption.
Both the city council and local authorities may be assisted in the task of devising appropriate policies for protecting open spaces by the results of a research project that my Department has recently commissioned from Birmingham polytechnic. One of the aims of this project is to examine the role of local authorities in creating new and retaining existing open spaces in inner-city areas. The results of that project should be available towards the end of the year. The important role of local plans will be one of the messages in the new planning policy guidance note. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East claimed credit, quite rightly, for having elicited a commitment from the Government to implement a revised planning policy guidance note on the subject of sport and recreation. The aim of the note will be to consolidate existing guidance--some of which is, on any view, outdated and spread between several different departmental circulars- -and to update that guidance as necessary. We hope to issue the note later in the year.
The note will focus on issues that are legitimate concerns of the planning system. The extent to which there is a shortfall in provision will be a local matter to be dealt with in local plans. It will be for the local planning authority to identify deficiencies in provision and to justify the amount and location against other competing pressures for the use of that land. The note will remind local planning authorities of the importance of public consultation in the preparation and amendment of local plans and of the need to consult the regional councils for sport and recreation about their policies and about individual development control decisions, as necessary.
My officials have had preliminary discussions with officers of the Sports Council about the scope and content of the proposed planning policy guidance note. I have also noted the constructive and helpful suggestions put forward on behalf of the Bristol sports association and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East. I can assure him that all these suggestions will be taken most carefully into account as work on the note proceeds.
To answer the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood about what can be done now--because the implementation of these plans takes time- -even at the preliminary stage a plan that is about to go out for consultation carries more weight than a plan that has not been drawn up. Although the plan that carries the most weight will be the one that has been fully adopted, even at an intermediate stage a plan that is still under
Column 779discussion can be a useful mechanism for a local authority that wishes to impress the inspectorate with its policies for the protection of recreational land.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East referred to charities. He is in as strong a position as anybody to raise these matters with our right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary, but I shall raise them, too. My hon. Friend knows that a White Paper on charities has been published recently. It is a
Column 780topical subject for discussion in the House, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will have opportunities to develop further his ideas. I thank my hon. Friends for raising this issue. It is now a national issue. I hope that I have satisfied the House that the Government are addressing it.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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