Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask hon. Members who are beyond the Bar either to come into the Chamber or to leave it.

Mr. Cryer : It would be embarrassing for the Minister if he had to return with another money resolution to meet those payments. I want him to be clear in his own mind and to assure the House that he will not be required to do that.

Administration expenses are raised specifically in the money resolution. Paragraph (a) authorises

"the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required by the Secretary of State for making payments or for defraying his administrative expenses under that Act."

It may well be that pensions can be included under that paragraph of the resolution, but the Minister gave no indication either of the sums that he would make in payment or of his administrative expenses. In the introduction to the Bill, the financial effects, which normally give an indication of the sort of money that will be needed, do not give an idea of the money that we are talking about. Clearly, the Minister will say that there will be revenue and that the resolution provides for payment from the Consolidated Fund, and we understand that. At the same time, however, it would be interesting to know what the administrative costs of this privatisation venture will be. Parliament has a right to know.

So far, the entire privatisation programme has cost more than £2, 000 million in fees and advertising charges. The privatisation programme of the Government has

Column 413

meant that public assets, which we own, have been sold off. Those assets have been sold to the public as though the public do not already own them, and that amounts to legalised theft. The privatisation programme has been extremely costly. Perhaps the administrative money mentioned in the money resolution is a relatively small amount, but I hope that the Minister can tell us something about it.

What will happen during the construction of, for example, the Crown courts in Bradford? The PSA will start off that work because, presumably, the privatisation will not be accomplished by the time the construction starts. What will happen then? Will work be handed over? If the private contractors run over time and need more money, how will we hold the Minister to account? I had an Adjournment debate on the construction of the Crown courts in Bradford, to which the Minister replied. I spoke of the potential damage that might be caused to an important cross-Bradford rail link, which would provide a much improved rail service in Bradford, but that is not germane to the argument tonight.

How will hon. Members hold the Minister to account? With privatisation, does it follow that all public accountability will disappear out of the window? Will Ministers no longer be required to answer questions, whether about money resolutions or about their general level of accountability? It would be a sad day for Parliament were that so. If the Minister has some concern for democracy, he will assure the House that, irrespective of privatisation, Ministers will still be open to question, to challenge and to account. The House holds that right dearly and I would hate to see it diminished, but I suspect that that will be the case.

I have not detained the House too long, but I believe that the questions were worth raising, and I hope that the Minister will provide the answers.

10.22 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : The money resolution deal with two issues. Firs it authorises payment of expenses incurred by the Secretary of State for the Environment in implementing the Bill. Secondly, it also authorises disposal of receipts from the sales of the Crown Suppliers and the Property Services Agency.

On the first question, the expenses will be administrative and will relate mainly to advice from consultants about the sales. In the case of the PSA, the privatisation

Column 414

itself is not sufficiently advanced to be able to estimate the total costs that will be needed. In the case of the Crown Suppliers, I can tell the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that £54, 000 has so far been spent on the expenses of the sale. We expect the total expenditure on the sale to be less than £2 million. Clause 3 would give the Secretary of State power to subscribe for or otherwise acquire shares or securities of a transferee company, and to make loans to those companies. We do not expect to make use of those provisions for the Crown Suppliers, since the companies will be sold immediately the Crown Suppliers' assets are transferred to them. In the case of the PSA, since the privatisation is some way away, and because we expect that the companies may trade as wholly owned public companies, there may be a need for the Secretary of State to make injections of capital from time to time.

On the second question, receipts from the sale of PSA and the Crown Suppliers will be paid into the Consolidated Fund. In the case of the Crown Suppliers, its debt with the national loans fund will first have to be repaid. The Secretary of State may therefore, with the Treasury's consent, direct sufficient proceeds of the sale into that fund, with the balance paid into the Consolidated Fund.

The hon. Gentleman asked about pensions. When the existing staff transfer to the new employer, should they opt to have their pension entitlement preserved, those pensions will still be the liability of the Treasury, through the Consolidated Fund, at such time as they are called upon. If the individual employees choose to have their pension rights consolidated and transferred to the new organisation which is setting up a pension fund, a sum or sums of money will have to be transferred from the Exchequer to those pension schemes. However, that is not new money, because it represents the present contingent liability of the Exchequer for the pensions of existing staff of the Crown Suppliers and the Property Services Agency.

I hope that I have answered most of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. He also referred to the Crown courts in Bradford, an issue which, as he said, I have previously debated with him across the Floor of the House. The procurement of the Crown courts, as of all civil projects, is, and will be, the responsibility of my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. He and his Department will be accountable to Parliament for the expenditure incurred on such projects.

Question put and agreed to.

Column 415

Local Government (Sports and Leisure)

10.25 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan) : I beg to move

That the draft Local Government Act 1988 (Competition in Sports and Leisure Facilities) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 25th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved. The order seeks to extend the range of activities which must be put out to tender by local authorities under the Local Government Act 1988 by including the management of facilities for sport and leisure. The order adds a new defined activity of "managing sports and leisure facilities" to section 2(2) of the Local Government Act 1988. It also adds a new paragraph 8 to schedule 1 of the Act which sets out a definition of the activity and it brings the requirements of section 4 and 5 of the 1988 Act into effect in respect of works contracts for managing sports and leisure facilities from 1 October 1991. Let me emphasise that the Government place the highest possible value on local authority sport and leisure facilities. We recognise that they meet an essential need in the community and provide a wide range of opportunities for local people to participate in sport. This order is not about selling off local authority owned facilities, nor about preventing them from being built in the future. As everyone from the world of sport should know, competition is both a means of ensuring better delivery of the service which such facilities can provide and of promoting value for money. It is in the interest of the users of facilities as well as ratepayers more generally to find ways to improve the management of facilities and to make them cost effective.

Hon. Members may be aware that the Audit Commission published a report earlier this year entitled "Sport for whom?" which stated that there was scope for improvement in the management of sport and leisure facilities throughout local government. The Audit Commission has confirmed estimates which show that typically, savings from voluntary contracting out have been in the region of 20 per cent. or more of previous costs. Clearly major savings are available, perhaps as much as several hundred million pounds a year. Only by facing up to the constant pressure of open competition for the management of sport and leisure facilities is it possible to ensure efficiency. That is what this order is about.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Is the Minister aware that the all-party parliamentary Scottish sports group, of which I am convenor and which consists of hon. Members from both sides of the House, is strongly opposed to and has roundly condemned these measures? It feels that not only will it decrease access to sporting facilities for many people, including disadvantaged groups of people, but it will probably be a disincentive for local authorities to invest in new leisure and sporting facilities because the local authorities will have to spend a great deal of money and hand over the management of the brand new facilities to private operators. Those operators may simply be intent on making a fast buck out of public facilities which have been financed by public money.

Mr. Moynihan : I recognise that there was considerable concern when the draft order was first published about the

Column 416

points raised by the hon. Gentleman. There was concern that pricing, admissions policies and subsidies for disadvantaged groups, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, would be handed over to the private sector. It is for that reason that I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will be pleased to hear that all three of those criteria will continue to be vested in the hands of the local authorities. They will continue to have the right to determine admissions policies, pricing and opening hours in order to protect the interests of the people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. It is important for the House to recognise that. I am sure that we all recognise that it is important for all users to continue to benefit through participation in sport.

It is clear to me that in many cases it is not a lack of sports facilities or even resources which is a problem. Often the facilities available do not match local needs. Expensive modern sports centres are often under-used in inner cities while down the road other facilities cannot cope with demand. More professional marketing and a better understanding of needs will, I am confident, go a long way towards redressing the problems. In a competitive environment, there is a powerful incentive to get the planning right.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : The Minister mentioned under-use. Will he accept that the Crowtree leisure centre in Sunderland has the highest usage of any leisure centre in Britain because of its wide range of facilities and its competitive pricing and because it is well managed? Why should the people of Sunderland and its forward-looking council which provided that facility find themselves disadvantaged by the measure that the Minister is introducing?

Mr. Moynihan : They will not be disadvantaged. When the contract goes out to competitive tendering, we will see whether the hon. Gentleman's statement is correct. I am confident that the management in the sports and leisure facilities of many local authorities is of outstanding quality and will take considerable beating when contracts are put out to competitive tender. However, it is in the interest of the users for that to be put to the test. [ Hon. Members :-- "Why?"] Hon. Members ask why. Where a more efficient and effective management team can be put in place, it must be in the interests of the users, not least because that team may be able to recognise, through the contractual arrangements, that more effective marketing and outreach policies to the local community will bring more people into the facility. That matches the objective of most local authorities, which is "Sport for all."

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. I am sure that he will have had a chance to look at the work of Westminster city council, which is a trend-setter in many ways. Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to look at the Queen Mother leisure centre, which is a fine example of exactly what he is talking about? Far more private clubs are going through its doors. Mr. Moynihan My hon. Friend has mentioned an extremely good example. It is one of five leisure facilities currently owned by Westminster city council. Several major improvements have resulted from its voluntary decision to put out the management to competitive tender.

Column 417

For example, in 1988, 172,000 people used the facility and 216,000 now use it under private management. Furthermore, under local authority management, it used to open at 8 am, but it now opens at 6.30 am. Most importantly, many people were concerned about special local clubs being denied the opportunity to use the facility under private management. In fact, there has been an increase in the use of that facility.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) rose --

Mr. Moynihan : I want to finish answering my hon. Friend first, and then I shall give way.

Most importantly, in response to concerns about pricing in this facility, under the new management entrance prices have risen by only 6.5 per cent., whereas in previous years under local authority management they were increasing by an average of 10 per cent.

Mr. Madden : Having commented on Westminster, will the Minister comment on developments in Bradford over the past year? When there has been bidding for services, groups of senior council officers have proposed setting up private companies to put in bids for services on the basis of confidential information that they have received as council officers. Does the Minister welcome that sort of development, which seems to raise a number of important ethical issues to do with the conduct of a public service?

Mr. Moynihan : In the implementation of this order it is vital that the detail in the contracts be as comprehensive and clear as possible, and that local authorities ascertain and ensure that no individual gains an advantage because of his knowledge of what is not in the contract. Uncompetitive practices of that sort must of course be frowned upon. When local authorities draw up contracts under this order, it is vital that they make all the information available clearly to all parties who may want to compete for the contract, be they direct labour organisations, people who used to work for the council, or private sector management teams.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : In view of the importance of competitive tendering, will my hon. Friend share with us his thoughts on the point made by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden)? Competitive tenders of this sort should not go to council officials, as there will be no independent audit. Not very surprisingly, organisations can then mysteriously tender for an item at less than a certain figure.

Will my hon. Friend consider sending these bids to the district auditor, who is entirely independent, not to council officials who are entirely dependent on the political will of the party in power?

Mr. Moynihan : I agree that conflicts of interest should be avoided- -that applies as much to people working in local authorities as to others bidding under the tendering documentation outlined in the order--

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) rose --

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) rose --

Mr. Moynihan : When I have made more progress, I shall be happy to give way.

Hon. Members will be aware that there have been two rounds of public consultation. The first was in 1987, when the Government set out proposals to extend competition

Column 418

to sports and leisure facilities. The second period of consultation was at the end of 1988, when the Department of the Environment issued the first draft of the order. Seventy-four organisations and individuals commented on the draft order. Ministers in this Department and in the Welsh Office and Scottish Office have given careful consideration to all the responses which we received. Four main issues emerged : first, the question of which facilities are to be subject to competition ; secondly, the circumstances in which facilities would be exempted ; thirdly, the activities which should be included in the managing function ; and, fourthly, the implementation timetable.

Mr. Lofthouse : Will the Minister assure me that the league clubs with grounds at Featherstone, Castleford and Wakefield which were recently purchased and are now owned by the local authority will not be affected by this order?

Mr. Moynihan : I am happy to have this opportunity to clarify the position. We are talking about the management functions of local authority sports and leisure facilities, not about their ownership. Where private sector managers already exist in clubs, whether professional or amateur, those arrangements will continue. In this case, it is not the ownership that leads to a difference in moving towards privatisation. Where the management team is currently from the local authority, the order becomes relevant. I have been privileged to see many northern local authority rugby league clubs in which the management is already seconded. It is leased to individual sporting clubs. Where such leases apply, as in many professional football clubs, the competitive order does not apply.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : It is said that consultations took place with representatives of local government where such consultations appeared appropriate. The Minister has said that there have been 74 replies. This year alone district councils have received 30 consultative documents from the Department of the Environment to which they have been asked to respond. Those councils are overworked, which means that proper consultations and responses do not take place. Did proper reponses occur in this case and were there facilities for correct consultations? Is the Department going through an exercise by sending documents to local authorities and not providing a real chance to consider them? If there was no chance to give firm consideration, would the Department take account of representations?

Mr. Moynihan : The round of consultations has proved to be an extremely important exercise. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, the House has debated competitive tendering before. One of the matters that emerged from consultation with some of those consulted concerned the whole question of pricing. The local authorities that responded expressed great concern about the possibility of pricing being vested in the new management teams from the private sector. We listened to those anxieties because we were concerned, as were Opposition Members at that time, that that could lead to new management teams pricing out of the local authority sporting and leisure facilities specific groups of local people, disadvantaged groups and others who were not able to pay the going rate for, perhaps, a neighbourhood private club.

Column 419

That led to the Government responding to the first draft order and to the consultations from which we have had responses from local authorities and governing and national bodies. We sought to vest the pricing decisions with the local authority when drawing up the tender documentation. That was one example of the Government amending the legislation in the light of the consultation exercise. That exercise did not take place over six or nine months : it has now been in place for over two years. That shows the importance that we rightly attach to consultation.

Mr. Meale : My hon. Friend for the Member Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) asked the Minister about clubs that were in existence and their management servicing. The new paragraph to the schedule talks about courses for horse racing. The Minister knows that three race courses in Britain are owned and controlled by local authorities : Worcester, Yarmouth and Doncaster. Doncaster is granted by royal charter. Because of the relationship of the Jockey Club to that course, there is a limited list of personnel who can be recruited to the course, and that list is provided by the Jockey Club. There is a limit on the people who can even be shortlisted for jobs. Will the Minister give to those three race courses and in particular to Doncaster the same guarantee that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford in relation to rugby clubs? Doncaster race course, which enjoys the royal prerogative, does not cost the ratepayers a penny but earns many hundreds of thousands of pounds. Surely he will give the guarantee that I ask for.

Mr. Moynihan : The hon. Gentleman's point is not relevant to the debate. It is relevant not to the management of the facility but to the decisions that the local authority has taken in relation to its ownership and the criteria under which the race course is managed. As a result, provided that the tender documentation is not anti-competitive, it will be possible to include details that outline the very high standards required. That will be a matter for the local authorities concerned, both with race courses and with other facilities. There is nothing to stop local authorities, in determining the high standards that they require for management, outlining that sufficiently high standards should be obtained by the management team when, for example, contracting out the teaching of swimming. The governing bodies can have a positive and important role to play just as much in the Amateur Swimming Association as in the Jockey Club.

On the question of the managing function, a number of those who responded to the document were concerned that the definition of "management" in the first draft order precluded coaching, instruction and supervision by anyone other than the new management team-- Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Moynihan : I shall not give way. Many hon. Members wish to speak and there is only one and a half hours for debate.

I understand the concern expressed, and the order has been amended so that the new management team can, if it wishes, arrange for coaching, instruction and supervision along the lines that I have outlined. That will allow it to bring in local coaches or trainers if it wishes.

Column 420

Under the terms of the 1988 Act, the implementation timetable is not specified in the order but will be included in a separate order that is subject to negative resolution. Hon. Members may be aware that we postponed the original implementation date by one year to January 1992 to avoid cutting across the timetable of competition for other services under the Local Government Act 1988. As a result of that--

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) rose

Mr. Moynihan : I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but, having refused to give way to Opposition Members, it would be unreasonable of me to give way. I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish to contribute to the debate. I apologise to him.

To spread the work load of the councils in preparing tenders and also that of the contractors, we propose to phase in implementation on a percentage basis. Thus, all authorities in England and Scotland will be required to have exposed to competition facilities representing 35 per cent. of their gross expenditure by 1 January 1992, 70 per cent. by 1 August 1992 and 100 per cent. by 1 January 1993. In Wales, competition will be phased in over a two-year period. The detailed interpretation of the order will be for local authorities themselves. It must be for individual authorities to make sensible judgments about, for example, the facilities that will or will not be exempt within the terms of the order.

To assist the Department of the Environment, the Scottish and Welsh Offices will prepare for publication during the first half of next year circulars giving guidance on a number of issues. They will offer general guidance, and local authorities will continue to have a close interest in the running of facilities, even if the contract is awarded to a private sector firm. In addition to retaining control of pricing and admissions policy, they will be responsible for drawing up the tender specifications.

As I hope I have made clear, this order is about improving the management of sports and leisure facilities. It is about securing better value for money and heightening local government's sensitivity to local sporting needs. I believe that everyone will benefit--the local councils, the ratepayers and the users of the facilities. I commend the order to the House.

10.48 pm

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham) : This order takes a bad idea, gives it a new lease of life and then lets it loose where it can do most damage. It applies the idea of compulsory competitive tendering to an area--the management of local authority sports and leisure facilities--where it is certain to create the maximum disruption and disbenefit for the least possible gain.

The best evidence for that is the somewhat defensive tone adopted by the Minister when seeking the approval of the House for the order. He well knows that, from the outset, this proposal has been profoundly unpopular with all those whom it will affect. He knows that not a single sports or leisure body has approved of or supported this proposal in principle. They well understood how damaging it would be to the availability of these facilities to the wider community, to the principles of Sport for All, which hitherto has enjoyed bipartisan support, and, in many important instances, to the achievement of

Column 421

excellence in sport, as it is to local authority-run facilities that so many top sportsmen and women turn when they need to train at non-commercial hours.

Mr. Gregory rose --

Mr. Gould : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way ; I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak in this short debate.

The other bodies with which the proposal was deeply unpopular were local authorities themselves. I think that the Minister will confirm that all the local authority associations opposed it in principle, and they have expressed their misgivings.

Mr. Gregory rose --

Mr. Gould : No, I will not give way. I want to speak very briefly. The local authorities speak from some experience : after all, they have encountered compulsory competitive tendering in other contexts. We have the benefit of a study of such tendering, commissioned by Manchester city council, which reveals that local authorities' direct service organisations have been 80 per cent. successful in securing contracts for which they have tendered. Often, however, the price of winning those contracts--the title of the report is "The Price of Winning"--has been the necessity for cutting staff, reducing wages, making terms of employment worse and lowering standards, while at the same time incurring largely hidden but nevertheless real costs, estimated at £41 million for the country as a whole. Those have been the costs of preparing and administering the often unnecessary chore of implementing compulsory tendering.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) rose --

Mr. Gould : No, I have already made it clear that I am not giving way.

All those costs have been for the sake of savings that are much lower than forecast. [Interruption.] The Minister spoke for nearly half an hour ; I do not intend to emulate him.

Some local authorities have already tried putting out to tender the administration and management of their facilities. We have been given some instances : my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) mentioned them when the Minister made his statement in July. Wandsworth came a terrible cropper in the management of its swimming pool ; Chelmsford, having entered into a new contract for the management of its pool, found that within three months that contract had come to a sad end. Torbay entered into a ground-maintenance contract that lasted an even shorter time--just 10 days.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) rose --

Mr. Gould : As I have said, I will not give way, because I want to give my hon. Friends a chance to speak. [Interruption.] I know that the Minister gave way, but he spoke for half an hour. I do not intend to do that.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Gould : There is no point of order.

Mr. Greenway : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not part of the spirit of our debates that

Column 422

Front-Bench speakers give way at least once, and sometimes two or three times? The Minister did ; why does not the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : That is a matter for the hon. Member who has the Floor.

Mr. Gould : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that it is very unpleasant and uncomfortable for Conservative Members to hear a stream of common sense without being able to respond, but they will have their opportunities later.

It is little wonder, in the light of local authorities' experience of being forced to put the administration of their services out to competitive tendering, that they evince so little enthusiasm and support for the proposals ; for the proposals concern arrangements that are widely acknowledged to be working very well. How will it help the communities that authorities serve to substitute for that principle of service the search for profit maximisation? How will private profit-takers meet the demands, interests and needs of the disadvantaged groups whom the Minister has mentioned--something that the local authorities have already done very successfully? I listened carefully to what the Minister said in that regard. He emphasised that pricing, admission policies and opening hours will be fixed by local authorities and included in the tender documents. That is extremely welcome, although it has to be said that the only pricing freedom that local authorities will have will be to fix and pay subsidies in relation to prices set by private contractors. If the Minister is inviting us to place such reliance on the freedom that he says local authorities will enjoy, why do we have to wait for a circular that has yet to be published? Why has the draft order been introduced before the circular has been published? He has promised that it will be published next year. Much more important, why shall we have to rely on a circular? Why is that provision not in the draft order? I hope that the Minister will answer those questions. If that important provision is so central to the Government's defence of what is otherwise indefensible, why is it not given legislative effect? We demand that it should have legislative effect ; otherwise, the provisions of section 7(7) of the Local Government Act 1988 will limit any discretion that local authorities may believe that the Minister's pronouncement gives them. There are other major concerns. They include health and safety. Why does the order not provide that contractors should be required to adopt staff training programmes so that health and safety standards are met, particularly by managers of swimming baths? Why does the order abandon the original timetable and speed it up very considerably for some local authorities? For many local authorities, the already unnecessary and burdensome expense of preparing for the tendering procedure will be very much exacerbated by having to introduce it much earlier than they had anticipated.

Local authorities will now be required to parcel up their management contracts into neat little groups. That will make it very difficult for them to move their staff from one project to another, particularly if they are engaged in organising large projects. For example, Sheffield is now organising the world student games. Local authorities will be unable to move staff in an emergency to large projects. Why are they to be saddled with a system that will benefit

Column 423

and is intended only to benefit private contractors? To parcel up the work means that private contractors will be able to pick and choose and to cream off the bits that they think are the most profitable.

Mr. Colvin : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould : No. I have already said that I do not intend to give way. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should even try to intervene.

Does the Minister not understand that the measure means that local authorities will lose control and responsibility, in many instances, for the management of these facilities but that they will still retain the onerous responsibility of repair and maintenance and will still be faced with demands to invest in new facilities? The draft order makes it highly unlikely that local authorities will risk putting their own capital into important facilities over which they will have little control. Has the Minister considered the impact of this ill-thought-out measure on the future provision by local authorities of sports and leisure facilities that he has described as an extremely valuable element in the life of many communities? This ill-thought-out measure owes its origin to dogma and it has been driven by dogma ever since. It is a triumph of ideology over common sense and practicality. Nobody wants it ; it has no friends. The Government reveal by pushing it forward that they are operating at the far reaches of their own dogma.

If the public had ever been asked what a Government enjoying a 100-seat majority and with two and a half years to run should do to improve the state of Britain, not one person in 100,000 would have replied, "Privatise the management of the local swimming pool." This is one more example of a Government who are out of touch with the British people, so we shall oppose the proposal tonight.

10.59 pm

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : The House has been treated to an extraordinary performance by the Opposition tonight. The Labour party has fielded its key Front-Bench spokesman on the environment. I do not know whether it was an attempt to prove to us that he was well versed in all aspects of the environment. He has actually shown us that he knows extraordinarily little about this matter, to the degree of not even accepting any interventions. On future occasions when the Opposition are debating sport, they should perhaps bring out again that old warhorse the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who might have taken the odd intervention and might have enlightened us more.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : Does my hon. Friend, with his considerable experience of sport and his previous portfolio as Minister with special responsibility for sport, agree that the Government's action is something of an insult to

Conservative-controlled authorities that run their sporting facilities extremely efficiently and with a management who are probably second to none? I refer to my own authority of Macclesfield and the chief amenities and recreation officer, Max Hartley, who is an outstanding man. In Macclesfield, the leisure centre has contracted out many services, such as catering. Does my hon. Friend believe that local government is unable to manage

Column 424

efficiently in accordance with the philosophy of the present Government? If he believes that it is incapable, I can say only that I disagree with him.

Mr. Tracey : I was happy to take that intervention. I do not disagree at all with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). The point behind the principle of putting local government services out to tender is to bring forward the most cost-effective and efficient method of doing the job. It is conceivable, as has been proved on a number of occasions, that, when asked to look at its own operation and to consider whether it is truly as efficient as it should be, the local authority comes up with the most remarkable methods of improving its efficiency. I look forward to many more examples.

In the past year or so, since tendering was first introduced into the argument by the Government, we have seen the most amazing synthetic indignation from the Opposition parties. I suspect that far more of it has been spurred on by their close affiliation with the National and Local Government Officers Association than by any real regard for the interests of sporting facilities.

There is no reason why this measure should not deeply improve the facilities of sports centres, and there are many examples that already prove that. Pricing policies have been set by the local authority and the prices have not gone through the roof, as the right hon. Member for Small Heath and many of his hon. Friends have so often warned would happen.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport gave the example of Westminster, and a very good example it is. The same will happen throughout the country. Far from sportsmen and women and sports clubs opposing the measure, they will welcome it once they realise that professional management--either by private companies or by local authorities that have had their costs driven down--is very much in their interests.

Once again we have had a synthetic show of indignation from the Opposition. It was quite meaningless, however, and once they see the results that the order will have, they too will welcome it. 11.5 pm

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde) : When the Local Government Act 1988 was first introduced, it was clear that the privatisation of sports and leisure facilities would be omitted. That was due to the strength of opinion against it, and many Opposition Members thought that that was a pretty good idea. Having been obliged to consult the interested parties, the Government have blithely ignored their fears and worries and pressed ahead with the draft order even though the majority of local authorities and sporting organisations are against it.

Despite their objections, local authorities will now be compelled to put the running of their sports and leisure facilities out to tender, regardless of the detrimental effect that that will have on their efforts to involve more local people in sport and recreation. Cheap prices and concessions for the elderly, unemployed and disabled will be disregarded by the private sector in its drive for more profit.

The Government have blatantly ignored the views of those whom they consulted. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the timetable for the implementation of compulsory competitive tendering. Sports associations and local councils urged a cautious approach involving the

Next Section

  Home Page