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I am grateful to the Secretary of State. On the subject of school playing fields, the right hon. Gentleman repeated the old line that the Conservatives were selling off 40 playing fields a month. Is he aware that the basis for that oft-repeated allegation is a report conducted by the Central Council of Physical Recreation in September 1984? Labour Members have extrapolated from that 1984 report the rate throughout the entire period of the Conservative Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider that allegation, which is utterly bogus?
Mr. Smith: No, because that is not the only evidence. We know from local authority after local authority around the country that the rate of school playing fields sales continued right through the 1980s and early 1990s. The extrapolation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is entirely valid, as the rate of sale did not perceptibly diminish in any part of the country.
Mr. Ainsworth: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I say unequivocally that too many playing fields were sold off over the past 20 years. There is no question about that. The Secretary of State should acknowledge that Labour authorities played a prominent role in that process. He says that it is not the only evidence. It is the only evidence evinced in a written answer by the then Minister responsible for school standards, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), in support of the allegation about 40 playing fields a month being sold off.
Mr. Chris Smith: There was no new information in that second intervention, even though it allowed the nomenclature to be corrected. Of course, Labour local authorities conducted some of the sales, partly because the overwhelming majority of local authorities were under
Mr. Smith: Let me complete the point before I give way. In April, as part of our sports strategy, we announced yet further measures to protect playing fields. The measures that we have already taken through the double-lock process, with reference to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, are already in place. We acknowledge that more needs to be done, and we are therefore doing more.
Mr. Hawkins: Despite all that the Secretary of State has said, the figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) gave remain valid. If the processes that the Government have established do not prevent the sales, they are clearly inadequate. The Secretary of State says that he is trying to do more; does he accept that his policy is not working?
Mr. Smith: Let me make two points. First, we have dramatically reduced the overall number of sales. The hon. Gentleman must not allow himself to be misled into assuming that that has not happened. Secondly, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment approves many applications either because the amount of land is tiny and its sale does not diminish the available space for sporting activity or because the disposal takes place to raise funds that are used to provide far better sporting facilities for the school and the local community. Those examples are included in the figures for disposals. I counsel the hon. Gentleman to be wary of using blanket figures and assuming that the picture is entirely bad; it is not.
Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a major factor in the decline in some sports in the 1980s and 1990s was the decline of the industrial areas under the previous Government? That meant that there was an enormous decline in cricket in England, since mining and other industrial areas produced generations of cricketers. In south Wales, rugby declined. That was due to the actions of the former Government, rather than those of Labour activists, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) suggested.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right to make the point about traditional sporting activity in many industrial areas. That is one reason why we are currently paying particular attention to the needs of the former coalfield areas. We are giving them special attention, particularly through the
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): As an example of what my right hon. Friend described earlier, I have agreed to and supported the sale of a small parcel of land at Minster college on the Isle of Sheppey. The school is applying for sports school status, and the sale of the land will provide at least £150,000 of the money that we need to make it a centre of excellence for the whole community.
Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right. He gives a good illustration of the point that I was making to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. The blanket figures do not reveal the full picture. However, I readily admit that we can make further progress.
In April, as part of our sports strategy, we announced further measures to protect playing fields through a revision of planning policy guidance note on sport and recreation: PPG 17. We are also considering the need to tighten the categories of possible exceptions for development on playing fields and open space, and encouraging local planning authorities to provide information on planning decisions to enable Sport England and other organisations to monitor the outcome of planning applications that affect playing fields. We have also already fulfilled our strategy pledge to establish a playing fields monitoring group, which will examine the statistical information on playing fields and consider examples of land that is being sold for the benefit of sport and examples of land which is not being sold for that reason. The group will pursue any issues that arise from those figures. The Department for Education and Employment has also established a national advisory panel to monitor and advise on applications to dispose of school playing fields.
We believe that those measures, along with existing ones, will further protect playing fields, which schools and communities need. However, we go further. The new opportunities fund has recently announced the award partners for its green spaces and sustainable communities initiative. Sport England will have the responsibility for awarding £31 million of lottery money to projects throughout the country for creating and improving playing fields and recreation spaces for local communities. We are therefore not simply ensuring that school playing fields are not sold unnecessarily, but, through the new opportunities fund, we are providing resources to create new playing fields and recreation spaces to replace those that we have sadly lost in the past 20 years.
Mr. Smith: Whenever we mention the new opportunities fund, it seems that the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) wants to do away with it. Perhaps he will tell us whether he would scrap it and the green spaces scheme if he ever got into government.
Mr. Smith: Of course, the National Playing Fields Association, which is a doughty fighter, has an important role to play. The new opportunities fund decided that Sport England should be the lead body, but we hope that the National Playing Fields Association, which is already involved in the regular monitoring exercise that we are undertaking, will work closely with it to ensure that the funds go where they are needed.
As I said earlier, we should place special emphasis on school sport. We are doing much to improve matters. This year, we announced that we would double Exchequer funding for sport by 2003-04 and create a major programme of investment in school sport. At its heart will be the new school sports co-ordinators. They will mainly be teachers, who are experts in bringing sport to children and young people. They will be given time to organise coaching and inter-school competitions in a range of sports. Those competitions will bring together families of schools and local clubs to get the best out of their resources and provide a range of sporting opportunities, which surpass anything that schools have hitherto been able to provide. Those co-ordinators will increase the range and number of after-school sport opportunities and improve the quality and quantity of inter-school competition for primary and secondary school pupils. They will also identify, recruit and train more volunteers to lead, coach, officiate and administer after-school sport at local level.
Thirty-three partnerships are in place, and 145 co-ordinators and 654 primary link teachers are working in primary schools. We have announced total investment in the programme of £120 million of lottery and Exchequer funding, which will, by 2004, pay for at least 1,000 co-ordinators. The school sport co-ordinators are at the heart of our measures to increase participation and improve performance, but this is only the beginning of our investment programme.
There are now 67 specialist sports colleges, where young people can develop their sporting talent without sacrificing their studies, in 48 local education authorities across the country. In September, the Prime Minister announced an additional £24 million of funding, raising the target number of specialist sports colleges for 2004 from 110 to at least 150. Recent Ofsted research shows that specialist sports colleges have not only achieved improved exam results, but reduced social exclusion, helped develop responsible citizens through sports leadership and improved health among pupils. Not only are the results good, but ministerial and parliamentary colleagues who have visited the colleges have come away hugely impressed by the enthusiasm among staff, pupils, partner primary schools and local sports clubs alike for the way in which those colleges are highlighting the importance of sport for academic success and personal well-being among young people. Specialist sports