9 Mar 2009 : Column 945

House of Lords

Monday, 9 March 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Sports Clubs


2.37 pm

Asked By Baroness Billingham

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are making significant amounts of capital funding available through Sport England and national governing bodies to assist local community sports clubs to improve their facilities. In addition, we have been working with Sport England and others to develop guidance on the operation of the planning system to help sports clubs wanting to improve their facilities to navigate through the planning system. We are looking at what more can be done; for example, we are also hoping to review planning policy guidance note 17 Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation this summer.

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive and helpful reply. Sports clubs up and down the country will certainly welcome it. They have been seeking for many years to upgrade their facilities by simple initiatives such as putting in floodlights or better playing surfaces. They will certainly be heartened by the Minister’s reply. Who is going to be involved in the appraisals and negotiations about enabling planning procedures to be improved and what is the timetable? This is a crisis; clubs are closing. When are the Government hoping to get these planning guidelines into place?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend who does sterling work in this area. She is right to press the Government on planning approvals. We are all aware that sports clubs with only voluntary assistance often have great difficulty in coping with the formalities of planning permission. We are hoping to get the guidance ready for the summer. It takes a few months. We have got full consultation in order to get all the parties involved, and we are optimistic that we will be able to present to sports clubs in the summer a clear strategy for dealing with planning permission.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, the greatest fall-off in participation in sports by young people is when they leave school or college. What more can our Government do to strengthen the links between sports clubs, which should properly receive these young people, and universities and schools where they have so enjoyed sport? Young people sometimes lack direction as to where they can continue sports into their 20s and 30s and beyond.

9 Mar 2009 : Column 946

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a question to which the Government have paid critical attention in recent years. The drop-out rate when children leave school is responsible for the deterioration in sporting activity among younger adults, which leads to attendant health problems and obesity issues that are linked to these matters. We have been concerned to link sports clubs more closely with schools. This is also critical to sport clubs, because they get the next generation of participants from young people. We have been concerned in a whole range of sports to get a link between sport and school so that these relationships can be established. A very clear illustration of this, which has universal approval, is Chance to shine in cricket. It takes into schools qualified sports coaches from the clubs.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the millennium target of getting a million more people into sports will be delivered almost totally by amateur sports clubs, which are thus a vehicle for government policy? What are we doing to ensure that they have lower running costs—for instance, by helping with utility bills—and are we going to ensure that they receive assistance for such things as coaching costs in the future?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware of the amount of support that the Government have given to sports clubs for their facilities, particularly in rugby. Indeed, the Rugby Football Union has been very concerned about the link with schools. The noble Lord is quite right to emphasise that a great deal needs to be done. There is no doubt that the crucial link is the drop-out rate. The government strategy of encouraging sport in school and links with the sports clubs and of support for the sports clubs is directed at countering that.

Lord Brookman: My Lords—

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, it has never struck me that sports clubs were particularly daft. What exactly are the Government going to do that will make such a difference to a sports club’s application for planning consent?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, no one suggests for a moment that sports clubs are daft. In fact, we all salute the enormous voluntary contributions that are made to almost every sports club in the land. However, there is a fairly limited amount of professional support for sports clubs and, as the noble Baroness will know, negotiating one’s way through existing planning laws and planning permission with a local authority can often be quite a challenge. We are seeking to simplify that and to give guidance and support to sports clubs so that they know how to make planning applications that are more likely to get approval. I cite one obvious example. It is not necessarily easy for sports clubs to erect floodlights. They may need floodlights so that sports can be available in the later darker hours in the evening, but floodlights have an impact on the locality and local authorities obviously have some concern about that.

9 Mar 2009 : Column 947

Lord Brookman: My Lords—

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, the Minister mentioned drop-out rates. Is he aware that girls are liable to drop out of sport more readily than boys, and if so, can he say whether any specific initiatives are being directed to encourage girls to stay in sport?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we hope that the greater emphasis on sport in schools, which is directed at boys and girls, will reap benefits. My noble friend is absolutely right that the drop-out rate for girls occasions particular concern. Part of the general strategy is to emphasise that we want sport to be part of the school curriculum, that we want expertise from local clubs to be available to young people who are developing their sporting abilities, and that we want those young people to look to the clubs in their neighbourhood as the necessary locale to which they go after they leave school so that we can reduce the present unacceptable drop-out rate, particularly among girls.

Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, I must declare an interest as chairman of the National Playing Fields Association. Does the Minister regret the number of playing fields that have been sold by the educational establishment since 1997?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the choice of date has a certain salience to it. Since 1997, no playing field has been sold except on the condition that its facilities are replaced—frequently they are enhanced by the sporting provision that takes its place—which was notoriously lacking between other dates I can think of, such as 1979 and 1997.

EU: Middle East Peace Process


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Dykes

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we believe that the United States is integral in helping to resolve the Middle East peace process. The European Council issued a declaration in December confirming that the Middle East peace process remains a priority in 2009 and the importance of the US in taking this forward. We welcome the United States’ prioritisation of peace in the Middle East and any opportunities for discussion between the European Union Ministers and the United States Administration on this issue.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the European Union has given solid support to Israel in recent years, repeatedly insisting on preconditions with Hamas while not stopping the settlement expansion that Israel still is carrying on? Is it not high time for Israel to return that support by negotiating a proper deal for a full Palestinian state, which, on all understanding

9 Mar 2009 : Column 948

and from what we gather from the press and public statements, President Obama, the Secretary of State, Senator Mitchell, the chief of staff and the entire Middle Eastern team of the President so urgently now desire?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we all recognise the strength of that pressure and the importance now accorded to this issue by the United States, as evidenced by the speech made by Hillary Clinton to the conference on 2 March. At that conference on future developments, it was clear that the European Union and others, including the UK, were very concerned to produce support for reconstruction in Gaza, but we also recognise the wider context in which this reconstruction has to be viewed. The noble Lord is right that we look forward to progress with the new Israeli Government, once they have been formed, towards a more effective relationship between Palestine and Israel.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that President Obama’s forthcoming visit, nevertheless—

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Where does the greatest resistance to a two-stage solution of the conflict lie? Is it with the Israelis or among the Palestinians?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I do not think that the issue is about apportioning responsibility for the difficulties of the past. It is to see how we can be constructive with regard to the future. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will take delight, as will the whole House, in the more progressive, constructive position which is now being taken up by the international community, and the increase in demands on the Palestinians and the new Israeli Government to recognise their responsibilities for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Clearly, what has been continuing in recent years has led to untold disasters, such as that we have witnessed in recent months.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, does the Minister agree that President Obama’s forthcoming visit presents European Ministers with a welcome opportunity to try to convince him that the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and reports of the further destruction of Palestinian homes and settlement in East Jerusalem are far worse than unhelpful, to quote his Secretary of State? They present a fatal possibility of killing the peace process with dire implications for the future security of Israel and for the future creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House is always eager to hear the noble Lord on these issues and the constructive approach he adopts. It is clear that the European Union is eager for progress. Noble Lords will recognise the great opportunities that will exist during the G20 summit and the President’s subsequent visits to Europe for pressure to be brought to bear on the world’s outstanding difficult issues, of which this is one of the more obviously calamitous. We expect the United States to find that any constructive

9 Mar 2009 : Column 949

initiative and stance that it proposes to take on the issues identified by the noble Lord are those that the European Union is likely to raise with the President.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, is it not reassuring that, contrary to predictions and the presidency of the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration have given priority to the peace process from the start? Is the Minister confident that the European Union will respond accordingly, in action and not words—for example, in naval and border patrols—to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza strip and generally to provide potential support for any eventual settlement?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is important that Europe is constructive in these circumstances and seizes the opportunity to align itself with what my noble friend has identified as a difference of perspective between President Obama’s Administration and that of their predecessor, and recognise that it has its role to play. However, others have their role to play. We should also recognise the importance of the recent conference chaired by Egypt and the importance of the Arab world’s role with regard to a long-lasting solution to these issues.



2.52 pm

Asked By The Earl of Glasgow

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, English Heritage and DCMS attended a sector-led seminar on this issue on 16 February. The Government support the development of workplace training and continuous professional development opportunities, including the new national vocational qualification and involvement with apprenticeships. Such initiatives, including those funded by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, help to support skills development in the short term and build capacity in the workplace for the longer term.

The Earl of Glasgow: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but it does not resolve the question of the huge number of professional archaeologists who are becoming unemployed. Of the 6,500 professional archaeologists in work last year, approximately one-fifth have lost their jobs in the past six months. Some archaeological practices are likely to cease trading altogether. Is the Minister fully aware of how damaging this increasing loss is likely to be to the future of Britain’s heritage? Can the country afford to risk losing so many highly educated, though underpaid, professionals to other better paid professions during this recession? Will the Government encourage, and, if necessary, assist, local authority planning departments to keep their professional archaeologists employed during this

9 Mar 2009 : Column 950

downturn in the building industry, when their services are less needed? After all, we are not talking about large sums of money.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Earl emphasised an important factor in his penultimate point—that we need to protect the skills base of this highly skilled sector during the downturn. He will know how that is closely related to the construction industry’s problems; its reduction in activity means that work for architects is greatly reduced. We are concerned to preserve, as far as possible, the levels of this country’s skills base through this difficult time. It means that architecture and many other skills will need government investment and support. He is right that the public sector can play its part. Certainly, local authorities have a role with regard to the employment of people with these specific skills. However, he will also be aware of the pressures on the wider economy which are giving rise to concern.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that the Government will do all they can to ensure that the archaeology sector is not weakened in the recession? Will he confirm that the forthcoming planning policy statement on heritage and archaeology will not diminish existing protections for archaeology, particularly in respect of the duties that local planning authorities may lay upon developers, and that the Government look to local authorities not to reduce the capacity of their historic environment services?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are not concerned to do anything other than to enhance as far as we are able our heritage, of which buildings play such an important part. We recognise that both public authorities and those organisations which receive public funds play a critical role in this area. This is clearly a difficult time, but it is clear right across government, industry and the economy that if we lose skilled people at this time and set them at naught, the progress of recovery will be that much slower and that Britain will have greater difficulties in competing with the wider world unless we enhance the skills base. That is why, at the end of last year, the Government year emphasised the amount of resources that they were putting into enhancing and protecting the skills base in this country, of which architecture is such a significant part.

Noble Lords: Archaeology.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the needs of marine archaeologists are frequently left out in considerations of training and careers? If he cannot reassure us that marine archaeologists have special mention in the English Heritage project to which he has referred, can he reassure us that, in the debate on the marine Bill which takes place later today in your Lordships' House, their needs will be taken into account?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has only to wait for the third amendment this afternoon to see that we shall be discussing these issues with some intensity. I therefore hope that I am able to give her that reassurance.

9 Mar 2009 : Column 951

I apologise to noble Lords for my slight slip in saying “architecture”. I was on a visit for the Lord Speaker on Friday and a student raised with me the intense difficulties that he was facing despite having potentially very high A-level scores. He wanted to study architecture, so I had architecture as well as archaeology in my mind, hence the slight slip.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, are the Government continuing to promote the valuable work of British archaeologists abroad, especially in the Holy Land and the Middle East generally?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right that that needs some emphasis, particularly as we have all been concerned that war and strife in the Middle East and further afield present real dangers to the archaeological inheritance. We are all too well aware of the risks and problems that war has brought, which is all the more reason that we have a level of expertise such that we can contribute to ensuring that we protect that irreplaceable inheritance.

Lord Walpole: My Lords, now that rescue archaeology, which is what has really being happening during the past 20 years, is not quite so necessary, do we not have an opportunity to do some good academic archaeology in the near future and pay for people to do it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, opportunities may exist, because there is no doubt that some people’s difficulties can be others’ opportunities. However, I have no doubt that if I were too positive in my response to the noble Lord, while sharing his sentiments, the university sector would be at pains to emphasise to me its difficulties in expanding opportunity in this area.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, given that most of the money for archaeology has come from the development sector and that a great deal of archaeological knowledge now resides in the private sector in the units, those lay-offs mean that we are losing an enormous amount of specialist knowledge such as in, say, Roman Samian ware, on which there is only one expert in the country. If someone loses his job, that knowledge is lost to the country. Will the Minister take that into account especially when thinking about the establishment of historic record centres?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is very knowledgeable in this area, and I take his representation very seriously. We will look at that matter.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page