To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what action he is taking to support or promote children's play and recreation other than in regard to direct and organised sporting activity; and what steps are being taken towards the fulfilment of the United Kingdom's obligations in respect of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.
We recognise the importance of play to children's development and are fully committed to providing appropriate funding and other support for it. From April 1993, the Sports Council will take over the play unit's responsibilities for the national play information centre and playwork education and training along with seven of the unit's current staff. Our obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child are also being met through the work that both the Arts Council and the Sports Council are doing to promote wider leisure opportunities for young people, and through the policies of the Departments of the Environment and of Employment.
In the light of that answer, and following the recent and not unhelpful meeting held with hon. Members from both sides of the House, may we take it that the Under-Secretary of State is confirming that the Sports Council fully recognises the importance of children's play and that no lesser dedication of resources will be provided than under the previous arrangements?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who rightly said that the all-party group had a constructive meeting. I assure him that the Sports Council takes its commitment seriously. It has already earmarked £220,000 as a base figure. It is also considering further funding for the four national centres for playwork education and the National Voluntary Council for Children's Play.
I should point out that this year the Great Britain Sports Council will be replaced by the United Kingdom Sports Commission and the Sports Council for England. We shall consider with them how their policy areas should develop.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the right of a child to recreation is preceded by the right to life? Does he therefore regret the fact that 4 million children have been murdered under the Abortion Act 1967, introduced by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel)?
How can the Under-Secretary of State be satisfied that adequate resources will be made available to local play providers by the Sports Council at a time when that body is undergoing a major restructuring exercise following the Atkins review? Surely this is not the time to put at risk the good work of the play unit by merging it with the Sports Council—an organisation, incidentally, with no history of involvement in children's play other than that of accounting officer.
In the light of recent tragic events in Liverpool and elsewhere, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is vital that young children are offered stimulating alternatives to wandering the streets aimlessly? Even at this late stage, will he think again about the particular exercise that he is undertaking, because the play unit is the only agency dedicated to children's recreational needs?
If that were true, I should be inclined to think again, but I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the decision was reached after substantial consultation over many weeks. I recognise our responsibilities under article 31 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, on which the Children Act 1989 is based. The Government's commitment is underlined not just by the public money spent by the Sports Council, but through the Department of Employment. Its out-of-school care grant, paid via the training and enterprise councils, will be £45 million over three years and will give rise to 50,000 child care places.