HC Deb 08 December 1987 vol 124 cc256-76 9.38 pm
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I welcome the opportunity to debate, although it is a short debate, the important subject of sport. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will be the first to note that sport is a very important industry. It has something like £4.4 billion of expenditure, which is comparable to that of the electricity and gas industries. The Government have an income of about £2.4 billion by way of taxes, so we are not talking about a peripheral aspect of life. It employs about 376,000 people. Therefore, it is vital that the House welcomes the opportunity to speak in this, the Minister's first debate — we all congratulate him — since he took up his important role. The Minister is an important man, in charge of a vital department. We will see whether he deserves it from the response he gives to this and other speeches in the debate.

I begin with a quote, which is a good backdrop to the debate: The air above Britain is dark with political footballs at the moment; it is a shame that sport is not one of them. Those words were spoken by a top commentator at the height of the general election campaign earlier this year, despite the issue by the Labour party of a sports manifesto, an action plan for sport launched by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), me and others during the campaign.

Sport remains a political Cinderella on the election agenda and in the Government. It is only when tragedy or crisis occurs, such as at Bradford or Heysel, or when I have the luck to win the ballot in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, that the House addresses itself to sport and recreation. You may recall, Mr. Speaker, that last March I initiated the longest debate on sport for approximately 20 years, yet the Government's response to the points made in the debate was pitiful. I hope that the aftermath of the debate tonight will be rather different and I hope that the Minister will survive the debate, as his predecessor did not survive the last one. We wish him well.

When the Minister was appointed, many of my hon. Friends wondered whether I had gone slightly off my head, because I had great hopes for him, and I still nurture one or two. I complimented him, inside and outside the House, and I still hope that I was right in my judgment. My right hon. Friend and I recognise that the Minister is on a learning curve, and if the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) will allow him to listen now, perhaps he will get through the learning curve. The curve has taken a different shape.

If I correctly remember Bentham or Samuelson from my student days, the learning curve is fast becoming a backward sloping demand curve. Those hon. Members who are up on their economic theory will know that that is an inferior good. I hope that the Minister will not take this personally: I do not think he is inferior because of anything he has done or is capable of doing: it is because of people in his Department that until now we have not seen a great deal of support for him in fighting his corner. I am sure that the philistines in his Department who are superior to him are doing a great deal of damage to sport, and we expect him to stand up and fight his cause.

In certain areas of sport there is still happily a consensus. I share many concerns of the Minister, whose responsibilities do not stop at sport. When my right hon. Friend had the Minister's post, he was chided for having many parts to his portfolio, but the Minister has more. He is in charge of water, and he is currently having a rough time in Committee at the hands of some of my hon. Friends. Part of his portfolio touches on sport, and he is becoming very unpopular in the water sports section. He was once a coxswain, so he was in water sports himself. The Minister's responsibilities are endless, covering environmental protection, historic buildings, royal palaces and the ordnance survey. We would like him to spend more time looking at problems in sport.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath and I share the Minister's concern about drugs in sport. However, we do not agree with his heavy-handed approach to the problem. Let us consider the statistics. Last year, more than £400,000 was spent on drug abuse control, mainly through the centre at Chelsea college. That centre estimated that it needed an extra £125,000 to get up-to-date testing equipment. Of the 3,167 tests in 1986, only one was positive; 19 others were positive on the first test, but were not followed up with a second, confirmatory test. Given the time and money that is being spent, why was that? A sum of £400,000 is a lot to pay for just one positive test. We need education and the involvement of competitors rather than blanket testing.

I was further alarmed to read that the Prime Minister has called for a ban on the showing of snooker on television because of the so-called problem of beta blocker drugs. Did the Minister advise the Prime Minister on that? If he did not, why not? After all, he is the Minister responsible for sport. This is yet another example of the Government interfering in public broadcasting. That matter is also connected with the question of which drugs are used for cheating in sport. The Minister has leapt in, but he has left sport in a mess, with no clear direction.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

If the hon. Gentleman has read the report written by Sebastian Coe and myself he will know that the statistics that he has given are inaccurate. Last year, out of a total number of 2,545 United Kingdom tests, some 41 substances were found.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

indicated assent.

Mr. Moynihan

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me.

At that stage, it was important and part of the policy that those positive cases were referred to the governing bodies for action. Action was reported to have been taken on one case only. In other words, 40 other positive cases were referred to the governing bodies about which the Chelsea college and the drug abuse advisory group have had no further information. That was a matter of great concern to Sebastian Coe and myself. For that reason, a whole new system was put in place. I hope that no hon. Member would minimise the serious importance of this issue and the need to take a firm line.

Mr. Pendry

I am grateful to the Minister for that long intervention. I am happy to correct the figures if I was wrong. However, the question remains: what is the Minister doing about the problem?

Perhaps the Minister can clear up certain questions, because there is a great deal of doubt within the athletics world. Is it acceptable to use a drug because of a medical condition? If not, why not? Will competitors be banned after they have been caught taking Night Nurse prescribed for a cold? The evidence that I have read in the bulletin from the Institute of Medical Ethics showed that beta blockers had no effect if taken by top-level pistol shooters, and in fact led to a slight deterioration in performance. The use of drugs in sport is important. We wonder whether the Minister has adopted the right approach. Is it his top priority?

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing North)

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger right on the problem. It is an acute problem for a number of athletes and snooker players whom I know. If competitors follow medical advice to take medication, for example by taking beta blockers, are they then said to be cheating?

Mr. Pendry

I am sure that the Minister has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and that he will reply to both of us in due course.

Let me move on to what I would call Thatcherism in sport. I hinted at this earlier—the standard Tory attack on sport, the cutting of the annual grant to the Sports Council—[Interruption.]] I expected that response from Conservative Members. The present Government generally do not understand the difference between total amounts and percentage amounts —and anything else. They do not understand the level of grant per year. In real terms, grant has fallen in the past two years by 3.5 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) will correct me if I am wrong. We have had a lot of fun in Committee with the Minister's mathematics. We also had a lot of fun when he told the world that the Greenwich by-election would be won by the Conservatives. Now he has got it wrong again.

We want to know why, at the time of the cuts, a full-scale assault is being mounted on sport. The Tory manifesto in June of this year promised only continued work for the Sports Council, and the encouragement of excellence in sport. It said nothing about the wholesale demolition of sport as we see it today. The Green Paper on competitive tendering for sports facilities— on offer at the moment, before it is presumably railroaded into the Local Government Bill — shows clearly the Government's lack of understanding of the subject. 'The Minister has been strangely silent: he has tended to leave the poor Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), to carry the can.

I see clearly, as I am sure most of my hon. Friends can, that the Government are keen that potentially profitable sports facilities should be hived off to the private sector, and that the facilities that are left should be subject to rigorous financial controls. The result, of course, is that many of the disadvantaged will be forced out of sport, to make way for yuppie business men with the ability to pay.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)


Mr. Pendry

It is true. I shall say more about it in a moment.

My own local authority of Tameside will be one of the first councils to face the attack. Six swimming pools and eight sport centres will be threatened. Maximisation of revenue will be called for, and sports halls will be full of flea markets, bingo and the like. My caring council runs youngsters' evening sessions at 10p a time to help young people and, at the same time, to tackle the problem of juvenile delinquency. Collective action to oppose that is already under way. The Central Council of Physical Recreation has stated that town halls must be free to decide sports centres' access arrangements for the benefit of their communities. The Amateur Athletics Association has made it clear that many athletes, especially in inner cities, will be priced out of taking part in competitions. Again, that is something that Conservative Members must understand.

The Football Association opposes the proposals, saying: The last thing we want is something that has the effect of putting up prices. Most significantly, perhaps, the Amateur Swimming Association opposes the plan for compulsory tendering as "dangerous to both safety and the national interest." It is easy to see why, when we see examples of privatisation in action. In Wandsworth, the jewel in the Tory Thatcher crown, tenders were invited recently for the Latchmere leisure pool. Not one company was willing to "take the plunge". In Islington, the Sobell centre was run privately at such a loss that the council had first to subsidise it, and then to take it over completely. Where is that much-heralded private-sector efficiency?

Perhaps most damning of all in relation to the swimming lobby is the Camberly example. Anyone who goes there for an early-morning swim in the privately managed pool must sign a disclaimer to waive his rights, as there is only one member of staff on duty to cover the duties of opening, taking cash and life saving. That is the dangerous future world of private swimming under the present Government.

Every bit as worrying— I hope that the Minister is worried as well — is compulsory tendering. I do not know how many hon. Members were present when the Secretary of State for the Environment let something slip which the Under-Secretary confirmed in answer to a parliamentary question from me — that capital investment by local authorities in new sports facilities is to be curtailed. Given that local authorities have plans for expenditure of over £1,000 million on these facilities, they are going to be chopped.

So here we have it. The Minister will no doubt reply that a lot of this is mumbo-jumbo, that we have the facts wrong. He always does; in this he is typical of Ministers. But I must tell him that a number of points will be made to him in the course of the debate—far too many for a short debate like this. We ask the Minister to use his influence to stand up and fight the corner for sport by asking for a major debate in Government time, so that we can discuss the many and varied problems of sport today.

We have not exactly finished the honeymoon period with the Minister, but we are very close to doing so. We will give him other opportunities — and he has an opportunity tonight—to show that the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the Sports Council, for instance, instead of going to court to sort out their problems, can sort them out on the sports field, with the Minister as a referee.

Mr. Denis Howell

He is not qualified.

Mr. Pendry

Of course, we know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath is the "permanent" Minister for Sport; he is qualified as a referee and also as Minister for Sport. But the current Minister has a very big job to do. He cannot describe the Sports Council as an arm of his Department, because that is clearly against its charter. He must see to it that the CCPR and the Sports Council get together in the right climate to solve current problems. The courts are no place in which to solve such problems. The Minister really must stand up and be counted.

I am very happy to see that a number of hon. Members have come into the Chamber to take part in the debate. I hope that the Minister will answer their points at some length. He is looking desperately for support, and I understand that; but I want him to answer the points that will no doubt be raised in the debate. Sport is far too important to be regarded as just one of the many and varied parts of his portfolio. A lot of effort is needed on his part.

I am responding, Mr. Speaker, to your wish to be as brief as possible. Nevertheless, I hope that we will have some time to hear the Minister answer the points made in the debate. Sport is too important to be given just one and a half hours every two years or so. We ask the Minister to acknowledge the genuine desire of the House to debate sport at greater length. I hope that in his reply he will indicate that he has won the battle in the Department of the Environment to see that we have more time to discuss sport in future.

9.58 pm
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), as I serve on his football committee as his vice-chairman. I am sorry that he chose to be a little carping in his criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) and of the Government's record. I suspect that it may be because we have in my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East an outstanding Minister, a man who has made his mark upon the sports world.

I suspect that there may be on the Opposition Benches just a little hesitation now that the almost permanent job that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) considered his own, whether in government or out, may be challenged and now that my hon. Friend, who has made such an outstanding contribution to the argument, is perhaps beginning to edge out, in the minds of the public and, perhaps most important, in the minds of sportspersons, the prowess formerly shown by the right hon. Member for Small Heath. That is why I am delighted to support him and to take part in the debate.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is a well-known sports buff. He is right to ask for more time for sports debates, but I wonder whether the Opposition, in view of the generous time that they give to lost causes, would consider sport as a topic for debate on one of their allotted days. Judging by the attendance on the Opposition Benches tonight, there may be a better attendance for that debate than they get for the so-called important issues of health and other matters in parliamentary time. [Interruption.] I am unable to hear what the right hon. Member for Small Heath is saying, but I am sure that he will be able to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker.

In the past few months my hon. Friend the Minister has made a refreshing sortie into sports matters. He has bravely and fearlessly thrown himself into contentious issues. He addressed the playing fields issue, which has great support among hon. Members, and the House will know of my interest as I introduced a Bill on the subject. My hon. Friend trod where angels feared to tread. He has thrown himself into the drugs problem, which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned, and I commend him for his bravery. His excellent initiative with Sebastian Coe made a tremendous contribution to the argument.

My hon. Friend has rightly reassessed the role of the Sports Council. I am surprised that the Opposition have not questioned the way in which the council spends the £38 million that it is allocated. We should question not the amount that it spends but the way in which it spends it. My hon. Friend has reopened that argument. It was ignored by the Opposition, who were pouring out their hearts and asking for more money.

My hon. Friend has also opened up the argument on sports and leisure centres, about which I shall say something in a moment. He has wisely supported sponsorship in sport and avoided the contentious issue of South Africa, which befell some of his predecessors and possibly caused them a great deal of distress and harm.

I have no hesitation in saying that we have a very fine Minister and I am glad to support him.

I shall take up one of two of the issues that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned: they have been prevalent recently, particularly at the Central Council of Physical Recreation conference that I was privileged to attend last week. The first concerns the basis for competitive tendering. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde inevitably went down the road that we would expect of a Labour Member now that someone is beginning to question how leisure and sports centres are run and whether ratepayers' and taxpayers' money is being spent in the right manner. We had the usual ritual of shouting and screaming about why we should leave well alone.

If all sports and leisure centres in Britain were run on an equitable and reasonable basis, if every ratepayer received value for money, and if sports and leisure centres were providing to local residents the excellent services for which they were designed, there would be little need for discussion in the House or for the type of consultation paper that my hon. Friend has put forward. Most of us know in our heart of hearts that that is not the case. Many sports and leisure centres could be run more efficiently.

Mr. Pendry


Mr. Carlisle

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

Many sports and leisure centres could be improved, and I challenge the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde to say that they are so efficiently managed that there is no need for consultation about the effectiveness of their management.

Mr. Pendry

I gave some good examples of badly run private leisure centres. What we would like is some examples of badly run publicly owned leisure centres. If the hon. Gentleman can do that and comment on the examples I gave, there will be some validity in his argument. Up to now there has been a vacuum.

Mr. Carlisle

In public terms local authorities are reluctant to publish—[Interruption.]I am sure that the hon. Member for Small Heath will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. It would be unusual if he did not in a debate on sport.

The other side of the argument is that in many cases ratepayers are funding sports and leisure centres. Perhaps the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde could tell me where there is a sports and leisure centre run by a local authority which is making such a healthy and substantial profit and giving such an excellent service to the community that the management is beyond reproach.

Mr. Pendry


Mr. Carlisle

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman on that.

My hon. Friend the Minister has said that we should be looking at the effective management of such centres. If it turns out that the majority of centres are efficiently run, which I doubt, and give good value for money, the exercise will have been worth while if only to prove that point. However, I think that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde will understand that that is not necessarily the case in every centre. Why are we afraid of looking at those centres, testing the effectiveness of the management and, as my hon. Friend the Minister has proposed, possibly putting some parts of the service out to some form of private tender? It is extraordinary that, as soon as one mentions the word "privatisation", the Opposition throw up their hands in horror as if it was a policy that would be detrimental to the users. That is not true.

I remind the right hon. Member for Small Heath of the gentleman who, during the CCPR conference, talked about his leisure centre in Surrey where there was some input from the private sector and said that he had reported a profit in that year of £1.8 million. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that incident. He was there. He will remember that at that meeting, at which he and I spoke, there was not a consensus saying, "Hear, hear, that is happening with us." It was an isolated incident.

Mr. Denis Howell

It was an isolated case. Representatives from the whole of Great Britain were assembled at that conference and that was the only case that could be brought. Our point—the hon. Member for Luton, North, (Mr. Carlisle) has missed it — is that under the privatisation proposals every local authority sports centre will have its management privatised, whether it is good or bad.

Mr. Moynihan


Mr. Howell

Oh yes, it will. Look at the proposals before the House now.

Mr. Carlisle

There is a dichotomy of view. My view is that every centre should be looked at, but my hon. Friend the Minister says that that should not be the case. Perhaps my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to reply on that matter.

The right hon. Member for Small Heath has confirmed my point and I am grateful to him for doing so. That was a lone voice at the conference. Therefore, it must be right to look at the effective management of the centres, ensure that we are getting value for money, and that the ratepayers are getting the service they deserve.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)


Mr. Carlisle

I am reluctant to give way but I will.

Mr. Pike

The hon. Gentleman believes that there should be tendering, as the present consultation document says is possible. Does he believe that after the consultation has taken place it would be right for an amendment to be tabled in the other place to the Local Government Bill or does he believe we should do the alternative which is that an amendment could be made to the Bill once it becomes an Act with an hour and a half's debate on an order? If the hon. Gentleman is confident of his subject, does he not agree that we should have a full debate in Government time to discuss the implications of such a policy before we embark upon it?

Mr. Carlisle

I cannot be drawn into the intricacies of the passage of legislation through this House or in another place. I know that this argument will recur certainly in Committee and perhaps on the Floor of the House when the Bill is considered. I would not say that I totally disagree with what the hon. Gentleman has said.

I have one last point on competitive tendering, which I wholly support. I wish to give the lie to the theory that the disadvantaged will suffer in this exercise. The consultation document makes it emphatically clear that the disadvantaged will not suffer. I apologise to the right hon. Member for Small Heath because he has heard this example before. When one of the sports centres in my constituency offered the unemployed entry at a privileged price, only one unemployed person took up the offer in the six months for which it was available. I know that other hon. Members will tell us that that is not the case in their constituencies. The fact that the offer was not taken up is not necessarily the fault of the disadvantaged; it is possibly the fault of the centre for not selling itself enough. That is what the consultation document is all about.

My second point on legislation relates to the Education Reform Bill. Now that the Bill is to go into Committee, we should try to increase the sport requirement in the curriculum from one to two hours a week. One hour is not enough. That move would find favour on both sides of the House; many Conservative Members would certainly support it.

I wish to refer to the basis of sponsorship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his initiatives, and particularly on his speech at the Institute of Sports Sponsorship two or three weeks ago. Conservative Members understand that sponsorship is a very important part of sport and should therefore by encouraged. Sponsorship must include sponsorship from any source engaged in a legitimate occupation. The House will know that I refer to tobacco sponsorship. I am pleased that agreement has been reached — albeit a somewhat loose agreement—with the tobacco companies. If money is available, it is essential that sport should be able to receive it.

Smoking is a legitimate occupation, as is the consumption of alcohol. It is nonsense to say that, while smoking is a legal occupation— pray God it will always be legal and that this House will never change that—the money available from tobacco companies should not go into sports sponsorship. I know that that statement causes Opposition Members some discomfort because it was mooted in their policy document before the general election that they would put an end to tobacco sponsorship in sport.

Thank goodness, Conservative Members believe that, while smoking is a legitimate occupation, the tobacco companies should be allowed to sponsor sport. I commend my hon. Friend for his remark that if tobacco sponsorship is available, it should be used. It is used for the good of sport from top to bottom and I commend those tobacco companies that are no longer concentrating all their efforts at the top but are filtering them down—to use a pun—to the junior side. That must be to the good of sport.

I shall briefly touch on rating relief. My hon. Friend the Minister should understand the pressure now placed on many sports clubs by the high rating that they suffer. Conservative Members would urge that a fresh look be taken at discretionary grants. I know that some councils are reasonably generous—I say no more than that—but others are not. Even the 50 per cent. rating relief offered to some sports clubs is not enough. I should like to see rating relief become mandatory for some councils where the facilities that are being offered are obviously for the public good, as in many instances they are.

I shall not go through the list of various clubs that have applied to us as individual Members, and certainly to my hon. Friend the Minister, for assistance. I urge local authorities to look closely at such clubs. The latest is the Thames Scullers which has been levied some £4,000. That is an enormous sum for a club to find. In the many long years in his job, my hon. Friend may be able to persuade the Secretary of State that some sort of mandatory rating relief should be offered to sports clubs.

I commend my hon. Friend on the initiative that he has taken, and that his predecessor took with regard to football hooliganism, which, as most of us know, has nothing to do with football and everything to do with bad behaviour. We must be constantly alert to that problem. I am glad to see the initiatives that my hon. Friend has taken in support of those of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Membership of clubs should be encouraged, and I say no more than that to avoid starting an argument about whether they should be mandatory. We should be constantly vigilant to the sort of penalties that should be available. We must not tolerate bad behaviour on the field as that is undoubtedly reflected in bad behaviour on the terraces.

As Ian Wooldridge said in the Daily Mail last week, it was a bad week for sport. There were disgraceful scenes at Wembley when one participant attacked the referee, when a large number of players were sent off the field, a record number of rugby players were sent off and there was much questioning of the umpire's decisions in a cricket match in another country. There is something wrong with sport when the decision of the umpire or the referee is challenged.

Last week Mr. Ted Croker said at the Central Council of Physical Recreation that footballers are almost beyond the law, and that is wrong. We in the House have a responsibility to tell sportsmen that if they transgress the law, as some players in Scotland may have done—I say no more than that because the case is sub judice—they must feel the full force of the law. It is not for football authorities to say otherwise.

This is a short debate. As the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said, there should be more opportunity in Parliament to discuss sport, and most of us would support that. Over the past six months the Government have taken initiatives which have brought a welcome breath of fresh air to the sporting fields. For that I commend my hon. Friend the Minister and wish him well in the tasks ahead.

10.18 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on introducing this topic at this time. I do not find myself in full agreement with the economic analysis with which he began, but that does not prevent my agreeing with much of what he said.

It is a particular pleasure for me to speak in a debate to which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) might contribute. In 1965 he was generous enough—I shall not say farsighted enough—to appoint me to the United Kingdom Sports Council, of which he was then chairman. Although he and I did not agree about everything during that time, the contribution that he made then, and continues to make, to sport in the United Kingdom is unique. Despite the Minister's considerable efforts, I doubt whether he will ever overtake the right hon. Gentleman's contribution.

This is a curious time in sport, and not simply because England's cricketers are challenging the decisions of umpires in a foreign land. In my own sport of athletics there has never been more money than now in the form of appearance money and television fees. However, the British Amateur Athletic Board is bankrupt and the Amateur Athletics Association, which deals with England and Wales, has had to take on responsibility for the United Kingdom. A United Kingdom body to govern athletics, which has been argued for for the best part of 30 years, is coming about, or may come about, because of financial default rather than anything else.

I should like to refer to three elements of the Government's policy. Two of those elements are defective, and the third is, at the least open to question. This is an Adjournment debate and therefore the Standing Orders place certain restrictions on what one might or might not say. First, I do not find it difficult to argue with the Minister that the policy that the Government have adopted on drugs is not stringent enough. I urge him to read yet again—I am sure that he has read them at least once the reports in The Times on 19, 20 and 21 November 1987. In those full and extensive reports the extent to which drugs are available and used in sport is eloquently displayed, as is the extent to which profits can be made from their use and supply.

The reports demonstrate the inadequacy of the Government's policy, not least because the investigation that resulted in the convictions on which the reports were based came about at the insistence of inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. No doubt they had a perfectly legitimate interest in effecting those investigations, but it seems curious that in an area that has such an effect on sport and on health it should be left to that Ministry to carry out the necessary work.

I submit that the policy that the Government must adopt is one that eliminates the use of drugs in sport. Those who take anabolic steroids are cheats. There can be no justification for doing so. Those who take such drugs run substantial risks to their health, risks which have been well documented and are without challenge. I must advise the Minister that although the initiatives that he and Mr. Sebastian Coe have taken may be admirable, action should not be left to the Sports Council alone. The Government should have a much clearer and more effective policy. At present, their policy would not justify either adjective.

Secondly, the conflict that exists between the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the Sports Council over the allocation of money by the Sports Council to the central council is one of the most wasteful demonstrations of misapplied energy that one could conceive of, and it is wasteful of effort and resources. The fact that lawyers are required means that money is going into lawyers' pockets that could better spent on sport in the United Kingdom. It is curious that those two bodies, which are made up of sportsmen, find themselves driven to legal arbitration to resolve their differences. I know that the Minister has condemned that, and he deserves our support for doing so, but he has stated in correspondence that he feels powerless to go beyond that. It is worth pointing out that the dispute between the CCPR and the Sports Council did not arise in the previous 12 months. It has been going on for a long time. The Goverment's policy is defective because it is not aimed at resolving those differences once and for all, and, most assuredly, those differences are wasteful and unnecessary.

The third element to which I wish to refer is that on which the Government's policy can be questioned. I refer to the form in which the Sports Council may hereafter be invited to conduct its affairs. This morning some hon. Members from Scotland met the new chairman and chief executive of the Scottish Sports Council. There is no doubt about their integrity or commitment of the chairman and chief executive to the cause of the sport in Scotland, but the form of the Scottish Sports Council had been changed in a substantial way. Several of its members are now executives of the sports council. I understand that that was done after consultation between the relevant Minister in Scotland, the outgoing chairman, the incoming chairman and Government Ministers, but it did not involve any consultation with sports bodies. To embark upon such a radical change in the constitution of the Scottish Sports Council, without proper consultation with the sporting bodies, seems to be a dangerous and unhappy precedent to establish.

I suspect that, just as the community charge was tried out north of the border and is to be introduced south of the border, what has happened in Scotland may be a preliminary to a similar approach with regard to the Sports Council that functions south of the Tweed. I do not take the view that such a change will necessarily he to the detriment of sport, but it is at least questionable whether a Sports Council in the form that has been approved in Scotland will have the most beneficial influence in the cause of sport in the United Kingdom.

All those who have spoken and who are about to speak in the debate underline the importance of sport in our community. Eight years into this Government's life it can fairly be said that their sports policies lack direction and cohesion. The sooner such defects are remedied, the better.

10 26 pm

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

I also welcome the opportunity to debate sport, but I have to say it is about time. As has already been pointed out, it is about nine months since the last sports debate. The Library records show that the last serious debate in the Chamber on the subject of sport took place in 1984. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) that the House regularly denies sport the recognition and attention that it deserves. What is worse, it affords parliamentary time to sport only when matters of concern arise. We have seen examples of that time and again.

An example relates to football. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) talked about football hooligans. Football hooliganism was taken seriously only after the Heysel stadium tragedy. It is nonsense to suggest that the Government's firm policy against hooliganism — to issue plastic membership cards — was correct. I must be straightforward in this respect. Most people who go to football matches do not carry a plastic card. It is nonsense to try to pretend that they would do so purely to get into football grounds.

The state of football grounds is another relevant matter. The Government responded only after the tragic deaths of more than 50 people in the Bradford stadium disaster. They have not responded with any satisfactory solution. Many second, third and fourth division teams now have serious problems at their grounds. My constituency has a third division football club. One side of its ground is closed through lack of finance and help to repair it. I am not talking about an unsuccessful football club. Last year, Mansfield town football team appeared at Wembley and won the Freight Rover trophy. We are not talking about a club in the third division that spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on players. Mansfield Town has brought 11 youngsters from its youth policy into the first team this year. A solution has not yet been brought forward by the Government.

Let us discuss some other aspects of sport to which the hon. Members pay little attention. Tens of millions of spectators of sports of all kinds follow them on the television, in the newspapers or on the radio. They follow all sports — football, cycling, motor racing and many others. Hundreds of thousands of employees are involved as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde pointed out. Many of them work on low pay in appalling conditions, doing so purely for the love of their sport. For an example of that, one has only to look at the large industry of horse racing, in which stable staff work long hours on low wages in bad conditions. Some of them have to live in bad conditions just to hold their jobs, with little job security or insurance, and few pension rights.

There are millions of participants in sport. Schoolchildren, people in and out of work and people of all age groups take part. Most of them never win a medal of any sort. Supporters in their millions stand on the terraces and in fields and travel miles on buses and in their own cars, just to spend all their spare cash trying to support sport. Billions of pounds are involved in the financing of sport, and the money raised from it is connected with such items as running costs, equipment, sponsorship, gate receipts, advertising and TV and radio broadcasting. All these matters have to do with sport, yet we give them little time here.

As my hon. Friend also pointed out, in 1986 there was an overall reduction of £349,000 in the budget for sport. But leisure time and unemployment have increased because of the Government's policies since 1979.

Mr. John Carlisle


Mr. Meale

I shall not give way.

The Government put a grand total of £37 million into sport—less than one fifth of a penny per head of the population per day is spent on the sport budget, which is a disgrace. Sport raises billions of pounds of financing in any one year. Much of that money is paid back to the Government indirectly through taxation and other means.

The Government should fully recognise the importance of sport in modern society. They should recognise the role it plays in entertaining the population, and its value to them socially and financially. I draw the Minister's attention to early-day motion 319—it has already been signed by more than 130 hon. Members—which calls for a Select Committee on Sport. That would allow the House to examine on an on-going basis the state of sport in Britain.

Rather than sitting back and debating it once every nine months, two years or five years, we should get seriously involved in talking about sport in the Chamber. It is not good enough to ask why the horse has bolted after the stable door has been left open. It is our responsibility to the millions who participate in sport and support it to do the same.

A Committee of the type I have mentioned would also allow hon. Members to examine other interests and concerns in sport. The ownership of football clubs, for instance, has recently been regularly discussed in the press. Is it right for one person to own 15 per cent. of the first division? If we include Liverpool and Everton, is it right for two families to own 25 per cent. of the first division?

Some hon. Members spoke about sponsorship. Perhaps they should be debated in the House, along with whether it is correct for breweries and cigarette companies to participate in sponsorship on a large scale. Sunday racing is about to be discussed in the other place and quite soon in this House by way of a private Member's Bill. Perhaps we should talk about the interests in that industry, about the people who work in it in appalling conditions and about what that will mean to our society. We should also discuss what kind of relationship it has with the Shops Bill that was recently rejected by the House.

We could also discuss the general overall financing of sport to see if we can find ways in which we could get greater amounts of money into sport and greater participation in sport. The hon. Member for Luton, North spoke about privatisation under the new Local Government Bill. Perhaps I should give him a few facts about that. The discussion paper says: The proposals in the consultation paper apply to such facilities as sports centres, leisure centres, swimming pools, golf courses, bowling greens, putting greens, tennis courts, athletics tracks, pitches for team and other games, cycle tracks, water sports, artificial ski slopes, skating rinks, indoor bowling arenas and beaches. That Bill and the management functions that it seeks to privatise will affect the vast majority of our people. It takes into account: the taking of bookings, the collection and accounting for fees and charges, cleaning and maintaining buildings, grounds, sports services, plants and equipment, supervising activities, life guards at swimming pools, providing instruction in sport and recreational activities offered, catering and the provision of refreshments, provision and hire of sports and other equipment, paying for heating, lighting and other service charges and securing premises. That is not a minute minority approach, nor is it —[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Luton, North willing to listen?

Mr. John Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman should talk to his own side.

Mr. Meale

It is about time that the House started to take sport seriously. The greatest expression of the lack of such interest is what has gone on in the debate and the number of hon. Members in the Chamber. Only a handful of Conservative Members were willing to come forward and argue on behalf of sport, despite its massive support in Britain and the massive financial support that it attracts. I urgently request the Minister to come forward with some positive measures and methods that will help us to go forward an give the British people the support they need for their sports.

10.38 pm
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

I shall be brief and will try not to cover any ground that has already been covered. The Opposition have given a genuine illustration of the concern that we feel about sport and our enthusiasm for it. We have also demonstrated our belief that the House should pay a great deal more legislative attention to sport.

Sadly, the only contribution from the Tory Back Benches was an impassioned piece of lobbying for the tobacco industry, with a plug for South Africa thrown in in passing. That speaks volumes for the Tory attitude to sport. There was nothing very Olympian about the speech by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). I suspect that he was inspired by the excellent episode of "Yes, Minister" in which the coughing and spluttering lobbyist for the tobacco industry was suddenly metamorphised into the Minister with responsibility for sport.

In speaking about sponsorship, I could not take a more diametrically opposite view to that expressed by the hon. Member for Luton, North. There is a total contradiction in allowing the alcohol and tobacco industries to parasite off sport for profit and at the same time contribute directly to the promotion of ill health among the population, more than cancelling out the efforts to promote health through bodies such as the sports councils. Several of us were told at a meeting this morning with the Scottish Sports Council that the council would welcome legislative guidelines within which to operate on sponsorship.

The key to this is the relationship with the television companies. At present it is a corrupt relationship because the brewers and tobacco companies put money into sport only because of the television exposure that they can achieve. There is something fundamentally corrupt—and it certainly has nothing to do with the promotion of sport— when top-class football clubs are inspired by greed rather than need, taking money from breweries, which in turn promote their products through their association with sport.

There is something sick about the fact that in many British cities children will be running about with the names of breweries' products tattooed on their football strips, thus identifying from the earliest age sport and their heroes in sport with alcohol, alcohol being one of the antitheses of good health. That is happening, and it will happen more as a result of the sponsorship deals announced last week.

The Government should act on this matter. Sponsorship is here to stay, but, for goodness sake, surely it can be common cause that the brewers and tobacco companies should not be allowed to use sport for purposes which anyone who cares about sport and the good health of the nation must unite in deploring, a category from whom I exclude the hon. Member for Luton, North.

The level of debate about sport in Britain should be raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) is one of the few with a vision of what sport could contribute to the nation on a far greater scale than we have seen in the past. One need only visit housing estates where poverty, frustration, unemployment and anti-social behaviour exist to find manifold evidence of how one can transform behaviour, attitudes and prospects by giving people the leisure facilities with which to operate. If we had real vision, we would be talking about one major sports centre for every 20,000 people in society. Indeed, we would be speaking not of public spending but of investment — of substitute expenditure—because money spent in that way would avoid much wasteful expenditure elsewhere.

I have some involvement with the football players' union in Scotland. It is regrettable that Scottish footballers, almost uniquely among footballers in western Europe, receive not a penny from the televising of their sport. There is, in my view, something approaching a corrupt cartel between the television companies in Britain in their dealings with the football leagues. I understand that in France the television companies pay £18 million each season for the televising of the sport. In this country the sum is £2 million. In England at least the players get some of that. In Scotland the players get none of the money paid by the television companies. That must be wrong because the entertainment would not exist without the players.

I support the call for a Select Committee and the argument that the various aspects of sport should not be lumped together with water and so on, under one Department. Let us take sport seriously. It is not a side issue. It should be a central issue in transforming the prospects of many of our people.

10.44 pm
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on his initiative in securing this rare debate on sport. I endorse the plea that sport, which is a social service as well as a recreation, should be debated much more often by the House.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, even the solitary Conservative Back-Bench Member, the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). The hon. Gentleman stood out like a sore thumb in the debate, but he often does, so I do not suppose he is worried about it.

I especially want to thank the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who was a distinguished athlete, for his contribution. I am glad to say that his speech justified the fact that I appointed him to the Sports Council 20-odd years ago and that he is maintaining his interest in the subject. I am also grateful for the other contributions from my hon. Friends about the importance of sport.

In a short debate like this all that I can do is to go through a catalogue of issues. I intend to do that to demonstrate that we need to spend more time debating them. It is not possible to argue the case for all the points that I want to raise, but if I put down a marker we might make progress in future.

I agree that the Minister has been very enthusiastic arid energetic in his first six months in his new job, and I congratulate him on that. However, some people in sport are becoming worried about the content of his contribution and where he is taking us with his great enthusiasm. Sport is being treated disgracefully in this country with regard to Government contributions. Indeed that even applied during my time as the Minister responsible for sport. That is obvious when the contribution for sport is compared with that for the Arts Council. The Minister must do what some of us tried to do. This is as much my responsibility as it is his, and I am not making a particular complaint. It is wrong that the Arts Council should receive a grant of £894 million from 1982–83 to 1987–80. Since 1982–83 the Arts Council grant has increased by 67 per cent. The Sports Council has received only £248 million—an increase of 27 per cent. In grant. That shows the disparity that exists. I had to face the mandarins in Whitehall and the Treasury. They go to Covent Garden and the National Theatre. They may be interested in sport, but we never see them at Wembley, although we may occasionally see them at Wimbledon. It is wrong that we should reflect our concern about the cultural pursuits of the masses in the difference in funding between the Arts Council and the Sports Council. If the Minister does nothing else, will he try to get Treasury approval for the same sponsorship scheme pound for pound up to £10,000 to encourage small time sponsorship that is enjoyed by the Arts Council?

I want to consider the affairs of the Scottish Sports Council. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East for raising this point. We are moving towards the corporate organisation of sport. Without any consultation, the size of the Scottish Sports Council has been halved. Six members of the staff have been made full members of the council and the director has been made the vice-chairman. There are so many questions to ask about that. Does the Minister intend to follow that course in this country? Is it impossible to conceive that the five junior members of the Scottish Sports Council will now take an independent line—as required by the royal charter—distinct from their boss? That situation is ludicrous. I believe that what has happened is unlawful. I hope that the Minister will at least agree to look into this matter. Even if he knows nothing about Scottish affairs, I hope that he will at least kindly agree to investigate.

Clause 7(5) of the royal charter states: The Council may not make any payment or remuneration for services as a member. Clause 7(6) limits that by saying that it may give remuneration to the chairman and vice-chairman. That means that the other five members cannot be paid. Those five members, who are now on the staff of the Sports Council, must be working for nothing under the royal charter. If they are being paid, the royal charter is being abrogated, and it is unlawful. I hope that the Minister will look into that.

I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Luton, North about education: that we should not reduce the hours of physical education in schools from two to one per week, as has been proposed. All sport depends on the base created in schools. Nor should we follow the position in Scotland, where teachers are contracted to work for 1,238 hours and will not turn out on Saturday mornings or other times outside school hours voluntarily to supervise sport, because the Secretary os State for Scotland and the Minister with responsibility for education have forced them into that ludicrous position.

The cutbacks in education are alarming. Swimming lessons in schools have been reduced by 35 per cent. since 1980, and charges for swimming lessons have gone up by 25 per cent. since 1985–86. Evening classes are down by 20 per cent., and we are selling off the playing fields at an enormous rate. The effect of schools opting out on the dual use proposals in the Education Reform Bill will be absolutely appalling. How will facilities be provided for dual use to the community by schools which have opted out? We are totally in the hands of school governors and headmasters.

Privatisation has been mentioned. Under privatisation, the local authority will have to hand over the management services to private enterprise. The Minister earlier interjected and said "No", so I hope he will tell us the criteria under which local authorities will be allowed to retain the management. It is proposed that local authorities will be left to pay the loan charges on sports centres, swimming baths, golf courses, football pitches, and so on. They will have to maintain the fabric and pay a fee to a management firm. If that is not bad enough for the existing facilities, no local authority will ever build another sports centre, faced with those ludicrous impositions. If the right hon. Gentleman can satisfy us otherwise, we shall be grateful.

The poll tax has hardly been mentioned, but its effect on racing alone will be enormous. All stable boys in the racing industry and people employed in sport will have to pay the poll tax, which will have an adverse effect.

The acceptance of decisions by referees and umpires has cropped up. I say to the English football team, Mr. Ted Croker and all footballers that sport can only be run on the basis that the referee always must be right, even when he is wrong. I say that as a referee of 20 years. I made many mistakes, but not half as many as the players I was refereeing, who never seemed to acknowledge any. We must support the authority of the umpire or referee.

The action of the Government will endanger the prospect of this country ever again holding international festivals of sport, such as the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games. The World Student Games are being held in Sheffield, and I congratulate the organisers on that, but the Government are imposing burdens on them. The Minister went to Sheffield the other day and told them that they would not get a penny, and neither Cardiff nor Birmingham will get a penny.

I was the president of the group that tried to get the Olympic Games for Birmingham and every competitor for hosting those games was receiving massive subsidies from its Government. If the Minister wants international festivals of sport, he should not impose burdens on those cities that are trying to attract such sporting events.

The Government will not raise the cash limits so that necessary facilities can be provided for such events without being at the expense of the other things that local authorities must provide. I beg the Minister—even if he cannot provide the money as he should — to tell his Department that if local authorities build Olympic-size swimming pools, athletics tracks and sports halls to attract the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, they should be given a special allowance so that such building is not at the expense of old people's homes, schools and housing that local authorities must provide. That is a sensible suggestion and I know that the hon. Member for Luton, North agrees because he did so last week when we appeared in Birmingham together.

I must tell the Minister and the hon. Member for Luton, North that if we are to get the nations of Africa and Asia to vote for us to host the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games, we should not be in a minority of one at Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conferences. Such a position has a cause and effect, and I felt the effect when campaigning for Birmingham. I am sure that Cardiff will likewise suffer. However, I wish Cardiff every success in its bid to host the Commonwealth Games. I hope that the Government will give that city some help and enable it to build the necessary facilities without imposing cash limits.

Sport is vital. I believe that it is a social service and should be seen as such. It affects the lives of almost all citizens. In the past six months I have been saddened that the Minister, despite of all his energy and enthusiasm, has not acted in the areas that I have mentioned, particularly in regard to education, local government and privatisation, in a manner that would encourage all our citizens to participate in a healthy and important recreation.

10.56 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

I have been left with a short time in which to reply and I hope that all hon. Members will forgive me if I cannot enter into a long debate, but I will attempt to respond to specific points.

I stand at the Dispatch Box for the first time and I should like to take the opportunity to recognise the significant contribution to sport by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). That sentiment has been echoed by other hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman has made an enormous contribution to sport and his efforts are greatly respected by all hon. Members.

I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman on the last point of his speech. In my first six months at the Department, I have tried, with much effort and as energetically as possible, to take sport from the Back Benches and give it a higher profile. I have attempted to ensure that sport is recognised as playing an important part in the regeneration of our inner cities. I have also attempted to tackle some of the substantive issues in sport.

In response to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), I intend to consider policy so that we may introduce the right policies and the right framework for the 1990s. I will not shirk that duty, but it will not he easy. It will be difficult to recognise and come to terms with the dissatisfaction that many people will feel in the world of sport when the existing policies and framework are challenged. I intend to ensure that the open letter that I have written to the Sports Council will form the basis for the debate on those matters. I hope that an extensive consultation exercise will take place when considering those matters.

Without making a qualitative judgment on the case mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East, it is deeply regrettable that the Central Council of Physical Recreation has felt that it should initiate an arbitration process—at substantial cost to its budget and the budget of the Sports Council. The Sports Council is also spending a great deal of money on legal fees. It is terribly sad when money is being spent on legal fees when it should be spent on the development of sport and recreation in the country. I know that hon. Members who are well versed in the subject are aware that I am not in a position to intervene—it is a matter for arbitration between the two bodies—but it is sad for sport when the money is spent on legal fees rather than on the development of sport and recreation.

A number of comments were made on the current position of the Scottish Sports Council. With a private secretary and an assistant private secretary both of whom come from Scotland, and who brief me regularly on all matters relating to Scottish sport, I have found that the subject has dominated conversation—and, of course, is one in which I am well briefed, although I have no departmental responsibility. I was asked specifically whether I could take points on board and bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. That I shall certainly do.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) referred to authority, and respect for authority, in sport. I wholeheartedly endorse his points. There must be strong respect for referee, umpire or judge, and for the rules and regulations of sport. No sportsman is above the law. It is also vital that every sportsman must respect the rules of his governing body, and respect authority in his sport. The flouting of that authority cannot be excused in any circumstances.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on his success in securing a debate on this subject. His interest in, and commitment to, sport are well known. As many of us are aware, his own sporting achievements in boxing—albeit some time ago—are worthy of note. More recently, the hon. Member has taken a close and constructive interest in the future well-being of football.

It has been clear to me from the debate this evening that there is no doubt, on either side of the House, about sport's tremendous potential for enhancing the lives and health of individuals and communities. It is one of the few activities in life which recognises no barriers of age, ability, creed or origin. Sport has a wide range of benefits to offer everyone, from childhood to retirement. Moreover, I am pleased that we all recognise the considerable scope that sport offers at the highest level of participation and competition to boost the nation's status and reputation. However, it is equally clear from the debate that there is more than one view about how best the future development and prosperity of sport in our country can be ensured.

Let me be very clear about my position on a number of points that have been raised. Both inside and, I regret to say, sometimes outside the House, there has been some misinterpretation of the position that I have taken. The Government, first and foremost, remain fully committed to a continuing role for the public sector in sport. The level of grant has increased by nearly 40 per cent. in real terms since the Government came to power, and we have secured for next year an increase in grant of nearly £2 million for the Sports Council, which I worked hard to achieve. That is an important contribution, and has been welcomed by the Sports Council. Our proposals for bringing competition to the management of local authority sports facilities are designed to improve their management—to the benefit of the needs of communities, including disadvantaged groups and promising sportsmen and sportswomen—not to deprive them of opportunities. We are also determined to maintain the importance of sport in schools.

We are absolutely committed to assisting the future well-being of sport through our policy. I make no apology for repeating my three aims, which are to improve the nation's health, to alleviate social deprivation and to help promote sporting excellence at national and international level. The Government could not possibly hope to meet those aims by pursuing policies that preclude any public-sector financial support for sport, or by declining to exert other than financial influence, wherever possible and wherever appropriate.

Of course, the nature of sport in Britain is such that the Government's direct role is limited. We have an enviable tradition of voluntary and independent effort. That is seen not only with regard to the recent growth of the Sports Aid Foundation and the Sports Aid Trust, but in the substantial increase in sponsorship for sport, which hon. Members have mentioned. I do not believe that anyone with an interest in sport would wish it to be any different in the future. We must not only develop the voluntary and independent effort, but put all our powers and energies into ensuring that more money comes into sport through sponsorship and the private sector. That is why I have welcomed on several occasions—I am glad that I have the opportunity to do so again this evening — the importance of the Sports Council's contribution, and have worked to ensure that next year that contribution is increased.

I have mentioned my letter to John Smith, the chairman of the Sports Council, in which I identified some of the issues that need to be considered. Two points are particularly relevant. First, are we striking the right balance between sporting excellence and wider particip-tion? That brings into question the structure and provision of sport and recreation in this country. Secondly, are we doing enough to promote private-sector investment in sport? As I have said many times, I believe that we could do much more. I say that as a former sportsman who spent a good deal of time trying to raise private-sector money. I also recognise that much more clarity could be brought to the system, thus bringing the interests of potential sponsors to meet those of governing bodies and sports that need money.

But this must be not just at the top level of sport. What is required is a package approach to sponsorship, ensuring that the money coming into that governing body comes right the way down to the grass roots, rather than just assisting those at the very highest level of sport. I continue to emphasise what I have termed the package approach, and take every opportunity to persuade not only sponsors but governing bodies to see what more they can do about it.

On the subject of education, there is a clear misunderstanding, I regret to say, about the curriculum. The importance of physical education and sport in the overall development of children is recognised by our position over the core curriculum, and I must emphasise the importance that, I and the Government, attach to PE. The fact that it has been included as a foundation subject in the national curriculum is a very important first step.

A PE working group will be established in due course to make recommendations about the content of PE programmes and guidelines about what children should be expected to achieve at particular ages. The group's recommendations will be the subject of further consultation by the National Curriculum Council. Although the content of PE programmes will be the subject of secondary legislation, there is no intention to prescribe the amount of curriculum time to be devoted to PE or any other subject.

Our competitive tendering proposals are still the subject of public consultation and I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand that I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that process. I would, however, like to clarify one or two important matters, which seem to have caused a degree of uncertainty and some misguided comment.

The aim of the proposals is to bring about more effective management and marketing of local sport and recreation facilities and a greater sensitivity to the needs of communties. The proposals specifically recognise the need for disadvantaged groups to retain the opportunity to make full use of sports facilities, even it they are managed by private companies. This has happened many times, where the private sector is already managing sports facilities for local authorities—Babergh district council, Basingstoke and Dean district council, Surrey Heath, Vale of White Horse, Windsor and Maidenhead district council, Wokingham— all examples where the needs of the disabled, unemployed and disadvantaged groups have been very much taken into account.

It is because of the experience in the private sector that this has been incorporated into the consultation document; and we specifically recognise the importance of the need of disadvantaged groups to retain the opportunity of making full use of sports facilities, even if they are managed by private companies. The proposals do not preclude a continuing level of local authority subsidy where appropriate. They do not preclude local authority employees continuing to manage facilities where they are able to bid successfully for the contract.

Perhaps most important of all, the proposals do not suggest anything which is not already working perfectly well. A number of local authorities already use private sector companies to manage facilities; some have even adopted these arrangements by agreeing free use of facilities by disadvantaged groups and by promising young sportsmen and women for training purposes.