§ Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I welcome the opportunity for this debate— [Interruption.]— and judging from the "Hear, hears" from Conservative Members it is clear that I and my hon. Friends are not the only ones who welcome it.
Why has a significant debate on sport not been held since April 1977? At that time there was a debate on a sports White Paper which had been published some 20 months previously. This is all the more surprising since sport plays such a major part not only in the nation's social and leisure calendar, but in its economic life. For those reasons, it demands greater stature and prominence in this House.
Sport accounts for over £4.4 billion of expenditure each year, a figure that is comparable to expenditure on the gas or electricity industries. The Government's income from sport is now £2.4 billion from taxes and betting duty, yet only £545 million is injected back into sport through rate support grants, the Sports Council and the urban programme. More people are employed in sports-related jobs—about 376,000—than are employed in Britain in the manufacture of cars and their ancillary parts. Nearly 16 per cent. of the BBC's television output is coverage of sport and that is comparable to other networks.
When one looks at the diversity and the importance of sport in Britain, one wonders why it is debated so infrequently in the House. In the last debate, the two Front Bench spokesmen were so delighted at the opportunity to debate sport that they spoke for one and a quarter hours—over half the debating time. What they said, and especially the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), was worth listening to. This debate is the first in over 20 years to allow hon. Members three hours in which to display their interest in the sporting issues of today and in the problems associated with sport. With very little opportunity for them to support sport, it has been left to people outside to highlight and often to distort the problems of sport.
Just 13 days ago, at the Central Council for Physical Recreation's annual general meeting, the Duke of Edinburgh contrasted the arts with sport and said that from the sports point of view it is not a particularly happy picture. How right he was. He recognised the importance of sport to the economy and to British life by pointing out that on top of employing twice as many people as in the arts in Britain, more than 43 million hours of volunteers' time is taken up each year in helping sport. I do not wish to knock the arts, which are also under-funded, but these comparisons put the matter in a better context.
Among other things, His Royal Highness called for a stop on the selling of playing fields for development. I concur with what he said. In today's Order Paper, 44 hon. Members from all parts of the House have signed an early-day motion in my name on the subject. I hope that after today's debate many more hon. Members will do likewise. I shall return to that later in my speech.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all the hon. Members who signed his excellent early-day motion, and many others who have not yet signed, are opposed to the disposal of even one more school playing field? Many are under threat but not one more should go.
§ Mr. Pendry
I am pleased to hear that intervention and I hope that many Conservative Members will press their right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to see that this practice is discontinued.
The Duke of Edinburgh highlighted other areas for reform, including a reduction in taxes and in the rate burden on non-profit making sports clubs. He called for reform of the administrative structure of sport, which he said should be streamlined. I shall later deal with those issues, but suffice it to say now that the lack of time available to us means that sports lovers like the Duke, rather than the politicians, must set the agenda for sporting issues.
At the CCPR annual meeting, Cliff Morgan delivered a stirring address which highlighted the emotion and the power of sport for good in today's tough society. In a plea to all of us he said:Please don't sell our sport short. It breaks down the barriers, it unifies people.As a former Northern Ireland Minister, I know that sport in Northern Ireland breaks down many of the barriers facing young people. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) can vouch for that. Cliff Morgan went on to say that in Britain, the birthplace of much of modern sport, there is still no Minister of Sport even though Lord Hawke, an old-fashioned Tory, commented in 1919:Ministries for dafter things than sport had been set up".I agree with that.
The most recent past Minister with responsibility for sport is the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) who recently wrote about his time in that post. In his book the Government's view of sport comes through clearly when he relates what happened when he was first appointed. At that time, he says, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said to him, "You do like sport, don't you?" One of his predecessors, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) recalled his days in the post. He said that he spentfour years … as a member of the smallest, most unimportant trade union in the House, the trade union of Ministers with responsibility for sport".
The Prime Minister's answer to my recent question calling on her to list the responsibilities of the Minister with responsibility for sport clearly shows the post's lack of stature. She said that her hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey)has special responsibility for sport and recreation and, in addition, supports his colleagues on planning, regional affairs, housing, inner city and gipsy issues."—[Official Report, 2 March 1987; Vol. 111, c. 464.]
At a time of crisis for one of our most famous football clubs— Fulham— is it not extraordinary that the Minister responsible for sport is unable to speak out against bulldozers levelling the ground for housing, because that application may well be referred to him when he is wearing his planning hat? This crazy situation whereby the Minister spends only 20 per cent. of his time on sporting matters must be ended. Of course that is not the Minister's fault, but how can he allow a club that was established in 1879 with a stand, the Stevenage stand, which was built in 1905, to be bulldozed to the ground in this way? I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) will expand on that matter if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I have touched upon one issue facing football now, just as I spoke on football's problems in the debate 10 years 197 ago. Football continues to have its problems—although they are much overstated by the press— and is not helped by the Government's knee-jerk reactions being followed by ill-thought-out legislation. Our national game deserves more than that, and I should like to dwell on two ways in which the game can be improved. The first is an old hobby horse of mine because I introduced a Bill last year which ran out of time because of the summer recess.
The establishment of a football levy betting board could give real and continued financial support to the game. Last year the Government took £234 million in pool betting duty out of a total take of £550 million on football pools— a duty level of 42.5 per cent. The Royal Commission on Gambling, chaired by Lord Rothschild in 1978, thought that a 40 per cent. tax was then too high. By reducing the duty level to 40 per cent. and adding the money from VAT on spot-the-ball competitions and from copyright payments for football fixtures, more than £50 million would be available each year to benefit football.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I ask my hon. Friend to compare the treatment that horse racing and football have received from this Government and from past Governments. Football is the poor relation in that respect, although it provides massive amounts of money for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Pendry
I am trying to make that point, but I do not want to fall into the trap of knocking one sport or another, or the arts against sport. We must fight for a higher volume in the whole sporting area. The money that I suggest would accrue from the football pools through the football levy board would be invested in grounds, in new terracing and seating, in better refreshments, and new stadiums for the 21st century. We would have schemes that would attract people to football, to league clubs and to non-league clubs, and also to the rapidly developing game for women in this country.
The recent measures agreed between the Government and the football authorities should help to combat hooliganism. The membership aspect of the agreement has been highlighted by the press, but I believe that the local plans idea that emerged will have more impact. I am sure that the Minister agrees with me and will elaborate on that. The clubs will have to meet with the police, the local authority and the local supporters clubs, and create a local plan which would assess the issues affecting games at the club.
The channels of communication that will be opened by this move are long overdue and will benefit football. Our football clubs have not been standing idly by in the past year waiting for Government measures. Closed circuit television cameras are now in place throughout the first and second divisions and they will be extended throughout the league. Family enclosures now exist in 67 clubs. Segregation of fans is better than it has ever been before, and attendances at matches this season are up on last season. These positive moves are often overlooked. Football is attacked far too often when it should be praised for meeting many of the challenges that are facing our national game.
The second way in which football can be improved is through better community use of our clubs. The community programme backed by the Football League and by the Professional Footballers Association is being expanded from the original six clubs in the north-west— 198 clubs as varied as Manchester United and Bury— to 10 more clubs ranging from Liverpool at the top of the league to Rochdale at the bottom of the fourth division, and I hope eventually to all 92 clubs.
These clubs are becoming focal points for the community, not just for football but for women's aerobics and pensioners' bowls as well. Surely that is the direction in which we must move, rather than building bigger and better fences around our grounds and banning supporters from matches. Coupled with the admirable Sports Council Action Sports initiative going nationwide, the community focus for sport is at last being taken seriously, even though these schemes are getting little support from a Government who are determined to tackle the problems in football through legislation rather than understanding.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
The hon. Gentleman has quite rightly pointed out the part played by football clubs in the community and the encouragement that is being given to them. Will the hon. Gentleman agree that that role can be encouraged also by the use of synthetic pitches so that clubs are able to use their pitches 365 days in the year, for all the various activities described, without detriment to the club? Is he therefore somewhat worried by the attitude of the Football League and Football Association towards synthetic pitches, which may reduce the community use of those club grounds?
§ Mr. Pendry
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would have wished to declare his interest when making that intervention, as he is the hon. Member whose constituency covers Luton Town. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and develop his point. I believe that plastic pitches cannot be ruled out at the lower end of the divisions. I believe that that should be the experimental ground for much of what may come later, but the plastic pitch has not been perfected—certainly not at Queens Park Rangers or at Luton Town. Eventually, with the advances of modern science and with many companies engaging in manufacture, we shall some day be able to play in the first and second divisions on plastic pitches.
I should like to move on, because I know that there are other speakers. We must remember that the Government cut the Sports Council grant this year, but we can see some hopeful signs. I have seen much development of women's participation in sports. Women are often left out of sporting debates, but what is happening in this area is very heartening. It is encouraging to see that at last we have on British television an expert in her field—Sally Jones—who has a couple of blues at Oxford and who can speak with great authority on the subject. That is a very good sign that we are moving in that direction.
The relationship between the Sports Council and other sporting structures needs further examination. [Interruption] My right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath has strong views on this subject. I have touched on the role of the Minister, a post which has not been adequately filled since my right hon. Friend was there. In my sporting travels to the Olympics in Munich and Moscow and to the Mexican world cup, his was the one name that rang out as the politician who had done most for sport, even though he is no longer a Minister. I know that he is not well today, but wild horses could not keep him away from a debate of this kind. I am sure every hon. Member is pleased to see him here.
199 The current situation with the Sports Council and the Central Council for Physical Recreation working against each other rather than in tandem was highlighted by the second report of the Environment Committee— with many of whose conclusions I and others did not agree. Those problems continue to worry many of us. Admirable work has been done by both bodies. Especially, Peter Lawson of the CCPR and John Wheatley of the Sports Council are doing invaluable work for sport, but those two bodies must work more closely together and give a collective voice to sport. I do not believe that politicians receive adequate pressure from those bodies or the media generally to respond to the problems facing the league today. I do not think that pressure is adequately applied.
The sporting voice desperately needs to be heard. Sports pitches throughout the country are threatened by the Department of Education and Science's regulation 909. The commitment from the Labour party to repeal this ridiculous legislation has already been made clear by our Front Bench spokesman on education. With each week that passes, more and more pitches are lost for ever to the developer. We must preserve the spots of green land that dot our inner-city landscape and if they are no longer needed by schools because of falling rolls, they should be seized on by the community for the community. I know that my colleagues wish to develop this point, so I shall not go on about it for too long. It was nice to hear the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks).
Many small non-profit-making sports clubs face an unreasonable burden from the rates. The rating system must be reviewed and harmonised throughout Britain, not by increasing the rate charges to the higher levels experienced in Scotland but by looking at the system in Northern Ireland. When I was Minister in that Department—I am bragging here— I introduced an order which provided a statutory rate reduction of 65 per cent. for clubs that are recreational and non-profit-making. This followed wide consultation with many sporting bodies and it was welcomed across the whole of Northern Ireland. My office rang the Northern Ireland Sports Council this morning and heard that it is still extremely happy with it, so it could be a model for the rest of the United Kingdom. We should be helping sports clubs whose volunteers give us their precious time in the name of sport, not penalising them for doing so.
I hope that we will debate sport more regularly than once a decade. Earlier this month, a "Panorama" programme brought out the issues bandied about concerning school sport—participation versus excellence, team sports versus recreation for all, specialist helping versus health for life. As chairman of the parliamentary Labour sports committee, I make it clear—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath will do the same— that the health of sport in our schools will influence Britain's sporting future for years to come. The undermining of the value of school sports by the Government selling off playing fields, by cuts in school budgets and by the confrontational attitude to teachers is leaving sport in a sorry state. These attacks must be reversed and a clear philosophy spelt out to schools.
Excellence should be encouraged in those who can attain it, particularly through links between schools and local sports clubs. Those who find sport difficult should 200 be helped and encouraged so that they develop an interest in sport that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Competition in sport is enjoyable and exciting for some, but that is merely one approach. There should be a choice, with a real emphasis on participation so that everyone can play on his own terms in his own way at his own level. Competition and participation can and should work closely together in schools, particularly in areas where joint use of facilities between school and community is a reality. Only if they do that will sport stay healthy.
On the subject of joint use, I firmly believe that it is misguided Governments and local councils who threaten sport far more than head teachers, because they see sport as a peripheral rather than an integral part of life, and refuse to open facilities for maximum use to the community. I could go on, as I have barely scratched the surface of this subject. However, I know that many others wish to speak.
I end as I began, by calling for sport to be treated seriously in the House. The subject deserves regular debate rather than having to wait for a tragedy, a crisis or luck in the ballot for it to reach the Order Paper. Sport is of vital importance to so many people in Britain. Over 13 million people take part in sport at least once a month. The House must take the lead in sport not by making people fit Olympic training schedules into their lives but by promoting the joys, exhilarations and sheer diversities of sport. In a period of change, when leisure is of real importance, as the working week shortens and people retire earlier——
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the expansion of sport and its importance in society. Will he lend his voice and that of his party to improving the chances of Sunday racing being introduced, as it is long overdue?
§ Mr. Pendry
I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in this subject. I hope that he will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to develop this point further. I was coming to the end of my speech and the hon. Gentleman rather spoilt it. I shall try to pick it up. It is my fault for giving way, but I know that the hon. Gentleman is keen on this subject.
As all these factors—the shorter working week, early retirement and unmployment—come together, we have to look to sport in a way that we have not looked to it before. My right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath, I and my colleagues will make sure that the Labour party will strive to ensure that sport has a higher priority on the political agenda.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for his good fortune in drawing this subject high in the ballot and for having a good three-hour debate. I hope that we shall have many contributions from both sides of the House. I endorse the hon. Gentleman's idea that the House should debate sport much more. The hon. Gentleman spoke sensibly. I did not agree with all that he said—he would not expect me to do so— but I pay tribute to him for the work that he has been doing, in his party and on the all-party football committee, in trying to promote our national game. As he rightly said, it is a pity 201 that it needs a crisis for us to discuss this important subject. That is why I hope that today we can discuss it in an atmosphere of calm and all-party understanding.
As chairman of the Conservative party Back-Bench committee on sport, I feel it incumbent on me to say that we are proud of the Government's record in sport, warts and all. The Government have faced some of the real problems presented to us for reasons in many cases far outside sport—such as the breakdown in law and order—which have nothing to do with football but which are attendant on the sport. The Government have tackled the problems with vigour and enthusiasm. In particular, I associate my remarks with the present Minister with responsibility for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey).
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Health (Mr. Howell) made some remarks about the Sports Council grant being cut next year. I remind him, although he needs no reminding, that the budget has not been cut. It has not been increased. Two years ago the increase was stated as being for two years. I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in this subject.
Our difficulties in the House and as a Government stem from the fact that we should not be seen to be interfering too much in sport and sport administration. We should be here to guide sport through the various labyrinths of legislation and to put in legislation where it is necessary. However, the Conservative party is most reluctant to dictate to sportsmen, sportswomen and administrators the path that they should follow. Ours should be no more than the guiding, and gentle, hand on the tiller, rather than the direct interference that I fear that some Labour Members may wish to have.
The Government have tackled the most recent problems in football. I know that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is well versed in football. The crisis that we had to face after the events of Birmingham, Luton and the Heysel stadium and the tragic events of the Bradford fire have resulted in legislation, and encouragement has been given to clubs, with a gentle hand from the Government, to put their house in order.
I endorse the recent agreement made by my hon. Friend the Minister with the Football League on membership and the various measures that he has taken. However, the Government could have done more about tobacco sponsorship. I was interested that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde avoided that subject. I remind him—and perhaps either he or the right hon. Member for Small Heath would like to confirm it—that it seems to be written into the Labour party manifesto for the next election that it sees an end to tobacco sponsorship for sport. That is the information that we have been given, and I notice that Labour Members are not denying it. That step would have a devastating effect on sport, and it is totally out of keeping with many sports lovers on the Opposition benches—and perhaps the many smokers as well.
Sport needs all the friends that it can get. If members of the tobacco industry are interested in pouring large sums of money into sport, to its direct benefit, not only at high national and international levels, but at lower levels through the clubs, we should accept that money, which is very welcome. I do not agree with the argument that other money is available. If it is, it can be used in addition to the tobacco sponsorship and not as a replacement.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I do not know whether the matter of tobacco sponsorship will he in the Labour party manifesto—I hope that it is—but does not the hon. Gentleman recognise the conflict whereby sport encourages people to be healthy and active and smoking does precisely the opposite?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) has said, the agreement is voluntary. Until smoking becomes illegal, it is perfectly moral for any sport to accept money from the tobacco industry. Indeed, the money that is given to sport encourages people to become and remain healthy—very much along the lines that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde suggested.
It has already been mentioned that school sport is very much to the fore, particularly because of the industrial dispute in education. I found it distressing to learn from a recent "Panorama" programme on television that some schoolchildren are now considered to be less fit at the age of 15 than their parents are at the ages of 40 and 45.
We are all aware that, in many schools, not necessarily those in Labour-controlled authorities, competitiveness has been taken out of sport. That is to be regretted. I am very pleased to see that the Inner London education authority— I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has an interest in this—has reversed its policy on competitiveness in school sport.
One of the keynotes in the Duke of Edinburgh's speech at the annual general meeting of the Central Council for Physical Recreation was that we must encourage competition in our schools. Some independent schools are not averse to that type of criticism. It is to be regretted that, in many schools, competition has been reduced for all sorts of reasons—not only because of the teachers' unwillingness to teach sport, but the problems with caretakers, groundsmen and so on. Sport in schools must be competitive and be part of children's education.
As the Duke of Edinburgh said, when referring to the rising rate of juvenile crime, about which all hon. Members are concerned, the real alternative of sport and leisure, particularly in the inner-city areas, is now under threat because of the attitude of some schools. We should consider that more closely and try to encourage more competition within those areas.
I endorse what the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said about the selling of playing fields. He will recall that, about two years ago, I introduced a Bill that expressed regret that playing fields were being sold. I do not believe that we should follow the line of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that no school playing fields should ever be sold. That would be foolish. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to establish a register which shows the number of playing fields and how many are lost during the year.
While undertaking research for my intended Bill, I could not, regrettably, obtain information from either the Department of the Environment or the Department of Education and Science on how many fields were being lost. We need a national register of the number of playing fields that are available. That is rather different from a register of vacant and derelict land on which there are some playing fields.
Such a register will make us and the Secretary of State aware of the position, and that will force some local 203 authorities to change their minds about selling, playingfields. It is a sad fact that far too many pitches are being lost despite the admirable campaign of the CCPR and other bodies.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde referred to the community use of playing fields. I must take up the hon. Gentleman on that matter. I declare an interest as Luton Town football club is in my constituency. Its synthetic pitch is used by other clubs in and around Luton and the rest of the country throughout the year. About 18,000 people have played football on Luton Town football pitch this season. I believe that no other club in the country can boast that amount of use. We have used if for show jumping, motor shows, American football and concerts, and it was used for a recent meeting of teachers concerning their industrial action. They went to Kenilworth road and had their meeting on the pitch.
That type of community use is assisted by synthetic pitches. The Football League, the Football Association and some Opposition Members are burying their heads in the sand if they believe that that type of pitch is not to the good of the club and the community.
Hon. Members may say that such a pitch is fine at the lower levels of the sport where experiments can take place, but that is rather like having a horse and not knowing how it will run until it is put into a race. The moratorium of the Football League is wrong because its attitude will stifle the development that is needed to improve the standard and quality of pitches.
If grounds are to become truly community services, as they should, I suggest to hon. Members, who are unfortunate enough not to have clubs with synthetic pitches in their constituencies, that they should understand how such pitches could be used year in, year out, and day in, and day out whatever the weather, with no loss of facilities and without wear and tear on the pitch.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that artificial pitches would encourage community use of grounds, but does he accept that, unless all the league clubs switch over to plastic pitches, clubs with artificial pitches will have an unfair advantage in knockout competitions such as the FA cup?
§ Mr. Carlisle
The figures relating to Luton Town before this season do not bear out that assertion. Luton Town gained more points away from home than at home. That was extraordinary. This season, Luton is riding high in the first division and it is likely to take the championship. If synthetic pitches are to be a part of our future, as many people believe, clubs should be encouraged to make use of them.
One of the reasons why life is so happy in Luton at present is that people are looking forward to returning their Member of Parliament for Luton, North at the next general election.
As Luton Town football club has banned away supporters, Luton has become a safe place not just for people to come and watch our football team, but to come and enjoy facilities that the town offers on a Saturday afternoon. I am aware that one or two Opposition Members have come to Luton and there is an open invitation for them to come whenever they like to watch a game. There has been not one arrest at the ground all season. Policemen go home before the match begins and 204 children go to matches on their own. There is a marvellous atmosphere at the ground. Our membership scheme and the fact that we have got rid of the element in football that nobody wants has benefited not only the club, but football in general.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde referred to the rate relief for non-profit-making sports clubs. A week ago, four or five heads of major sports, from rugby, cricket, tennis and soccer, went before the Conservative Back-Bench committee to plead their case on the basis of rating relief, particularly for the smaller clubs. I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister about the matter. I believe that it is incumbent upon the Government to consider carefully the basis on which discretionary relief is given or refused. Some clubs, although small in number, do not receive any rate relief from their local authorities, although by statute the local authority is able to give discretionary relief.
I believe that in the forthcoming reform of the rating system, which I welcome as do most of my hon. Friends, it should be written into the legislation that the discretionary relief should be put at a minimum level, very much on the lines of what is happening now in Northern Ireland. There, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, a former Minister, will know, some 65 per cent. is guaranteed. We are looking forward to the Scottish system and we are encouraged by the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland when, in a recent speech, he gave some indication that perhaps that type of system may come about and, perhaps more importantly to hard-pressed local finances, that some subsidy will be given in rate support grant.
Some clubs, especially smaller clubs, are suffering from enormous rates burdens which may well put their future in jeopardy. One has only to quote one or two clubs. For example, the rates of the Havant rugby club in Hampshire have gone up from £50 to £2,600, the rates for Eastleigh rugby club, in the same county, have gone from nothing to £1,500 and, without embarrassing my hon. Friend the Minister, he will know that the hockey club in Surbiton is now liable for a £1,645 rate levy and that it is charged £120 for refuse collection. I know that my hon. Friend will be aware of those figures and that they have been put to him, but I hope that he will note the plea, which is genuine. Those clubs are providing for our youngsters and others, in terms of increased leisure, a facility which in some cases is second to none.
Some of the reasons that have been given by local authorities for not giving them rate relief are totally spurious. It is nonsense to suggest that the fact that some of them have bars—in fact, many of them have bars—would upset the local licensees. It is nonsense not to get them rate relief on the basis that some of them have had some connection with South Africa. I assure the House that that is the only time I shall mention it. It is also nonsense to say that sport is only for the rich. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that if he has any hand in forming legislation or rating reform in the next Parliament, it must be written in to legislation that the clubs must have the minimum discretionary relief and, if need be, that it may have to be credited from the Government.
This is a subject that is not talked about enough. Politicians are not perhaps as conversant as they should be with it. They are not aware of the importance of sport in people's lives, the fact that leisure time will be increasing and that there are many people giving up a lot of time, 205 most of it voluntarily and unpaid, to try to help our youngsters along the road to fitness and good health. We need to talk more about sport. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde on initiating the debate. I hope that some positive measures will be taken and that we shall hear a positive message from my hon. Friend the Minister.
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
I add my tribute to my hon. Friend and colleague the member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for introducing the debate. We were both elected to the House for the first time in 1970 and he has maintained a keen interest in sport throughout that time. Indeed, in his maiden speech on 26 November 1970 he revealed to the House that he was an ex-ABA boxing champion. Perhaps I should state one or two of my own credentials in this matter.
The first occasion on which I played for the Lords and Commons cricket XI, I was assured by the late Sir Eric Bullus that I had established a club record because I was hit for 26 off one over. In the nature of an arithmetic progression, it was four, two, four, six, four, six. In my own defence I should say that the fifth ball was skied to fine leg and was dropped and went for four. Out of deference, I shall not reveal the indentity or the party of the hon. Member who dropped it.
Should anybody be wondering about my future place in the Wisden hierarchy, I should say that when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury I could play only in matches that were near the House, so that I could be available in an emergency. I used to give my private secretary the telephone number of the pavilion where the team was playing. On one occasion when I was playing at Vincent square, he rang the pavilion and asked whether it was possible to speak to the Chief Whip. He was told that the Chief Whip was just walking out to bat. Showing the customary loyalty, he said, "In that case, I will hang on."
In the Bristol area we have, through the foresight of the late Alderman St. John Reade, some magnificent school sites in a ring around the edge of the city. He had the foresight to plan the great school sites where the Bristol comprehensive system developed very early on, and they are, by and large, in the centres of large housing estates.
Falling school numbers at secondary level create surplus capacity in land and buildings. My plea is that over-zealous disposal of those assets at this stage is incredibly short-sighted, because once those great sites are redeveloped they are irretrievably lost to future education and community purposes.
To date, the CCPR has been notified of about 577 sports fields and recreational facilities in England and Wales that are disposable. I am not at all happy about the guidance given in 1982 in the Department of Education and Science building bulletin No. 28, "Playing Fields and Hard Surface Areas", which says that if the local education authority decides to sell the land to release assets for other purposes, some of it may be used for the improvement of other playing fields. That seems to be a fairly wishy-washy sort of instruction, because the assets locked up could never be reproduced, except at the most enormous cost, if they were wanted again.
I join the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) in asking for more information from the Government about what assets are available. The 1986 annual report of the south western council for sport and recreation 206 expressed its concern over sports fields being taken over for development. At present in the Avon county area—I am sure that the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) will understand my reluctance to pronounce the word "Avon" in those circumstances, but I have to face the present reality—there are seven sports fields listed by the CCPR and they are threatened with disposal.
The council also expressed its concern at the loss of recreational land that could be used to provide pitches for local football teams. I should mention here the Bristol. South Labour club. I must declare my interest, because I am not only a director but the chairman. I regret to say that no dividend has been paid or is likely to be paid on any occasion in the future. The club has a football team of keen young men and it is difficult to find a pitch for them. Yet, in the area there are secondary schools with large playing fields which, for a large part of the time, are standing idle.
To show the catholic nature of the club, we also have two men's darts teams, ladies' darts team, five skittle teams using the alley during the week, and a crib team. When I was a small boy I could never understand the great interest in the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. I thought it was a national event that everybody hung on. However, now that I am a little older I realise that a small coterie follow that occasion, and that activities such as those at our club are the activities of the ordinary people of this country. Some senior wranglers would be astonished at the mental arithmetic of people who do the chalking up at darts matches. Those things should not be overlooked, but should be encouraged.
Under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 local authorities must register land that is derelict. The CCPR is concerned about that requirement and about school fields that are surplus to requirements. There seems to be a lack of information about what is involved and it is not possible to monitor the exact acreage that is under threat. I hope that the Minister will consider collating or compiling figures so that a more national view can be taken.
Two of the grounds that are threatened in the Bristol area are private or industrial sports grounds. Despite the fact that in 1983 the Minister with responsibility for sport asked the top 100 companies to see whether their facilities could be used for the benefit of the community, if a firm has cash flow difficulties, or wants to raise enough money for expansion, there is a great temptation to sell the land for development instead of giving a higher priority to the community's interests. I hope that this issue will be looked at much more seriously.
In my experience in government, I found that the problem of hypothecation was ever present. As that is a long word to master I shall dwell on it for a moment. It is epitomised by the lack of any cross-departmental thinking. If I may use a local authority example, I am sure that all hon. Members will many times have had the experience of trying to get a young couple rehoused near their elderly parents who need care and attention. They will have pointed out to the local authority that if that change could be made and the young people were near their parents, much of the burden could be lifted from the social and caring services. Even in an individual case, the net saving in money would be substantial. However, the system is so rigid that it is difficult to get those factors taken into account.
207 When the Labour party was in government, the only Minister who managed to break through that barrier was our dear colleague the late Frank McElhone, who represented the Gorbals. He did some absolutely pioneering work for Scotland and was beginning to develop that idea. The House and the nation suffered a great loss by his tragic and premature death, because he was beginning to break down the terrible compartmentalisation that bedevils these problems.
There are problems if the community and the education authorities are using the same premises. However, it is not simply that the playing fields are over-used. There is also the question of the change of accommodation, and who will supervise and care for it and deal with the administration and the lettings. Headmasters are under pressure in many different ways these days and are reluctant to tread in that area and face the problems of dual control, insurance and so on. This is important, and the Minister should consider encouraging his right hon. and hon. Friends to develop the idea that there should be some outside input into and control over premises, because it is not fair to try to foist it all on to the teaching profession. However, if it is done, I am sure that there will be the utmost co-operation and that, where such facilities exist, the communities will benefit enormously.
At the end of the war there was widespread damage and we needed to replace what are sometimes called the "Coronation Street" areas of our cities, where the old Victorian back-to-back houses were no longer adequate. However, when people were moved out to the great housing estates, the sense of community did not travel with them. As Whips are not noted for their culture, perhaps I may be forgiven for quoting two words which I have managed to master and which are used by German sociologists. They are "gemeinschaft" which is the feeling of community and togetherness that one feels in a village and "gesellschaft", which is the loneliness of being in a big town and not knowing anybody. We have the strange anomaly that the loneliest people in the country live in the biggest conglomerations of population.
I am sure that on some of the large estates that were laid out primarily to rehouse people, but which were not provided with the proper facilities, an interdepartmental study of the way in which the work of one Department could help another would make an enormous contribution to bringing a sense of community and togetherness into those areas. That would be an antidote to the problems of rising crime and the violence of which we are all aware.
§ Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)
The right hon. Gentleman made a valid point about the migration of people from traditional centres. Does he agree that that is one of the reasons for the sadly declining attendances at professional football matches? The grounds are still where the people used to be, but the people are no longer there.
§ Mr. Cocks
Yes, that is an important point.
I have not mentioned the team in my own area, which is Bristol City, for fairly obvious reasons. Nevertheless, I have been a loyal supporter of that team since 1946.
I finish with a plea to the Minister. He has the opportunity to make his mark, not only in relation to sport, but on the whole issue of community caring and in building up the spirit that is the real answer to the problems of divisiveness and destruction in many parts of 208 society today. Will he please do what he can to encourage all those who have these sites within their purview to resist the temptation to go for a quick cash return and to concentrate instead on how the grounds, which provide one-off opportunities, could be used for the benefit of everybody within the area?
§ Sir Edward du Cann (Taunton)
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) has just made an important and thoughtful speech. I hope that his points will command the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Environment. I had no idea that the right hon. Gentleman was a cricketer of such style and prowess, as we learned at the beginning of his speech.
§ Sir Edward du Cann
As my hon. Friend points out, the right hon. Gentleman is also modest. Of course, not every member of the Lords and Commons cricket club is as agile or, I suspect, as wily as the right hon. Gentleman. I am told that on one occasion the Lords and the Commons cricket team arrived to play at their opponents' ground, one man short. Therefore, they recruited a young man who was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club's ground staff, arguing, with impeccable logic, that as he was employed at Lords it was only reasonable that he should play for the Lords and Commons cricket team. So far, so good. He was instructed to field on the boundary. He asked, "Which part?" "All of it," came the reply.
I agree with the comments made by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South—not least with his sensible plea for the abolition of the country of Avon, in the interests of the counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset and of the great west country city of Bristol.
I wish to speak about the single matter of Sunday racing. I declare an interest as a shareholder in and a director of the Taunton race course, which is one of the smallest courses in the United Kingdom. It is also one of the most attractive and is one of only three National Hunt courses in the west of England. That course is typical of the many throughout the United Kingdom which provide great encouragement to all those who love the sport of kings, who love horses, who want to race horses, who enjoy watching horses race and who derive some simple amusement by betting on the results. It is not only one of the smallest courses in England, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) pointed out in his admirable speech, in which he made some important points, it has great difficulty, as do many other small enterprises——
§ Sir Edward du Cann
Yes like Plumpton, it finds the greatest difficulty in remaining viable.
We have only 11 race meetings a year and it is inevitable that more than one is interrupted, if not completely spoilt, by weather conditions during the winter and early spring. It is a hard job to ensure modest profitability.
I should like to pay tribute to all those who work so hard without thought of personal reward to keep those smaller sporting enterprises going. Certainly in Taunton we have hard marvellous leadership — from my late friend, the former chairman of the company, Colonel Mitford-Slade, from the present chairman, Mr. Reading, 209 from Mr. Dunn, who have been associated with the course for a long time, and from others. I am glad to mention those names because throughout the United Kingdom a multitude of people have not so much a financial interest in these smaller enterprises, as an emotional commitment to their communities and a practical interest in those enterprises.
I agree that we all owe the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde a debt of gratitude for his initiative in securing the debate. He is one of the best liked and most respected hon. Members. Perhaps it is easier to say that when he is not present than to his face, and I hope that paying him a compliment will not do him harm. I hope that his early-day motion 732 will command the support of an increasing number of hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman is right when he says we talk too little about sporting matters.
The horse-racing industry is a great national asset, employing 100,000 people. So expert are our breeders, trainers, and jockeys and so wise our owners that it brings in to the balance of payments no less than £3 million each year net in prize money. Nearly 4 million people attend the race tracks every year and as we have just finished our debate on the Budget, the House will be familiar with the huge sums which are raised in betting duty.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was most wise to abolish on-course betting duty, for which several of us have argued for many years. This will give a much-needed boost to the spectator sport of racing and will undoubtedly be instrumental in making certain that the number of people visiting race tracks to watch will, at least, not decline and may continue marginally to rise. That practical encouragement for the racing industry and the sport is appreciated.
Another problem facing the racing industry is that the United Kingdom is the only major racing country unable to stage meetings on a Sunday because of the present betting restrictions. They are to be found in the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 and to a lesser extent in the Sunday Observance Act 1780. But conditions and attitudes have changed considerably since we passed the legislation of 24 years ago and certainly since the climate of opinion in which the 1780 Act was passed.
Racing is the only major sport in the United Kingdom unable to provide entertainment for the public on a Sunday. It is remarkable to reflect that other events held on Sundays include Wimbledon tennis finals, the final round of the British Open golf championship and of the Ryder Cup, the Littlewoods Cup final, the one-day Sunday cricket league matches—which have given such pleasure to many people and perhaps have saved cricket as a professional sport from extinction—Rugby League matches, snooker championships and the British Grand Prix. It is absurd that in an increasingly competitive environment racing should continue to be deprived of the opportunity to hold meetings on a day of prime leisure time.
I commend to the attention of the House, not least my hon. Friend the able young Minister responsible for sporting events, the report of the working party of the Jockey Club published in January this year. It follows two years study and recommends that there should be a change in the legislation affecting Sunday racing. There is undoubtedly a majority in favour of that and it would be both logical and fair to change the rules. While I appreciate that the prime responsibility for doing that may rest with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I hope 210 that my hon. Friend the Minister can say that that matter will undoubtedly engage the Government's attention and that he will be good enough to report to the Home Secretary the probably unanimous and certainly majority view of the House that that would be sensible.
If the law is changed, not only will a demand be satisfied, but the Government will gain substantially. If the Irish experiment sets a sensible precedent, as I believe it does, the Government would undoubtedly gain considerably more in revenue duties. Moreover, there would he the prospect of additional employment; which is warmly to be welcomed at this time.
The Jockey Club is properly consulting interested parties about this matter. If any one has anxieties about the effect of the proposal, I believe that it should be relatively easy to agree reasonable working conditions for those involved. Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), were encouraged by a public statement made by the chairman of William Hill on this subject only yesterday.
I agree with much of the speech of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North commented wisely on tobacco sponsorship. Much as I should like to comment on their speeches, my single point is that this anomaly affecting racing should be removed promptly. If it is, everybody will gain. It is reasonable that the House should unite in saying that in future it will provide conditions for racing which are as fair as those for other spectator sports. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, in whose judgment I have such faith, will be good enough to say that the Government will certainly study this matter in future and come forward with specific proposals.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
The House may understand that as a Liverpool Member I have listened with particular interest to the three preceding speeches, especially that of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann). Each year the city hosts the Grand National, so racing is of enormous interest to the people of Liverpool. However, I do not entirely share the right hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the betting associated with horse racing. 'The misery associated with betting shops in inner-city areas where people waste their savings, earnings and benefits represents the other side of this argument.
I agree with right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) about the need for facilities and for the Departments that administer those facilities to be better integrated. He touched on a matter dear to my heart when he said that some playing fields which ring the city of Bristol have been disappearing—we have similar fields round Liverpool— and how important it is that they should be safeguarded. That is also true of the beautiful Victorian parks in the city of Liverpool which provide a marvellous open space for recreation and are a great legacy from our Victorian forefathers. We must do more to safeguard them too.
Before that we heard from the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) who told us about synthetic football pitches. In Liverpool, I like to think that we know a little about authentic football although I would not like to say which of the two football teams in Liverpool is the best.
211 Before any of my political opponents accuse me of sitting on the fence, I had better say that this is a good occasion for doing just that.
Like other hon. Members, I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on choosing this very important subject and on giving us the chance to discuss sporting issues. There is a great deal of cross-party support for a number of the points that he made in his cogent and compelling speech. I want to refer to some of the issues that have already been raised and to issues that I have raised on previous occasions with the Minister who is to reply.
There is a desperate need for an integrated and coordinated sports policy. I agreed with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde that it is a tragedy that the "Sports Department"—if I may call it that—was hidden away inside the Department of the Environment. I want to see a much higher profile given by the Government to that important function. That in no way underestimates the Minister's own personal contribution.
There should also be a greater role and more support given to the sports councils. When I was a member of the Select Committee on the Environment, it carried out an investigation into the work of the sports councils and we concluded that they were doing an admirable job. However, we recognised the need for those councils to be given greater support. I met members of the north-west sports council a few months ago when they came to meet representatives from each of the parties. They were led by the secretary, Mr. Roger Pontefract, and they underlined the need for more resources. They said that in the northwest this year the budget of £1.5 million is the same as last year and is, in effect, a cut. Nationally, a request was made for an additional £4 million for inner city areas and that was turned down. The north-west sports council is also concerned about the possibility of water privatisation measures being re-introduced and the disastrous effects that that would have on the north-west.
A colleague of mine, Mr. Chris Davies, from Saddleworth, has been leading a campaign to safeguard Saddleworth Moors for recreation, open space, walking, running and many other leisure activities. As he has said, it would be a great tragedy if those facilities were lost to the nation if they were sold off for other purposes as a result of water privatisation.
The north-west sports council also expressed concern for schemes which will collapse later this year when money will finally run out in the aftermath of the abolition of the metropolitan county councils. The sports council said that this under-provision of funds will come back to haunt us later in the year. I would welcome the Minister's reactions to those worries expressed by the north-west sports council when he replies.
A national strategy and a more dynamic role for the sports councils is needed. However, quite properly, mention has been made throughout the debate to the country's No. 1 spectator sport. On 2 March the Minister will recall that, along with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), I visited him with a delegation from the Football Supporters Association, a Liverpool-based initiative. During the course of our discussions we raised a number of issues. I want to ask the Minister what progress has been made on some of those matters.
212 We raised the question of mergers and asset-stripping. Has the Minister been able to make any progress on drawing up new guidelines? With regard to the Heysel stadium disaster, he will recall that the hon. Member for Walton and I asked whether he would pursue with UEFA the question of its responsibilities during the course of the disaster. Has he been able to make any progress in that respect? We also raised the question of the need for a new national football stadium. Everyone recognises— the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) has regularly raised the issue—the need for a national sports stadium outside London. Has the Minister given that any further thought?
We raised points about membership schemes, ticket allocation and the need for more facilities for handicapped people, especially at Wembley. We also raised the continuing ban of English participation in European cup competitions. The Minister will recall that we met him before the UEFA meeting in Berne that took place on 10 March. Given the UEFA criticism at that meeting, when it gave as one of the reasons for non-readmission the proposition that the British Government had not taken sufficient or imaginative measures to reassure UEFA about the future conduct of British fans, what is the Minister's response to that fairly serious claim?
The Minister will recall that members of the Football Supporters Association set out a number of other points during the course of the discussions. In its charter, the FSA includes a number of points which should commend themselves to the House. The FSA claims that its aimis to achieve representation for its members in all areas of the game where currently their interests are completely ignored. This includes such basic matters as ground safety and comfort. It includes involvement in decisions about where 'prestige' and international games are played. It includes involvement in decisions about ticket allocations for these games. In pursuing these aims, the FSA will act on behalf of its members irrespective of which club, league, national or international association may be involved. The FSA will reclaim the game for its members by using its strength—the membership itself.In its charter the FSA also state that:We will not allow any further alienation of the game's traditional followers—ordinary people who use football at all levels as a recreational pursuit—by fanatics who see it as a duty to resort to violence to uphold allegiance to a particular club or team, or those who see football as a platform to reflect their own individual power or wealth. The FSA will take on the task of restoring football to its rightful owners—the supporters.In effect, the FSA is claiming that the game belongs to the supporters and not to boards of directors. Many hon. Members would recognise the need to ensure that responsible fans are themselves more fully involved in the policing of the game and in ensuring that discipline is maintained in the grounds. This is a better way of going about things than simply passing more legislation.
I hope that the FSA will continue to be supported and that it will be recognised as a genuine voice for genuine fans and that the Government will ensure that it is not frozen out. Clubs should positively encourage its development. The FSA also raised with the Minister the suggestion that an "ombudsfan" should be appointed with the same role as the local government ombudsman or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. He would be able to take up complaints and grievances. I think that that idea has something to commend it and I wonder whether the Minister has been able to give it any further consideration.
213 Having spent so much time on a spectator sport, I want to consider participation sports. As I represent a constituency that is half in the inner city and half in the suburbs, I am especially worried about the lack of proper changing facilities, pitches and places. Young people should be encouraged to participate in sport especially at a time when they have so much enforced leisure time on their hands with so much youth unemployment. However, in a city such as Liverpool where the fastest-growing group is the over-80s and where one in four people are over retirement age, there is also a desperate need to provide facilities such as bowling-greens for the elderly. More special initiatives should be taken in that respect.
There are very few swimming pools in Liverpool for young people. Perhaps we could use unemployed people in the construction industry to provide these sort of facilities. People who have time on their hands, nothing to do and nowhere to go, almost invariably and inevitably fall into the hands of common criminals, into vice rings or the abuse of drugs. It is important to recognise the links between crime and the failure to harness the energies of young people. Great frustration is born out of enforced time on the dole or through living in miserable ugly surroundings such as those described by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) in the ghastly overspill estates. It is important that we recognise the consequences of there not being places for people to go to and the conditions in which they live.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
Many hon. Members will have listened to the hon. Gentleman with interest and sympathy on the problems affecting the young unemployed. He will know of the various schemes whereby, for example, reduced entry to swimming pools is allowed to the youth unemployed. The problem in many cases— I am sure that this is so in Liverpool—is educating the youth to use those facilities. Does he agree that many local authorities should take more of a role to provide trained officers through the Sports Council to go to young people and educate them in the use of facilities that already exist, let alone those that might exist in future?
§ Mr. Alton
I entirely agree. The Sports Council's role as a catalyst—its dynamic role, which I described—is important in providing that type of training. The know-how does not exist in many local authorities, so there is a positive role for the sports council to play. Buildings could be liberated and used for dual purposes. I agree with those hon. Members who have touched on this matter that, far too often, facilities built for health, education or social service purposes are not always released to the local communities for other purposes. There should be much more dual use of buildings.
Last year, I saw the Minister about ice rink facilities in my city. He will be sad to know that the facility about which we talked closed because the resources to maintain it were not available. This means that a city of 500,000 people has no ice rink facility. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the north-west sports council will ascertain whether there is any way to enable that facility to be re-opened.
There should not be a piecemeal approach to these problems. There is a need for a national strategy and for a lead role for the Sports Council. There is a great challenge, especially in inner-city areas where there are so many young people. Half the 3 million unemployed are 214 under 25, many of them desolate and with pent-up emotions. Sport can provide them with a positive and powerful outlet. It can lead to them remaining healthy individuals and being vibrant people who feel that there: is something in life for them. Sport trains them in the idea of teamwork, so preventing them from becoming isolated and embittered. For all those reasons, I am pleased that we have had the chance to debate this important issue.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)
I am pleased to participate in this debate about sport, which has already been so well contributed to. Sport plays an important part in our national life, as I think every hon. Member who has spoken has said. There is only a limited, although a proper, role for the Government in sport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) put it so well, guidance is one thing; dirigiste intervention is another. I believe that the Government have it about right, and that goes for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey)—as well.
Some would make a contrast and say that eastern European regimes have far more success on the games field and athletic tracks because they intervene much more than we do and provide many more resources than we do for sport. So they do, but this is not eastern Europe. I do not want to live in eastern Europe, and I do not want to live under that sort of regime either, so I think that we shall do our sport our way, even if perhaps we do not always collect quite as many medals as they do.
Government funding of sport is of about the right order. I should not be surprised if some Opposition Members argued about that, but that is certainly my view. After all, in a healthy state of affairs, amateur sport is sustained by enthusiasm and professional sport by the market, including sponsorship. I am prepared to concede, having said that, that there is an important role for grant-aiding facilities and coaching, especially youngsters, but I am bound to say, even when making that concession, that the history of most of the sports that one follows clearly shows that real talent breaks through anyway. I do not know whether Mr. Ian Botham or Mr. Sevvie Ballesteros ever had a Government grant, but I suspect that they did not.
The crisis in sport today is riot a crisis of resources. A greater crisis exists in standards of behaviour. I refer to the behaviour of both participants and spectators. The last time that I went to see one of our great, proud Birmingham football teams, the pitch was invaded three times. I was in a fairly safe position but I considered that a very frightening experience, and I would be reluctant to invite anyone to accompany me for an afternoon watching a match if that was likely to happen. Luton football club is to be congratulated. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North has spoken eloquently for the club. Its initiative in issuing identity cards is a proven success and, with the benefit of hindsight, is the obvious solution.
I have been on cricket grounds when that loveliest of games has been played to the accompaniment of banal chanting and waving. I have watched international rugby on television when the crowd has bayed at the place kicker in an effort to put him off. I have watched darts matches when the partisanship of the crowd has gone quite beyond any sense of fair play. Yet, on the other hand—there are always redeeming features in the contradictory pattern 215 that is our lives— I have seen snooker, that working man's game that has risen to the stars, produce sportsmanship and good humour, losing with good grace and generous winners paying tribute to the losers, which are examples to anyone, especially young spectators. Outstanding, too, have been the professional golfers, who, despite the chill solitude of their sport, have tended, almost without exception, to behave like ambassadors of their game and of good sportsmanship.
Priorities and encouragements are very much part of the portfolio of my hon. Friend the Minister. I hope that he will do what he can to let it be known that there is a priority for sportsmanship and an encouragement for fair play.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)
Although I share a common interest with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), in as much as we both love the game of football, I hope that he will forgive me if I do not deal in any way with that because, like the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann), I want to devote the few minutes that I have to a specific subject about which I am very worried—greyhound racing.
Greyhound racing is the No. 2 spectator sport in the country, but it is in decline and great difficulty. In 1960 about 15 million people visited greyhound tracks, but by last year attendance figures had dropped to 3.8 million. I want to say for the benefit of those who have not had the pleasure of visiting greyhound tracks that they are much more than places where people go just to place bets. Most have high-class restaurants, with first-class service. In many there are play areas for youngsters and first-class facilities for social pursuits when the racing is over. In other words, the modern greyhound track is an ideal centre for social enjoyment for people of all ages. These centres must be preserved.
The House is aware that the Horserace Betting Levy Board has been a boon to horse racing. In fact, horse racing has probably been saved from extinction by the horserace betting levy, which was introduced in 1961 when betting shops were legalised. Last year, the amount of money raised by the Horserace Betting Levy Board amounted to more than £20 million. I believe that a similar levy is essential for greyhound racing. Of course, the bookmakers will cry out in great anguish at such a suggestion, but I wonder why? In the end, it is just the good old punter who pays the bill. I must explain to the House that I have no pecuniary interest in greyhounds or horse racing; I am merely a punter who occasionally goes with his family to the greyhound track. I sometimes win a few bob, but more often I lose. Therefore, I speak as just a punter.
Greyhound racing provides between 20 and 25 per cent. of the off-course bookmakers' turnover, and that amply justifies the establishment of a levy. Last year the turnover from off-course betting shops from greyhound racing amounted to £760 million. Of that amount, the sport benefited by a measly £1.75 million. The levy on horse racing amounts to 1.5 per cent. of the turnover, and if that principle were to be applied to greyhound racing, the amount brought in would be a massive £114 million. As a result of such a levy prize money could be increased and that would encourage more people to purchase 216 greyhounds and to become involved in the expense of training and running the animals. Stadiums could be modernised and people would enjoy even greater comforts.
I wish to say a few words about what are known in the racing world as the "Big Four"—Coral, William Hill, Mecca and Ladbroke. Between them those four firms own 4,000 betting shops out of a total of 10,200 shops. Therefore, they own less than half the total number of shops, but the turnover from their shops represents more than 50 per cent. of the total wagered because, in the main, those four firms occupy prime high street sites up and down the country.
The Betting and Lotteries Act 1934 laid down that the owner or occupier of a track could not engage in betting of any kind. Of course, in those days, there was no legal off-course betting. There must have been good sound reasons for the provision in the 1934 Act. However, the Betting Levy Act 1961 legalised betting shops and did not have a similar provision. Consequently, there is a massive loophole in the 1961 Act, because the people who run betting shops can be involved in the ownership and management of greyhound tracks. Therefore, there are bookmakers who own and operate dog tracks. I believe that this is a serious mistake and that the loophole in the 1961 Act should be rectified.
Unlike some people, I do not go so far as to suggest that the dual responsibility of owning and running a track, and at the same time being involved in betting, will inevitably lead to the rigging of odds. I firmly believe that the administration of racing should be wholly separate from bookmaking. It is not the reality that matters; what is important is the public perception of that reality. The administration and organisation of racing must be seen to be wholly independent of the placing of bets and the fixing of odds.
I wish to say a few words about the Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Services, commonly known as BAGS. This body was established in 1967 to provide betting information from the greyhound tracks to the betting shops when there was no horse racing because of bad weather. The House will readily recognise that there are many days in winter when there is no horse racing. The betting shops need to meet staff wages, lighting, heating and other overheads, so it is necessary for them to have a substitute for horse racing, and this substitute has been greyhound racing. Although this service was intended to be temporary to meet exceptional circumstances, I am afraid that it has become permanent and BAGS is now operating on most days.
Of the seven tracks that are currently used for afternoon racing, four are owned by bookmakers. Two are owned by Coral and two are owned by Ladbroke. Therefore, more than 50 per cent. of afternoon greyhound racing is owned and controlled by those two bookmakers. I believe that that is extremely unhealthy. The potential conflict of interest has been recognised by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I am delighted that he has decided to refer the matter to the Office of Fair Trading. We will await the outcome of its deliberations with a great deal of interest.
Finally, I wish to refer to Satellite Information Services. I believe that this represents the most serious threat to greyhound racing and, indeed, to horse racing. This service is due to become operative on 1 May this year. The principle is that betting information and pictures will be 217 beamed directly from the greyhound tracks and horse racing tracks, by means of television and satellite, into the 10,200 betting shops throughout the country. Satellite Information Services is the company that will operate this facility.
I understand that 45 per cent. of the shares of the company are owned by the big four bookmakers, 10 per cent. are owned by the Racecourse Association Ltd. which is restricted to horse racing, and the tote owns 5 per cent. The rest of the shares have not been allocated, but I believe that that allocation will be extremely important. For instance, will the National Bookmakers Association be allocated any shares? About 4,000 of its members have betting shops. They will be dependent upon the service. Will the National Greyhound Racing Club Ltd. be allocated any shares? It certainly should be, because much of the turnover of betting shops will come from greyhound racing.
Those are the weaknesses in the structure of Satellite Information Services, and I believe that the big four have too large an influence in the company. As I have said, it will be obliged to provide a service at a price to all the betting shops. The 10 per cent. share that is owned by the Racecourse Association Ltd. provides a virtual veto on decisions that the association does not like, but no such safeguard is presently provided for greyhound race courses. This a fundamental weakness and I think that the problem should be addressed.
Both greyhound racing and horse racing have a bright and glittering future, provided that the sports are properly organised and that high standards of integrity are maintained. This must surely entail the organisational side and the betting side being kept completely and entirely apart.
It might be alleged that what I have said is an attack upon the bookmakers, but it is nothing of the sort. As a punter—and there are millions of punters throughout the land—I am concerned about the continuing integrity of the sports. Therefore, I am launching no attack on bookmakers. I am merely asserting that the sports will best be served by keeping the organisational side and the betting side completely apart.
§ Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)
If the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) is the Frank Bruno of the Labour Benches, I am delighted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have had the wisdom to call the Tyson of the Tory Benches. I wish only that I had an interest to declare in the match. Regrettably, that is not the position.
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde for providing the House with the opportunity to discuss sport and recreation, and it is especially apposite that the hon. Gentleman concentrated on the problems affecting sport. They are numerous and they spread across the spectrum of sport and recreation. We face problem after problem. There is tremendous potential among our young sportsmen and women and great enthusiasm among the governors of the various sporting bodies and those who work in the world of sport and recreation, but we are not taking up positively the challenge that confronts us on both sides of the House. We must face the challenges and recognise that the time is right for a fresh look at a sport and recreation policy that is appropriate to our time.
218 There are challenges in three specific areas. First, we need a clearly defined policy for the promotion of excellence in sport. The British Olympic Association is especially well placed to take on more responsibility than at present. Secondly, we must recognise that people have more leisure time and that recreation should be part of a social policy. That means that the Sports Council will have an increased role in working with local borough councils, sports clubs and schools to initiate mass participation. I know that it has already started to follow that road, and admirably so, but we could construct a framework that would give it more assistance in taking that route. Thirdly, professional sport requires our attention and the greater attention of governing bodies that are involved in it.
Professional sport is becoming constrained more than ever by commercial criteria. Restraint of trade considerations are hindering or preventing many governing bodies from controlling their sports properly. Many such bodies are fast becoming bodies of no control. It is extremely difficult for a governing body. acting in the interests of sportsmen and women or the sport itself, to try to stop a sporting event taking place—it may feel strongly that it is not in the sport's interests—if a writ is about to he slapped on it for restraint of trade. The various governing bodies could work together to consider the problem and to assess it in depth.
Boxing, a sport that I know particularly well, could benefit from thrashing out a policy with the cricketers and some of the professionals who are involved in athletics that is in the interests of the sports that they seek to represent.
We should pay tribute to those who have worked for the Sports Aid Foundation and the Sports Aid Trust, which have done so much good work in bringing on youngsters in our society who are in need of financial help with their training and preparation for tournaments. Many of our top stars could never have reached the level that they have attained without the assistance that they have received from the Sports Aid Foundation.
Under the trust deeds, the objectives of the Sports Aid Trust are different from those of the foundation, being concentrated on education and social needs. I should like to see the foundation and the trust concentrating in different areas but working towards the same goal of assisting youngsters. I should like the trust to recognise the importance of getting youngsters to participate in sport, possibly even by financing a coach on a Saturday morning so that people who would not otherwise participate can engage in sport and develop the excellence for which the foundation has always stood. The trust can help youngsters through its charitable status by concentrating on education and social needs. I hope that imagination will now be applied to that sort of initiative to develop participation. As I have suggested, participation should he linked directly to the identification and development of excellence, which is the objective of the foundation and the trust.
The implications for sport and recreation in terms of leisure are far-reaching. I do not believe that sport can he considered only in the context of good health or after-work recreation. We need to distinguish much more clearly between assistance to our international athletes and the promotion of and participation in sport of those of all ages and both sexes within the population.
The Sports Council, operating under a royal charter in 1972, admirably and rightly had an all-embracing role in sports and recreation which was right for the time. I was 219 rather surprised by the comments by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossly Hill (Mr. Alton), who argued that a more dynamic role was required of the council. The fact is that the council concentrates its energies in every sphere of sport and recreation. If by a more dynamic role the hon. Gentleman means a concentration on excellence as well as participation, I disagree with him. I should like to see the concentration on excellence directed far more towards the British Olympic Association, with appropriate financial support. The association could direct itself to national centres of excellence and the Sports Council could concentrate on mass participation. This would lead to the development of a triangle, which would work downwards through the regional councils of sport and recreation to the local boroughs and schools.
Last year, the London boroughs spent £182 million on sport and recreation, which was about 600 per cent. more than the Sports Council's budget. Given the magnitude of spending at local borough level, we should recognise that it is at that level that we should be developing participation in sport and recreation. Many of our school facilities are lying idle. Many school playing fields are under threat of development, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde pointed out. I strongly support the views that he put forward on that matter. I should like to see local initiatives to gain more participation from the grass roots level up rather than trying to impose a structured sport and recreation policy from the top, working down.
I should like to see more money put into local sport by linking local business with local schools and local newspapers. In one area, one could encourage a garage, say, to give a £500 donation to the Sports Aid Foundation for the development of sport and recreation in a local school, enabling it to highlight two or three people or a team and for the local paper to be linked in promoting it. So there is something in it for local business. We would begin by developing sports interest at a local level and bringing on the talent of tomorrow at school level and locally based in local communities.
There are a number of other problems in sport. All hon. Members will pay an enormous amount of respect and tribute to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) for the work that he has done in the Olympic movement. There is not one matter upon which hon. Members have touched that has not been of interest and concern to him during his years of involvement in sport and recreation. In the Olympic world, he has contributed to and participated in some new and imaginative thinking.
I shall add a few comments on which we will not find ourselves in total agreement. I am concerned that we are not looking more closely at a permanent site for the Olympic games. I am concerned about moving the games from one capital to another, with the overt political concentration that inevitably results from the world's press looking in on one site, as has been evident not only in Montreal and Munich but in Moscow and Los Angeles, and will inevitably feature in Seoul.
I am concerned that we are not trying to develop some imaginative thinking about a permanent site—I hope, in Greece. I should like to see it developed along the ideas and the organisational lines of the Vatican State. Greece would welcome the opportunity to be the host country, not 220 least because of the enormous amount of tourism and financial interest that would inevitably develop as a result of having the permanent site of the Olympic games in one country. That matter needs to be looked at further. Otherwise, I fear that the Olympic movement and the Olympic games will not survive our lifetime.
The abandonment of the Olympic Games will be an enormous loss to young people who, once every four years, at the pinnacle of sporting excellence, can get together and compete, not on the basis of any differences in colour, class or creed, but on the basis of respect for each other and the ability to compete as sportsmen.
Equally, I hope that the Olympic movement will recognise once and for all that we must move away from "shamateurism". It involves the idea that someone is an amateur simply because, even though we give them a large trust fund of £100,000 or £200,000 from which they may draw all their living and other expenses, every four years they compete as an amateur. That puts a totally unacceptable onus on a sportsman. We must move towards open games. I am not one of those who say that the moment a sportsman is paid, sport loses its original ethos, the appeal of the de Coubertin ideal, and the appeal of amateurs who used to enjoy sport but are suddenly corrupted as a result of the financial incentive. I do not believe that for a moment.
I do not believe that one achieves sporting excellence simply because one is paid. There is no doubt that Eastern bloc oarsmen are paid a fortune. They are effectively full-time professional oarsmen. There is no doubt that, when they are on the starting blocks of a race, they have everything to lose, and they are frightened of losing. Equally, there is no doubt that when young British eight is put on the starting blocks at the last minute to compete, with all the odds against them— probably even their own rowing association saying, "You will not have the money, you are not good enough to be selected"—they have everything to win and nothing to lose. At the end of the day, the urge to win is in their heads.
All athletes on the starting blocks at international Olympic events are technically superb. It is in their heads that the winners and losers are finally decided on the day. I do not believe those who argue that the moment sport becomes professional and the Olympic games become professional, the Olympic games are dead.
All hon. Members who have attended debates such as this will know that the one subject that I never pass by without a mention is the vital importance of Governments—not only Governments of both political persuasions in this country but Governments abroad—recognising that we have to continue to tackle the drug problem which besets modern day sport. It is nothing short of cheating to take drugs in sport. We should stamp it out with all the strength and commitment that we have at our disposal.
It should be absolutely essential for any governing body to accept random testing as a precondition of accepting Government or other sports grants. There should be random testing of every athlete. The Sports Council, which does admirable work, should be able to attend any training session of a national or international squad and test it. That should be a precondition of receipt of Government grant. We need to tackle drug abuse in sport with all the vigour at our disposal.
I endorse the remarks made about tobacco sponsorship. The voluntary agreement should be tough when we believe that there are important health and social reasons 221 to make it tough. As long as smoking is a legitimate activity in our society it will be quite wrong to take away the right and the opportunity for tobacco and tobacco-related companies to sponsor sport in this country. It is not just a matter of finance for sport; it is a fundamental matter of liberty in our democratic society.
There is no greater challenge facing those of us who love sport and believe in excellence in sport and participatiom than that which exists in the present education system. There is such a challenge in my constituency. It is exemplified by educationists telling the parents of boys and girls—young primary school kids who wish to compete in competitive primary school football leagues on Saturdays—that they do not believe in such sport because it breeds sexist and competitive instincts. That is not only educationally damaging—this view is shared by many hon. Members— but fundamentally mitigates against every child's inherent wish to perform, participate and strive for excellence in sport. That is especially so in primary schools in which half the football teams are made up of boys and girls. The idea that this breeds sexist instincts is wrong.
We must concentrate strongly on that area of educational policy and attack those who think otherwise. Then, and only then, will the grass roots— the youngsters— have the ability and the opportunity to excel. Only then will we have sports stars in the future and the international status that we have experienced and enjoyed in the past.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) made a thought-provoking speech that covered wide ground. I shall not attempt to refer to his remarks. I intend to keep my remarks brief, as other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on bringing forward the debate. I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are not sufficiently involved in sport. The fact that the Government do not have a Minister who is directly responsible for sport should be examined closely. A wide field of sporting endeavours could be brought together by using the available resources and ensuring that they are looked after and controlled, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) did.
A number of problems have not been referred to this afternoon. I shall refrain from mentioning football because we are having a tough time in Newcastle and Sunderland. Reference has not been made to the leisure centres that have been established in areas such as mine. They have done a tremendous job for sport. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) said that an ice rink had had to close down in his constituency because the local authority would have been rate-capped if it had tried to keep it open.
Sunderland has a tremendous leisure centre. It provides us with the pleasure of an ice rink, an indoor bowling green, pool, snooker, squash and table tennis. Competitions are run on a regular basis. There are reduced fees for the unemployed and the young. Similar facilities are also provided in Gateshead, and there is another fine centre in Newcastle. These leisure centres have been doing a tremendous job in an area of high unemployment. If they were forced to increase their charges because of 222 restrictions on local government finance, the tragic result would be that people would be unable to afford to use them.
In the winter, old people use their bus passes after 9.30 am to go to the leisure centre in Sunderland. They have a warm day out and enjoy using the bowling facilities. They save money on fuel, and as they reach the centre for nothing, because of the travel concession, it represents a tremendous social wage for them. In the past, when there was just an outdoor bowling green, they had to wait throughout the winter before they could play bowls again, and by then some of them had died. They love their facilities at the leisure centre and their competitiveness is now being seen on our television screens.
The Club and Institute Union and the working men's clubs provide nationwide competitions and facilities. The Minister should try to find out where facilities of that nature are not provided. Local authority facilities are lying idle at the weekend. Given the will, sports facilities could be made much more widely available.
I had intended to say something about greyhound racing, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) has done such a good job that there is little more that I can add. May I point out, however, that the satellite service that is to be introduced in May will put greyhound racing at a tremendous disadvantage. If The Times feels that the story is important enough to get on to its front page and on to two inside pages, there is something to worry about.
If a bookmaker owns tracks and by means of the satellite information service distorts the odds and also tries to squeeze out the body that has governed greyhound racing for the last 60 years—the National Greyhound Racing Club—it should be incumbent on the Minister to find out why. The National Greyhound Racing Club should be involved in the development of satellite information services, but it is not being allowed to be involved. Their tracks are providing income for bookmakers. There is something the matter and it needs to be investigated. I am delighted that the question has been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on initiating this debate. I hope that debates of this kind will take place much more frequently.
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on initiating this debate. I shall speak about football. Hon. Members know that I have an interest in tennis and that I have been a Wimbledon umpire for a number of years. I enjoy cricket, too, and my height perhaps gives away the fact that I like horseracing as well. I was delighted by the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on betting duty.
The point that I wish to raise concerns Leicester City football club at Filbert street, and the very courageous way in which it has tried to control crowd hooliganism and abuse on the terraces. The club has just been granted £100,000 to undertake a study of why there is crowd abuse. I gave oral evidence to the Popplewell inquiry. I knew John Fletcher extremely well and was on the same management board with him.
223 Proper membership cards are needed for all football clubs. Membership cards would cost money, but if the club's name was assigned to each member and if their names were logged on a central computer, nobody would be allowed into a football match without his card. If people abuse the system, they would no longer be eligible to go to their own or to any other football club. Regular miscreants would have their names published in the programmes of football clubs. It would be rather like a roll of shame. They would be barred from football matches and it would stamp out some of the problems.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
I should prefer to continue with my speech.
A number of video cameras are in place at Leicester City football club. They have caught some of the major offenders. There are stop-and-search powers to ensure that if people are carrying offensive weapons they are caught as they try to enter the ground. On Friday I hope that the House will approve my Crossbows Bill. A number of people have entered football grounds with crossbows hidden on their person. They are easily assembled once they are inside the ground, and 50p pieces or other coins have been used to take potshots at people on the other side of the terrace. There are also provisions relating to drinking.
The Act that prohibits the sale of alcohol at football grounds is welcome. However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is probably aware of the loophole that if people go to a motorway service station they can tank up with alcohol at the same time as they tank up with petrol. They can then enter a football ground when they are well over the top. It is nonsense that the pubs surrounding a football ground should not be allowed to sell alcohol just before the start of a football match when supermarkets are able to sell alcohol to football fans before they go to a match.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
That point needs to be looked at urgently.
As for lighting at football grounds, no general provision is made for emergency lighting. Many football matches have been delayed because of a fault in the power supply. We should introduce proper emergency lighting regulations so that in the event, heaven help us, of a major disaster we could ensure, by having emergency lighting at all the exits, that the crowds were properly protected. In the event of an emergency they would be able to leave the ground quickly and safely.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) that there seems to be a general feeling in Labour-controlled authorities that it is a sin to win a match, or a cross-country race, or anything else. That is nonsense. Britain is a competitive country and sport, by its very nature, is competitive. We must encourage and allow competitive sports to continue.
My final point is on sponsorship. I welcome the continued sponsorship of sport, whether it relates to tobacco or alcohol. Ind Coope in my constituency has 224 sponsored Leicester City football club. It is still not winning, or very rarely winning. I would love to see it stay in the first division but I am very fearful for its future at the moment. It has an excellent team under Ian Wilson, the captain. I thank those sponsorship organisations for ensuring that competitive sport continues. Sport is a great recreation. It will not be allowed to die. Britain benefits by its leisure activities.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for giving us the opportunity to place on record the fact that sport is doing pretty well.
§ Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)
May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on introducing the debate at such an opportune moment. My constituents in Fulham have a particular concern in the problems that are facing sport at the present time. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), I shall refer to the troublemakers who are associated with football, but a rather different group of troublemakers. I shall be talking about those troublemakers who are, in effect, no more than parasites and who have been acquiring football clubs—who are possibly considering acquiring other football clubs and other sporting organisations— not with a view to furthering the interests of the sport but purely with a view to making a personal gain out of exploiting a club's assets.
The affairs of Fulham football club in the last month have painted a sad and sorry picture of a gross act of misbehaviour by people who claim to have the interests of sport at heart, but who have revealed themselves to be crude asset-strippers simply trying to make a large personal gain out of the demolition of a proud football club. Fulham football club has had a long, proud tradition and it has a remarkable tradition of complete freedom from trouble at the ground. People can go week after week to Craven Cottage and enjoy a game of football, in the confident knowledge that there will be no crowd trouble and that there will be a pleasant, happy atmosphere and environment. Yet this club's survival has been put at risk by people who do not have the interests of football at heart but simply see it as an opportunity for property speculation.
Last summer, Marler Estates acquired control of Fulham football club. Despite the protestations of the chairman of Marler Estates at the time who claimed, rather like a wolf in sheep's clothing, that he was coming to save the club's fortunes and to help the club develop its potential and rebuild its fortunes on the field as well as its financial fortunes, it became clear that his long-term objective was property development of the site. Despite that, he gave many pledges of support for the club and its supporters. He gave pledges to myself and pledges in writing to the local newspaper. He said:We have already stated that it is our intention to have Fulham playing at Craven Cottage, for the next few years at least.That was printed in the Fulham Chronicle on 27 November 1986.
Imagine the feelings of everyone who cares about the future of football and about Fulham when less than three months later Mr. Bulstrode, the signatory of that letter, announced that he was merging Fulham with Queens Park Rangers, thus ending football at Craven Cottage, and that he intended to build luxury houses all over the site. That 225 would effectively have killed Fulham football club, when he had pledged three months earlier to keep it going for the next few years at least at Craven Cottage.
That announcement deeply shocked all those who are concerned with sport. Nevertheless, it led to a rapid rise in the share values of Marler Estates, which must have delighted, among others, the chief executive of the company, who had had the foresight to acquire a holding of 15 per cent. of the shares of the company just three weeks earlier.
There can be few more blatant and disgraceful examples of the unacceptable face of capitalism—crude asset-stripping accompanied by gross breaches of faith and bare-faced betrayal of promises. That was against a background which gives me real grounds for belief that there has been insider dealing in the shares of the company. That latter point is not a subject for debate this evening, so I shall say no more. I hope that the Minister with responsibilities for sport will urge his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to take rapid action to investigate the affairs of Marler Estates in that respect.
We must focus on the sporting implications. We are in the middle of a fight to preserve Fulham football club against the wishes of Marler Estates to bulldoze the club and build luxury housing over the entire site. Against that, there has been an impressive response from supporters of the club. The local authority organised a remarkably well-attended public meeting—again, completely trouble-free—which showed the strength of feeling of supporters and well wishers of the club to keep Fulham at Craven Cottage. The football league has made clear its opposition to the proposed merger, and to that extent the proposals of Marler Estates have at least been halted.
We need to go further. We need to explore positive alternatives to keep Fulham at Craven Cottage. There is a positive alternative. The club is sitting on a huge potential asset—there is no point in hiding the huge land values—because of the grossly inflated prices in land in Fulham and other inner-city areas. If used positively, such land can provide a safeguard for sporting institutions that have these land assets. The use of those assets to provide redeveloped grounds and improved facilities for the club—possibly with a subsidy to help the club operate in the future if gates are low—is a positive way of looking at the matter rather than simply stripping the assets for private greed.
Two weeks ago, in front of the all-party football committee, Mr. Bulstrode, the chairman of Marler Estates, gave an undertaking that he would explore such an alternative, and members of that committee were pleased to hear it. Despite those pledges, within a few days Mr. Bulstrode was pouring cold water on the possibility and issued threats to sack the staff and players at Fulham. What a dreadful background for the staff at Fulham football club and players to try to keep on playing football, with no certainty that they will have their jobs from one week to the next because of the behaviour of their chairman. That is staggering behaviour from someone who pledged at the end of last year that it was his intention to keep the club playing at the site and safeguarded its future. That behaviour is unacceptable in any walk of life and people who are capable of that degree of duplicity are unfit to control the future fortunes of any football club.
226 Survival of the club depends on firm action to resist the chairman's intentions. The local authority has shown the way and it led a magnificent campaign to save the ground. I regret that up until now the Government have not shown such enthusiasm and determination, but I gather that today the Minister has taken action to spot-list certain buildings at Craven Cottage, which will put a further obstacle in the path of Marler Estates and prevent a total redevelopment of the site. If that is so, I must congratulate the Minister on taking, albeit belatedly, positive steps in support of Fulham football club to make it clear that we have a combined purpose in ensuring the survival of football and not allowing property speculators to close football clubs.
I hope that the message will go out loud and clear to Mr. Bulstrode, Marler Estates and any other speculators who want to strip the assets of football clubs and other sporting institutions, that we shall not accept it, we shall not tolerate it; there are more important values and we must defend them. We must ensure that clubs are able to continue to play the sport which they are in existence to play and give entertainment to the public. Clubs' assets should be used for the public's benefit, not the personal greed of individual speculators.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I shall be brief and endeavour to sit down just after 8 o'clock, but I am pleased to participate in this important debate. Indeed, it is a very important debate and I hope that the Minister will not only take note of what has been said by many hon. Members in all parts of the House but will take action on the valid points that have been raised in such an articulate way.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) on what I consider to be a most outstanding speech from the Back Benches. His knowledge of sport is well known. His contribution to the sports of rowing and boxing is exceptionally well known and I congratulate him on making such an important speech in the debate.
I also pay my respect to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). His involvement in sport is well known and greatly respected. Hon. Members from both sides of the House are united on many issues. Perhaps the message from the debate is that many of the points that have been made are shared across party barriers. My hon. Friend the Minister would be well advised to accept the advice that he has been given by the House.
Let me briefly, in the one or two minutes at my disposal, raise one or two issues that have already been taken up. One relates to local authority playing fields. I share the concern expressed by many hon. Members and by the Central Council of Physical Recreation about what is happening to many local authority playing fields. They are being taken out of sport and developed, and that is wrong. It must be wrong for the local authorities in whose areas they are located and it must be wrong for sport and recreation in Britain, particularly its provision for young people.
I was present at the annual general meeting of the Central Council of Physical Recreation when His Royal Highness Prince Philip made a dramatic speech. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), 227 a distinguished member of the council, was present, and I hope that that speech has been noted by my hon. Friend the Minister.
I am also deeply concerned because many such sports fields are located in the centre of our urban areas and cities. Once they have been lost, they will be gone for ever. Even if they are replaced, they are replaced many miles away. With transport costs as they are today, it is unacceptable that young people in particular should be expected to go many miles in order to participate in sport of any sort.
I make a plea to my hon. Friend the Minister that he intercede with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the spending of the capital receipts of local authorities. It is outrageous that my authority of Macclesfield should have been forced to borrow money when it had money in the bank from receipts from council house sales, and in the general rate fund from the sale of land and other properties that was not required by the borough council in the foreseeable future. The council should have been able to spend that money to build the swimming bath that was so urgently required in Macclesfield. A further debt had to be incurred which was a liability on the ratepayer, despite the council having money in the bank. For some extraordinary Treasury reason, the authority was not permitted to spend it. I hope that my hon. Friend, representing sporting interests, will take such points on board so that sport does not suffer in this way.
Several sporting clubs in my constituency, particularly the Poynton sports club, are concerned about the amount of money that has to be paid in rates. I hope that my hon. Friend will give emphatic guidance to local authorities that they should use their discretionary powers to grant substantial rate relief—in many cases, 100 per cent. relief. Sport is important. Local private clubs can provide facilities, often much more cheaply than the local authority. Therefore, that is money well spent.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath wishes to speak and I have been longer than I promised, but coming from an area which has the Silkmen football club and many leading lights in the sporting world—Martin Edwards, the chairman of Manchester United and even Hurricane Higgins, the snooker player who has not necessarily always behaved as everybody would wish—I feel deeply involved in sport and I know how valuable it is to the community. Will my hon. Friend take the advice of the House and act?
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
There is so much to say, and so little time in which to say it, but we have had a wonderful debate. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) summed it up. We are all grateful to my hon. Friend for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for the opportunity that he has afforded us, in conjunction, I suspect, with the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), who also tried for a debate.
What has come out of the debate more than anything else is something which the nation and certainly our colleagues in the House, even more so the Treasury often fail to understand. As the Minister and I know from our rival experiences, and as ministerial colleagues often fail to understand, sport is vital to the life of Britain.
228 Wherever one looks at present, whether at areas of social stress in inner cities, Britain's general recreation, the evils of unemployment and its enforced leisure, at people who retire earlier and live longer international affairs, Britain's role and the esteem in which we are held in international affairs, are all personified through sport.
When I was the Minister with responsibility for sport I sometimes thought, as I am sure the Minister does, that we were running the Government. I thought that were were running the Home Office over hooliganism. South Africa—mercifully, the hon. Member for Luton, North did not talk about that today—the Olympic Games in Moscow and whether the East was wrong not to go to Los Angeles are matters of international importance. They are all questions understood by the British people through sport. That is why sport is so vital. When we get it wrong, as we do so often on our housing estates and in our inner cities, we pay the price. We cannot fail to pay the price. We either provide facilities for people to enjoy themselves, or we pick up the tab for violence, hooliganism and vandalism on our estates and in our communities. We must get the Treasury and everyone else to understand that. So many problems arise from boredom.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) said eloquently that sport is the means by which people express their individual personalities. That is its great contribution to our national life. Sport, and team sport in particular, is the means by which we learn to relate to our fellows—to win well and to lose gracefully. Those are lessons of tremendous importance to the nation.
If ever one goes to Covent Garden, one cannot fail to be inundated by permanent secretaries whom one never sees at Wembley or any of the other sporting meccas. In the British Council's report which came into my hands today, despite its £221 million spending power, there was not one word about sport. There was not one word about how the British Council sees its job of projecting sport throughout the world as a British interest. All its money is spent on cultural pursuits. Nobody objects to its work on the culture front, but it is out of balance, as we so often see in the Treasury and elsewhere.
The Sports Council grant is disgraceful. I do not blame the Minister. He was not present when the grants were decided this year. I prefer to believe that, because he already has a feel for sport. It is ridiculous that the Secretary of State for the Environment should fix the grants without consulting the Sports Council and certainly, if what I have been told is true, the Minister.
Although a two-year grant was decided upon, as the hon. Member for Luton, North mentioned, nobody in his wildest dreams thought that the grant for the second year would not be increased in line with inflation. This has never happened before with any other quango. It is always understood that inflation is allowed for in succeeding years. That is the Sports Council's grievance, and justifiably so.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the British Olympic committee. The committee, according to the information with which it has supplied me for this debate, wants to do a great deal in providing medical services. It should be encouraged to do things in the medical field—psychological and physiological testing, medical screening and so on, for which it does not get a penny.
The British Olympic Association is unique in the world. As far as I can discover, it is the only Olympic association 229 in the world that does not receive a penny from the Government and pays abnormal taxes out of the money that it raises to send British Olympic teams abroad. That cannot possibly be right and I draw the attention of the Government to it. We definitely need to put that right.
When I was a Minister, I tried to get my colleagues in the Government, and particularly in the Department of Trade, to understand that many other countries recognise the importance of international sports provision. They send ambassadors abroad, they train people, the Government pay money to exert their influence, whether it be China, the Soviet Union, Cuba or any other country. They understand that their influence will be felt as a result of training. Their architects build stadiums and training facilities throughout the world, and that aid through sport is understood, particularly in Asia, Africa and South America, as the means by which they extend their influence. We in this country have not even started to think along those lines. Perhaps I could make common cause with the Minister, because I am sure that he shares these views. He has been abroad with me on the Birmingham Olympic campaign, where his assistance was very much valued. That represented a joint national effort and I hope that we can get more in that area.
We must talk about the decline, because of the cuts in our sports facilities. I had a terribly depressing statistic from the Amateur Swimming Association. Does the House know that 48 per cent. fewer children are being taught to swim now than was the case five years ago? That is the result of cuts in education, the increase in transportation costs and the increase in the cost of hiring swimming baths. That is a disgraceful statistic and it is a disgraceful situation that is facing the country.
We know, too, that the Sports Council is at the moment considering a consultants' report which recommends for example, that the swimming pool at Crystal Palace should be closed. Nothing could be more crazy. It is the only swimming pool in the south of England that is capable of taking international diving and water polo as well as general recreational swimming. I hope that that is kicked into touch. I hope that the Minister will tell the Sports Council not to waste another minute on the question of closing down the Crystal Palace pool. I hope that he will also look into the decline in swimming in our schools, which is a matter of national concern.
I should like—and the House would expect me to do so—to spend a moment praising the revolution in leisure that has been going on in Birmingham. I think that the Minister knows about it. I am glad to see him nod his head. We have got over the problem of not using our schools out of school hours during the week, because immediately 4 o'clock comes, and on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the control of the swimming baths, the sports fields and the sports halls passes to the leisure department and they are used for general community purposes. There has been a tremendous revolution as a result of that thinking, but I must say to the Minister that if this is to happen throughout the country, political initiative is necessary. Somebody has to take the lead. Somebody has to break the bureaucracy that is stopping us using the facilities that are already there. That is, indeed, what we expect of the Government.
Nothing could be more important than school sport, because it is the foundation stone of all British sport. If people have not developed a love of sport by the time they leave school at 16, if they have not been taught the skills, 230 our national and international sport will he in decline. One need only think of tennis to see the obvious truth of that statement.
I am glad to pay a tribute to the Inner London education authority, because it has been rather maligned, although I noted what the hon. Member for Luton, North said in this connection. I have looked into this matter in some detail and have come to the conclusion that there are very few local authorities doing more for sport, team sport and excellence in sport, than ILEA. For example, it has schools of special ability in cricket, table tennis, lawn tennis, gymnastics, volleyball and basketball. It is one of the few educational authorities that actually bring coaches into the primary schools. It has done a deal with the Surrey county cricket club to bring cricketers into the primary schools to foster a love of sport. That is in every way commendable and ILEA should be praised for doing it.
I know that the deputy chairman, Mr. Bernard Wiltshire, has invited Professor Peter Macintosh to head a working party. What he wants to do, he says, is not drive out team sports, but to make them popular again. It has been reported to me that after all the trouble that there has been with school sport, there is an increase in the number of team sports being undertaken on Saturdays in the ILEA area, and all of us will welcome that.
The Central Council of Physical Recreation has done a tremendous job of work. I speak as a former chairman, although I have worked with it mainly since I left office. I am glad to pay tribute to the council for the way in which it keeps everybody on their toes. Often people in the sports council of this House do not like it, but we need gadflies about in sport, stinging here and there, and if people can defend themselves, they ought not to worry about that.
The council has provided me with a lot of information and I shall quote in juxtaposition two statements about the health and sport of our youngsters in society. First, this is the Home Office in 1986:The Young Offenders Act which established Youth Custody Centres requires two hours per week compulsory physical education training for offenders aged between 15 and 21.So far so good, but the Health Education Council and Physical Education Association survey of schools in the west midlands said:83 per cent. of children are engaged in less than five minutes' vigorous activity per day.In other words, if a young person has been sentenced to custody because he is a wrongdoer he will be fitter and have more facilities for sport than if he is in a school. That cannot be right.
One of the most distressing things is the failure of colleges of education to provide physical education teachers. The situation is now reaching crisis proportions, and this is something that I hope the Minister will look into, especially as so many PE colleges have been closed down. I am thinking of those at Dartford, St. Luke's, Exeter and Nonnington, Kent. This is a serious matter. There is now a shortage of PE teachers within the teaching profession, and it is important that we pay some attention to the situation. I hope that the Minister can use his influence with his colleagues in another Department to get them to understand the situation.
With regard to the Sports Council, I took note of what was said earlier about keeping a balance and not interfering too much in sport, I did not support the royal charter when it was first issued to the Sports Council, but I believed that it was there to protect and maintain its 231 independence, particularly from the Department of the Environment. I am worried that increasingly the Sports Council seems to be becoming sucked into the Department of the Environment. I hope that the Minister will tell us what Mr. Teasdale is doing now that he has been seconded from the Department of the Environment. I know that it is only for a short time and that he will be going back, but he is now working full time.
Mr. Teasdale has done some good work in his time, and I am not casting any personal reflections on him, but he ought not to be there; he ought not to be in an institution with a royal charter. We can all imagine what the BBC would say if suddenly it was told to take on an official from the Home Office who had been in charge of broadcasting. If that happened there would be uproar throughout Britain. A royal charter ought to be as honoured and as hallowed in sport as it is in broadcasting. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that.
About 550 school playing grounds are up for sale. This is disgraceful. If the school population is going down, the youth population must be going up. If some school playing fields are not fully used, they should be taken over for use by the community. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) and other hon. Members who talked about the vital importance of football and football clubs. We must ask the football authorities to look at their regulations, because nobody should be able to corner any of our football clubs. Shareholding should be strictly limited.
I hope that local authorities will use their powers to prevent planning applications that change the nature of football clubs. Grounds in the middle of our built-up conurbations must be protected as lungs. If the football clubs leave their grounds, they should be used by the local authority for general sport and recreation—even if it is necessary to make a compulsory purchase order. I am now dealing only in headlines. VAT on sport and rates are important subjects for discussion and we shall have to come back to them. In the context of tax on sport, I ask the Minister to ensure that British sport does not suffer compared to European sport. We entered the European Community because we believed in harmonisation, but we are not getting harmonisation in British sport. There is no time to talk about Playboard, but I hope that the Minister will do what he can about that.
Many hon. Members have spoken about violence in sport. Anything that is unlawful on the streets of Britain must be unlawful on the playing field, and administrators, referees and everyone involved should make sure that that is the case. I believe that Sunday racing will come. The two correspondents Brough Scott and Richard Baerlein have written about this and the only thing that I add to what they have said is the advice that I gave the Jockey Club when we met its representatives in Committee—do not get mixed up in Sunday trading. This is Sunday sport, and should be treated as such. Certainly there should be negotiations with the trade unions, which have every right to be fully consulted.
Again I thank the Minister for supporting Birmingham's Olympic bid. That bid has produced about £60 million in investment in the city, so we have had a very good return, which shows the importance of the international role of sport. The Government ought to 232 think again about financial support for Olympic and Commonwealth initiatives, and it is important for the Government to be seen to do so. Sport is vital to the life of the community.
I calculate that it is five years since the House last discussed sport. I hope that we will discuss it much more frequently in future, because all hon. Members are united in the view that one of the essential purposes of sport is to unite the nation. We agree on that, whatever other divisions we might have. Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, this debate has shown that hon. Members in all parts of the House are united in declaring the importance of sport and are determined to see that it gets a fair deal from Governments of any colour.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Richard Tracey)
I congratulate hon. Members on a good-natured and interesting debate on this important subject. There has obviously been a great deal of cross-party agreement. I certainly congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) who in his usual good-natured way has raised a whole range of topics and given the House a good opportunity to discuss the important subject of sport in our nation.
The hon. Gentleman began by saying that we ought to have more debates on sport. I would welcome that, too, and only three weeks ago we hoped to have such a debate when my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) put down an excellent motion congratulating the Government, the football authorities and the police on their work in combating football hooliganism. That was to follow a debate on the inner cities, but because of some rather lengthy speeches by Opposition Members I am afraid that we did not reach that motion. It would have been a great opportunity to discuss sport but we could not take it up on that occasion.
In this debate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said that he wished for more Government involvement. Perhaps he suggests that I have some bigger job. I consider that I have been greatly involved. I have now been doing the job for less than 18 months but in my first year I attended well over 400 sports events, even though I was not able to make a great number of speeches in the House about sport. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) was in the job for 11 years and certainly managed to extend into wind and water. He seems to be quite renowned for stopping or starting the rain—I forget which it was.
In the context of more Government involvement, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) said that the Government get intervention in sport about right and I think that that view is widely held by my hon. Friends. We also get financial involvement about right. I agree with my hon. Friend that we do not want some kind of Eastern European involvement in sport because along with that sort of attitude come various other attitudes that are certainly not desirable. I think that the right hon. Member for Small Heath would agree that the governing bodies of sport would not wish to see the kind of intervention that would follow the much more dirigist policies followed in sport by eastern European countries.
The debate focused on the problems of sport. Not surprisingly, many points were made about finance. One of the most compelling problems facing sport is behaviour on the field of play. Many hon. Members spoke about that 233 and, as is well known, the Government are doing a great deal about crowd violence. From time to time we talk to the governing bodies and ask them to exercise better control over players. Late in the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) spoke about drug taking. I shall return to that later in my speech.
First, I shall deal with the problem of crowd violence that is associated with football. We are well aware of the disastrous effects that a minority hooligan element has had in recent years on our national sport. That has had disastrous consequences for our country's reputation and for our prestige abroad. That is clear from the attitudes that continue to be taken by the European football authority, UEFA. Regrettably, football-related hooliganism is not the sort of problem that lends itself to an immediate or single solution. Through our partnership approach we have worked hard to develop a package of measures designed to ensure public safety and the future well-being of the game.
Crowd disorder at football matches is not a new phenomenon. Football is a physical sport that has traditionally aroused passions and emotions on the field and in the stands. In recent years football has witnessed a truly tragic shift from rowdy but largely good-natured behaviour amongst spectators to appalling acts of violence. I pay tribute to clubs such as Luton and Leicester—raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels)—and so many other clubs such as Watford and Wimbledon which are doing what they can to combat this unfortunate hooliganism. The Government and the football authorities have introduced far-reaching measures to clamp down hard to try to wipe out hooliganism.
The Government have introduced stringent controls on the sale and possession of alcohol inside grounds and on transport to fixtures. We are providing the courts with powers to ban troublemakers from attending matches and we have tightened up fire and safety requirements throughout the Football League. The Football Association has revised ground regulations and has tightened up on disciplinary procedures. We have seen the first-class effects of installing closed circuit television throughout the first and second divisions, and the Football League is now proceeding to install that facility, with the valuable help of the Football Trust, in the third and fourth divisions. We believe that we shall see further improvements in the behaviour of football supporters across this country because unless there is a deep-seated improvement, the prospect of our English clubs returning to Europe are dim and distant. I appeal to the spectators to remember that football relies for its reputation very much on their good behaviour.
I pay tribute to the work that is being done in the clubs to bring back local community involvement. That very important work touches closely on the community involvement in general that was so well addressed by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) in his excellent speech. It was good to hear what he had to say about what should be happening in the community, with sport very much as a driving force, and I hope that more clubs will be able to do this.
I share the views expressed by several hon. Members that it was a short-sighted approach by the football authorities when they put a moratorium on artificial pitches. Recently, for a whole day, I was present at Preston North End where the chairman was beside himself with 234 frustration at the action that had been taken by the Football League when he, the chairman, was doing all he could to attract revenue into his ground at Preston North End.
I saw that pitch, during the whole day that I was there, being used by the schools and by various members of the community. I understand that the ground is hired by fathers for birthday parties for their sons. We should be seeing that sort of spirit in football clubs throughout the country. For the moment that effort has been cut short by the football authorities, but I hope they will think again about it.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) raised—not surprisingly—the question of mergers of football clubs and the threat of redevelopment at various football grounds. I would find it always deeply saddening if an historic club were to lose its home and its link with the local community. We need to keep some sense of proportion about this issue.
Football clubs are private companies limited by guarantee. It is for their directors to decide who they should respond to market pressures if they are to keep in business. Football clubs have to move much closer to their communities if they are to survive. Only a handful of clubs are in the black, and too many football clubs are seriously in the red and beholden to the banks.
The Football League should address the question of mergers and shareholdings through their regulations. That view is shared by the right hon. Member for Small Heath. The League must carefully scrutinise applications for registration and re-registration so that they can truly take care of the game that we proudly say is our national game.
There is some light on the horizon for Fulham football club. This matter was touched on by the hon. Member for Fulham—who was slightly cynical in his remarks—and I was grateful to hear him acknowledge that today my right hon. Friend, following advice from the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, has formally listed as buildings of architectural and historic interest several of the buildings and structures surrounding the pitch, which date from 1905. That is an indication of the particular interest that the Government have taken in Fulham football club, this historic ground, Craven Cottage and the related stand accommodation which is part of the heritage of football.
I now turn to the loss of recreational ground and pitches. We have to keep this in proportion. Today there are approximately 160 more swimming pools and 600 more sports halls than in 1979 when this Government were first returned to office. Between 1982 and 1985 there were created 127 new natural turf pitches, and a further 50 synthetic all-weather pitches have been laid since the early 1970s. This is an indication of a very important growth of resources for mass participation in sport in this country.
I am pleased that the Sports Council has formed a joint working party with other interested groups to consider ways of co-operating and protecting recreational land. We desperately need accurate statistics of these related problems. My Department will be looking closely at the results of the working party and at any recommendations made by it.
Loss of playing fields was mentioned by the hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde and for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). In recent times it has been brought to my attention that Labour authorities in Ealing and Brent are planning to build houses on playing fields. 235 Will the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde be able to do something about that? As to the point raised by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, I bring to his attention a problem in my borough of Kingston upon Thames where the Liberal-SDP council is also planning to build houses on two sports playing fields. I have taken up that matter with the chairman of the recreation committee and I have chided him, this very day, on returning to me just a one-line reply—when I asked for reassurance—saying that he has taken note of my comments. More than that is required before the Opposition party can tell the Government that they ought to be doing more about this disgraceful situation to which we are addressing ourselves.
Coming to finance, the Sports Council grant has been mentioned. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was being somewhat mischievous when he suggested that I was in no way consulted by my right hon. Friend about the sports grant. The truth is that the Sports Council last year received the biggest increase that it has ever had—£6.372 million—and it was told at the time that that was an increase for two years. That was a real terms increase of 16 per cent.
It is no good the right hon. Member for Small Heath complaining. When he left office, the Sports Council grant was £15 million, and it now receives £37 million, a real terms increase, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box, of 42 per cent. during the period of this Government. That is perfectly good evidence of the first-class support that we are giving to a strengthened Sports Council.
In my time as Minister responsible for sport I have strengthened the Sports Council by introducing the regional chairmen. We now have a flow of information on sport from our regions so that we are involving the local authorities, who are members of the regional sports councils, in communication with us here at the central Sports Council. Local authorities can give sports clubs a 100 per cent. rates discretion, any rebate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North spoke about tobacco sponsorship. It seems that there is some difference on the Opposition Benches about that. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is against it, and the right hon. Member for Small Heath is in favour of it. We have a balanced approach, as we have in all matters of sport, and as we shall continue to have.
I am grateful for the opportunity to set out again the Government's dedication to the sport of this nation which we consider so important to our people.