HC Deb 21 November 1990 vol 181 cc399-406

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sackville.]

10.48 pm
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

I welcome this opportunity to debate the funding of sport. I also welcome to the Dispatch Box my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport whose appointment earlier this year was inspired. I am sure that he would agree. I wish him every success in his new post. I also pay tribute to the former Minister for Sport who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan). Sport in Britain benefited enormously from the energy and foresight that he brought to the job. At the Department of Energy he is known as the new Red Adair.

Although my remarks are directed principally at my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, they are by no means exclusively directed at him. Sport transcends lines of class, race, sex, geography and physical ability. In government it is an issue that crosses departmental lines. Therefore, I hope that my remarks will be heeded by other Ministers in the Department of the Environment, especially those responsible for inner-city policy, and by those at the Home Office, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health, and, most of all, in the Treasury.

We cannot escape the fact that we face a number of serious and deeply rooted social problems. Various Government initiatives have been taken which I welcome, but I draw the Government's attention to some of the reasons why extra funding for sport would have a huge social benefit.

Law and order is obviously a major problem. One third of all crimes are carried out by young offenders under the age of 17. The vast majority of adults in our prisons were juvenile offenders. The number of crimes committed by those under the age of 10 is running at a staggering 6,000 a year. The peak age of offending is now 15 years.

The national health service is strained to the limit because of an increase in the number of patients for which it cares—30,000 extra per week compared with the relevant figures in 1979—especially those suffering from heart disease and other major ailments caused by being unfit.

When addressing such problems we tend to focus on the cure rather than prevention. Therefore, those who commit crime are sent to prison at a cost, which is borne by the taxpayer, of £250 per person per week. Our prisons are crowded, again at great expense to the taxpayer, and they afford little reward in terms of rehabilitation. People who suffer heart attacks are naturally cared for in hospital—often, depending upon the severity of the attack, in intensive care units. It is right that such care should take up considerable NHS resources and I accept that much of that expenditure is unavoidable. But much of it is avoidable. Surely it is vital to find the means of prevention rather than the cure. I want the Government to consider one means of prevention in particular. It is not the complete answer to the nation's health and social problems, but it could make a significant contribution to alleviating crime, particularly petty crime which most youngsters commit, and serious bad health. I refer, of course, to sport.

Organised and unorganised sporting activity absorbs the energies and, equally important, the enthusiasm of those participating. Sport is socially and physically healthy. Much crime is the product not of deliberate evil, but of boredom and peer pressure. Youngsters need to be offered activities to absorb their energies and families and schools can do much in that respect.

Can the general community encourage young people to engage in sports? It can, but encouragement is not enough. We must ensure that the facilities exist to make such activity possible. I do not believe that the Government have taken on board the fact that in every family someone is interested in one sport or another. After all, we are a sporting nation and we unite easily when we have a national champion to support. During the World cup we united to support a team of which we could be proud.

According to the latest Home Office news release—we are supposed to be proud of this—the Home Office is able to provide for a further increase in police establishments of 700 officers, together with 1,300 additional civilian staff. That means that in 1991–92 office establishments are expected to reach nearly 128,200, which represents an increase of 15,500, 14 per cent. over the last 11 years. Yet the crime figures are at an all-time high, which is an embarrassment not only to the Government but to the nation as a whole.

As I said, one third of the crimes are carried out by young offenders. I believe that we should tackle the problem by directing more resources towards schools, thus enabling sports teachers to help us to help the "latchkey youngster". When I was at school, my sports master and his colleagues would stay behind after 3.30 and organise all kinds of games. Netball, football, hockey, cricket, athletics—you name it, they organised it, voluntarily and willingly. Nowadays, however, we live in a different society with different principles, and sports teachers should be rewarded for taking part in sporting activities after school.

I believe that over the next few years the crime figures would drop dramatically if we concentrated our expenditure on that third of offenders who are under 17. It would establish a much better society in years to come

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

All hon. Members will agree with what my hon. Friend has said so far. But is not there a wealth of talent among youngsters and teaching staff in schools, and would not such people be keen to perform the very tasks of which my hon. Friend spoke with—regrettably—some nostalgia? Does my hon. Friend agree that what they need is encouragement, not only from the Government but from local authorities? It is a fact that many Labour authorities have actively discouraged team sports, thus discouraging teachers from taking part in worth while activities to the benefit of their pupils

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Local authorities seem almost hell-bent on preventing any development in sporting activities, especially when planning applications are involved. I agree with every word that he said.

We have tried spending money on heavy policing, which—let us face it—does not work: the figures prove it. There must be another answer. What we need is not only a campaign to encourage youngsters and adults to take up sports; as a community, we must ensure that the means exist for everyone to participate in organised sport.

How are we to do that? A recent report by the Audit Commission revealed that sports centres provided by local authorities tend to be used predominantly by the middle class. That may be because they are more knowledgeable about the need to exercise, because they are more likely to be car owners or because the centres are too expensive; the fact remains that ordinary people do not use them. We must provide facilities for the vast majority of the population; it is not acceptable for only middle-class people to be involved in sports centres.

The answer may lie primarily—although not exclusively—with the schools, for three reasons. First, schools already have sports facilities; it is therefore a case of developing what already exists. Secondly, most people—especially in urban areas—live within walking distance of a school. Thirdly, it is at school that most people begin to participate in organised sport, and they will therefore be familiar with the facilities provided. For an adult, returning to use the facilities of one's own school will not present problems of going to the unknown, possibly distant, certainly expensive sports centres that may be provided.

A report published earlier this month by the Secondary Heads Association emphasised the problem faced by schools in the provision of sport and physical education. By channelling more resources into schools to provide sport and PE, one benefits the schools and the community generally. Ensuring that schools have good sports facilities is obviously good for pupils, but allowing the facilities to be more widely available benefits everybody. It is one of the most cost-effective and socially beneficial ways of proceeding. It will help schools in another respect. By hiring out their facilities for a modest fee, they will gain a much-needed source of income.

Schools require improved resources, which can be provided in part by Government, but should ideally be provided in partnership with local industry, local authorities and local benefactors. At present, most of the financial assistance provided by Government for sport in this country is in the form of grants to the Sports Council, which does much fine work. It assists many sports directly—no less than 66, according to its latest annual report.

As well as addressing such vital issues as the threatened loss of playing fields, the Sports Council has an established infrastructure and a strong regional arm and is best placed to liaise with local authorities and sporting organisations on the provision of sporting facilities. There is no better mechanism for using and distributing Government funds. Therefore, the question is: is the level of support sufficient? I do not believe that it is.

My hon. Friend the Minister announced last week that he was to increase the council's grant in aid for 1991–92 by nearly £3 million over this year's grant. That is to be welcomed, particularly when public expenditure is under tight control. But it still brings the total assistance to only just over £46.5 million, which is not generous. In terms of public expenditure, it is a joke. That sum could be substantially increased if my hon. Friend would consider a scheme whereby every pound donated to the Sports Council by industry were matched by a pound from Government, up to a maximum of £250 million of Government money. That would give the Sports Council £250 million from industry and £250 million from Government which, together with the sum already granted, would provide sufficient resources to make a major impact on our social problems and, in the long run, on crime carried out by young people.

Even if my hon. Friend is not convinced by those arguments, I hope that a hard-headed business reason may convince him because I know that he is a keen business man. Sport in this country generates about 400,000 jobs. It contributes to tourism earnings and pays £3 billion to the Treasury every year in tax returns. Therefore, the case for greater spending is as practical as it is socially beneficial. It is simple: the more one spends, the more one gets.

So far, I have put the case for an increase in public expenditure. I realise that that may come as a big surprise to my hon. Friend, as it runs contrary to Government policy and my own stated views. But what I seek is a comparatively modest investment, a long-term investment from which individuals, communities, the Government and ultimately society will benefit. But it is not just an increase in spending that I seek. The Government could also help by removing some of the obstacles that stand in the way of greater private sector involvement in sport.

There is no time this evening to go into, in detail, the various proposals being put forward. My hon. Friend is already aware of some of the organisations advocating them, including the Institute of Sports Sponsorship and Business in Sport. I should like, however, to refer to two which deserve serious consideration and which, if implemented, could have a major impact on the provision of sports facilities.

The first is exemption for qualifying sports organisations from corporation tax on income and gains. There is a case for sporting bodies being treated differently from their commercial counterparts. This measure would help to free funds for the development of sport at all levels, from the grass roots to national teams. For instance, the British Olympic Association would benefit by £750,000 every four years, and that would enable us to compete with other nations on a much more level playing field

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

In 1993 the Isle of Wight will be hosting the fifth international inter-island games which will attract competitors such as Iceland, the Faeroes, the Falklands, the Orkneys, Greenland and, of course, a team from the Isle of Wight. With 3,000 competitors coming to the island we greatly need an all-weather tartan track. My hon. Friend's point to the Minister deserves serious consideration, not just for the Olympics but for the inter-island games on the Isle of Wight

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friend is better known as the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister of the Isle of Wight, and I agree with every word that he said.

The second relief would take the form of capital allowances on the construction of buildings housing sporting facilities. Such relief is available now only for facilities that are an integral part of hotel complexes or that form part of industrial buildings. That is an anomaly and it should be removed. There is a further case for providing a special incentive for facilities that are to be located in decaying and inner city areas.

These two measures, which would help to induce greater private investment in sport, would send out the right signals that the Government take sport seriously. I urge the Minister to consider them and I shall listen carefully to his reply to hear what hope it holds out.

11.7 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Robert Atkins)

This is an auspicious occasion for me, in that I can discuss the matter for which I have ministerial responsibility—sport. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who has done more for sport than almost any other hon. Member. That is well known inside and outside the House.

I am delighted that my two old friends the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) are here, since I know that their interest in sport is as great as mine. I also notice that my esteemed and distinguished predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), has stayed up to participate in the debate. He performed with distinction the job that I now have. I also record the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) in his capacity as assistant Whip.

My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield raised a number of interesting points, and I am tempted to throw away my prepared speech and answer them in detail. He and I are equally interested in two areas particularly. The first is the financial structure of sport. Because he and I share a friendship with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he will know that our right hon. Friend has already done a great deal to show his commitment to the funding of sport, and not only in an increase in the Sports Council's grant for this year. That increase, although small, is an achievement by the Government during a time of difficult financial restraints.

My hon. Friend knows that matters of taxation are the responsibility of the Chancellor.

My hon. Friend was also kind enough to say that since I have been in this job I have asked for contributions from various sporting bodies, including the Sports Aid Foundation, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, the Sports Council and Business in Sport. I have asked them to send to me recommendations that they believe are pertinent to the financial structure of sport, particularly taxation. I think that my hon. Friend knows that I am extremely sympathetic, but this is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is only he who can make those decisions.

However, past evidence suggests, particularly in relation to my right hon. Friend's commitment to reduce the pool betting duty from 42.5 per cent. to 40 per cent.—thereby providing £100 million over the next five years for the reconstruction, renovation and improvement of football grounds—just where his heart lies. I hope that my hon. Friend's contribution, in addition to those that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to make, will have some effect.

My hon. Friend also referred to sport in schools. I have much sympathy for what he said. The matters that he raised are, for the most part, for the Department of Education and Science. He will, I know, be as delighted as I that the new Secretary of State, in whose constituency lies Trent Bridge and Nottingham Forest football ground, understands sport. The father of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), who has ministerial responsibility for schools, played first-class cricket. My hon. Friend also appreciates the importance of these matters. Any overtures that my hon. Friends and I make will at least be well received and well understood, even though it may not be possible immediately to implement all the decisions that we wish to be made.

School sport is arguably the most important area that has to be developed. As the parent of children aged 14 and 11, I see at first hand their sporting activities. Moreover, through our constituency interests, my hon. Friends and I know about the involvement of youngsters in sport. Since I took on this job, my prime objective has been to do whatever I can to develop and improve sporting facilities for young people, including those who are disabled. Sport can contribute a great deal to their long-term development, enjoyment of life and good health. Moreover, as my hon. Friend said, sport keeps them off the streets and away from crime.

Anything that can be done to bring pressure to bear on local authorities must be encouraged. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North made a particularly significant point about the attitude of some local authorities. Some years ago, I had the privilege to be a London borough of Haringey councillor. It is regrettable that, in recent years, Haringey has decided not to encourage competitive sport. I was told only the other day by a correspondent who wrote to me from Haringey that the council no longer allows sports days in some of its schools. They have activities days instead. No one has to compete against anyone else, and everyone gets points

Mr. Barry Field

Does everybody get a cup?

Mr. Atkins


The points made about sport in schools are very important. The activities that will follow as a result of local management of schools will have a salutary effect upon attitudes. Many local people, because of their parental or local community interests, will want schools to do well in sport. I suspect that that may be a radical improvement.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right to refer to those teachers who, after the school day is over, take youngsters into the nets, on to the rugby or soccer field or on to the athletics track or tennis court. Because of their interest in sport, they are prepared to give up their own time to coach youngsters and see them through at least to the school side, or even to a county or national side. I thank all those teachers who do so much to support and encourage youngsters.

My hon. Friend touched generally on another matter to which I wish to refer. I have set myself another objective: at the very least to maintain, and, arguably, to develop and improve, standards of sportsmanship. We have invented many sports—rugby, cricket, soccer, skiing——

Mr. John Carlisle


Mr. Atkins

—fives, and many others. Americans use the expression, "It isn't cricket," without knowing what the game is, but they know precisely what the expression means. The standards of sportsmanship in this country, while always in need of improvement, are pretty good.

I was disturbed, however, when I attended a Football League meeting in my constituency, where I was told that Lancashire football association, which is responsible for amateur soccer in the county, last year imposed fines of about £84,000. That is a stunning figure. It represents about 8,000 bookings, 3,000 sendings off and 17 assaults on referees, one of which resulted in hospitalisation. That is amateur sport. The next item on the agenda at the meeting was where to get more referees from.

That problem encapsulates our difficulties in sport. I do not pick on soccer, which is at the forefront, because I have a high regard for our national winter game. It has achieved much. Gary Lineker and the England team and, if I may say so in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, the Scottish team in the World cup contributed much to the improvement and understanding of sportsmanship, and we must build on that.

I hope that hon. Members will support me, the Sports Council and the CCPR in our attempts to improve the standards of sportsmanship so that youngsters, to whom we have dedicated much of our discussion, have heroes to emulate such as Bill Beaumont, Tom Finney, Nick Faldo and Gary Lineker, who are ambassadors for their sport and who provide an example that we should all follow. The administrators must encourage such people. The recent brawl between Manchester United and Arsenal is not the image that we want our youngsters to see. Anything that hon. Members and the administrators of our games can do to demonstrate the importance of sportsmanship will achieve much.

I am delighted to have replied to the debate without referring to my notes more than once. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield has raised a topic of much importance, which is dear to his heart. I am delighted to be doing this job with the support and encouragement of my hon. Friends.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes past Eleven o'clock.