HC Deb 21 May 1991 vol 191 cc771-4
9. Miss Hoey

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Sports Council to discuss the extra financing of that body.

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Robert Atkins)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her maiden question on sport. I have regular meetings with the chairman whenever necessary and will meet him in the summer to discuss his corporate plan and additional funding requirements for 1992–93. The Sports Council's current grant in aid is £46.7 million.

Miss Hoey

I welcome the Minister to his first sport questions. I am sure that he will agree that it is time that sport had its own Question Time.

Has the Minister had time in the past few months to study the implications of the increase in VAT for sport and sports clubs? What is his view of the ludicrous position whereby for every £1 that the Government give sport they take £8 away? What will he do about that as Minister for Sport?

Mr. Atkins

As the hon. Lady well knows, VAT is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government have demonstrated that their commitment to sport, in whatever capacity, is second to none. I do not need to take lessons from Opposition Members on how we are committed to sport and are spending money on it.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

I congratulate my hon. Friend on making his maiden answer to a question on sport and on answering it so brilliantly. Is he aware that we believe wholeheartedly that when he meets the chairman of the Sports Council, he will give him every satisfaction?

Mr. Atkins

As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am not sure that I can deliver the satisfaction that he is talking about, but I shall try.

Mr. Pendry

I shall not congratulate the Minister on his first answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), which was little short of a disgrace, especially in view of the answer which he gave to me only last week when he made it clear that, given the cuts in the urban programme, the Government have stolen £15.7 million from sport and, next year, plan to find £5.3 million cuts on top of that. Is not it time that the Government stopped parading themselves as the friends of sport while such highway robbery is going on?

Mr. Atkins

Uncharacterisitically, the hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. As I said earlier in response to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), the Government have demonstrated that we are committed to sport in a variety of areas. Only a month or two ago, I was able to find a further £1 million for extra coaching, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a foundation for—[Interruption.] It is no good the Opposition behaving like football hooligans. If they want to hear the facts, I shall give them. In a recent speech, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the setting up of a foundation for sport and the arts, which will, in due course, more than double the money committed to sport. The hon. Gentleman should not go round whingeing about the Government's lack of spending. We have shown that we have done more than a Labour Government ever did.

Mr. Holt

When my hon. Friend leaves the Chamber, will he pick up a telephone to ring the chairman of the Sports Council and tell him that he will not pay one penny piece to Cleveland county council until my constituent, Mr. J. G. Campbell, and his son are treated fairly? The boy, who is a captain of the Middlesbrough football schools XI, has been denied the opportunity to continue to represent his home town and possibly to go on to greater things in football because the mean, vindictive and spiteful Cleveland county council will not recognise the Macmillan city technology college for the excellent place that it is.

Mr. Atkins

I find it inexplicable that people can be mean and small-minded enough to prevent a young boy who plays a game to a high standard from continuing to represent his town. My hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) will have my full support in any campaign that they care to mount to get the youngster back playing for his town and representing his county at the game that he plays so well. The best of luck to him.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Is the Minister aware that I, at least, am absolutely delighted that he is so interested in sport? May I advise him to get as much practice as possible between now and the next general election because he is for the high jump?

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman should know better than most that his hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, who asked the main question, is more likely to be for the high jump than I am.

Mr. Soames

Has my hon. Friend seen that in the otherwise excellent report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has a locus in this.

Mr. Soames

Has my hon. Friend seen that in the otherwise excellent report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs a suggestion that the affairs of horse racing should come under the Department of Education and Science? If that is the case, will he assure the House and the country that the Sports Council will have no part in it?

Mr. Atkins

If equine quadrupeds were brought under the control of my Department, it might at least be able to explain what they were. As my hon. Friend knows, horse racing is not my responsibility, although it has been mooted that it should be. If that were to happen, I should take the advice of my hon. Friend, who is arguably one of the most knowledgeable hon. Members on matters to do with racing.

Mr. Denis Howell

I should like, in accordance with the customs of the House, to welcome the new Minister at his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, even though we have been waiting 10 months. That is a remarkable period of gestation. As far as I can see, no new policies or initiatives have emanated. Is the Minister still in training? When will he be ready to take the field? There are many issues on which we need his advice, such as the place of team games and swimming in the school curriculum, which was discounted by the Secretary of State, and the publication of the report on youth policy on sport, for which we have been waiting three years. Most important of all—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) just said, this is the first time we have had sports questions since the Minister was appointed.

Mr. Howell

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your defence of sport as well as of the House.

As the Minister believes that his Government have a better record than that of the Labour Government who, he will recall, provided financial assistance to stage the World cup and the Commonwealth games in this country, can he tell us when his Government will do anything to assist Sheffield with the world student games or Manchester with the Olympic bid? What has he got to tell us on those matters?

Mr. Atkins

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to criticise me for not answering a question. In case he has not noticed, hon. Members are required to ask questions before I can answer them. The hon. Member for Vauxhall, who tabled an early-day motion criticising me for not answering questions, has only just asked me her first question. I suggest that before levelling criticism, the right hon. Gentleman should look at the beam in his own eye.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Government had not spent a lot of money. I remind him that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his former incarnation as Chancellor of the Exchequer, found about £100 million for football alone. That demonstrates more commitment than the right hon. Gentleman has shown since he has been shadowing me.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Was it a point of order about that matter?

Mr. Bennett

Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that there is now a ballot for questions and that it is an insult to any hon. Member to suggest——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That matter can arise as a point of order after Question Time.