HC Deb 23 May 1991 vol 191 cc1079-90 11.45 am
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

It is a pleasure once more to bring to the Dispatch Box the Minister for Sport so that he may have yet another opportunity to shine. He is looking particularly fresh this morning after a strenuous evening yesterday when he was responsible for spinning the tombola wheel at the sports hall. Thanks to him, I won a prize—a pair of football shin pads. I wondered whether it was an omen for today's debate, but I hope that it will not be that rough. It is a pity that I am taking the Minister away from his beloved cricket. I understand that he was invited to the international game at Edgbaston today. I hope that after the debate he will be able to hurry along the M1 and M6 to see the best of that game.

I should like to apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who is attending a memorial service to the late Ron Pickering. I am sure that the House will know that Ron Pickering was a great ambassador for sport. He was a great sports commentator, and his passing has meant the loss of a great advocate for British sport. I know that the Minister agrees with that.

This debate gives the Minister an opportunity to tackle several problems. I have had two other debates with him in the recent past. In December we debated the problems facing football, and in February we debated the problems of sport in schools. Also, we had our little clash on Tuesday. It is a pity that we do not have a regular slot for sports questions. I know that the Minister agrees with that as he said so recently on television. The House would like to have an opportunity to question the Minister from time to time, and I know that he would like to be able to answer those questions. I know that he is aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and I have been pressing for that facility for many years. Unfortunately, the Leader of the House informed us only 13 days ago that the Government do not intend to provide it. I see that the Minister is surprised. Once more he has been sidelined and I am sure that he wants to get to grips with it because the Leader of the House has written to the hon. Member For Luton, North, the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and myself to say that it is riot timely to provide a slot. I hope that the Minister will join us in keeping that matter on the boil because such a facility is long overdue. I know that we can rely on his support.

I hope that the Minister did not think that I was churlish on Tuesday for not congratulating him on his Question Time debut. I should like to take this opportunity of doing so. I could not do so on Tuesday because of the content of his answer. I believe passionately in sport, which has suffered greatly in the past from a lack of funding and investment. Therefore, I could not congratulate the Minister on an answer that appeared to contain a boast on his part when there has been a declining level of financial provision for sport under this Government. In reply to my supplementary question the Minister said that, uncharacteristically, I was talking nonsense.

I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that, characteristically, I will not let that remark pass without challenge. Far from talking nonsense on Tuesday, I reminded the Government of their record, according to information from the Department of Education and Science. Figures supplied in written answers show that, compared with five years ago, funding for sport, through grant in aid to the Sports Council and the urban programme, has fallen in real terms by £3.8 million and £11.9 million respectively. That makes a total cut in direct funding, compared with the 1986–87 figure, of £15.7 million.

The Minister may suggest, however, that I should consider the cumulative cut in direct funding for sport in that five-year period. I am only too happy to do so, but I suspect that he will not be too happy to hear what I have to say. The total cut in grant in aid to the Sports Council since 1986–87 is £12.5 million, and in funding for the urban programme £25.5 million, making a total cumulative cut of a staggering £38 million. That is indefensible.

The Minister must explain the reason for this catastrophic state of affairs. Furthermore, he must explain why cuts will continue to rise in the coming year. In 1991–92, direct Government funding of sport will fall, to keep pace with inflation, by a further £5.3 million. Hansard got it wrong and corrected it, but that is what I said on Tuesday.

The Minister attempted to obscure those figures in a written answer by observing that over the same period the amount of money generated by the Sports Council without Government help increased from £5.46 million pounds to £10.95 million. If that is the method by which he is attempting to hide the fact that the Government have consistently and drastically cut the Sports Council's budget, it is little short of disgraceful. Effectively, he is saying that, although the Sports Council has made great efforts to increase its income from its own activities, the Government have scuppered its efforts, pocketed the proceeds and left it no better off than it was five years ago. Which of the two is it? He is trying either to expose the Government's pathetic record or to hide it.

I look forward to the Minister's reply and challenge him to dispute the figures that I have announced, which were supplied by his Department and confirmed by the Sports Council and by the Library.

The Minister will also wish to tell the House of his recently announced £1 million scheme for coaching schoolchildren through the National Coaching Foundation. I congratulate him on securing that money, which will be paid for five times over by the reduction in next year's grant to the Sports Council.

I hope that the Minister will tell the House the whole truth about the scheme and will confirm the figure that he supplied to me in a parliamentary written answer on 21 May, which shows that the scheme will last for only eight to 10 weeks, will involve only 0.2 per cent. of children under the age of 11 to 14 in maintained schools, and will cover less than one fifth of local education authorities.

I am aware that the scheme is meant to be a pilot scheme to establish examples of good practice for use in other areas, but the Minister must confirm that funding will be made available to support further projects that might arise from the pilot scheme. If he cannot give that assurance, many will question whether the scheme is the start of something worthwhile or merely a short-term public relations exercise. I am sure that he will wish to allay our fears on that.

Funding for sport is one of a range of issues that the Minister will be considering in the formulation of the Government's sports policy. I know that he has consulted a wide range of bodies as part of the review. In a parliamentary written answer on 30 November, he listed more than 50 of them. Curiously, he has failed to consult one body that has consistently and effectively supported sport at every opportunity—the Labour party.

Lest the Minister doubts that claim, I ask him to reflect on the following facts. A Labour Government created the Sports Council and gave Britain its first and, as is universally recognised, finest Minister for Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath. I trust that the Minister will not take too much exception to that claim. A Labour Government published Britain's first, and to date only, White Paper on sport, and introduced the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, which established the system of licensing sports stadiums that is still in use today. A Labour Government fulfilled their duties to European and international sport not only by negotiating and signing on behalf of Britain the European sports-for-all charter but the Gleneagles agreement, which facilitated the application of probably the most comprehensive and solid pressure against the evil of the apartheid regime, the sports boycott, which has been instrumental in bringing about the welcome changes in South Africa.

On a personal note, I am proud to have been the Minister who, in a Labour Government, introduced mandatory rate relief to the level of 65 per cent. for sports clubs in Northern Ireland, which has done much to benefit and promote grass-roots sport in the Province. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath pointed out to the Minister on Tuesday, a Labour Government put their money where their mouth was and provided financial assistance to both the World cup and the Commonwealth games in Britain.

That stands in stark contrast with the Pontius Pilate hand washing that has characterised the Government's deplorable treatment of the world student games in Sheffield and the Manchester-led British Olympic bid, about which I shall say something in a moment.

Over the years, Labour councils and, to their credit, a few Conservative councils have fought, against all the odds, to maintain and develop the highest sporting facilities to implement policies encouraging equal opportunities of access and participation in sport and recreation. No wonder, then, that when my party produced its 21-point manifesto for sport at the last election, compared to the non-existent policy of the Tory party, one Sunday newspaper observed, When it comes to sport, there's only one Party in it. That is still true, but the Government would have us believe otherwise. They say that much has changed, but the record of the Minister and his colleagues, whom I have heard described in the sports world as Johnny-comelatelies, proves that they still do not recognise that sport plays an important part in the lives of people in this country. The Sports Council suggests that some 21 million adults and 7 million children take part in sport or active recreation in Britain each year. I hope that the Minister will at least be gracious enough to acknowledge the debt that Britain's sports men and women owe Labour Governments and councils, who were addressing sports needs long before the Government took office.

Unfortunately, however, the Minister is in a difficult position. I am sure that he—and I mean this—honestly endeavours to do his best for sport. But he is a member of a Government who neither fully understand nor accept the full economic and social case for sport. They see sport as a ready source of income rather than as an aspect of society that deserves financial support. Each year they extract from sport £3 billion in betting duty and taxes, but put back only approximately one fifth.

The Government fail to see that, in reality, funding for sport represents an investment in the health and well-being of this country. For example, sport pays a fundamental role in promoting good health and physical fitness, thus reducing the burden on the national health service. Furthermore, the provision of sporting and recreation opportunities has been recognised by social workers, the police and probation officers as being particularly beneficial in reducing inner-city crime. Given their record, I hope that the Government will take particular note of that point. Should the Minister care to consider the treatment meted out by his colleagues to the report of the working party—Sport and Active Recreation Provision in the Inner Cities—of his predecessor the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), I am sure that he will acknowledge that the Government have missed no fewer than six explicit deadlines for action.

They include the production of a publicly available progress report on the implementation of the report's recommendations by the end of 1990—that is the report I referred to. They also include the production of a practical guidance booklet on dual use, together with the collection and publication of responses by the end of 1990. That has been missed as well. There is also the production of a clear and comprehensive statement of the Government's overall objectives for sport and recreation provision in the inner cities by August 1990. That has been missed. Finally, there was the establishment by 1989 of an inter departmental group to identify, encourage and develop joint initiatives for sport.

"That is a shoddy state of affairs. Many people in the sporting world are saying, in respect of the former Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), "Come back, you were not so bad after all." The Minister is new in his job and he has yet to make his mark, but it would be well for him to take note of some of the recommendations of his predecessor, for which he received little recognition.

The Minister should stop trying to tell the hon. Member for Luton, North what he has missed—he is desperately trying to find out what happened at the beginning of the debate and I know of his interest in it, but he will have to catch up later because I want the Minister's ear.

It is ironic that, even on simple financial grounds, investment in sport makes economic good sense. Far from being a financial drain on the Chancellor, sport represents a significant factor in the national economy. It is estimated that sport generates about £6 billion of consumer expenditure each year and the sports industry employs more people than the motor manufacturing industry and its ancillary industries—and that is even before the way that the industry has been treated as a result of the Budget. However, if the Chancellor wishes to locate an aspect of the economy—and perhaps the Minister can help in this matter—that has undergone significant and spectacular growth in recent years in spite of his policies rather than as a result of them, he need look no further than the sports and leisure industry. Unfortunately, the Government have failed to grasp the fact—or if they have grasped it they have not acted on it—that the economic success is only a small proportion of what could be created if fuller backing were given to sport and recreation.

In its 1990 report on local authority support for sport, the Audit Commission acknowledged that participation in sports is supply led and that it depends on the availability of facilities. Given the cuts in funding for sport which, as I outlined, have been the hallmark of this Government, we have missed a golden opportunity for economic investment in that area. That has to stop, and the Minister must come behind us to see that it does stop.

Unfortunately, far from investing in sport, the measures announced by the Chancellor in his Budget will bleed the sports industry further dry. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), in a question to the Minister two days ago, asked him to study the implications of the value added tax increase on sports and sports clubs. In case he has not had time since then to do so or had time to read my speech of 20 March on the Budget, in which I outlined precisely what the effects would be, I shall save him the job and tell him the implications.

The effect of a 2.5 per cent. increase in VAT means that our sports men and women will have to give the Government an extra £105 million in increased tax and duties on items such as equipment and on admission fees. Lest the Minister feels tempted to dispute those figures, I can tell him that they have been checked and verified by the Sports Council, but, more important from his point of view, in a letter dated 17 April from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I know that the Minister will not accuse his colleagues of talking nonsense. I am sure that he will accept, as a result, that the Budget has been a disaster.

Of course the Minister will wish to counter that argument. I have heard him say before that the Budget provided for a foundation for sport and the arts, but even he must realise that he is on shaky ground there. For a start, that much-trailed organisation is still nowhere near coming into being. The Minister is shaking his head, so perhaps he will give us some welcome news today. The Government have provided firm evidence of that by failing to table a new clause to the Finance Bill, which was promised to me by the Financial Secretary recently. That new clause was to effect a cut in the football pool duty to facilitate a foundation. I suggest that that is because there is, to date, still no agreement between the proposed funders of the foundation and the pools companies which are to set up the foundation. If he does nothing else, the Minister must confirm or deny that fact when he replies, because the football, sports and arts lobbies want to know where they stand.

The Government are offering precious little help in this matter. The Minister will know that the Chief Secretary was forced to admit to me in a parliamentary written answer on 28 March that the Government did not have the most basic plans for this foundation, including who would be on it, what would be the ratio of funding between sports and the arts provided in it, how many staff it would need and what measures will be in place to ensure monitoring, audit or accountability of its work. What light can the Minister shed on that?

If the Minister's performance to date is anything to go by, the answer must be none. When he did have a stab at it, he got his sums terribly wrong. I am sure that he will recall his claim on 23 April that the foundation would provide funds of £75 million.

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Robert Atkins)

indicated assent.

Mr. Pendry

I am glad that he recognises that he said that. I should have thought that his colleagues in the Treasury were astounded by his claim, because they have been saying that it would provide £60 million. Again, they do not know what they are talking about—or one does and one does not because they cannot both be right. They were talking about £60 million, so where does the magical £75 million come from?

In answer to a written question on 29 April the Minister told me that it would come from increased betting turnover. However, I challenged the Financial Secretary in my speech only 23 days ago to confirm that that would require pools companies' turnover to be increased by 25 per cent. to £1 billion for the current 12 months, but he was unable to do so. Perhaps the Minister can do it—his sums may be better than those of the Treasury. Perhaps he should not be in his current post, but should be the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I shall put a word in for him if he can get this right. Instead, the Financial Secretary dodged the question and said that the Minister for Sport would be surprised by my comments. I see that the Minister is surprised. Having had the chance to get over his surprise, the Minister must now tell the House plainly and simply: is he prepared to repeat his claim and suggest that betting turnover will increase by 25 per cent. to provide an extra £15 million for the foundation? The House has heard the question; we shall await the Minister's definitive reply.

To be fair to the Minister, I admit that he has had to suffer at the hands of this Government a pretty raw deal that has afflicted not only him but his predecessors. The Government do not value or respect their Ministers for Sport. Rather, they use sport for convenient public relations exercises and ignore and snub the Ministers involved. The Minister will know that in only too painful detail. For example, he was humiliated by being excluded from any ministerial discussions surrounding the sport and arts foundation until well into the event. I shall give him another chance to come clean. I challenge him to deny that his first official, on-the-record meeting with Treasury officials to discuss the foundation took place on 24 April, more than five weeks after the Budget announcement. I have sympathy with the Minister and I am very much on his side because that is a disgrace. He has also had to suffer the embarrassment of spending months hinting in the national press that he would convince the Treasury to abolish corporation tax for the national governing bodies of sport, only to be wholly rebuffed by the Chancellor. It is no wonder that he was not included in the talks 11 days before the Budget.

I ask the Minister to recall his words to The Mail on Sunday on 20 January. He said: I'm looking very hard at the financial structure of sports so they can be released from having to pay corporation tax. I feel very strongly about the tax that sport has to pay and I believe that we can change this and get more money into the grass roots of sport. I'm not going to make any promises —to be fair— but there are many sports followers in the Cabinet. I ask him to explain what went wrong.

Having looked at the financial structure, did the Minister realise that he could not get the Treasury to agree with it, despite his own admission that it would provide a much-needed boost for grass-roots sport? What happened to all the supposed sports lovers and sports followers in the Cabinet when he needed them? Chief of those is the Prime Minister himself. Would a sports-loving Prime Minister allow his Minister for Sport to go out on a limb and then humiliate him? I realise that the Minister may choose not to reply to that point and I understand that it may be difficult for him. I assure him that some of us can see the reality behind the Government's hype and we sympathise with him.

Nevertheless, there can be no excuse for inaction by the Government. The Minister must at the very least persuade his colleagues to take action to help the British Olympic bid with financial support and not just with words. The Minister promised 150 per cent. support—perhaps he does not get his figures right after all. To date, there has been not a single penny for the bid or for the wider Olympic movement. As a result, the British Olympic Association remains the only national committee to receive neither direct Government grant nor tax relief.

That is the reality behind the myth of the sports-loving Prime Minister. There is no difference between his policies and those of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). That is not good enough. The Minister must give the House his unequivocal commitment that he will stick to his guns, honour his words of last January and argue the case for the British Olympic Association to be released from corporation tax. Unless he does that, the British Olympic Association will be hampered to the extent of £1.5 million.

The Minister must tell the House that he will vigorously pursue the Secretary of State for the Environment and persuade him to provide urgently needed direct Government money to boost the Manchester-led bid. [Interruption.] The Minister has the opportunity now to listen to sport and to respond instead of talking to colleagues to whom he can talk at any time. He must answer the points, otherwise we cannot back him in his sports slot. I hope that the Minister will say something positive about the Manchester Olympic bid. He knows the importance of delivering the goods on this occasion. If he does not, he will be in severe danger of becoming a Minister who is responsible for broken promises. I realise that that may not be his direct responsibility.

It is good to see the hon. Member for Luton, North in his place. He shares many of my views—if hon. Members can believe that—on the sporting world. I will touch on football, and I know that he is passionate about our national game.

Mr. Atkins

What about cricket?

Mr. Pendry

Perhaps I should have said "our national winter game". That would please the Minister.

Unfortunately for the Minister, this debate has come two days late. Until last Tuesday, I would have given some qualified support to the Government for their having changed their attitude towards football. Having had their fingers burnt on the identity card scheme, one would have expected them to make an about-turn. The Government have taken a helpful attitude through the Football (Offences) Bill, and that must be placed on record because it deserves recognition. I hope that the Bill will make our football grounds far more attractive places.

On Tuesday, the Government published their response to the very fine report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs entitled "Policing Football Hooliganism". It seems that the Government have reverted to type. They rejected the Committee's considered and well-argued recommendations for reconsidering the requirement for small clubs to have all-seater grounds and sought to impose full economic charging for policing at football matches. In doing so, the Government are, once again, threatening clubs with a policy that will put many of them in danger of bankruptcy.

The Minister will be aware of the crippling effect that escalating police charges have had on clubs, especially given the additional financial worries of having to meet the Taylor deadlines. How can the Minister defend a policy that will close clubs and undermine moves towards ground safety?

I hope that the Minister will not merely repeat the line, which is always used on these occasions, that the Government have reduced pool betting levy to release £100 million over five years to football. Although that cash is welcome, as the Minister and everyone else know, even discounting the possible rocketing of police charges as a result of Government policy, the money will fall far short of the resources needed by football to meet the Taylor requirements. The £100 million represents a tiny proportion of the £2.4 billion that the Government have taken out of football since 1979 in pool betting duty. The Minister must either promise to argue the case for greater financial help for football or he must give a commitment to press the Home Secretary for a change in the currently disastrous direction. The Minister will not be forgiven for anything less by those who love the game of football.

The Minister will recall that in our debate on sport in schools I asked him to give his backing to the teaching of swimming in schools. I note that, at a conference organised by the Swim For Life campaign on 15 April, the Minister said that there was no doubt that the ability to swim saved lives and that the provision of swimming tuition at school could be justified on that ground alone. At the same conference Hamilton Bland, a faculties consultant to the Amateur Swimming Association, argued that the revenue needed to teach every 10-year-old to swim would be roughly £4.8 million. That is a lot of money and I accept that the Minister may not wish to commit the Government to such resources. He will recognise that I did not ask him to do so when I spoke in that debate. I asked him whether he would give his backing to a survey to find out what the available resources were for teaching children to swim. He chose not to reply to that request, so I repeat it now. Will he conduct a survey and give his pledge to ensuring that all available resources are used to the full?

My final request to the Minister is that he should recognise the importance of the international dimension of sport, especially the potential for using sport as an integral component in aid packages. He will be aware that the Minister for Overseas Development told me in a recent answer that a high priority is not given by host countries to that area of aid. I find that hard to accept, and I am sure the Minister does as well. I hope that he agrees that even a cursory glance at the development and aid programmes of the other European states will reveal many sporting projects. Is it not the Minister's duty to ensure that sport is given a high priority in that area by the Government and that British sport plays its part in the international aid package?

I should very much like the Minister to make a meaningful contribution to the debate. I will, therefore, conclude by saying that many hon. Members of all parties genuinely wish the Minister well. They know that he has a difficult role, and they wish that his position in Government was elevated so that he would have more clout in arguing his case. However, those of us who love sport also recognise that we are not getting a fair deal in the House, especially from the Government. We feel that many things are necessary, and we look to the Minister to play his part and to fight his corner to ensure that we have a better deal. I hope that we shall have more debates in the House on sport and recreation because they affect many people whom we represent.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I am willing to call the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out that the Minister has little time. The hon. Gentleman would need to seek leave to intervene because he has a later debate. There is a slight risk that he might not be granted that leave.

12.17 pm
The Minister for Sport (Mr. Robert Atkins)

I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) that I tried to give him an opportunity to speak.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on having recovered from last night, as I have. I also congratulate him on having the opportunity to raise this subject today. He is right to say that I would otherwise have been at Edgbaston. He may be interested to know that the most recent score that I have heard is that the West Indies were 44 for two, which is extremely good news.

It would be remiss of me, especially today, not to draw the attention of the House to the sad death last night of one of the greatest of English footballers, Stan Mortensen. He played close to my neck of the woods. He was a great footballer whose passing will be regretted, not least because of the famous cup final that was always described as Matthews's cup final, but which some might argue was actually Mortensen's cup final because he scored such a fine hat-trick.

Those of my hon. Friends who have been kind enough to join me in listening to the debate live in a different world from that of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. I have made a point—perhaps wrongly, although I hope not—of not talking too much in the early stage of my tenure but of listening to people instead. I have gone round a number of organisations and heard what they have had to say. Broadly speaking, the comments that I have heard and the responses that I have had from those in sport differ widely from the views of the hon. Gentleman.

People always want more money and no one in sport is any different from anyone in any other walk of life. The hon. Gentleman listed so many commitments to increased spending that I did not have time to add them up. I should be interested to know whether his views represent official Labour party policy or whether those commitments were his idea alone.

Mr. John Carlisle

They do.

Mr. Atkins

If that is so, it is more than a little worrying. No doubt the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the shadow Chancellor would have views about the amount of expenditure to which the hon. Gentleman wishes to commit his party.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about parliamentary questions. On Tuesday, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) and I had a little banter about maiden questions and debuts. I realise that the situation is governed largely by the ballot but the fact remains that, although I have been in office since last July, the hon. Lady's question is the only one that I have answered orally during that time. Much as I would love to—and much as it is suggested that questions are planted, which, as hon. Members know, is never the case—I cannot answer questions unless hon Members table them. In a notable early-day motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North drew attention to the fact that those who were criticising were those who had not tabled questions.

Mr. Pendry

If I recall the early-day motion correctly, the hon. Member for Luton, North excluded me from the charge.

Mr. Atkins

I am sure that he did that as a matter of course. I know that the hon. Gentleman is committed to these matters.

The hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions about figures. I could deal with them in detail, but there is perhaps not enough time, as we have other matters to cope with. I would say, however, that since 1979, we have increased the Sports Council's grant by about 30 per cent. in real terms. As the hon. Gentleman would expect, I am in constant contact with the chairman and members of the Sports Council and we do what is necessary to ensure that the figure keeps pace with inflation.

I find the hon. Gentleman's somewhat dismissive remarks about what the Government have done for sport frankly unhelpful, which, as he is in opposition, I suppose he wants them to be. His views are also largely out of line with those of the sporting fraternity. For example, the hon. Gentleman dismissed fairly lightly the £1 million extra that I was able to find, in relation to the pilot scheme for coaching, on my move from the Department of the Environment to the Department of Education and Science. The National Coaching Foundation, through its estimable director, Sue Campbell, has done remarkable work in encouraging people to recognise the importance of coaching.

It was because of the case that Sue Campbell and others put to me that I was able to find an extra £1 million for a pilot scheme based largely on the achievements of Nottinghamshire county council and on its all-party initiative to encourage coaching out of school hours on an extracurricular basis as well as on highlighting some of the improvements that are needed in physical education in schools. The pilot scheme was divided roughly three quarters to one quarter between able-bodied children and the disabled. It goes without saying—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not disagree—that we need to concentrate on those with disabilities, who can gain so much confidence and achieve so much, sometimes in integrated sporting efforts with able-bodied people as well as in the sporting activities in which they alone participate.

The pilot scheme was intended to establish whether some of the ideas tried locally in Nottinghamshire could work in a national context and it has been well received. It will be extended round the 10 regions of England. The hon. Gentleman may dismiss it as involving only 2 per cent. of the young population, but, none the less, I am sure that it will achieve a great deal and that we shall learn some lessons from it.

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman assurances about further funding because the essence of a pilot scheme is that local communities should be encouraged to recognise the importance of the activities involved and then fund them for themselves. The Government strongly believe that we should encourage the private sector to continue to be involved and to increase its commitment to sport, whether through sponsorship or in other ways. All the evidence points to the fact that the private sector is keen to do that—indeed, that it is already doing it. We want to encourage the mixed funding of sport, whether through the dual use of community facilities or by the support and sponsorship by companies of schools and clubs.

The hon. Gentleman referred to football, which is pertinent at the moment, and to police charges. I have told the Home Office—and it has received it well—that the clubs and I believe that it would be most helpful if there were more concentration on the professional and proper stewarding of football matches in addition to the police presence. The stewards involved would, of course have to be properly trained to a standard acceptable to the local police authority, which is required to ensure that the policing is properly done.

Football is unusual in not having contributed to the cost of policing over the years. I am sure that rugby pays its own costs, and cricket certainly does. I do not see why football necessarily should be any different, although I recognise that the introduction of police charges would immediately have a detrimental effect on the lower clubs. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a strong supporter of football and he and I share the hon. Gentleman's concern, which is why we have persuaded the Home Office to phase in the charges over five years and, at the same time, to encourage the use of properly trained expert stewards so that the police requirement is reduced. Both measures should assist somewhat.

There is no difference between the hon. Gentleman and me on the importance that we place on swimming—not least because it is a life-saving activity as well as a recreation and competitive sport. It is argued that, from the age of 11, every youngster should be able to swim. There is no difference between us on that objective. None the less, to do that immediately would require a substantial increase in funding and resources. We are arguing not about the objective but about the timing. As I said, I suspect that if the hon. Gentleman made a commitment to ensure that everyone had those facilities, which would involve a great deal of money being spent on swimming pools and so on, the Opposition spokesmen on Treasury matters might take a slightly different view.

Mr. Pendry

I am sure that the Minister heard me correctly. I am not saying that the Government should commit themselves to the figure given by the Amateur Swimming Association. I am merely asking him to commit himself to look at the available resources before deciding what funds the Government can commit.

Mr. Atkins

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not accusing me of having a closed mind. At the swimming conference that I attended, I undertook to consider all sorts of matters relating to funding.

Before I conclude my remarks, I wish to mention the Manchester Olympics. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and I share a commitment to the north-west as we both represent north-western constituencies. I am sure that he is as delighted as I am that Manchester's bid is now the United Kingdom's Olympic bid. I have already had conversations with the British Olympic Association and the Manchester bid committee and I reinforce my commitment that I will do everything I can to promote that bid. However, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde will be aware that more than just one Minister is involved in respect of the costs and other matters connected with the bid.

When pleas are made for extra money for the bid, it should not be forgotten that by the year 2000 we will have spent about £3 billion of Government money on infrastructure in the north-west. In Manchester that expenditure will include the second terminal at Manchester airport, the supertram and the new road structure for which, in my former incarnation, I was partly responsible. A lot of money is being spent in Manchester, and deservedly so because it is the best region in the country.

I had a conversation with Bob Scott yesterday and the Manchester bid committee restated that it expects the bid to be privately financed. The committee expects to meet that requirement. In that respect, the bid committee seems to disagree with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. Incidentally, such privately financed bids proved successful in Atlanta in the United States.

From the Prime Minister downwards, the Government are committed to sport. We will continue to give evidence of that commitment through the foundation, which I have not been able to refer to in detail today because of the time available to me. However, that foundation more than doubles the commitment of funds to sport by the Government. That gives the lie to the Opposition's suggestion that the Government do not appreciate, are not committed to and are not interested in sport. We are and we remain so and, while I do this job, that commitment will be reinforced on every possible occasion, supported by my colleagues who take a continuing and deep interest in sport on a regular basis.