HC Deb 21 July 1997 vol 298 cc676-7
5. Mrs. May

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on the British academy of sport. [7501]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)

I have visited all three sites and had discussions with the UK Sports Council and officials. I hope to make an announcement in September.

Mrs. May

Does the Minister recall that on 9 May, referring to the location of the British academy of sport, he said that there was no firm decision in his mind, but that it would not take him long to work it out. If a week is a long time in politics, what on earth is four and a half months? Why has it taken the Government so long? Why have they been sitting on the fence, given that the Minister of State visited the sites fairly soon after the election? What has got in the way of his coming to the House with a decision earlier than September?

Mr. Banks

The hon. Lady obviously has problems grasping the theory of time. The Government have been around for only nine weeks and I have been doing this job for only eight weeks. I have not yet made Minister of State, and I doubt whether I will, but I will settle for Parliamentary Under-Secretary. We have survived for a long time without a British academy of sport and it is essential to get it right. I have inspected the three sites, but it is a very difficult decision. I do not want to make a decision in such haste that I shall have to repent at great leisure. The decision will be made, and it will be made in the best interests of sport in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Grocott

In agreeing with my hon. Friend that it is important to get the decision right, may I draw his attention to the excellence of the submission from the central consortium, and the widespread support for that submission from both the east and the west midlands? Does he agree that one of the reasons why it is such a strong application is that it consists of a number of centres of excellence, including Lilleshall on the boundaries of my constituency? I know that my hon. Friend has been travelling around seeing as many centres as possible. When Chelsea are away at Aston Villa, for instance, and he has good reason to be in the west midlands area, may our hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) and I invite him to come and see the work being done at Lilleshall, which I am sure will enable him to reach a speedy and correct conclusion?

Mr. Banks

And I know which decision my hon. Friend thinks would be the right one. There are three excellent sites: that is the purpose of having a shortlist and what makes the task more difficult. Each site has some advantages and some disadvantages, and all three sites have proponents as strong as my hon. Friend. I assure him that no site is yet ruled out, and none will be ruled out until we rule out two when we take the final decision.

Mr. Hawkins

Does the Minister agree that, whichever site is chosen, it will be important to continue the previous Government's policy of regional academies for sport in addition to the national academy? Does he agree that the two unsuccessful bidders should immediately be invited to become regional academies? May I further ask the hon. Gentleman whether, as a new Minister, he feels comfortable working in a communist-style ministry of culture?

Mr. Banks

Once the central academy is set up, the need for regional centres will be essential. On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, when I ran the arts and recreation department on the Greater London Council I was referred to as the snarling tsar of culture. I am happy where I am.

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