HC Deb 03 March 1997 vol 291 cc611-2
8. Mr. Robert Ainsworth

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what estimate she has made of the number of anglers in the United Kingdom. [16703]

Mr. Sproat

The National Rivers Authority commissioned a national angling survey in 1994 which concluded that there were 3.3 million freshwater and sea anglers aged 12 and over in Great Britain.

Mr. Ainsworth

I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that angling is clearly the most popular participatory sport in the country, why did it receive a miserly £72,500 of development money from the Sports Council last year? Why was angling not even mentioned in its list of the top 22 sports? In the light of their appalling record, will the Government give a commitment to match Labour's commitment to oblige the Sports Council to give more assistance to angling for its administration needs?

Mr. Sproat

The amount that the Sports Council gives in grant to angling or any other sport is a matter for the Sports Council. However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that £500,000 from the national lottery and £100,000 from sportsmatch have gone to angling. He will be further aware of the Government's record of improving river quality, ending the problems caused by saboteurs through the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and reviewing predatory bird and other measures, which shows our commitment to the popular sport of angling.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does my hon. Friend accept that country sports in general, and angling in particular, are enjoyed by a wider cross-section and by more people than any other sport in the country? Does he agree that the last thing any of them want is Government interference?

Mr. Sproat

They quite like Government money from time to time. None the less, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the most pleasing aspects of the past few months has been that the three bodies representing game, coarse and sea angling have come together for the first time, and the Sports Council will be keen to help.

Mr. Pendry

Is the Minister aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) is absolutely right about the fact that anglers are furious with the Government for ignoring their legitimate claims to recognise angling as a major sport? Is it any wonder that the president of the National Federation of Anglers wrote to the Prime Minister to bemoan the fact that the Government had no policy on angling, in contrast with the Labour party, which has a clearly defined charter for angling? The NFA president concluded by stating the obvious—that anglers are coming to the view that Labour cares about angling but the Government do not. Will the Minister, at the very least, dissociate himself from those in his party who claim that Labour will ban angling after we win the general election? Furthermore, on behalf of the Government, will he match our firm commitment to the sport?

Mr. Sproat

In anticipation of some major exaggeration of the contents of Labour's so-called charter for angling, I reread its few pages this morning, and I was surprised by how little it said.

I mentioned earlier some measures that the Government have undertaken. We have also abolished non-domestic rates for angling riparian owners—a measure that was welcomed by the angling community. That underlines the fact that the Opposition are basically hostile to country sports, and that no angler who wants his sport to be maintained should be so foolish as to vote for the Labour party.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the worst threat facing angling is Labour's policy to give an unrestricted right of access to riverbanks, canal banks and lakesides, which would make the management of fisheries impossible and would destroy the opportunity for anglers to enjoy their sport quietly?

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend is right: the Labour party poses a serious threat to angling, and he has mentioned one aspect of that threat.