HC Deb 19 May 1997 vol 294 cc367-8
10. Mr. Rhodri Morgan

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what consultations he has had with Mark Hughes concerning proposals for a single United Kingdom-wide representative Association Football team. [370]

Mr. Banks

I had a couple of conversations with Mark Hughes over the weekend, but, in view of the circumstances, I cannot remember what we talked about. My reference to a United Kingdom football team was well described as "pub talk". Madam Speaker, I think that you and the House will understand that there have been some glitches in my transition from saloon bar sage to world statesman, but I shall try. I remind my hon. Friend that, although many people said, "What a load of rubbish," every single journalist then suggested a United Kingdom team. It was just an idea to kick around—or even out.

Mr. Morgan

May I bracket my congratulations to the Minister for Sport with congratulations to Chelsea and to Mark Hughes on their magnificent cup final victory on Saturday? What on earth was the Minister doing upsetting Chelsea's star Welsh centre forward just three days before the cup final?

I know that the Prime Minister said in the Queen's Speech debate that we would be a one nation Government, but I thought that the Minister's suggestion an hour or two later that the United Kingdom should have a one nation soccer team was carrying total sycophancy rather too far. Will the Minister accept also that in the sport of cricket, where we play as one country, the decline has been even greater than in soccer? I suggest that his idea was not just half-baked; it was not even quarter-sauteed.

Mr. Banks

That was a question in two halves, Madam Speaker. [Interruption.] Indeed, it is right to point that out. Mark Hughes played an extravagantly useful part in Chelsea's cup success. All I can say is that Labour delivers on its promises: I became Sports Minister and Chelsea won the cup in the same week.

I think that my hon. Friend should lighten up a little on this point. There is no great problem in discussing such matters in an open and general fashion—although perhaps I shall have to think more carefully in future about making constructive suggestions that people may take very seriously.

I conclude by extending congratulations on behalf of the whole Department to Barry Town on becoming the successful Welsh team to compete in next year's European champions league. Let us hope that they win it.

Mr. Robathan

Saloon bar sage or world statesman, I add my congratulations to those extended to the hon. Gentleman on his new appointment. I am sure that he would agree that, whether it be a United Kingdom team or individual nation teams, we all want them to be successful. Sporting success depends on how sport is taught to the young. Therefore, will the Minister give his whole-hearted support to encouraging competitive sport in schools?

Mr. Banks

One of the first things we must do is stop the sale of school playing fields which the Conservative Government not only encouraged, but required, of education authorities. We have now stopped those sales, and we shall examine the matter carefully. The hon. Gentleman is right: unless we encourage sport in our schools, we cannot look forward to the success of our athletes and sports men and women later in life. I assure the hon. Gentleman that encouraging sport in schools will be a priority of this Department.