HC Deb 27 July 1998 vol 317 cc2-4
2. Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

If he will make a statement on the Government's sports policy. [50768]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

On Friday, I announced a package that will deliver more grass-roots sports development, wider access to opportunities to take part in sport and more funding for support of sport at an international level. Earlier in the month, I announced a strengthening of the United Kingdom Sports Council and its work with our top sports men and women. In addition—although this is not entirely due to the Government's activities—I am glad to be the first to congratulate our English cricketers on winning the test match this afternoon.

Mr. Loughton

I take this opportunity to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on retaining his position in the Cabinet—but I hope that that does not presage doom for the Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), whom I had anticipated would answer my question.

If the Secretary of State is serious about promoting excellence in sport—the scant details of it appeared in a statement on Friday—how does he gel that with the Government's abandoning of the teaching of physical education as a core subject in schools?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that PE will remain a curriculum subject in schools; it will have to be taught. He also ignores the record of the previous Government, who presided over the country's biggest-ever sell-off of school playing fields, which so damagingly set back our potential for sporting achievement. We have now put that right by introducing measures to stop the unnecessary sale of playing fields. Last Friday, I announced the biggest—indeed, the first—real-terms increase in funding for sport for six years.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one problem for sports that do not get a great deal of attention, such as tennis, is that the base is not broad enough? Many potential tennis players never get a chance to get beyond those who run it—the twinset and pearls brigade. Will he bear in mind the fact that there are usually no athletics facilities outside cities and some of the larger towns? There is nothing in smaller towns and rural areas, so we need to broaden the base there, too. It is remarkable that we managed to win the European cup in view of the fact that we do not manage well the transition of school athletes to clubs—mainly because there are not too many clubs in some parts of the country.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government's entire policy is based on two fundamental pillars: to ensure international excellence, but also to ensure at grass-roots level widespread availability of sporting facilities and the encouragement of sporting activities. One does not achieve the first pillar without the second. I tell my hon. Friend also that the 44th indoor tennis facility has recently been opened, at Tipton, and that we hope very much to see continued growth of tennis facilities in our communities across the country. He is right also to say that giving people the chance to develop skills at grass-roots level is absolutely the right way forward.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I join the Secretary of State in congratulating the England test team. It was particularly appropriate that England should have a magnificent fight back under Alec Stewart's leadership, given that the media's normal propagation of doom and gloom, writing off the test team, was continuing even up to the third day of the match. Will the Secretary of State join me in saying that we want our media always to support British sports teams, and that such support will be an important part of supporting sports policy from whichever party? Will he also say whether any tenders have yet been issued for the new UK Sports Institute? Opposition Members are very concerned that—after the blaze of publicity and all the hype over the announcement, and after many months—no tenders have been let.

Mr. Smith

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I entirely agree. I very much hope that we shall have a supportive media for our great sports men and women, particularly with the Commonwealth games being held in only a month or two. On the second part of his question, I am delighted that Opposition Front Benchers have at last been up to Sheffield to talk to the people putting together the UK Sports Institute there, to see what is happening and to hear the good progress that has been made. I fully expect that facilities will be open at Sheffield for the UK Sports Institute in 2000.