HC Deb 05 June 1998 vol 313 cc609-82

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

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

It is almost a year since the House last debated sport and just over a year since the Government came into office. In that time, we have achieved a good deal, and I hope to illustrate some of that during my remarks. I am also conscious of something that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport said, in his own inimitable way, in last year's debate. It was: I have attended many debates on sport—debates that have often consisted mainly of a long speech from the Minister of the day saying how fantastic everything is."—[Official Report, 27 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 1125.] I can assure the House that I do not intend to fall into that trap today—well, not entirely.

The Government have supported sport well during the past year, but much remains to be done, and I will outline some of the challenges ahead. First, I must say a few words of tribute in memory of the man who was the model Sports Minister and who set standards that all subsequent Sports Ministers seek, mainly in vain, as they would be the first to acknowledge, to match. Denis Howell's advocacy of sport was without parallel and he continued to champion the cause of sport to the end. We miss him grievously and we shall carry on missing him.

Let me also pause to offer congratulations to the England team on the first day at Edgbaston and, in particular, to Mike Atherton on his century—and still, of course, not out.

So what is the Government's role in sport? I see it as setting the framework for the development of sport, seeking to protect the interests of sport, and modernising sports administration. Too often in the past, the United Kingdom has had no coherent vision for sport. This Government are determined that there should be appropriate and clear structures in sport; in the short time that we have been in office, we have set out our agenda.

The Government's vision is of sports policy based on two pillars: sport for all and international excellence, and the two are fundamentally interlinked. We cannot have medal winners without a broad base of participation, and we will not get general participation without the inspiration from the best.

"Sport for All" is an old strapline, but it is a good one. We have looked again at what we mean by it and how to make it relevant to the challenges that sport faces today. We believe that the concept should be wide ranging. It must be a policy capable of delivering benefits to ordinary people, as well as developing excellence among elite sportsmen and women. We want to ensure that sporting enjoyment and opportunities are available and easily accessible to the entire community, regardless of age, gender, social background, location or ability.

We are taking a close interest in sport for disabled people. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has made particular features of his year in office the pursuit of that issue and doing what he can to support it. We are keen to ensure that the special problems that prevent those with disabilities from being able to participate and improve their performance in sport are properly addressed.

Sport for all is also an ambition we pursue for the benefit that it can bring in terms of national pride and the inspiration it can bring with success, particularly at an international level. We need to develop sport and invest in sporting talent from the grass roots up and to ensure that our elite athletes get all the support that they need to achieve success on the international stage.

At the international level, Britain has a great tradition in the organisation and running of successful major sporting events: the lawn tennis championships at Wimbledon, the British Open golf and Euro 96. Such events help to raise the nation's international profile and provide a major boost to the tourism and hospitality industries. However, I have some concerns, and I intend to ensure that changes are made.

We have kicked off on access to football, as football is a national sport and as we promised, and so must deliver, action. The football task force has produced an excellent report on racism in football. The report has been well received, and I am grateful for the constructive input from the football and other relevant authorities—we are, of course, particularly grateful to David Mellor and his colleagues. The report's contents are frankly disturbing in places, demonstrating that change is needed at all levels if the evil of racism, which has blighted the game for so long, is to be eliminated.

The task force has not been, and must not become, only a talking shop. That is why I am so pleased that the report on racism suggested a series of practical actions, the implementation of which I shall be monitoring closely. I look forward to seeing the next task force report, which is due shortly, and shall consider how access for disabled people to football stadiums can be improved.

Subsequent reports will examine other important access concerns such as ticketing, where the issue for clubs is how to weigh commercial considerations with community responsibilities. I am sure that the football authorities will be only too aware of public concern over recent price increases and of calls for some form of independent regulator. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has rightly challenged football to put its house in order on that issue.

I hope that the House will not too readily accuse me of hubris if I congratulate Arsenal on winning the double this year. To make matters even with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, I also pay tribute to Chelsea for securing the European cup winners cup and the Coca-Cola cup.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am absolutely delighted to learn something what I probably should known already—that the Secretary of State appears to be an Arsenal supporter. In a friendly spirit, may I test the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge of Arsenal's successful past? Can he tell the House who scored the winning goal for Arsenal when it last won the Football Association cup—and, indeed, the double—which was in 1971?

Mr. Smith

The answer is Charlie George. There is a fine and honourable tradition of Islington people supporting what is undoubtedly the best team in the land.

We are also reviewing the list of major sporting events for which coverage on terrestrial television is protected. I know that that subject arouses strong feelings and that it is of great interest in both Houses of Parliament. I have received many representations on the matter from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

We do not underestimate the difficulties of balancing the need for public access to the major sports events that have a national resonance with the needs of the sports themselves. For the first time, the list is being reviewed in the light of clear and transparent criteria. I am carefully considering the novel solutions proposed unanimously by Lord Gordon's advisory group, and I have taken full note of comments from hon. Members. I hope to announce my decisions within the next few weeks.

Sport for all will govern and permeate all that we do in sport, as well as being the badge for specific policies by which we shall seek to widen opportunity and access. A key element to increasing participation and improving performance is the opportunity for people to watch top-level sport, which is why we believe that it is essential that Britain should host major international sporting events. Such events generate enormous enthusiasm, especially when British teams or individuals achieve significant results.

The Government are fully committed to England's bid to host the 2006 world cup. That excellent bid is backed by the lottery sports fund; it is built on the firmest foundations of Euro 96 and some of the best and safest football stadiums in the world. Government support was a manifesto commitment, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has made it a personal priority to promote the bid and to join the Football Association team in lobbying FIFA delegates. I commend his unstinting efforts and enthusiasm, which I know are greatly valued by the FA and highly effective in opening doors to key decision makers across the world. The unique team of Bobby Charlton and Tony Banks is proving to be a major international success.

Our football grounds have been transformed since the Taylor report. Much of the credit for that goes to the clubs and to bodies such as the Football Licensing Authority and the Football Trust. I know that the House will want me to offer our best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) in his role as the new chairman of the Football Trust, and also to place on record our appreciation of his predecessor Lord Aberdare.

One of the Government's earliest acts was to announce a new £55 million funding package for the Football Trust, with contributions from the English Sports Council, the FA and the Premier League. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has been a leading figure in sport for many years; his experience and personal interest in football will be invaluable in leading the Football Trust forward. I also acknowledge with gratitude the invaluable help that the trust is giving the task force.

The Government are determined that Britain should be in a position to host the Olympic games at the earliest possible opportunity. We are keeping in close contact with the British Olympic Association to ensure that all practical steps are taken so that all the ingredients are in place for us to mount a winnable bid at the right time.

Moreover, the United Kingdom Sports Council is advising us on a national strategy to ensure that all future bids for major events are of the highest quality and that there is proper co-ordination. When that strategy is ready, we shall bring together all the interested parties—from the sports governing bodies and from within Government—to ensure that we bring to Britain the best of world events. We are, of course, hosting a number of important events in the near future, including the cricket and rugby world cups in 1999 and the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002.

The Government are committed to the re-emergence of Britain as a leading sporting nation. The lottery sports fund world-class performance programme gives us the opportunity to help our most talented sportsmen and sportswomen to compete successfully across a wide range of sports at international level. Each year, £35 million is available through the programme in England alone. So far, grants totalling more than £24 million have been awarded to more than 25 sports across the United Kingdom to provide support for our elite athletes competing up to Olympic and world championship level.

The benefits of the programme are already becoming clear. Following Britain's success in last year's rowing world championship, competitors and coaches praised the programme as one of the main reasons for their team's outstanding performance. Praise for the programme has also come from the Squash Rackets Association, which has stated that the funding that it received enabled the England team to prepare properly for the men's world squash championship last year and to retain the world title.

We must not underestimate the lottery's tremendous impact on sport. The lottery sports fund has now provided more than £800 million to some 4,000 sports projects throughout the United Kingdom. The first phase of monitoring lottery-funded projects found that participation by people under 18 had tripled and that, as a result of improved accessibility, participation by women and the disabled had doubled.

We have always felt that fair distribution, particularly to areas of social and recreational deprivation, is a crucial aspect of lottery funding; hence the early development of the English Sports Council's successful priority areas initiative. However, we are not standing still. We propose to bring the benefits of the lottery to more people and in more imaginative ways. Our proposals to ensure a more strategic approach for the distribution of lottery funds, outlined in the National Lottery Bill now going through Parliament, will help.

The national lottery reforms will establish a completely different framework, shifting the focus away from capital funding exclusively to funding people and their activities and access, the developmental needs of children and young people, making partnerships more flexible, and encouraging distributors to consider how their strategies will contribute to regeneration and the reduction of economic and social deprivation.

I know that there have been some suggestions that the advent of the sixth good cause for the New Opportunities Fund will mean less money for sport. I am pleased yet again to be able to put the record straight. We shall honour the commitment that sport will receive in full the £1.8 billion that it was originally earmarked to receive from the proceeds of the national lottery. In addition, the New Opportunities Fund will provide money for healthy living centres and out-of-school-hours activities. That will enable people to gain greater access to sport, with leisure centres working with healthy living centres, and sport as one of the activities in after-school clubs.

Sport relies heavily on sponsorship, and I have been encouraged by the increase in commercial sponsorship of sport in recent years. However, there is one form of sponsorship in particular that does not, and should not, mix with sport: tobacco. In the general election and in our manifesto we said that we would ban tobacco advertising. In government, we are doing better than that: our aim is to end tobacco sponsorship as well. We will also seek to ensure that sport is properly safeguarded in the process, but we do not want our young people in particular enticed and encouraged into smoking when they would not otherwise have made that choice.

Thanks to the tireless of work on my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health and her tough negotiating in Europe, we have negotiated a European Union directive that I believe reflects a fair balance of providing reasonable time for sports to adapt while ending the totally inappropriate link between smoking and sport. The Government are considering several options to help the sports concerned, and they will be announced in the White Paper later this year.

The Government are determined that everyone should be able to try as many sports as possible so that they can find and pursue the one or ones for them, but I am not so naive as to believe that everyone gets that chance. Certain groups traditionally participate less in sport: women, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minorities, and some young people. Sometimes, we can identify what the problems are, but, in other cases, we need to change perceptions of sport or its participants. We will consider those problems, real or perceived, closely to find how we can remove such barriers.

I am convinced that sport can be a useful tool in helping us to tackle the problems of social exclusion. Of course, sport cannot be the only solution. Social exclusion occurs where a variety of problems combine to deal some people a poor hand in life, but sport, with its demands for teamwork, discipline, personal application and communication, can teach valuable lessons that can be applied in other situations. Sport has a major role to play in the fight against social exclusion in its many forms. For example, throughout the country, community schemes involving sport have successfully tackled crime and vandalism.

In Westminster, Crime Concern has managed a project that has enabled 19 young people to complete a sports leaders training course, with 16 going on to find work or register for further study. Half of them were offenders, with 33 arrests or cautions between them. In Bradford, the Bolton Woods community centre has had 18 football teams training at least one day a week, including at-risk young people who are encouraged to develop skills and self-awareness regardless of their ability. According to Crime Concern, the scheme has helped to reduce crime in the areas by more than 50 per cent. over four years.

On tackling deprivation, the Warwick Park youth centre in north Peckham, funded in part by a Sports Council lottery grant, has sports facilities that serve one of the most deprived parts of London and has been encouraging young adults and helping to generate self-confidence.

Those projects also send a clear message that the most successful work is done where Government agencies, both from central and local government, and voluntary organisations come together to devise imaginative and flexible solutions to problems. It is such partnerships that I want to encourage, because the winners are the socially excluded in our society.

Local authorities are by far the single largest provider of sports facilities. Clearly, they are central to the success of our sport for all policy. We recognise their key role in extending opportunities to everyone in the community. We are committed to working in partnership with local government, the governing bodies of sport, the Central Council of Physical Recreation and other agencies to produce an integrated, planned approach to sports provision.

I was delighted that we were able so quickly to deliver another manifesto commitment to halt the sale of the school playing fields that schools and their communities need. When the Conservative party claims, as it always does, that it is the champion of team sport, let me remind it that it was the unnecessary sale of school playing fields, over which it presided, which set back this nation's future so badly. We hope that the new legislation requiring all state schools to seek ministerial consent for the sale of playing fields will have completed its parliamentary process by July. Alongside that, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is issuing new planning guidelines on playing fields so that both planning procedures and education legislation are brought to bear on the problem—a manifesto commitment delivered.

Sport will remain a national curriculum subject. Some people have been alarmed by a misunderstanding of the announcements on the curriculum in primary schools by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment a few months ago. Alongside the inclusion of an hour of numeracy and an hour of literacy in the primary school day, we have introduced greater flexibility in how sport and physical recreation are taught, but they must be taught. There is no way that schools can or should stop teaching sport.

We are encouraging local authorities to develop and publish leisure and cultural strategies to improve planning and policy making, and to ensure that provision is relevant to local needs. Sport will be a major element of that strategy.

A key element of our national strategy for developing sport and sporting excellence is the creation of the United Kingdom Sports Institute. We have always been committed to the concept of specialist facilities for our elite sportsmen and women so that they have a chance to be properly prepared to compete with the world's best. When we came into office, we found a mess. There was a broad commitment to an institute or academy, but no clear idea of what to put in it. Bids were being invited on a completely unfocused basis. Our preference from the start was for a central site with a regional network built on existing facilities rather than for a huge, centralised institution. We listened to what sportsmen and women had to say, and we know that that is what they wanted. We set about creating the blueprint against which bids could be judged and a proper process for deciding the location of the headquarters. In August, the Prime Minister and I agreed a new vision based on the development of elite athletes, who will have absolute priority for the institute's services. In December, Sheffield was selected as the preferred central site.

Since that announcement, a lot of hard work has been done to put in place the funding and the structure that will make the institute deliver. This huge and important project will influence British sport for years to come. We must get it right, and we are pressing ahead. Much financing will depend on lottery funding, and detailed arrangements are being developed by the United Kingdom Sports Council. All that is in accordance with the arm's-length conventions in place. I am keeping closely involved, and the council will report to me by the end of June with clear proposals, agreed with the institute consortium, on the management structure, the form of the headquarters and the relationship with the regional network.

We owe our top athletes the chance to compete on equal terms with the world's best, and they must have access to the latest proven developments in coaching, sports science, medicine and nutrition. We all get pleasure from UK success in international competition, and we want more of it. The institute is primarily a facility for Olympic sports and minority sports that lack a commercial element. However, all sports, including competitive team sports, will be part of the institute and will draw on top-quality central services and expertise. Linked to the national network will be centres of excellence for several individual sports.

As part of our new approach to sport, my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and I concluded that there was a need to review the way in which the Sports Council structures that we inherited were working and to ensure that they operated effectively for the future in the best interests of sport. In consultation with our home country colleagues, we have been considering the important question of how the Government should provide support to sport at a UK level in future. That has taken longer than we had hoped, but we wanted to get it right. We have made good progress in recent weeks, and I hope that we will soon be able to make a further announcement.

I was sorry to see Howard Wells go after he had put so much into getting the UK Sports Council off the ground. We wish him the very best in his new position at Watford football club.

Our review also included the regional structure of the English Sports Council and the relationship between the council and local authorities and sports governing bodies in the regions. Those key partners were first brought together in 1966 at a series of regional conferences convened by the late Denis Howell. Today's descendants of those early conferences are the regional sports forums. I am grateful for the enthusiasm and dedication of forum members, particularly since the previous Administration foolishly abolished the regional councils for sport and recreation.

The English Sports Council keeps in close contact with its key partners in the regions, and it is important that arrangements for local liaison and feedback should continue and be enhanced. We will encourage the council to review arrangements with local agencies to ensure that there are appropriate mechanisms for the voice of grass-roots sport to be heard.

I have outlined the progress we have made in helping sport since last year's debate. Much of what was promised has been delivered, or is well on the way to being delivered, including the UK Sports Institute and the football task force, and reforms on playing fields and tobacco sponsorship. I am delighted with those achievements, but sport for all in its wider sense can become a reality only if all key players work in partnership to get even more people involved in sport, particularly young people, women and those from ethnic communities and with disabilities.

Sport can motivate and inspire whole communities, and is of vital importance to our society. We in Government recognise that, and I can announce that we propose to develop a comprehensive strategy for sport. It will address many issues of real importance to people who watch and play sport, such as the role of sport in education; the development of sport for all and international excellence for the best; the links between sport and social regeneration; and the importance of sport and recreation for our policies on public health.

I propose to consult widely over the coming months as we prepare a strategy. We will talk to sports organisations, local authorities, health and education specialists and people in the public and private sector about their contribution to sport. I want to encourage people in the sporting world and beyond to tell us what can be done to motivate people to play sport and to provide sporting opportunities for all. I regard today's debate as a first opportunity to hear views on these matters, and for hon. Members to contribute to the development of our thinking. As I have said, much remains to be done. We are not complacent.

A great summer of sport is in prospect. Let me offer, on behalf of the whole House, our best wishes to our sportsmen and women, including those competing in the test matches against South Africa and Sri Lanka, those at Wimbledon, those on international rugby tours, and those at the Commonwealth games and the world disability athletics championships. Of course, we wish England and Scotland every success in the world cup finals which start in France next week. The England-Scotland final will be a memorable match indeed.

10.5 am

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Over the next few weeks, the nation will follow a number of sporting events with considerable interest. Millions of our citizens will root for our football players in the world cup, our cricketers who are successfully playing South Africa, our rugby players in the southern hemisphere, our Wimbledon contestants and even, perhaps, the winning horse in the Derby tomorrow. This is an appropriate time to consider the state of sport and how best to support it.

I apologise to the House for having to leave early to attend a long-standing constituency engagement. I shall leave our case in the capable hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins).

I must praise my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) who was the first Prime Minister clearly to highlight the importance of sport in our national life. That was also done by successive Secretaries of State for National Heritage, and I pay particular tribute to the immense contribution made towards raising the profile of sport by two former parliamentary colleagues—Iain Sproat and Sebastian Coe. I fully endorse the comments that the Secretary of State made about Denis Howell, who is sadly missed.

I am delighted that so many hon. Members are keen to participate in the debate. We look forward particularly to the contribution of that great parliamentary champion of sport, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry).

The Minister for Sport knows my firm view that this is not an area for party political rancour. I thank him for always so courteously keeping me informed. However, aspects of Government policy give us genuine concern. Sport is an important part of the national life. There are those who view sport as a peripheral or frivolous activity: Winston Churchill apparently once said that whenever he felt like exercise, he laid down until the feeling went away. I suspect that that is not the view of hon. Members present today.

Sport enriches the lives of those who enjoy it, and it contributes to our health and well-being. It offers the opportunity to hone our competitive instincts, although, for many, it is simply fun and relaxing. It is also part of our heritage. Britain is the birthplace of many of the world's great sports, and we codified and helped to popularise them throughout the world. Sport is a binding force between regions and generations, and across borders. It is a focus for local and national pride. We cherish it for those reasons, but, above all, it means enjoyment for those who play and watch it. I endorse the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State about extending the ability to play sport to groups in our society such as the disabled and others who have disadvantages.

I am in no doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that Government support for sport should begin with a clear emphasis on the importance of sport in schools. While sport can be played by people of all ages, it is by taking up sport when they are young that many people learn to slove it, and then continue to play sport throughout their lives. Primary and secondary school sports education is only the first step in a lifetime's enjoyment of sport. I suggest to the Secretary of State that still more could be done to encourage sport in higher and further education. We need to look to colleges and universities to do more to promote sport among their students. As the previous Government identified, the best means of doing that is by encouraging links between schools, colleges and sports clubs.

We also want to support, foster and facilitate the talents of our best sportsmen and women. We want to take pride in seeing them beat the world's best. We do not want them to be driven abroad for lack of opportunities. We want a sporting culture that encourages the very best to reach their full potential and inspire others of less ability to do likewise. Those are the targets and priorities of the Opposition. I ask the Government to affirm today their commitment to those goals, and to respond to some of the specific questions about how they expect to achieve them.

Hon. Members will recall that a comprehensive framework for the achievement of the goals that I have outlined was established by the previous Government. By the time of the last general election, significant progress had already been made. The present Government said before the election in their policy document "Labour's Sporting Nation" that no White Paper had been published on sport since 1975, but a comprehensive plan was introduced in 1995 and was revisited a year later. The recommendations in the Conservative Government's consultation paper "Raising the Game" were broadly welcomed by the Labour party when it was published.

Our test of the Government's commitment to sport is simple. How far have they advanced the agenda set out in "Raising the Game"? Some of our initiatives have been taken forward, but I regret that some have not. We do not believe that the Government have materially advanced the agenda for sport in the past year. They have not sufficiently continued on the upward course that we set. Let us now examine their scorecard.

The previous Government placed great emphasis on the need for a prominent role for competitive sport in schools and on team sport. Conservative Members believe that it is not only participating that is important, but that young people learn critical lessons about winning and losing and how to react maturely. Sport thrives only if both parties play by the rules and accept the results with good grace. I cannot think of a better way of learning how to live alongside others and make a contribution as part of the team.

Essential to a thriving sporting culture in schools is the provision of adequate facilities, including playing fields. We, therefore support the cross-departmental involvement in preventing the indiscriminate sale of playing fields by local councils. That measure builds on the decision of the previous Government to make the Sports Council a statutory consultee in the sale of playing fields.

We can arrest the decline of school sport only if it has a secure position within the formal curriculum in every school. That is exactly what the previous Government set out to ensure—that physical education continued to be one of only five subjects that pupils were required to pursue from their entry into school at age five until the end of compulsory schooling at 16. PE in the national curriculum covers a range of activities that pupils pursue at different times, from athletics to outdoor and adventure activities and swimming. We revised the national curriculum with the specific intention of increasing the importance of competitive sport, including team games played in a form appropriate to each age group.

The Labour party election manifesto said: school sport must be the foundation. Despite what the Secretary of State said, it is disappointing that the Government have decided to de-emphasise PE in primary schools, with all the attendant risks. Of course, we support the Government's desire to improve numeracy and literacy, but we believe that it was a mistake to remove the core curriculum status of PE. Its removal sends the wrong signal to teachers, parents and pupils alike. It invites people to conclude that sport is peripheral. The Secretary of State will be aware of the difficulties that so many primary schools already have in attracting PE teachers, of whom there is a considerable shortage.

The Government's message is not helpful. It undermines the long-term and strategic implementation of Government policy in support of sport. It is a necessary condition of the success of the Government's sports policy that it should he visible and applied to each young generation anew.

It is not enough simply to point to schools as the cornerstone of Government policy on sport. If young people are truly to learn sporting habits to last a lifetime, we need to look at the quality of sport in schools. That is why the previous Government introduced the sportsmark scheme—a recognition award to schools with effective policies for promoting sport. We also introduced the gold star mark for schools that had made outstanding achievements. After consultation, a set of criteria were introduced which were demanding but well within the reach of schools committed to high-quality sport. It is extraordinary that the Government have declined to implement our intention to extend the initiative from secondary to primary schools. The decision is at variance with the Government's rhetoric that school sport must be the foundation. It is of the utmost importance to promote sport at the earliest possible age in order to encourage a lifetime's habit of involvement in sport. The Government's decision not to extend sportsmark to primary schools will have precisely the reverse effect.

Also important to raising the quality of sport in schools is the attraction of private sector money to local sport in schools and other projects aimed at young people. In assessing the Government's backing for sport, we should look at what is being done to facilitate the flow of private sector sponsorship. We established the sportsmatch scheme, which pledged Government money to match donations of between £1,000 and £75,000 of private money. I applaud the Government's decision to reduce the lower matching limit from £1,000 to £500. Can the Secretary of State or the Minister for Sport announce today how much extra money has been set aside for the scheme to account for the expected increase in private sector support for sportsmatch?

Many sports now rely on sponsorship to stage events at the highest level and to bring into a sport money that can then trickle downwards. Sponsorship is valuable not only to the high-profile sports that attract large, live television audiences but to less popular sports that might not otherwise be able to stage competitive events. This is not an appropriate time to debate the effects of tobacco advertising on smoking, but the Government's decision to ban tobacco sponsorship of sport was taken without proper consultation with the sports involved or specific information about the cash impact. Formula 1 was exempted on dubious grounds.

The sports that will be hardest hit by the ban are not the most glamorous or high-profile. Popular sports such as angling, darts, greyhound racing, pool, billiards, snooker and showjumping will be hard hit. They had no exemption. Apparently, only very big fish can secure that. Those sports are not optimistic about finding alternative sources of sponsorship. This is a crucial question for their survival. I hope that the Minister for Sport will be able to offer some clear assurances today. The governing bodies and those involved in such sports are genuinely extremely worried about the future viability of their sports and competition within them.

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the national lottery on sport. It has been a catalyst for a renaissance in sporting activity at all levels throughout the country and has spectacularly increased investment in sport. The previous Government began shifting the emphasis of the distribution of lottery money from capital spending to supporting talented individuals. We welcome the Government's decision to continue that policy. However, the Secretary of State is keenly aware of our deep concern about the Government's decision to set up a sixth lottery good cause under his control, which will deprive the existing good causes of money that they were expecting. The Secretary of State is taking £250 million out of sport during the remaining four years of the current lottery licence. That £60 million a year is more than the £50 million that his Department spends on sport each year.

Like the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, we regret the Government's decision not to include sport centrally in the scope of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. The previous Government planned to make lottery money available to fund the development of talented athletes and other sportsmen and women. In its pre-election document "Labour's Sporting Nation", Labour pledged to fund talented sportsmen and women from NESTA. It is a great disappointment that the Government have chosen not to honour that pledge.

Labour also pledged before the election to make sport a permanent lottery good cause.

Mr. Chris Smith

I am puzzled by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. His memory cannot be so short that he has forgotten that my hon. Friend the Minister for Arts said on Monday that NESTA would have a role in the development of sports-related invention and innovation. He must also be aware of the world-class performance programme, with sports lottery money going directly into the development of talent for our elite athletes.

Mr. Spring

I am fully aware of that programme. However, the distributing bodies and those involved in sport clearly want a more specific answer on the role of NESTA in sporting innovation. That is a different question.

Sports organisations will be disappointed that the Minister for Sport was not able to offer an absolute commitment on funding for sport from the lottery after 2001. The English Sports Council underlined its concern last week in a letter to me about the future of initiatives such as the world-class performance programme for elite sportsmen and women. The programme is funded solely by the lottery and will have to be maintained for at least 12 years to bring about the improvements in international performance that similar long-term investments in Australia, France and Spain have produced.

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)

I would like to listen to the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech rather than interrupting him, but I must refer him again to the debate on the National Lottery Bill on Monday, when I said that the Government have no plans beyond those which they have announced already … to alter the funding of the existing good causes. That applies both to 2001 and beyond."—[Official Report, 1 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 99.] As I said at the time, I cannot make it clearer than that.

Mr. Spring

I accept that the hon. Gentleman said that. I was here at the time. He has made a commitment and explained the Government's intention. However, he knows that those involved in sport are seeking a cast-iron agreement on that. I hope that he will refer to the issue again when he speaks, because it is a genuine source of concern on which we need tougher reassurances.

There is a widespread view that there is insufficient strategic co-ordination between the Government, the UK Sports Council and the home countries sports councils. The Secretary of State referred to the recent resignation of the chief executive of the UK Sports Council. He has publicly expressed concern about unnecessary duplication and waste in the administration of sport, and he appealed for more direct Government involvement in trying to cut through the impasse that many believe exists at the top of sport.

Mr. Chris Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman kindly tell us who set up the system?

Mr. Spring

If the Secretary of State would care to wait, I shall refer to the origins of the situation and how it has evolved. He is clearly impatient for me to get to that point.

I was about to say that the problem was not new. The former chief executive was clearly frustrated by the lack of direction to find solutions. "Labour's Sporting Nation", which was written some time ago, gave a commitment to a national strategy. The Government have been in office for a year, but today we have heard once again about a further consultation process for the national strategy. Nothing has happened during Labour's first year in office, which is why the gentleman concerned resigned. Perhaps the national strategy is like the Minister without Portfolio's famous millennium sport, surfball—all an illusion. I hope that the Secretary of State will not use the further consultation that he has announced today as another opportunity to delay implementing a strategy that so many in sport have called for.

I now turn to a matter of considerable current concern. It is perverse that the Government should have made such great play of the need to improve what they term access to sport while preparing plans to introduce VAT on membership fees for health centres run by commercial operations, which will discourage people from taking part in sport. Will the Minister for Sport explain that aspect of Government policy and what representations he has made to the Treasury about it?

Tomorrow is Derby day; the race will be attended by up to 50,000 people. It is the country's richest racing day, with prize money of £1 million. Incredibly, it is only the sixth richest race in the world, because the prize money pool situation in Great Britain is pathetic by international standards. This chronic situation means that owners and trainers are voting with their feet.

The horse racing and betting industries are among the most substantial employers in the country, yet the Government take £350 million in betting taxes and return only £50 million—as, I fully accept, did the previous Government. Discussions are under way between the British Horseracing Board, the Home Office and the Treasury. The industry is hopelessly underfunded, with its global competitive position increasingly under threat. In his discussions with the Chancellor, the Secretary of State should vigorously point out the impending crisis

Sport provides enjoyment not just for those who play it, but for those who attend sporting events and the millions who enjoy watching it on television. As well as being a form of entertainment, televised sport is an important means of inspiring interest in sport, particularly among young people. We await with interest the Secretary of State's decision on the recommendations of Lord Gordon's advisory group. The right hon. Gentleman said in a written answer: I expect to announce that decision within the next few weeks."—[Official Report, 20 March 1998; Vol. 308, c. 760.] That was more than two months ago. I welcome the fact that he has said again today that he will make his announcement within the next few weeks. Let us hope that it is a few weeks this time, not a matter of months.

The pursuit of excellence is essential for a comprehensive strategy for sport. Encouraging excellence affords talented individuals the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and it is an essential means of encouraging wider participation in sport. As we all know, sporting role models can rapidly popularise a sport. Labour made great play of that aspect of their policy in opposition and undertook to implement the previous Government's plans for a British academy of sport. It is disappointing, to say the least, that the Government have made so little practical progress that can be announced and revealed.

Despite the fact that a shortlist of three sites for the headquarters of the renamed UK Sports Institute had been drawn up several months before the general election, the Government were unable to announce a winning bid until last December. The Minister for Sport revealed in a series of written answers in March that no contracts have been signed for the project and, indeed, none had even been put out to tender. There is no schedule date for the completion of the project. Such is the level of inactivity surrounding the project that hardly any sports have even expressed interest in it. That is not satisfactory.

Labour's pre-election policy document, "Creating Excellence in British Sport", suggested that the UK Sports Institute could produce results in the 2004 Olympic games. I regret to have to say that, at this rate, it is unlikely to be operational by 2004 and, yet again, our Olympic hopefuls are being short-changed.

I give the Minister for Sport my unqualified backing for his efforts to bring the world cup here in 2006. The spectacular success of Euro 96 demonstrated that this country has the capability to stage a world-class tournament and it is on that example that a successful world cup bid will be based.

The Minister for Sport and I were fortunate enough to attend the recent cup final at Wembley. Considering the number of supporters there, the event passed off with good humour and self-control, which was a great tribute to those present. I share the Minister's regret at the way in which one or two isolated instances, long after the game ended, were disproportionately highlighted by the media. The behaviour of supporters has improved dramatically over the past few years, and it is a tribute to them, the sporting bodies, the organisation of stadiums, the clubs and all those who have made an enormous effort towards that.

Nevertheless, we strongly urge the Home Secretary at an early stage to put in place tough measures against potential misbehaviour by our supporters during the current world cup. We support rigorous action on that. Just as England's success in staging Euro 96 will influence the bidding for the 2006 world cup, so will the conduct of English fans during the forthcoming world cup.

All hon. Members with English constituencies will undoubtedly give maximum support to the England football team this summer. Its manager, Glenn Hoddle, has an unenviable task, but one which he is well qualified to carry out. I know that all hon. Members will deprecate the intemperate personal attacks on him. We should be totally confident of his integrity of purpose, and I know that everybody present will wish him and the team well in the matches that lie ahead.

Labour made a manifesto pledge to work to bring the Olympics and other major international sporting events to Britain". All hon. Members would accept that staging such events has benefits, not only because of their economic impact but because of the sense of community and well-being that they generate. We trust that the Government will step up their efforts to achieve that pledge and use their influence to build broad support for such bids. We shall certainly support them.

We note that the Minister has met the British Olympic Association and the UK Sports Council to discuss an Olympic bid. Will he give details of the Government's exact role in that respect? Will he also tell the House how much money he expects to be required to make the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002 a success? On 6 April, the Minister for Sport said in a written answer that the level of central Government funding that would be required was under review in his and other Departments. Will the Minister tell the House the results of that review?

I take this opportunity to applaud a number of local authorities that have put in place comprehensive sport and leisure plans. I pay special tribute to St. Edmundsbury borough council in my constituency.

The Government's performance on sport in the past year has been something of a curate's egg. There are still many problems that need to be addressed, a number of which I have mentioned this morning. However, I assure the Secretary of State of our support if, in the next 12 months, he energetically seeks to deal with the matters that I have raised.

10.34 am
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State on his fine speech. I thank him and, indeed, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for their kind remarks about me. I was impressed that the Secretary of State knew about the Charlie George goal. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who tried to catch him out, knows to which club Charlie George went after Arsenal to play some of his best football. I shall give him a hint—it is the best team in the land. He clearly cannot.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

Derby County.

Mr. Pendry

Indeed, Derby County.

I congratulate the Secretary of State also on initiating this debate. Let us hope that it becomes a regular practice, because sport is not discussed enough in the House. That is curious when one considers the interest in sporting issues here, which is reflected in the number of groups that we have. I chair the all-party sports group; the all-party football committee is very large, and there are many other groups, including a boxing group. However, nothing seems to change about Friday morning debates on sport. I hope that, one of these days, the Secretary of State will manage to get a debate on sport in Government time during the week when many of our colleagues who would like to participate can be here—they have constituency engagements on Fridays.

I have already mentioned my chairmanship of the all-party sports group. I should like to place on record the important role played for sport by my predecessor, Lord Howell, and echo the words of the Secretary of State. I am sure that the whole House recognises the great work that Lord Howell did over the years. He will be sorely missed.

I am pleased to see in their places the three vice-chairmen of the all-party sports group, although the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who will be winding up for the Opposition, has temporarily left the Chamber. We have here the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones), who will speak for the Liberal Democrats, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen) and the secretary of the group, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). I hope that they will successfully catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport went on record at the time of his appointment to talk about his job description, which he said was like going to heaven without dying first. I wonder whether he feels the same today. From what he is reported in the Sunday Express as saying, he must feel that he is at least in purgatory and some distance from the pearly gates. He must not despair; he must keep plugging away. I have said many times that sport politics is much more difficult to deal with than the general politics of the House and Whitehall. He was right to point out in that article the limitations of his job. No Government have given adequate recognition to the sports portfolio.

My hon. Friend has had a busy, action-packed year. On a personal note, he has been able to savour the joy of Chelsea winning not just one, but two cups—an achievement almost as staggering as the size of the Labour victory in the last general election. The whole House will want to congratulate him on the energetic and enthusiastic way in which he is supporting England's bid to host the world cup in 2006, which, hopefully, will be successful. We should be encouraged by the fact that we have the finest stadiums infrastructure in Europe and South Africa, which is bidding to host the finals in four years' time.

At this point, I want to declare an interest, as a good deal of the credit for the improvements to our stadiums is due to the Football Trust, which I chair. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to the work of my predecessor, Lord Aberdare, who presided over the trust when the majority of the building of our fine stadiums took place.

The Minister for Sport recently paid tribute to Lord Aberdare, stating that football was indebted to him for his magnificent contribution to our national game. He went on to speak warmly about the major contribution that the Football Trust has made. The Secretary of State reaffirmed that view this morning. We at the trust welcome those remarks and hope that the trust can fulfil the Government's wish that it remains a UK body. That ambition is not helped by the fact that the trust's income from the reduction in pool betting duty applies only to England and Scotland and, even then, only to perform the essential Taylor work.

I therefore hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport will use their good offices to help to extend the life of the reduced pool betting duty, thus ensuring that the trust can continue its essential work for British football at every level.

Before to the general election—with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who was then the shadow National Heritage spokesman—I launched the Labour party's sports policy document, "Labour's Sporting Nation", which has already been mentioned in this debate and was extremely well received throughout the sporting world. In it, Labour promised to become proactively involved in a number of issues to improve the quality of sports provision for participants, spectators and viewers. I should like briefly to review progress in reaching some of the commitments stated in that manifesto document.

Our earliest commitment—first made in November 1995—was to establish a football task force to represent the interests of everyone involved in football—administrators, players, spectators and viewers. One of the reasons for that commitment was a fear that the game was developing in a way which would not ensure access and involvement in its future by many of the supporters who had stuck with football during its more difficult years.

It was encouraging to see that that commitment was made a reality soon after the general election. Although the task force was my idea, I might have constituted it rather differently. Nevertheless, I welcome its efforts.

As we have heard in this debate, last month, the task force published its first report, on racism in football. I reiterate that it endorsed the Government's official policy—stated in our "Charter for Football"—to amend the flawed legislative provision in the Football (Offences) Act 1991, whereby an individual cannot be charged with a racist or obscene chant if that chant was not in concert with one or more other persons. Hopefully—I understand that the Home Secretary has confirmed that it will be—the provision will soon be redrafted to cover both individuals and groups.

Like the Secretary of State, I look forward to further reports from the task force. It will be interesting to see how it manages to reconcile the differing views on issues such as ticket prices and pay-per-view television. I am sure that we all await those reports with interest.

Another welcome development—congratulations again to my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport—is endorsement of the Brighton declaration on improving sporting opportunities for women. In my capacity as shadow sports Minister, I was able in 1994 to be present at the launch of that international event and gave the official blessing of the then Opposition to its aims.

The declaration was a statement that struck a chord for all those who support the principle of sport for all. Sadly, the then Conservative Government ridiculed that important statement as mere political correctness, taking a very short-sighted approach. I am glad that our Government have not taken such a view and that the Brighton declaration will be at the heart of all their future sports development policies.

In only 13 months, the Government have implemented many of our pre-election pledges. Only this week, in the debate on the National Lottery Bill—this is where I take issue with the hon. Member for West Suffolk—the House heard helpful responses, which have already been mentioned today, from both the Minister for Sport and the Minister for Arts. The Minister for Arts assured us that there will be no reason to believe the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts cannot be involved in sports science or sports information technology. The Minister for Sport stated clearly, as he has done again today, that his Department will continue to press for lottery money for sport after 2001.

During the past year, there have been many positive steps forward, but I have a major concern on an issue that I think the Minister will have to get to grips with and which will certainly be his priority in the next few months—the structural problems, which have already been mentioned today, that face British sport. I had hoped that the Government would make a greater impression on the issue. In our document "Labour's Sporting Nation", the executive summary stated that we were committed to a national strategy for sport dedicated to providing excellence at all levels. I welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that, at a macro level, such a strategy is still being developed, but we have lost a good bit of time. Unfortunately, many of the benefits from development of an effective strategy will not materialise for the 2000 Olympics. I am sure that we all hope that we will not miss out again for 2004.

It is to be greatly regretted also that we do not have more movement on the development of regional academies of sport—or whatever we call them these days; I think that they have a new name now. From the central location in Sheffield, we need now to promote regional developments. Furthermore, there is not enough co-ordination between the United Kingdom Sports Council and the home countries sports councils. Each council needs to have a clearer understanding of its role. I agree with the hon. Member for West Suffolk on that.

Although I pay tribute to the skills of Sir Rodney Walker in taking on the role of acting chairman of the UK Sports Council, and of being chairman of the English Sports Council, surely it is now time to find a permanent chairman for that body to ensure a longer-term outlook.

The resignation of Howard Wells, which has been mentioned today, was a further disappointment. Anyone who has followed his career—especially the great work that he did in Hong Kong—will agree that he is sorely missed as a sports administrator in the wider sense of that role.

There is not a great deal wrong with the current set-up for sport in the United Kingdom; it is only not being effectively applied. The United Kingdom Sports Council must be allowed to perform its role as the lead strategic body for sport in the United Kingdom, working in partnership with the home countries sports councils, which will be responsible for implementing policy and performing grant distribution work. I firmly believe that they could all work together.

Parties currently engaged in infighting and introspection have to be encouraged to show the necessary good will in overcoming rather than finding problems within the existing framework. A few heads should be banged together and reminded that it is output—the extension of sporting opportunities—that matters, not internal structures and positions. We have not only to accept the current structure, which regards devolution as the basis for sports policy making, but to appreciate the strength of it. Nowhere can a decentralised approach have a greater impact if correctly applied. Such an approach can be a source of great strength for sport. As we all know, athletes take pride in representing not only their country, but their town and region.

I should like to offer a practical suggestion on protecting playing fields to my right hon. and hon. Friends. As we know, under the Tories, some 5,000 playing fields were flogged off. After pressure from us—the then Opposition—the Government gave the Sports Council statutory consultee status on sales, but that did not help much in preventing the number of fields being developed as car parks and housing estates. Once lost, those fields will never be recovered.

I think that I am right in asserting that, at the time of general election, 2,600 playing fields were under threat of development. Thanks to moves introduced by our new Government, which tightened school playing field regulations—as an amendment to the School Standards and Framework Bill—the vast majority of the fields have been saved for the nation and the enjoyment of our school children.

I believe that we can go further still and protect all open spaces—including those owned by further education colleges, universities, health authorities and the coal boards. Open spaces are the nation's sporting assets and they should remain so. We stated on page 6 of our sports policy document: We will end the policy of selling playing fields. We also did not distinguish whether a public body owned the fields.

I hope that the Minister will pursue that proposal, working in conjunction with his fellow Ministers at both the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

I must gently chide my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench for removing physical education as a compulsory subject in the national curriculum without consulting sports groups.

Mr. Chris Smith

I hasten to put my hon. Friend right. Sport and physical recreation remains a compulsory part of the curriculum. It must be taught in schools. That requirement remains firmly in place.

Mr. Pendry

I was about to say that I want to study the Secretary of State's speech more closely, but I am sure that Ministers will note that academic success is enhanced through physical education. According to a recent study, students who are involved in sport tend to perform as well or better academically than less active students, even though academic curriculum time is reduced".

Mr. Spring

I want to make this clear. Physical education has been removed as a core curriculum subject. That is a matter of fact: I have read the Secretary of State's statements. The reality is vastly different from what the Secretary of State is trying to tell us, and consequently there is a clear de-emphasis on sport in schools.

Mr. Pendry

I intend to accept what the Secretary of State is saying. Later, I shall have words with him about how we can get the message across to the many people who remain confused. Previous sports Ministers had difficulty conducting a sensible dialogue on sporting matters with their counterparts in the Department for Education. I hope that my hon. Friends are not experiencing that problem. In my view, we badly need a dedicated Minister in the Department for Education and Employment responsible for ensuring that schools are adequately catered for in physical education. PE should be central to the curriculum.

Conservative Members should not crow too much. During their reign, the number of PE teachers halved, from about 42,000 to 24,000, and Conservative Governments certainly did not place much emphasis on PE teaching.

Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, because it is important to nail down some of these points before they start to circulate. The Government are convinced of the benefits that physical education in sport gives children of all ages and we are pleased that PE remains a curriculum subject, while increased emphasis is given to the priorities of numeracy and literacy. It is a core curriculum subject. There is no question of primary schools opting out of teaching PE. It will remain a national curriculum subject and will continue to be taught in all schools. The changes will give primary schools new flexibility in how to approach the six non-core subjects, in respect of which teachers will be able to use their professional judgment to decide the right balance for the pupils they teach. PE remains, therefore, an integral part of the curriculum.

Mr. Pendry

I am grateful, and I am sure that the whole sporting world will be grateful, for those helpful interventions by the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport. I am sure that everyone in the House will be grateful too, because they have enabled me to throw away five pages of my speech. There will be cheers all round, because time is short and many hon. Members wish to participate in this important debate.

I had hoped to emphasise the importance of the work of the British Paralympic Association, of which I am a patron. I had the good fortune to go to Atlanta, not only for the Olympics but for the Paralympics, and see for myself the inspirational work that has been done by the BPA and the athletes who performed on the track and elsewhere. I know that the Minister for Sport greatly admires the BPA's work and that it may count on his continued support.

I am sure that the House wishes Glenn Hoddle, Craig Brown and their teams good fortune in the world cup finals. Will the Minister for Sport reflect on his decision not to attend the games that our teams play? I know that he took that decision in the best interests of the fans who will be unable to attend due to the scandalous lack of tickets, but I do not believe that any of those who will be deprived would want the Minister for Sport to be anywhere other than with our lads, cheering them on. The fans would wish him to learn from this world cup for 2006, when we host the competition. If that comes about, as we all hope, it will be in no small measure due to the Minister's efforts.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is nearly 11 o'clock. Have you received any application from the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement on the cessation of nuclear fuel reprocessing at Dounreay? A statement was made to the press this morning—again, hon. Members learn about an important Government announcement through the media. A written statement has been made, yet the House does not have the opportunity to ask questions on a matter with important environmental consequences.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. A statement in reply to a written question has been made this morning. There has been no application to Madam Speaker to make a statement.

10.55 am
Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

I thank the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for their helpful speeches. The Minister for Sport has temporarily left the Chamber, but it is good to know that, should he be offered the managership of Chelsea, or the England squad, after the world cup, an adequate replacement is waiting in the wings—and I say that not because I am one of his vice-chairmen on the all-party sports group.

The Secretary of State made a good and wide-ranging speech, and I thank him and the Minister for Sport for increasing interest in sport in the year since Labour came to power. The Minister for Sport once described his remarks on one sporting issue as "pub talk", but he brings welcome enthusiasm to the job.

I associate my party with the tribute that was paid to Lord Howell. For a short time, I was his vice-chairman on the all-party sports group, and we shall miss him, but I am sure that the new chairman will bring his own special knowledge to the job.

This is a timely debate, with the world cup about to start next week. However, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for focusing, not only on football—although it is important—but on a wide range of sports that need Government support.

On the world cup, there are many concerns about the security in France of fans—not only British ones. I am grateful to the Home Secretary and the Minister for Sport for the work that has been done. I am not sure that the advice to British fans not to go to France unless they have tickets has hit home, and I am worried that many people will go in the hope of obtaining tickets.

The ticket allocation system has been a fiasco, and some time ago Professor Stephen Weatherill from Oxford university pointed out that the allocation system contravened European competition law. I took that matter up with the Competition Commissioner, Karel van Miert, who said that it was against the rules, but that they were running out of time. We got some more tickets out of that, but I believe that court action is still in progress. I hope that, should we be fortunate enough to host the world cup in 2006, we shall ensure that our ticket allocation system complies with European law.

I have great respect for Glenn Hoddle. Obviously, I support Cheltenham Town, but Swindon Town is my league side, and Glenn cut his management teeth at Swindon and took the team up to the premiership for one glorious season, so I have much respect for his judgment. I am not sure that he took the right decision about Gazza, but I join other hon. Members in wishing the England team and the Scotland team good luck.

I congratulate the Secretary of State: for his team to achieve the double after only one year shows the remarkable power of the job. It was also remarkable for the Minister for Sport to bring the European cup winners cup back to Britain.

We should remember that there is football outside the top level and outside the premiership. It is right and proper in this debate to pay tribute to my side, Cheltenham Town, which, for the first time in its 106-year history, appeared this year at Wembley in the final and carried off the Umbro trophy by beating Southport 1–0.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. When an hon. Member is addressing the House, he should be listened to. If hon. Members wish to conduct conversations, they should go outside the Chamber.

Mr. Jones

There was some Government support for Cheltenham Town in achieving that Football Association Umbro trophy victory. One of the players—they are still called the YTS boys—Michael Duff, made the first team squad and played a remarkable game at Wembley. I thank the Government for the help that they give to teams in lower divisions. Derek Goddard, the football correspondent of the Gloucestershire Echo, said that he had wonderful memories of Cheltenham Town's first appearance at Wembley. He said that, while he had many great memories of the season, hearing the Cheltenham Town tractor song at Wembley was something special. I will not sing the Cheltenham Town tractor song, but I can give the words to the Minister later if he would like them.

I thank the Government for setting up the football task force, but I would like the Minister to examine several issues. Will he consider whether it might be possible to extend the play-off system further down the spectrum of football? The play-offs are an incredibly successful phenomenon, which has brought extra interest to the tail end of the season. It has meant that many clubs have retained public interest until the last games of the season. I know that clubs in the GM Conference would like the play-off system to be extended to promotion to division 3—I say that not just because Cheltenham Town was a runner-up this time and narrowly missed out on promotion.

This year, the division 3 play-off—my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Mr. Russell) and for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) have asked me to raise this issue—was shifted from Saturday to Friday evening, and consequently a very small crowd attended. That game was very important to both clubs and could have been a real money-spinner, which would have assisted the clubs immensely. The clubs feel hard done by and would like some kind of compensation. I do not expect the Government to provide it.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

I think that the hon. Gentleman said that Colchester and Torbay were in the play-offs, but I believe that Colchester and Torquay played the play-off final.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay represents Torquay, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the team was Torquay United. The clubs would like to receive some compensation from somewhere, so perhaps the football task force can examine that matter.

I congratulate the Government on their action yesterday in closing down Great Portland Entertainments. I must not say too much, as the case is the subject of legal proceedings, but the company appears to have taken £2.4 million as payment for 40,000 World cup tickets that have not materialised.

The English Sports Council has produced some alarming statistics about general fitness in the United Kingdom. Some 49 per cent. of women and 25 per cent. of men fail basic training to become soldiers. Some 48 per cent. of men and 40 per cent. of women are overweight. Among 16 to 24-year-olds, 70 per cent. of men and 91 per cent. of women are below the activity levels for a fit and healthy life. We are storing up enormous trouble for later life and enormous costs to the health service by having an unfit nation. I am grateful that the Government will conduct a strategy review and draw up a national fitness strategy. The sooner we get on with it, the better.

Hon. Members have mentioned the connection between crime statistics and sport. The English Sports Council has produced some remarkable statistics in that area. The Commission on Social Justice stated that young men between the ages of 17 and 25 account for 70 per cent. of all adults convicted or cautioned for a criminal offence. Coopers and Lybrand estimates that the benefit to society of preventing a single youth crime would be a cost saving equivalent to at least £2,300. We could save an enormous amount of money by ensuring that young people—particularly those most at risk of falling into crime—have sports facilities available at an affordable price. Such facilities should be free in schools.

We should make schools more of a community resource. They must be properly staffed by people who have the right qualifications to teach sport and any other leisure pastime outside school time—at evenings, weekends and particularly in school holidays—as well as during normal school hours. Last summer, I was in Hesters Way road in my constituency where I met a group of youngsters who were bored because they had nothing to do, while just across the road there was an empty school playing field where they could have kicked a ball around or played a game of cricket. We must find some way of saving the huge amount of money that we spend on dealing with crime and youngsters who are out of control by diverting it into establishing a system of neighbourhood schools where properly qualified sports coaches can teach sport throughout the year.

I believe that the national curriculum is too tight in the area of sport. I spoke yesterday to Professor Margaret Talbot, who is the head of sport at Leeds Metropolitan university. She is certainly confused about the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment about primary education. Professor Talbot is a member of Speednet, the Sports and Physical Education Network, which has a wide range of member organisations, including the British Association of Advisers and Lecturers in Physical Education, the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences, the British Universities and Colleges Physical Education Association, the British Universities Sports Association, the Further Education Colleges Network for Sports Education, the Higher Education/Schools Network for Initial Teacher Training in Physical Education, the National Dance Teachers Association, and so on.

Professor Talbot believes that the Government have de-emphasised sport in primary schools—she uses the word "marginalised". I am grateful to the Minister for his comments today, and I shall ensure that Professor Talbot receives a copy of Hansard for this debate. I hope that it will set her mind at rest. It is at primary school that youngsters learn whether they will be any good at sport and where they get into the habit of keeping fit. I spoke to the head of PE at Bournside school in Cheltenham who told me that he is very concerned that some 11-year-olds cannot run around the pitch—they do 50 yards and are puffed out. That is a serious situation and we must do something about it.

Trevor Brooking—with whom the Minister will be familiar—has told me that young boys, in particular, learn to kick a ball properly at ages six, seven and eight. He said that, if he is given youngsters at six, seven and eight, he can make them into decent players. I have a lot of respect for Trevor Brooking, and we must ensure that that sort of training is available in primary schools—perhaps through the network of out-of-hours school facilities—so that there may be a spin-off for the national game. We all know that the more people who take up sport, the greater the pool from which representative sides are drawn. It is true that if national sides do well, it adds to the feel-good factor.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the success of national teams is important, taking part in sport is central? Does he share my hope that the New Opportunities Fund, which has raided money that would otherwise have gone to sport from the national lottery, will be available to volunteers who organise after-school clubs that involve youngsters not only in traditional sports, but in adventure training? That will help to bring about the personal development and sense of achievement that go with sport, which we want for all our children. Such clubs will enable sport to get a slice of the money that has effectively been taken away from it by the sixth good cause.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman has made his own point, with which I agree. Participation is vital. We must increase the number of people who participate, so that we can reduce health costs by keeping the nation fit, and reduce the number of young people who fall into crime and bad habits, such as drug taking.

Other hon. Members have spoken about playing fields. It is a disgrace that the previous Government allowed 5,000 school playing fields to be sold off. At my own school, which is grant maintained, the governors want to sell a piece of land in order to build new sports facilities. Everyone wants the new sports facilities, but what people do not want, especially those who live nearby—I live not too far away, so perhaps I ought to declare an interest—is the housing associated with the sell-off. Permission to sell the land has been granted by the Secretary of State, provided that half the money is given to the local education authority. We shall allow the planning process to go on, and I expect that there will be few grounds for refusal.

It is sad that during the previous Government's tenure of office, schools were so starved of funds and teachers became so alienated because of the run-down in funding that many of them withdrew from out-of-hours support for sport. We depend on teachers, especially PE teachers, to give up their weekends to deal with school teams.

Athletics, as the Minister knows, is in some difficulty. I met David Moorcroft at the schools national cross-country championships, which were held at a very muddy Cheltenham race course earlier this year. The issue is how we fund athletics properly, especially coaches and the facilities owned by local authorities. Because of the previous short-changing of local authorities by the previous Government, many sports facilities are in desperate need of refurbishment.

Professor Talbot tells me that the new track in Leeds is to be reopened next Wednesday, following a lottery grant of £1.6 million. Good luck to all the people who will use it. That is a sign that the Government are getting to grips with the rundown of those facilities. In other parts of the country, much smaller sums are needed quickly to maintain athletics tracks.

In my constituency, the Prince of Wales stadium track is owned by the local council and shared with the local rugby club. All of a sudden, the track has been declared unsafe, so the athletes cannot use it this season. They must go to Worcester, about 30 miles away, to train. It will cost £185,000 to relay the track. The work must be done in the summer, but the news that it was unsafe came too late for the local authority, which has a small budget of £12 million, to deal with a demand for £185,000, so the track is unlikely to be relaid this summer.

I have a letter from one of the local councillors, Dr. Adrian Jackson, who states that only Central Government can provide the financial clout to pay for this vital part of our recreational fabric. I hope that the Minister will consider that plea. Dr. Jackson says that if the money is not forthcoming from Government, we will need a rich, altruistic entrepreneur with a spare £185,000 to donate to this worthy cause". All the sports facilities throughout the country should be reviewed to see what urgent repairs are needed and to have them done quickly.

I reiterate what others have said about the lottery being a great boost for sport, but I have two questions for the Minister about the lottery. First, the Government take 12p out of every £1 ticket sold, which I consider too much. Will the Minister have a word with his Treasury colleagues and suggest that they reduce the amount that the Government take to 10p or 11p, making the extra money available to good causes? That would enable sport to receive a little more money.

The second question relates to a situation that was brought to my attention by a small cricket club that received a lottery grant—Overbury cricket club in Worcestershire, where I used to play when I was a boy. It had to raise a large sum in addition to the grant to pay for a new cricket pavilion, but when the bill came in, VAT had been added to it. Will the Minister ask his Treasury colleagues to consider whether sports clubs receiving lottery grants can be exempted from VAT on building bills?

There are further issues relevant to the financing of sports clubs. At present, rate relief is discretionary. The local authority can grant sports clubs rate relief if they have a suitable youth policy. That should be mandatory. Some local authorities are not granting the rate relief that sports clubs need.

There should be a tax break for companies that invest in sport. Mergers and takeovers of companies that subsequently move out of the area mean that the development of sports grounds is under threat. Those sports grounds may be used by as many people as school or local authority sports grounds. In my constituency, there is the Dowty sports ground where my son plays cricket, and M and G, which has been taken over by Swiss Re, has a large sports ground in the green belt. The company, which has moved out of Cheltenham, wants to dispose of the land and has granted an option to a building company, although it is not clear whether planning permission will be granted. We must preserve company sports grounds so that those facilities are not lost to local communities if the company relocates.

The Minister mentioned the Olympic games. I wish him all the best in bringing them to Britain in the not-too-distant future. If we are serious about bidding for the Olympics, we must ensure that we develop facilities for all sports. The Secretary of State mentioned rowing. Our only gold medal at the last Olympics was won by Redgrave and Pinsent.

My attention has been drawn to a proposal for a south Oxfordshire water park, just north of Reading. I understand that the Minister has also been briefed on that. It seems a wonderful possibility, although it will no doubt be controversial because housing is proposed, which will increase traffic. Local residents will want to have their say on the planning proposals. Such a project would boost our chances of hosting the Olympic games in the future.

I welcomed the elite funding last year, and I asked then what was being done about the delay in awarding elite funding to British divers. That still has not been resolved. The British high board champion, Leon Taylor, was at the last Olympics aged 18, having just completed his A-levels. He still has no elite funding, two years towards the next Olympics. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago and it was apparent that the funding problem was really getting to him. He should be concentrating on his training for the next Olympics.

As for listed events, we know that terrestrial television can demand an audience in excess of 20 million for a key sporting event whereas Sky's largest audience to date has been 4 million. We are all aware of the knock-on effect. If a great sporting event is shown on television, youngsters will be seen shortly thereafter playing on the local field and emulating the players.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

Would the hon. Gentleman note that with soccer going to Sky, attendances at premier league and all other league games have increased? At the same time, there are more clubs and more people are playing. That has nothing to do with television coverage.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman makes his own point. I think that he comes from live television. We shall weigh things up when we consider what he has had to say.

I move on to women in sport—

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern at the decision taken this week, as a result of which once again one of the satellite channels has managed to beat off terrestrial competition in relation to Scottish football? Once again, those who cannot receive or cannot afford satellite coverage are being denied access to major sporting events.

Mr. Jones

I am concerned about that, but I do not accept the point made by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt). The wider the television audience, the greater the knock-on effect is likely to be. As I have said, young people like to emulate the players. It is all very well having the highlights shown on television at 10 o'clock at night, but it is not possible at 10 o'clock to go to a field to kick a ball around. Some key events should be protected so that young people can watch them.

I move on to women in sport. Girls are just as important as boys. I know Zena Moran, who has proposed a task force for women and girls in sport. I understand that she has received a helpful reply from the Minister for Sport. I do not know whether he has had a meeting with her yet.

Mr. Banks

I am due to have one.

Mr. Jones

It is essential that there is a focus on women and girls in sport because there have been one or two extremely disturbing cases recently of discrimination against women in sport. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to examine the industrial tribunal case involving the England and Wales Cricket Board and Miss Harrild—case No. 2203994/97. I have a copy of the report and it makes pretty awful reading. I am concerned that while some members of the England and Wales Cricket Board behaved disgracefully, no one seems to have been called to account. I accept that compensation has been paid to the applicant. I should like the Minister to examine the case to see what he thinks should happen.

I am pleased that the Government are to develop a comprehensive strategy for sport. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us about the time scale for the consultation period. Given that sport is so important and crosses so many different Departments, I feel that the Minister for Sport should become a member of the Cabinet. The Minister would receive a pay rise, and health, education, crime prevention and the environmental issues associated with sport could be co-ordinated at the highest level.

I wish the Minister well in future and invite him, when he has time, to sample Vauxhall conference football with Cheltenham Town at Whaddon road.

11.23 am
Mr. Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston)

I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to say, along with the responses and interventions of my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport. I am delighted also to see the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) on the Opposition Front Bench, especially as we shall be planning the complete destruction of the other place later today—a policy on which we are in complete agreement. Before Opposition Whips dash off to telephone the Leader of the Opposition, I should explain that I am talking about the cricket team and not the other place in terms of its constitutional role.

We usually start with football and not cricket in these debates. I was beginning to worry about myself as a Middlesbrough supporter a couple of years ago, finding that I was willing on Newcastle to win the premiership and for Sunderland to be promoted to it. This season has been difficult to understand. I have hated Arsenal since I was a young boy. However, I must say that that wonderful manager, Mr. Arsène Wenger, has managed to exorcise that ghost of mine. Arsenal has played such wonderful football that I find it impossible to hate the team any longer.

Of course, there is still Manchester United. At the same time, look at what Chelsea has done to us in the past two cup finals at Wembley. I still have Chelsea.

I was in the Library a few weeks ago reading a back-page headline in the Northern Echo about Middlesbrough's most recent defeat by Chelsea. I glanced to my right and found the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) standing next to me. I drew his attention to the headline and he sympathised with me greatly, understanding that I was a Middlesbrough supporter. I said to the right hon. Gentleman, "I knew that you would sympathise with me because I spoke to the Minister for Sport this morning and even he sympathised with me." Obviously that has something to do with new Labour spreading throughout the Government Benches.

A year ago, I felt slightly guilty when I used the whole of my 10 minutes on the Floor of the House to make an appeal for the restoration of the three points that had been taken from Middlesbrough so unjustly. I wondered whether I was really justified in spending that amount of time making that appeal in a busy House of Commons. However, as I had started with a 90-minute speech but cut it to 10 minutes, I felt quite justified.

I make no apologies for talking about something that I have mentioned before in these sports debates. However, it provides a wonderful illustration of what sport can do when there are difficulties. The town in which I spent the first 22 years of my life lies halfway between Middlesbrough and Redcar on the Tees. I was brought to tears by a BBC breakfast news in early 1993, which contained a news item about young children in the town who were taking cars and setting them on fire. They were even setting fire to houses. A town that once had a wonderful community—that was the position when I lived there—had been almost destroyed.

As youngsters, we used to spend almost all our time involved in sport. During the summer, in school holidays, we would go to the local recreation ground. I think that the charge for using a tennis court was 1 shilling and sixpence, for half an hour. We would go at about quarter-past 9 in the morning and ask for half an hour. The charge was ninepence, and eight of us shared the cost. We knew that people would not come to use the other courts until 7 o'clock in the evening, which meant that we could play all day for ninepence. We would play bowls after that. Sport took up almost all of our lives and gave us a real purpose in life.

I was in tears while watching the breakfast news. I have a particular interest in youth crime because of the Feltham young offenders institution in my constituency.

Three weeks ago, I was the guest of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I was back again in Grangetown, celebrating the regeneration of the town. Part of that regeneration involved focusing children again on something more sensible than crime, and that was sport. Many people, apart from those involved in sport, did many other good things for the town. However, sport played a part.

Two of the football coaches who were working with kids that very morning three weeks ago were old friends of mine. One was Jim Platt, the ex-Northern Ireland goalkeeper, who despite the competition from his one-time rival, Pat Jennings, played many games for his country. The other one was Frank Spraggon, a former under-21 England player. In this world cup year, with the team, the squad and the management setting off in just under a week's time—not me personally, unfortunately, like the Minister—it comes to my mind that Frank Spraggon is the son-in-law of Harold Shepherdson, who, as is known throughout the world, was the trainer with England with Walter Winterbottom and then Sir Alf Ramsey. He occupied that position for more than 150 games. He was part of the management team when we last won the world cup in 1966. He worked and played for his own team of Middlesbrough for more than 40 years and he deserves a great deal of praise. Unfortunately, we lost him a couple of years ago. I look forward to entertaining his wife and two daughters next month in the House of Commons.

Like other hon. Members, I extend my good wishes to the England and Scottish teams. May I add my good wishes to the Jamaican team? Many of our nationals support Jamaica and anyone who saw the Windrush film on television this week will know what a wonderful contribution those who came from the West Indies have made to this nation's wealth over the years. For sheer enjoyment, being among their supporters in Europe will take some beating.

My constituency needs more sport. We heard this morning how the previous Government's actions have made it more difficult to provide the resources needed to create opportunities for everyone to participate in sport. Even since the general election, pressure on local authorities has continued. It is easier to decide to cut the finance for sport and leisure than for meals on wheels and similar social demands that need to be fulfilled immediately. Sport, however, has long-term health benefits. The Government must get involved through the sports councils and provide the money necessary to ensure that young people have the opportunity to benefit from a lifetime's participation in sport.

Many groups are able to raise money themselves, but need the extra support which must come from the Sports Council. We need to achieve evenness in the distribution of resources throughout the country. The National Lottery Bill will enable the Sports Council and others to take positive steps in that direction. Many people give a lot of their own time to sport and they need Government-funded agencies to provide the extra push and to reward their efforts. That would give them something to persevere with, especially given that many of them devote numerous hours to sport for the benefit of others.

This week in Hounslow, I assisted with the launch of an exhibition, which involved "Kick out racism from football", along with Brendan Batson from the Professional Footballers Association. Whatever progress we make, we must persist in our efforts to ensure that racism is thrown out completely from all sport in this country.

Other hon. Members have mentioned their local football teams. I have already said where my allegiance lies, and I have often regretted it over the decades. We have a saying in the north-east that we would not go to the end of our street to see so-and-so play; I have only to go halfway down our street to watch Brentford play. Brentford has hit hard times recently. I make a serious point when I say that the fans and some of the staff are still in a state of uncertainty nearly halfway through the holiday period because they do not even know who will run or own the club by the time the season starts. It is another case in which those who depend for their livelihood on football, and fans who put much of their own time into it, are being strung along by people with, I fear, financial considerations uppermost in their minds.

We need to give priority to areas of deprivation when we finance and encourage sport, but it is also important to understand that we want sport to be enjoyed by everybody, whatever their financial standing. We must ensure that everybody has an opportunity to continue participating in sport. I am delighted to hear that it is to be part of the primary school curriculum and that children will get a good start, but I am worried about the missing links. Many people are lost to sport when they leave school because they do not find a club with which to pursue the sport of their choice. The Sports Council can help to resolve that problem. When I think of the House of Commons football or cricket teams I realise that there is scope for people to continue enjoying sport after a certain age—perhaps more slowly. When people leave competitive sport and the league system that is run at all levels in this country, they must be encouraged to participate in veteran sport. Team sports need organisation. We can all jog round the streets—I was horrified to hear the other day that my son has entered me for the Great North Run this October, so I shall have to continue to plod round the streets of Brentford every morning.

I am particularly keen that the Sports Council should get involved with the social exclusion unit, because sport has a big part to play, in every sense, in giving people's lives a purpose.

I hope that the healthy living centres will pay attention to diet. I was appalled by a recent advertisement, probably by the British Meat Federation, which showed a picture of a beautiful piece of meat and two vegetables, described as "Vitamins and two veg". That was misleading because it could make people believe that meat is the only food to contain the goodness that we need. I hope that the healthy living centres will concentrate on improving people's diet.

My main concern is that we should keep people participating in sport throughout their lives. If we can do that, we shall save a tremendous sum of money for the national health service over the next 10 or 15 years, which can be used for people who, because of illness, cannot enjoy sport.

11.37 am
Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)

I welcomed much of what the Secretary of State said, particularly his high aspirations for sport in this country. He discussed many of the high-profile matters, such as our application to host the Olympics, the world cup, and so forth. Naturally, those are welcome, but, listening to the debate, it is hard to avoid the impression that we have missed the point: while sport for all is a nice strapline, at present that is all it is. Sport in this country is in decline at the grass roots—in schools and among young people—and has been for a long time, and precious little is being done to deal with that fact in practice.

The Secretary of State said that the Government had achieved a great deal in the past year. It is extremely difficult to understand what he means by "a great deal" because there is no evidence whatever of a turnround in the fundamental problem of lack of participation in sport in schools and provision of sports facilities.

Sport is in crisis, and has been for many years. There has been a continuous decline in participation and provision in schools. Arguably, our level of achievement nationally has declined, but that is primarily a reflection not of lack of provision or Government support for major national initiatives, but of provision of facilities and encouragement for kids in schools.

School sports activity is poorly measured, so it is extremely difficult to tell what is happening, but the anecdotal evidence is of continuing decline. In 1995, the previous Government published as good a strategy for sport as there has been for many years, but it is unclear whether it has been followed up. It outlined the sorry state of participation in schools sport. The figures suggest that, in 1987, 72 per cent. of 14 to 16-year-olds did at least two hours of physical education a week; by 1994, fewer than 25 per cent. did so. Does the Minister have evidence that the figure has increased? There are strong arguments, to which Labour Members have referred, for investing in sport, not only on education grounds, but on health grounds. Obesity in this country is increasing. "Health of the Nation", published by the Department of Health in 1997, found that, in 1980, 6 per cent. of men had a body mass index greater than 30; by 1995, the figure was 15 per cent. To cut a long story short, that means that the nation is growing fatter. On all the evidence, young people are growing more obese, which is a reflection not only of dietary habits, but of failure to exercise.

Hon. Members have discussed the national curriculum and the failure to provide children with a curriculum requirement for sport of two hours a week. That is the essence of the point and, at the very least, there is widespread confusion about the Government's real intentions. That was well illustrated by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones), who quoted Professor Talbot of Leeds Metropolitan university. I received an honorary degree from it, in the distinguished company of Jack Charlton—not, I believe, on account of my footballing skills.

Fewer than 50 per cent. of children in this country do two hours of physical education a week. Instead of worrying, perhaps too much, about core curriculum and non-core curriculum activity, we should be concerned that the Government have sent out a confusing message on this issue. On the ground, the core curriculum requirement is not being delivered. We are falling behind by the standards of our past—the situation is getting worse, not better—and by international standards.

Britain came 13th out of 25 countries in a recent survey on physical education carried out by Exeter university. In France, the average number of children receiving more than two hours of physical education a week is approximately twice that in this country. In Germany, schoolchildren are expected to receive, on average, three and a half hours' sport a week, which is greatly in excess of any requirement to which we even aspire and currently fail to deliver.

British secondary schools spend less time doing sport than those of almost every other EU nation. The average 14-year-old spends an hour a week playing sport and 25 hours a week watching television. That is not a happy situation. My point is not political: hon. Members on both sides of the House should recognise it as a cause for urgent and robust action. Far from spending all our time worrying about flashy events to be held on the world stage, we should worry about the real future of sport—grass roots participation by ordinary working people and children across the country.

Children are taking less exercise than at any time during the past 20 years. It is hard to understand how the Government can claim that a great deal has been achieved in the past year if that is still the case. If it is not, and if there is a shred of evidence that the trend has been turned, let us hear that evidence—and figures should be published on exactly what progress has been made in schools in terms of substantive achievement.

I welcome the Government initiative on selling-off playing fields, although many playing fields have historically suffered not from underprovision but from underutilisation. Sporting activity is not only a function of having playing fields, but of having good and worthwhile facilities with the back-up and support, especially from schools, to make use of them. In the past, playing fields have been redeployed not only into uses such as supermarkets, which is not always unwelcome, but into better sporting facilities, which makes for better land usage.

The other point to bear in mind is that an enormous determinant of the extent to which people and children participate in sport is funding of local authorities. As we cut back on and constrain it, sporting provision will inevitably be reduced. The same applies in schools. No hon. Member regrets the focus on the reduction of class sizes—we all support that—but singular focus on it acts to the cost of other school activities, and resources will inevitably be diverted from physical education.

Much physical education is provided from discretionary time available to schools and voluntary activity and support provided by teachers. As teachers are redeployed in the cause of reducing class sizes, worthy as that is, we must recognise that school activity in and support for physical education will further decline.

School sport depends substantially on volunteers and on shoestring budgets, which is not a happy state of affairs. The Government must address that question. We did not hear a word from the Secretary of State about a single practical measure for addressing resources and facilities, and for encouraging and measuring school activity in sport. That has been further exacerbated by steps that the Government have taken. For example, the sportsmark scheme, introduced by the previous Government, was perhaps not a fundamentally important initiative, but it was useful and was welcomed by the education and sports industries. It has not been extended to primary schools or expanded and built on by the Government. Perhaps the Minister will tell us his intentions for its future.

Under the previous Government, the publication of "Sport: Raising the Game" was a major breakthrough. It is a source of regret to all hon. Members that, as a nation, we did not fundamentally address the issue earlier. At that stage, the facts were on the table, and the crisis in sport was visible. It is not clear that serious progress is being made to address the problem. In the past year, the situation has, if anything, slipped backwards.

The Minister must address measurement of achievement. It is one thing to have nice straplines such as sport for all, and to claim that we have achieved a lot, but in the business world, where I come from, there is an old saying, "If you don't measure it, you won't do it." Conservative Members want the Minister to state his measures in sport for all, his measures of participation by children in sport in schools, and his measure of resources allocated to sport in schools. Has there been progress on any such measures, if there are any? The evidence is that there are not.

We are addressing not the past few months, but a trend of the past two decades which is fundamentally important to health, education and social policy. On that issue, it is hard to avoid the impression that political correctness and fashionable ideas of what is and what is not sport colour the Government's attitude. On the Conservative side of the House, our interest is in sport as it is capable of producing a productive result in terms of learning about behaviour, team work, co-operation and competitiveness in schools and among the youth of today, as well as in the health implications.

Mr. Wyatt

The hon. Gentleman has just defined what he thinks sport is. Where does horse racing figure in that?

Mr. Norman

I have not defined what sport is and I have no objection to horse racing. I am an absolute supporter of the horse racing industry, both personally and publicly. I do not know whether the hon. Member is suggesting that we should introduce horse racing to schools or that it would have a beneficial social effect if we were to do so—I rather doubt it.

I am prepared to be plain about this. I do not believe that individual participation in individual sports such as horse racing, has anything like the beneficial effect for the education of children and their preparation for working life as team sports, particularly competitive team sports. Government policy should be explicitly biased in favour of furthering and promoting team sports in schools and among the youth of today, in preparation for future employment.

As someone with some experience of employing people, I would far rather recruit a youngster with some achievement in team and competitive sports, who provides clear evidence of experience of working with others, team work, hard work and commitment, delivering results and competing with others, than a youngster with scholastic achievement of one sort of another. In many walks of life, once a basic level of academic achievement has been delivered, sporting achievement is an effective preparation for work and encourages morale and self-confidence. Those of us who have experience of business would in many cases far rather recruit great sportsmen than great scholars. We would rather have team players from a class of 31 than people with no experience of team work from a class of 29.

To sum up, my purpose is to bring back attention in the debate to the fundamental issue. I am not here to make cheap points about the football team that I or anyone else happens to support. That is all very well and the idea that we should bid for the world cup or whatever is not a matter of contention, but we have a crisis in sport in this country and we are facing long-term decline. That is not a matter for hilarity or good humour on either side of the House, or it certainly should not be.

The time has come to address the problem fundamentally. It will not be tackled unless resources are put into it, unless there is a real and explicit commitment to sport in the core curriculum and unless we set out to measure the progress instead of congratulating ourselves on having achieved a lot when there is no evidence that the Government have achieved anything in the past year.

11.53 am
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

Before I start I must inform the House that I hold a single share in Richmond football club, which despite its name is a rugby union club—the second oldest in the world—and, on behalf of my son, shares in Charlton Athletic football club. May I take this opportunity to congratulate both Sunderland and Charlton on their amazing play-off game last week and the fans on their exemplary behaviour, especially after the game. I am pleased to report that Charlton is once again a happy Valley.

The most important area of sport and the one that has a deep and lasting impact is what our children do at school in their physical education and games lessons. That is a matter not for the current Minister for Sport, but for the Minister for School Standards. If we are to give sport a chance, we have to look again at how strategy is made in the Government. The Cabinet is structured on a 19th century model and bears no relationship whatsoever to how modern states make decisions. If we are seriously to modernise our country, we must look first at our own back garden. No FTSE 100 company has 22 board directors, as the Cabinet does.

We have one example of how we might go forward with the new Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. That should be our starter for 10. The Cabinet should comprise only eight members and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should be part of a brand new Department that embraces education, training, employment, tourism, sport, heritage and the creative arts.

Once again, I shall remind the House how important sport is in our culture. FIFA—the governing body of soccer—has more members, with 191, than the United Nations, with 125. If we preclude the death of Diana, Princess of Wales last year, the highest ever television audience was for sport, when NBC transmitted the superbowl in January 1996 to an audience of 138.5 million viewers. That is how important sport is in our global culture.

We shall celebrate two world cups in the United Kingdom next year—cricket and rugby union, always assuming that the Cardiff stadium is ready. In Manchester in 2002, provided we get the funding together, we will host the Commonwealth games. We may also just nick the world cup for 2006, thanks to the amazing work of our present Minister for Sport. We ought to be laying down the plans to win the 2008 or 2012 Olympics by putting in a joint bid. I propose a joint bid between London and Paris, rather like the world cup in 2002, which is to be shared between Japan and South Korea. That would ensure the regeneration of the whole of east London and would finally resolve the channel tunnel rail link. It would also create a London-Paris software corridor to rival Silicon valley. That is what sport can do in our culture.

The Olympic movement is bereft of leadership and needs our presence. After all, it was an early form of entente cordiale that created the modern Olympic movement. The United Kingdom working party for the Olympics should already be working alongside the new millennium experience to ensure its future use is compatible with our joint bid.

The Minister for Sport said last week in The Observer: We have to accommodate the political reality, but that doesn't mean we can't produce a"— sports— strategy for the UK".

On strategy, perhaps I may give my hon. Friend seven suggestions. First, can we ensure that he sits as the chief executive of sport and chairperson of the new United Kingdom Sports Institute? Secondly, the institute should become the overall strategy-making body for UK sport and the chief executives of the national sports councils, who will be the sports Ministers for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Minister responsible for the regional development agencies in England, should sit on its board. To save us from too many members of the blazer brigade, those members would be matched by an equal number of sports academicians, who, by their nature, would be former Olympic gold medallists elected by their own members.

Thirdly, dare I suggest it, but as regards the lottery, could we reconsider the concept of additionality, especially with respect to sport? Fourthly, if it is possible, could a new Select Committee for sport be established in the House so that the world's most popular activity is given its proper political focus? Fifthly, could the UK Sports Institute be allowed to create a new public service sports channel, funded by the lottery in the digital terrestrial environment, serving schools, coaches and all sports, including women's and disabled sports? Our most successful sport in the past 12 years has been rowing—six medals in the Olympics and 17 medals in the world championships—and it received a derisory 11 hours last year on BBC sport. Why has not the BBC announced plans for a digital sports channel and a sports website?

Sixthly, given that more than 1,000 overseas coaches from 19 countries have undertaken the internationally famous Football Association courses, we should bolster that great strength by appointing someone as a full-time worker for the British Council who could be shared with the United Kingdom Sports Institute.

Seventhly, we should take a leaf out of the sport that I know best—rugby union. I mention a club that is not often referred to in dispatches, the Penguins international rugby club, which is now in its 40th year; it is run by the same two old stalwarts, Alan Wright and Tony Mason, who ran it when it was founded in 1959. For most of its history, the team has been run on a shoestring budget; it has survived the professional era thanks to the generous sponsorship of HSBC investment bank. It has just come back from Croatia, where it beat the national side by 60 points to 24, despite the fact that Croatia is about to qualify for the rugby world cup.

When it was not deemed politic, the Penguins toured on behalf of the Rugby Football Union places such as the Soviet Union, in 1977. They have played in or against teams from no fewer than 53 countries and have helped countless young people to further their international careers. They have been our greatest international sporting ambassadors, but few know anything about them.

To show how sport can be used, I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that we create an overseas system for sport on the lines of Voluntary Service Overseas. We should create, through the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, 1,000 sports scholarships a year for all our sports teams to play, coach, lecture and referee overseas.

It would be remiss of me not to mention sport on television, especially what I believe to be the role of a public service—rather than a publicly funded—broadcaster. A decade ago, the BBC stood back from becoming a core member of the first digital television experiment, British Satellite Broadcasting, which had a dedicated sports channel. When BSB merged with Sky, the BBC lost its greatest opportunity to develop sports programming. The BBC has never understood how, as a member of the European Broadcasting Union, it could make its share in Eurosport work.

In Japan, the NHK—the Japanese equivalent of the BBC, which, ironically, the BBC helped to set up in 1945—saw its future as a public broadcasting service when, in 1987, it asked the Japanese Liberal Democrat Government for two additional satellite channels, one for education and one, hon. Members will have guessed, for sport. Has anyone at the BBC really understood sport in the past decade?

We need to come clean about listed sport on terrestrial television. Although the world cup and the Olympics have been listed, we do not have not legal rights over them—they are not owned by a United Kingdom entity. Indeed, the EBU, which holds the soccer and Olympic rights, is one of the worst cartels; it acts against the spirit of the Rome treaty, which states: It shall be incompatible with the common market and prohibited in so far as trade between Member States is liable to be affected by it, for one or more undertakings to exploit in an improper manner a dominant position within the common market or within a substantial part of it. The EBU case is now on appeal at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg; should it fail, the rights to both the soccer world cup and the Olympics will not necessarily be returned to the EBU. It would be in everyone's interests if the Olympics were shared out among all UK broadcasters, just as has been tried with Wimbledon, which has had coverage on two UK cable television channels—first Wire television and then Channel One.

As we are not giving the England and Wales Cricket Board a special grant of £50 million to develop excellence, we shall handicap the sport for ever. I do not want England to fall further behind other cricketing nations and I do not want Kent county cricket club to be unable to continue its youth policy because it does not receive enough money from its parent body.

The future of sport lies always with its youth policy; if we do not want to fund that, we must allow the market to do so. To retain the Test matches as listed events is nonsense. The BBC—a publicly funded broadcaster—refused to broadcast our overseas Tests. It is unfair to continue to handicap cricket. Listed events should cover one-off events and finals, such as the FA cup and the Grand National—it should not cover series that stretch over three months. If the Government decide to continue to maintain the list, I hope that the England and Wales Cricket Board will be persuaded to take its case to Luxembourg, where it will win, as the list represents a restraint of trade.

I hope that, when we have our third debate on sport in a year's time, we shall be able to celebrate the fact that the Taylor report's work has been extended to cover cricket, rugby union and rugby league grounds and that a national audit of sports facilities in the United Kingdom will have been instigated and completed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that, although we have some time left, it would be helpful if hon. Members bore in mind the fact that if their speeches are long, other hon. Members will be squeezed out. I want to be able to call everyone who wants to be called, especially as this is a Friday.

12.3 pm

Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)

Over the next few weeks, much of the nation's attention will rightly be focused on matters in France and the world cup, the excitement of which all hon. Members feel. Some 2.5 million to 3 million seats will be available and, undoubtedly, many British fans will want to be present at the matches or to watch them on television. Unfortunately, as the Government know, the tickets for most of those seats were sold by 7 May, and a number of British fans feel that the allocation of tickets was gravely unfair.

Hon. Members may have read in The Daily Telegraph today reports about how the 3 million seats are being distributed. Of those 3 million seats, some 382,000 have not been allocated. That number is significant because it is more than twice the number of seats that were to have been made available on the hotline in April. The Minister for Sport aptly described the hotline as a bad situation made considerably worse by a telephone fiasco.

The significance of all this is that, as The Daily Telegraph has shown, the 382,000 unallocated tickets are going to two groups of people: to the press and to Ministers and visiting officials from all over the world. When there has been such a poor allocation of tickets, it is pertinent for The Daily Telegraph to ask who of the 382,000 will get tickets because they are, for example, members of the British Government. That need not have been the case if the British Government had done more, earlier to ensure that good information was available to British fans on how to get hold of tickets.

There is a Government campaign which says, "If you haven't got a ticket, don't go." On that basis, few British fans will make the trip across the channel. Some would say that they will probably be outnumbered by the Ministers who we hear are planning to go, in some cases more than once.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I shall not be using any tickets in France. He is right that the British Government might have taken more of a lead, but he is talking about the wrong British Government. He should be talking about our predecessors because the ticketing arrangements were put in place some years ago. It is easy to blame the French, but some blame must be extended to FIFA as well as to the current French organisers. To be fair, he should make that clear.

Mr. Woodward

I am grateful to the Minister, who makes a proper point. Undoubtedly even we, when we were in government, could have done more. Sadly, we have not been in government for the past 13 months whereas he has. Much more could have been done in those 13 months to ensure that the information was available to British football fans to allow them to have more than the official 15,000 ticket allocation.

The Minister also knows that, sadly, it was not the British Government, in any shape or form, who decided to press for action against the French officials who carried out their own allocation that meant that more than 40 per cent. of available tickets went to French fans.

Mr. Banks

Sixty per cent.

Mr. Woodward

I am grateful for the correction; 60 per cent. of seats are going to French fans. The Minister knows that we await today a judgment against the French that has been brought by 25 Members of the European Parliament that will argue that, under the rules of the single market, there should have been more open competition for the tickets.

It is a sad day when it is not the British Government but a group of 25 MEPs, only five of whom are British, that is fighting for the ticket allocation of British fans and for the rights of soccer fans all over the world. British fans are being told not to go. We should welcome the example set by the Minister for Sport, who will not be among the Ministers who take up seats being given away to visiting officials. However, will he tell us whether that self-imposed stricture applies to, for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer? On 1 June, The Mirror carried a story saying, Brown: Tony won't stop my cup trip. It adds: The soccer-mad Chancellor will defy Premier Tony Blair's 'one minister per match' order and be at the Scotland-Brazil opener in Paris on June 10. I do not doubt that the Chancellor, who has a generous salary, will offer to pay his way. That is not the point. The opportunity to pay their way is not being extended to most British fans.

I pay tribute again to the Minister for Sport for choosing not to take any tickets, either for free or by paying. It is a noble example, but will it be followed by the Secretary of State for Scotland? I hear that he plans to visit the world cup, although British fans cannot go. I also hear, and was pleased to hear, that the Prime Minister will, as it happens, make a trip to Paris—I cannot, of course, see any connection—on the day before the Scotland-Brazil match. Perhaps the Minister for Sport can tell us whether the Prime Minister is arranging for his diary to be a little empty the following day so that he can go to the match.

We are all delighted that the Prime Minister stands up for British sport; we would be delighted if he felt it would be right to be there. I do not criticise a wish to be there, but British fans will not be able to join him. There will certainly be criticism of the Government if it is found that any Minister is not paying his or her way or is taking more than one ticket, free or not, for the world cup. That privilege is not being extended to most British fans.

We all know where this will lead. British fans will go to France, whatever Government advertising says. There will be problems when they cannot get tickets. They will be exploited and will have to pay ludicrous amounts of money for a poor ticket, yet British Ministers and officials will not, unless the Minister can tell us otherwise, have to deal with touts who want to exploit them, and they will take some of the best seats.

The Secretary of State talked about the importance of access for all. The only all who have access to the world cup are British Ministers. All does not include British football fans. I accept that the Conservative Government could have done more to ensure that information was disseminated, but we have been out of power for 13 months now. A great deal that could have been done has not been done. Few British fans have tickets and, far worse, many will go in the hope of getting one. Either they will not get one or they will be exploited.

Access to sport is crucial. No one—great sports enthusiast or not—should underestimate the importance of access, whether it is for the elderly, children, disabled people or anyone else. Access for all is the right motto for the House.

We must consider carefully the long-term interests of sport and access to it through television. That is a difficult subject, and it excites prejudice and hot emotion. It is in the long-term interests of sport that the right decision is made about listed events.

Nothing could bring home the danger of continuing to prosecute the present policy better than the BBC's current problems of industrial disruption caused by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union. Most hon. Members will have seen reports in the newspapers this morning that the BBC has admitted that coverage of the world cup is under threat from strike action by the technicians. BECTU believes that it can win the support of French workers in the media industry to prevent pictures of matches being transmitted to Britain. As BECTU's broadcasting official said this morning: There is no question that we can take these matches off the air with French support. We could also stop the Radio 5 Live coverage of all the matches without outside help. What a great thing that would be. British fans are being discouraged by the Government from going to France. If they go and try to get a ticket they will probably not succeed unless they are prepared to pay several hundred pounds, and now fans face the prospect of the BBC technicians union blacking the screens for them.

It will be possible to switch channels to see matches, especially the earlier ones, but the problem is significant and it should be a warning to the Government when they think about coverage of listed events in the future. They must think hard about whether it is sensible and in the long-term interests of sport to continue to pursue a policy that is effectively a very closed shop.

At the beginning, it was right that only the BBC and ITV showed sporting events such as the world cup because they were the only two channels that could do so, but that situation has changed dramatically. We now have Eurosport, Sky Sports, Channel Five, BBC Five Live, Live TV—the list is endless and it will grow because extraordinary changes are taking place in television technology with the advent of digital and cable, for example. The Government must bear that in mind when they think about future access to sport for all.

At present, most people feel that the BBC and ITV should hold onto major events because watching them is effectively free. People have access for the modest amount that they pay for the licence fee. Set against that is the horror of the suggested £10 per match to watch football on Sky. I accept that, at first sight, that is a horrible prospect, but the reality is that the BBC and ITV show matches, games and other events on a highly subsidised basis. Sadly, events are not subsidised by the Government.

The Government are not handing out money to football clubs, tennis clubs or whatever else—lottery money is a separate discussion. Events are being subsidised at the expense of the sports themselves. Many sporting clubs and fixtures want wider competition for their events because they know that in those circumstances they would be paid more. They want to be paid more because they want to invest in their sport.

We all know that the Minister for Sport genuinely believes in investing in sport. There are few people in the House who have been more passionate and have more conviction about the importance of investment in sport than the Minister, but the truth is that unless that investment is made, sport will not develop or flourish in Britain.

The Government must separate the short-term interest in keeping things as they are, and perhaps playing to current prejudices, and the long-term interests of sport, which may require some unpleasant and difficult decisions. Taking such decisions is one of the tasks that Governments have to face. They sometimes have to make unpopular decisions in the long-term interests of the subjects that they are required to deal with. I believe that it is important to open up many events to greater competition. If the Government decide in the next few weeks not to do so, I beg the Minister for Sport to do the responsible thing: if the Government want to prevent fair, open competition, which means a proper sum of money going to those sporting fixtures, they must acknowledge that they should adequately compensate the sports that will lose money from that decision—which would be a Government decision—because they will still receive only limited sums from the BBC and ITV.

I totally endorse the Government's policy of access for all. It is a shame that, for the world cup, access for all means access for all the Cabinet, but not for all of Britain. I hope that, in addressing the long-term questions of television access, the Minister for Sport will take the brave decision and recognise the importance of greater competition. If, regrettably, he does not take that decision, there must be far better subsidy for the sports that cannot get increased money through open competition.

12.20 pm
Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

We have heard many hon. Members mention their local football team. One of the great delights of representing Loughborough is that the university is well known for its sporting interest and the excellent sportspeople who have come from it. The previous hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, Mr. Seb Coe, came from Loughborough. I am sure that we taught him a lot.

I agree with some of the earlier comments about ensuring that sport for all becomes a reality at an early age. The structures for sport for all during the week exist at all levels from primary school to college. I am pleased that there is a sports college in my constituency—Burleigh college. However, when people leave school, where the structure to participate in sport is around them, and go to work, it is much more difficult for them to participate, especially in team sports.

Mr. Spring

We all understand that the hon. Gentleman has a genuine interest in and love of sport. He has mentioned sport in schools. We have had a lack of clarity from Ministers on that important issue, so I should like to read him the definition of the role of sport in school. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment has said that primary schools will however not be required to follow the current prescribed programme of study in the six non-core National Curriculum subjects of design and technology, history, geography, music, art and physical education. He repeated that by saying: The detailed statutory requirements of six non-core subjects will be lifted. That is at the heart of our objection to what has happened. I very much regret that both Ministers here today did not seem to understand the impact on sport of that change.

Mr. Reed

I am glad to have given way to that intervention, which adds to the confusion of the quotes that have gone backwards and forwards this morning. I have asked written questions on the issue in the past few months to discover the number of hours that pupils, particularly in primary schools, spend on physical education. I have visited each of the 36 schools in my constituency in the past year and I am keen to ensure that they all provide adequate physical education. I shall not comment on what the hon. Gentleman has just said before weighing it against all the other quotes that have been chucked backwards and forwards this morning. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to clarify the matter later.

There are other developments in primary schools, and I am proud that Loughborough is involved. The Youth Sports Trust receives more than £7 million of lottery support and private sector money from British Telecom. The Tops programme in primary schools has been an enormous success for an organisation that has been running for only a couple of years. It will go from strength to strength. Its annual report from last year shows that more than 2,500 primary schools had already benefited in the first 18 months, and 10,000 teachers had received additional training in how to teach sport in schools. One of the fundamental problems is that a very limited amount of initial teacher training relates to sport, and that problem is then passed on to primary schools.

I am keen to ensure that, whatever wording we use, we send a strong message that physical education and team sport plays a vital role in primary schools from the start of education. I hope that the importance of that will be clarified today, because I want to send that message.

As the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) rightly says when we pass each other in Westminster gym—not many of the hon. Members here this morning regularly join us, which is a shame—sport plays a vital role, even in the House. This is a good opportunity, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) sitting in front of me, to mention the wonderful goal scored in the recent England v. Scotland game at Upton park.

Mr. Bercow

I accept the importance of the House of Commons gym. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Living Well health club—which is, as he will know, part of a chain—at 4 Millbank, is used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, much less importantly, by me, not for its gym, but for its swimming pool? I go four times a week and swim 40 lengths, which is all I can manage.

Mr. Reed

I am pleased that the Chancellor and the hon. Gentleman are taking part in that activity. I am sure that many other hon. Members do so. I know that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) will race off this afternoon to play in a cricket team. The opportunity to participate in such activities is important not only for the sporting life and health of veterans in the House, but for younger Members.

However, there is a crucial difficulty. In my constituency, I play rugby every Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, my team has experienced difficulties this season because sport has not been played in schools for a decade or so. At the grand old age of 33, I am one of the youngest players in the team. I broke my shoulder playing rugby just before Christmas and I was unable to participate until March or April. I could talk the House through my injury. It is significant that there is a 10 or 15-year gap between us and those who are starting to play rugby at local schools. There is a generation of people who will not join the club, and so it is likely that it will fold in the next two or three years, which is a great shame.

As I said before, the problem is that pupils leave the structure of the school environment and need the structure of local clubs to pick them up. I worry that, if that structure is missing, a whole generation will be lost to competitive and team sports.

The social exclusion unit will work to include sport in economic regeneration, and the health benefits will be felt among school pupils and older people. Hon. Members who participate in football games have been mentioned. The oldest player in the House of Commons and House of Lords rugby team is 65, and I have to admit that he is one of our better players. He has obviously lost nothing over the years.

There is a difficult legacy. I started my political career on Birstall parish council. I was one of two Labour members, and there were 20 Conservative members, who graciously elected me chair of the playing fields committee, at the grand old age of 22. The legacy that we had been left meant that we had great difficulties in ensuring that existing facilities remained available. That was a very small local authority, with a healthy budget of £75,000 for playing fields alone. However, facilities that had been built in the 1960s were in decline. For example, the tennis courts that had been free and open to the local community were lost to individual use, which was a great shame. That process has been going on ever since.

If people travel to France in the next few weeks and stay in small towns, they will see that those towns have a municipal stadium. In Germany, towns have municipal stadiums that allow one to participate in many team sports.

A few elements are key to the future of sport. We must first ensure that we get school sports up and running again. The work of the Youth Sports Trust will be crucial in achieving that objective. I know that the Minister is aware of the trust's work, and that he has already praised its work. I hope that it will receive even greater support.

Secondly, we must also ensure not only that time for sport is made available for teachers in initial teacher training but that the importance of school sport is emphasised.

Finally, we have to build a partnership in sport between central and local government, and the private and voluntary sectors. I was pleased to hear today that there will be a strategy on building such a partnership. We have to be able to pull together, to fill all the gaps that I have described in the individual's move from school to club, and, later in life, from the first, competitive team to veteran sports—which should be emphasised.

As we have heard, there has been decline in sport. But there has been some very good news, too. In my own area, in 1995, Labour took control of Charnwood borough council. Although, nationally, local government spends about £1 billion on sport—which is about £19.50 per head—in Charnwood we inherited a situation in which the previous Conservative administration spent only £2.45 per head on sporting facilities. Pulling up our local authority to match other authorities, even in our own county, was therefore very difficult. We had much further to go to meet the national average. However, the appointment of a sports development officer has started to make a significant difference. There is also now a feeling that we can deliver decent sports facilities and coaching in Charnwood.

I welcome the provision in the National Lottery Bill that allows us to take a strategic view of the type of sports facilities required across the country. Loughborough is endowed with some great facilities, which are unfortunately on the university's campus and—despite the university's best efforts—not readily accessible to the community. For large parts of the year, those excellent facilities are not made available to the community. We have to ensure that when that national strategy is developed and deprived areas are identified, areas such as Loughborough are not excluded. Although some places have excellent facilities on their doorstep, they are nevertheless disadvantaged if the facilities are not accessible.

On a genuinely private point, I welcome the announcement on the institute of sport, as it is currently called. I am sure that the Minister will welcome my comments urging that the move to regional centres should happen as quickly as possible. On Monday, I met the vice-chancellor of Loughborough university, who is very pleased with some of the progress that has been made. However, I should dearly love the facilities to be developed on the university's campus, because we could really deliver. It is a pity that we did not get the headquarters—I still think that Loughborough is the best place for it—but I accept that the decision has already been made. Nevertheless, we may come out of it much better, because we will have the regional centre, and will get a lot more money out of it.

I hope that the Minister will take on board those comments on the centres.

12.32 pm
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

It can be profoundly shocking for most hon. Members—who are very politically inclined—to discover that most of our constituents think that sport is far more important than politics. I am sure that we have all spent Saturday afternoons regretting that we are knocking on doors at a particular point in the calendar. However, most of my constituents who watch Question Time in this place consider it a form of sport, and rather enjoy the spectacle of events in the Chamber.

Sport is an important subject, and it is a pity that we do not debate it more often. It is vital to the health of our nation that we engage in sport. On 27 June 1997, the Secretary of State stated that 48 per cent. of men and 40 per cent. of women are overweight. That cannot be a good thing. Sport is vital to the morale not only of our nation—to the various nations of the United Kingdom —but also of our communities. It builds teamwork, discipline and confidence, which lead to better performance in other pursuits.

I have always been struck that, sometimes, people at school who are not the most academically inclined have good confidence when leaving school and going into work—throughout life—if they find a sport in which they excel.

The previous Government's record on sport was pretty good because the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), took sport very seriously. I am glad that sport has moved up the political agenda on both sides of the Chamber. In his years on the Opposition Benches, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) did much to promote sport. I also associate myself with the comments about Denis Howell, who was an excellent Sports Minister—and is fondly remembered as the Minister for rain. He is the only person who could be appointed one week and have it rain the next. He was a substantial character in the House.

In 1995, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon promoted "Raising the Game", with its 15-point plan. It made an important proposal that Ofsted should look into what happens in sport and ensure that governing bodies report on sport in their annual reports. The national lottery was one of the most important aspects of what the previous Government did. It is fashionable to kick Camelot and the national lottery, but the lottery is extremely successful—the most successful in the world. It was up and running quicker than anyone expected, raising far more money than anyone expected for a range of good causes, including sport.

Mr. Spring

Did my hon. Friend notice that the Minister for Sport made an intervention on financing of sport by the lottery, repeating what he had said during consideration of the National Lottery Bill? On Report, the Minister said that the Government have no plans beyond those which they have announced already … to alter the funding of the existing good causes"—[Official Report, 1 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 99.]. Does my hon. Friend agree that Sir Humphrey Appleby is alive and well? Is this not in contrast to the firm pledge in "Labour's Sporting Nation" that sport would be a permanent good cause? He has reneged on that.

Mr. Syms

I noticed the Minister's comments, and I agree with my hon. Friend's telling point.

Of course, with all these things one has a debate and double counting, but it is a pity that, as I believe, the Government have started to move funds away from sport through the lottery, because they are rifling the lottery and directing money into many other areas.

Mr. Spring

In that vein, the Secretary of State made an interesting comment about the role of NESTA being paid for from the lottery. NESTA may indeed provide some money for work on sports science and sports medicine, but the Secretary of State did not say that this was a matter of discretion for NESTA's chairman and board. That is obviously at odds with the Labour party's commitment, made before the general election, that it would not fund the development of athletes in that way. That is another broken pledge.

Mr. Syms

I am glad that my hon. Friend brought that important point to my notice, because it had escaped my attention. He made a telling point, and I hope that the Minister will make a detailed response to it.

It is a pity that the new Government dropped the sportsmark for primary schools. We had some debate about the impact of the proposals by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment regarding PE as a core curriculum element in primary schools. To enable me to know the exact position when I attack the Government next week, perhaps the Minister will circulate us with a letter of what he considers to be the exact position on PE in primary schools.

Mr. Bercow

A signed confession.

Mr. Syms

Indeed. I believe that the Government have promoted things in that area as well as they could.

Playing fields were mentioned. It is right and proper that we do our best to maintain playing fields. However, as I served on a county council for several years, I know that, in many instances, playing fields are badly drained and can be used for only part of the year. I know of many schemes whereby part of a playing field has been sold, and the money spent on all-weather pitches, which are used much more intensively by children in the school. It is not necessarily accurate just to quote the number of playing fields that have gone. In many instances, local authorities have done their best to get the best value that they can and the best sporting facilities for their children.

I welcome the establishment of the United Kingdom Sports Institute, but I think that progress has been far too slow. It was originally intended to be a springboard for the Sydney Olympics, and I hope that the Government will speed up progress not only in Sheffield but on the regional centres. I hope also that team sports will retain an important place within the institute. Small and minor sports are important, but the process should pay due regard to team sports such as rugby, cricket and football.

It is important to promote sport in education. We are all aware of the recruitment problems facing the Army because of the general standard of physical education among school leavers. We must substantially improve sport provision in the early years. Sponsorship is very important. Last year, £320 million in sponsorship went into sport, so it is a vital area. As a member of the Health Committee, I think that it is sensible to move away from tobacco sponsorship, over time. However, we should remember that formula one—which is a sport—is a £1 billion industry which employs many people. The sport is very successful in the United Kingdom and we should not take it for granted. Many people throughout the world follow formula one and it makes a tremendous impact.

Horse racing was mentioned earlier in the debate, and it is also widely supported. I think that one can underestimate the value to the British economy of investment by foreign owners of horses. They create employment, and their investment is vital to this nation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) referred to the crown jewels and listings. It is important that those sports that do not have the ability to sell to the highest bidder are compensated so that they may have seedcorn money for development.

We have a tremendous record in the disabled Olympics. I think it is a great pity that, in the past 12 months, the House voted to prevent disabled. 22 calibre pistol shooters from continuing their sport. I remember clearly the Division on that issue.

I shall not speak for too much longer as many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. In his speech on 27 June 1997, the Minister for Sport said: My role is to serve as the long-stop, for those who are cricketers, or as the sweeper, for those interested in soccer. I see myself as perhaps the Ruud Gullit of the Government team".—[Official Report, 27 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 1125.] I hope that, when there is a reshuffle and the Minister renegotiates his contract, he will not pitch too high as I would be delighted to see him on the Front Bench replying to sports debates for the foreseeable future—at least until the next general election.

12.42 pm
Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) on scoring the first goal in our game against Scotland. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) is not present today. I specifically asked him to join us for the sports debate so that I could once again talk him through my winning goal for England in the Members of Parliament game against Scotland.

Mr. Pound

It was you.

Mr. Caplin

Yes. That game proved that people of a more senior age can play a little football occasionally.

I have served on Committees with the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) and I thought that he was a reasonable man, but I am afraid that I found his speech today carping and unnecessary. It did not address the question of sport, but was more about whether Ministers will go to the world cup. This is a Government debate on sport as a whole, and I am afraid that his speech today rather let the side down.

Mr. Woodward

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so ungracious in his remarks—that is uncharacteristic behaviour. Does he genuinely believe that several hundred thousand British fans wanting to see football matches in France is of no significance when the Government are trying to promote a policy of access for all?

Mr. Caplin

The hon. Gentleman should have waited, as I shall speak briefly about the forthcoming world cup. The ticket allocation has been a scandal, but that is partly down to the role of FIFA and the French organisers. The hon. Gentleman's attacks on the Government were unnecessary. The Government are rightly telling people to stay at home, so that the world cup is peaceful and successful. I hope that that is what all hon. Members want.

When the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) gets together with my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen) to discuss the House of Commons cricket team, I hope that, notwithstanding the England game that afternoon, I will get the chance to bash the Lords around the Oval. I can think of nothing more enjoyable to do for a whole Monday.

Mr. Hawkins

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have had our meeting and he need have no worries.

Mr. Caplin

There is nothing like selection from the Dispatch Box.

To return to the world cup, this has been a delightful debate, because for three hours and 10 minutes we have not mentioned those five letters. I am sure that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) will be delighted to say more about Gazza, who I believe lives in his area.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that observation, but as far as I am aware, Gazza is not one of my constituents. If I am blissfully ignorant of his presence, I apologise to the House and to Gazza.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman cannot remember.

Mr. Caplin

I agree. I believe that Glenn Hoddle made exactly the right decision on the England team, and I hope that it goes on to win the world cup on 12 July. I disagree with the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this morning in only one respect: I do not extend the same strong good wishes to Scotland as I do to England.

I shall deal with an important issue that has impacted on many thousands of my constituents over past years, and has recently resulted in my local authority receiving more than 42,000 representations on the matter of Brighton and Hove Albion football club. Many of my hon. Friends in particular will be aware of the problems that the club has had since its ground was unceremoniously sold by a former chairman and, I regret to say, the Liberal Democrat Member for Eastbourne in a previous Parliament, who tore the ground away from the supporters and left the club homeless. That meant that we had to play in Gillingham this year, a 150-mile round trip for supporters.

Recently, the local authority approved a planning application for the club to return to Brighton, so we hope that this autumn Brighton and Hove Albion will be coming home. The planning application has been approved for the sharing of an athletics stadium north of Brighton. Last September, many of my hon. Friends joined me in playing at that stadium, when unfortunately we lost to the national press by seven goals to four in an enjoyable game before the Labour party conference.

It will be an important event when the local authority meets a week today to finalise a decision on Brighton and Hove Albion. Those few NIMBYs who live around the area of the stadium have objected and made representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am confident that he will find no grounds to call the matter in, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will deal later with the question whether there should be special regulations for football clubs, notwithstanding the work done by the previous Government on PPG17.

The task force could look into the possibility of a more sympathetic planning process for football, cricket and rugby union clubs that want to develop better facilities in their communities. Had that existed, the Secretary of State would not even have entertained the suggestions made by some local residents. I hope that, in the next few weeks, my right hon. Friend will support the many, not the few, in Brighton and Hove.

I wish to talk about sport generally, but particularly about the 2006 bid, which is important to England especially. The bid is widely supported by the Government and all parties, especially the English Sports Council, which contributes a significant sum from the lottery to the Football Association's fighting fund.

Over the past year, I have enjoyed the work of the all-party football group, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who is not in the Chamber. My hon. Friend has kept the group very much at the forefront of the agenda for world cup 2006, culminating a month or so ago—my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport was present—with a presentation to Members of the bid by Geoff Hurst and Garth Crooks. It is important to recognise the role that we as Members can play in delivering that bid for England in 2006.

The partnership goes much wider than Members. Some major British companies are now onside, including British Airways, Marks and Spencer, the Nationwide building society and Umbro. They are supporting the 2006 bid. I take on board what my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) said about next year's world cups in the United Kingdom in both cricket and rugby union. We hope that those events will be a successful way forward to the football world cup in 2006.

I welcome, as I am sure do many of my hon. Friends, the conversion on the road to Damascus of the Conservatives on school playing fields. Never has there been quite as much hypocrisy as we heard this morning from the Conservative party. The Conservatives sold playing field after playing field for 18 years. The Labour Government have introduced new regulations. I am delighted to receive the support of Conservatives, but we cannot forget what happened during their 18 years in office.

Mr. Hawkins

The hon. Gentleman will know that a number of Conservative Members spent many years, both before and since coming into the House, campaigning to keep school playing fields. Will he recognise that many of the sales of school playing fields were carried out by Labour local authorities? The Labour party does not have a monopoly of virtue on this matter.

Mr. Caplin

I am grateful for that intervention. However, it is a Labour Government who have introduced new regulations that will make it that much more difficult for playing fields to be sold. I recognise that there are Conservative Members who campaigned long and hard, as the hon. Gentleman said, and I recognise his particular contribution.

I wanted to comment to my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, who has changed his persona briefly, about the possibility of regulating football. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State touched on the matter this morning. We must recognise, however, that if football cannot regulate itself through the Football Association and/or through the Football League, it will need some Government intervention to stop, for example, the disgraceful hikes in ticket prices that we are seeing in the premier league. I hope that the FA will take on board what is being said about that issue and the various reports that it has commissioned, and start the proper regulation of football.

I welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about a sports strategy. I think that that will provide a good debate for the House and I look forward to contributing to it. I hope that we shall have a wide-ranging debate that will impact on women in sport. It is rather disappointing that, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson), who has just arrived in the Chamber, no women Members have contributed to the debate.

I tabled an early-day motion on the MCC vote and its refusal to admit women. Women have an important role to play. As sports lovers, we all have an important role in trying to develop the role of women in sport. Conservative Members, many of whom may be MCC members, might like to tell us how they voted on women membership. I am especially disappointed that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), only five days into his appointment, has chosen not to be with us today. If he had been present, I could have asked him directly how he voted in the MCC ballot. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Surrey Heath can answer that when he makes his speech. The 1994 Brighton declaration on women in sport has played a crucial part in taking sport forward for all. That is the Government's aim, and I very much welcome it.

12.54 pm
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. First, I declare an interest—I am an amateur enthusiast for sport. I recognise and respect the distinguished sporting record of the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt). I do not suggest for a moment that I could compete with it, and I am conscious that other right hon. and hon. Members, whether present today or not, can boast of great sporting accomplishments. My background in sport is threefold: I have been a fan of Arsenal football club since January 1971; I am a keen swimmer, and swim four times a week at the Living Well health club, where 40 lengths is as much as I can manage; and, for the past 15 years, I have been a qualified tennis instructor.

I respect the enthusiasm and commitment of the Minister for Sport. Nobody doubts that; indeed, it is widely acknowledged. The debate between us is not about objectives; it is about outcomes. I wish to focus on four particular concerns. The first is that of the effective abolition of physical education as part of the core curriculum in primary schools. There has been an attempt to misrepresent the truth of what has transpired in recent times. That misrepresentation was eloquently exposed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), but it is important to be specific about what happened.

On 13 January this year, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment declared that physical education would no longer be part of the core curriculum in primary schools. That physical education should still be taught is a quite different point. There has been a change—the Government's intention now is, supposedly, to concentrate on what are considered to be core subjects and not on physical education.

I happen to believe—I think that the view is widely shared by people of all political persuasions and of none—that, however well intentioned, that judgment is mistaken and short sighted, for the simple reason that if children play less sport in schools, they are likely to have less incentive to play much sport outside schools. As the late Enoch Powell would have said, that is so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily clever person could fail to see it. That is what will result from the change that has taken place. Moreover, it is out of kilter with the Labour party's position in opposition.

Labour's document, "Labour's Sporting Nation", published on 24 April 1997—precisely a week before the general election—said that the national curriculum made inadequate provision for physical education. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that that statement was made on page 8 of that document. Even given the fondness for misrepresentation that has come to characterise those who specialise in spin on the Government Benches, the Minister is not in a position to dispute the argument. That is the evidence of the change in position—a change for the worse—undertaken by the Government since they came to office.

Most people think that it is a change for the worse. The Central Council of Physical Recreation and the National Association of Head Teachers, to name just two organisations, are united in recommending that children in primary schools should undertake at least two hours of physical education a week.

Mr. Caplin

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the CCPR. Under the heading "Labour's Manifesto Commitments", it has stated: The government is to be congratulated on its endeavours so far. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made that point this morning.

Mr. Bercow

I am interested that the hon. Gentleman should intervene on that point, though it is supremely unwise of him, first, because the CCPR and the NAHT have recommended a minimum time to be spent on physical education, and it is a minimum which is not being met by the Government, and, secondly, because the need is extremely pressing—primary schoolchildren in Germany spend three and a half hours a week on physical education and in France the figure is three hours. Until recently, the figure in the United Kingdom was one and a half hours. As a specific consequence of the change of stance undertaken by the Government, the hon. Gentleman cannot gainsay that there is no minimum time requirement for primary school children to spend on physical education.

As the hon. Gentleman has chosen, rather unwisely, to invoke the CCPR in support of his argument, I must indulge myself a little further and quote Mr. David Oxley, the chairman of its executive committee—I recognise the hon. Gentleman's pain, but he must reckon with it. It is documented world wide that young people of primary school age who receive regular physical exercise perform better in key subject areas such as reading and arithmetic. If he will forgive me, it is game, set and match to the Opposition on this point. The Government stand exposed as having broken their promise and betrayed trust. They are letting down the children of this country. I hope, even at this stage, that they will reconsider their position.

My second point, which, regrettably, is also critical of the Government, follows that of my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) and relates to the previous Government's sportsmark scheme, introduced in secondary schools in October 1996. Its objective was to ensure recognition for schools that provided high-quality physical education and sports programmes. As the Minister will doubtless acknowledge, the enthusiasm that schools showed for the scheme is reflected in the fact that, within two months, 471 had applied for sportsmarks, which were organised and administered by the English Sports Council. There were 133 applications for the sportsmark gold award.

The idea that there was no take-up, little enthusiasm and disaffection with what the previous Government were doing simply does not hold water, and I hope that the Minister will not attempt to argue such a case. The scheme was good; doubtless, it could have been improved, but surely, in the light of the enthusiasm expressed for it, it would have been sensible for the Government to consider its extension to primary schools. It is regrettable that they have failed to do so, and I ask him, with all the politeness at my command, to reconsider his decision.

The third area of concern, especially for Conservative Members, is the lamentably slow progress on the United Kingdom Sports Institute. There is cross-party agreement that it is a good idea, and I do not doubt the Minister's commitment to it, but the Government cannot, in all seriousness, be congratulated on their record, which is deficient.

Mr. Reed

Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the delays caused before the general election by the previous Government, even in shortlisting the three bids? They left the Government with the mess of a British academy of sport that no one knew what to do with.

Mr. Bercow

I accept part of the hon. Gentleman's criticism, but not all of it. If he is saying that there was too much delay before the election, I readily concede that. I was frustrated by the delay, but I do not accept the charge that a great mess was left. Certainly, we were too slow; it should have been dealt with, and it is regrettable that it was not attended to properly. The difference is that we Conservatives have no difficulty in acknowledging that mistakes were made. The lickspittles on the Government Back Benches are interested only in always, everywhere and without exception slavishly adhering to the Government's official line.

The truth is that, in February 1997, the previous Government drew up a shortlist of three contenders for the British academy of sport. When the new Government came into office, they indicated that a decision would be made soon. Indeed, on 27 June last year, the Minister for Sport said, in column 1126 of Hansard if I remember rightly, that he hoped a decision would be reached soon—I hope the hon. Gentleman enjoys having his words quoted at him. He hoped that it would certainly be by the end of "August or September".

Mr. Wyatt


Mr. Bercow

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman with great pleasure, if he wishes to intervene.

Mr. Pound

What is his home phone number?

Mr. Wyatt

Ex-directory. Will the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) note that the delay was caused during the previous Government because the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was the only person left in that Government who wanted a single national United Kingdom institute for sport? The then Minister for sport did not. That is why there was the delay. The whole of the sporting world wanted what we have delivered.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for intervening, but, unfortunately, once again he makes a poor point, for two reasons. The first is that if it was not going to be feasible to have a decision until December 1997, why did the Minister for Sport, whose words we should be able to take as an indication of what the Government would do, say that it would be reached by the end of August or September? That was utterly misleading, although I do not suggest for one moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it was deliberately so. The Government simply failed to deliver. They were feeble and incompetent. They beat about the bush and they did not get things done. That is why we say, "Stop messing around and get on with the job."

The second reason why the hon. Gentleman's intervention was unfortunate is that he referred to the Government's objective of having regional centres. In view of the alleged centrality to the Government's whole thinking on the subject of regional centres as opposed to a centralised mass, why is it that, after all these months, we have still not had an announcement of the sites for the regional centres? Believe it or not, it is now 5 June 1998 and it is six months since the announcement, but the Minister for Sport is sitting there apparently without embarrassment at the continued delay.

There is a third objection to the Government's position. Despite the mealy-mouthed rhetoric that they deploy in self-defence, they do not intend that competitive team sports will have a big role to play in the new UK Sports Institute. Many people in the sporting community believe that that is wrong. I simply invite the Minister in all humility to reflect on the possibility that he has got it wrong. There is no shame in the Minister making a mistake, but only in failing to recognise the possibility—the mere possibility—of having done so.

Mr. Banks

I am more than ready to apologise if I think that I have made a mistake. On this occasion, I have not. It is a matter for consultation and we are listening. We believe, as do the sports bodies, that team sports such as football, rugby and cricket should have their own sport-dedicated academies and that is something that the Government are supporting them in establishing.

Mr. Bercow

Unfortunately, there comes a point when the listening has to stop and the decision making has to start. As far as this Government are concerned and reaching the destination of establishing regional centres, the analogy has to be with Kafka and "The Castle", where for every step that the main character thinks he is taking towards it, he seems in the end to be going one step further away.

The Minister is right to say that listening has to take place and I do not cavil at that. Ultimately, however, decisions must be made and announcements given, and progress must take place. None of those things has happened since the election and that is a source of regret. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) is chuntering from a sedentary position for all the world as though he were the village idiot, but I shall seek not to be distracted by his burblings.

Mr. Pendry

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) was right on both counts. Many months before the general election, we were urging the then Minister for sport to discuss the institute across the party divide—he refused to do so until the very morning that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) went to Buckingham palace to ask that Parliament be dissolved. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport was left with such a great mess to clear up—no doubt very early on he believed that it could be cleared up.

Mr. Bercow

I have the highest respect for the hon. Gentleman, but that is not my recollection. Before I was selected as the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Buckingham, I briefly served as special adviser to the Secretary of State for National Heritage and worked regularly with the former Minister for Sport, Iain Sproat, who has immense regard for the hon. Gentleman's integrity and judgment, as he probably already knows.

Mr. Pendry


Mr. Bercow

I shall give way once more before I make my final point.

Mr. Pendry

For the record, I have the same feeling for the former Minister for sport. However, he admitted on Radio 5 that my account of events was correct.

Mr. Bercow

I shall not comment on a radio interview that I did not hear, especially as I am coming to the conclusion of my speech. Suffice it to say that the Government have had 13 months in which to make progress—it simply will not wash for the hon. Gentleman to try to extricate them from their difficulties by praying in aid a radio debate that he had with the former Minister for sport. The Government have the power, they have the limousines, they are drawing the salaries, so theirs is the responsibility, which the Minister for Sport must now discharge.

Mr. Pound

I was waiting for this little volley across the net to end before I responded to the hon. Gentleman's untypically ungracious comment about village idiots. In the village where my ancestors lived, the third most stupid person was undoubtedly the village idiot. The second most stupid person was the poundkeeper, who had to lock up the pigs that strayed from the common ground—that was an honourable job, and I accept the title. The most stupid person was known as a Bercow, a word that was usually abbreviated to its first four letters.

Mr. Bercow

The hon. Gentleman has a well-established and well-deserved reputation for wit and invective but, whereas the first two parts of his story were good, the conclusion was lamentably predictable and unoriginal. I am disappointed with him, but I hope that, in the future, he can improve on his sporting performance.

A number of people have expressed concern to me about sailing. The Secretary of State has tried to reassure the House that lottery funding for sport would be maintained and that previous commitments would be kept—we wait to see whether that will be the case. I invite the Minister to acknowledge that there is real concern that lottery funding for some sports could go into decline.

Sports clubs are deserving recipients of lottery funding for two reasons: first, they are good at providing the matching funds that are required, and, secondly, they are effective in raising funds to meet their running costs. The main problem that they face is that too few of their applications are accepted. The Royal Yachting Association is concerned that funds could be cut and that, if they are, many recreational sailors will suffer. Edmund Whelan, the association's legal and Government affairs manager, wrote in a letter dated yesterday, of which I have a copy, that top-class competitors are worried about world-class performance funding. Such competitors contend, and I think that the Minister will agree, that that funding has given a tremendous boost to our top sailors. It delivers excellent value for money. I would welcome a reassurance from the Minister for Sport today that they have no reason whatever to fear that that funding will either cease or be reduced.

The serious concerns that I have expressed are widely shared and were highlighted by other hon. Members. I ask the Minister for Sport to respect the fact that those concerns exist, to listen to them and to seek in his policies to address them. If he does, I for one, in the spirit that should characterise debate on this vital subject, will say, "Well done and three cheers"—but he has a long way to go.

1.14 pm
Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley)

I declare an interest as a non-fee-earning director of the committee that will organise the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002. I shall return to that project.

I welcome the Secretary of State's comprehensive speech, which rested on three legs. He said that grass-roots sport would be supported, that elite competitive sport would be supported and—importantly, because it is often forgotten—that our country's ambition to host major international sporting events would be supported. Many hon. Members have said, in many different ways, that sport is important to people's individual development, to health and to the economy. Sport has for too long played the Cinderella role.

Many people have been looking back to 1966, which is becoming a date better known by schoolchildren than 1066. The Government's financial commitment to the world cup then was a mere £800,000. Taking away the money distributed via the Sports Council, that was the only major Government support for sport until Manchester's 1992 bid to host the Olympic games in 2000. The then Prime Minister announced £55 million for that bid, and I pay tribute to him for putting sport further up the agenda.

During that time, a bid for the Commonwealth games by Leeds, bids for the Olympics by Birmingham and Manchester and bids to host many prestigious world championships and major events had gone without Government support. It is important to acknowledge that that has changed and to welcome the Secretary of State's statement.

I should like to take issue with the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). I do not deny the first part of what he said. There are no longer the facilities for sport for young people that used to exist. Like many Conservative Members, he has forgotten the reason. As someone who had some influence in running a local authority, I know that sports facilities are not as they used to be because the people responsible for local authorities were faced with grants being cut viciously year after year. We were left with a straight choice: to close a swimming pool and save £500,000 or to take money from children in care or the elderly. Most reasonable people took the decision to protect the most vulnerable members of society. That is why the sporting facilities provided by local authorities, which are still the main providers of such facilities, are not what they should be.

There is a second point on which I take issue with the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, who is not in his place. Having noted that sports facilities are not as good, without acknowledging why, he argued that while we all want to bring major events to this country, it is not the main issue. He said that we must get grass-roots provision right and get all people fitter and healthier through participation in sport.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's objectives, but I do not agree that there is any contradiction in the three strands of policy announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as each supports the others. If we are successful in international competition, either by hosting major events or by having great athletes and successful teams, we will encourage grass-roots support. If more young people participate in sport as a result, we will be more likely to be successful at international events.

The Commonwealth games will be held in Manchester, and England, in 2002. I want to explain what will happen and to talk about the Commonwealth games in general. This year's games will take place in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in September, and they will change the nature of the Commonwealth games. The Malaysian Government have declared their intention to use the games to say that their nation has come of age and is moving out of the third world and into a richer economy. That statement has plainly been affected by what has happened to the ringgit in recent months, but the intention remains the same. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on creating the best ever facilities for the Commonwealth games.

The Malaysian intention is clear. The games are not just about prestige, but about telling the English-speaking world and south-east Asia that Kuala Lumpur is a good place for sport, that the area is increasingly affluent and that it is a good place to do business. We neglect at our peril the side of sport that allows us to project our country's image. We have not done that enough in the past, and we must do more. Our economy, as well as our national spirit, will get better if we do.

We intend to put on an extremely good Commonwealth games in Manchester. The Government talk a lot about changing the image of England and Britain abroad, and about giving us a younger look and a more modern appeal. I agree with that. I have represented Britain abroad and have often found that people view us as stodgy old colonials. Sometimes they enjoy turning us down when we apply for business. We should use the Manchester games to change that image.

We have already put together important facilities, and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport for coming to Manchester to see them. I was pleased to show him round, but did not expect him to respond as he did. When we showed him the velodrome, which has the world's fastest track, he said, "We don't have one of those in London." So we showed him the indoor arena, which is the largest in Europe, and he said, "We could do with one of those in London." Then we showed him the concert hall that we have opened recently, and he said, "We don't have anything this good in London." I am glad that he showed so much admiration; what we need now is a stadium that he can envy from his seat in London.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) asked about the financing of the games. We have a balanced budget, which partly depends on a grant of £113 million from the Sports Council. With sponsorship and television rights, which will improve considerably after the Kuala Lumpur games, we will be able to put on a games in the tradition, if not of Kuala Lumpur, of previous games such as the 1994 Victoria games.

Frankly, I do not think that that is good enough if we want to project this country. We are in discussions with the Government and we have met various Ministers. I believe that we should hold the games in a state-of-the-art stadium, not a temporary one. They should show our country off to the best and show the best in current English architecture. If we are to do that, there will have to be some extra funding. When asked by Ministers how much, we say that that depends on what quality of Commonwealth games the Government and the Prime Minister want. I believe that the country and the House should want to see the very best Commonwealth games that we can possibly put on.

It is interesting to note how the Commonwealth games are being used to bring people forward. One aspect of games that is not often talked about but is relevant to getting people into jobs is the extraordinary number of volunteers required to help run a Commonwealth games—up to 30,000. It is possible, with the right scheme, to integrate some of that voluntary work into the new deal. We could use young people's enthusiasm to be involved in a major sporting event—they may have been socially excluded—to enable them to obtain qualifications such as national vocational qualifications at levels 2 or 3. That is one way in which a major sporting event can dig right down to people who have been socially excluded.

The local authority and the Sports Council have also ensured that in key sporting areas trainers and courses have been put together so that people not only in Manchester but in the whole of the north-west can participate in the sports that we have opened up. We do not want the facilities to go to waste once the games are over. We have talked to the Sports Council about putting together a critical mass of elite sports facilities that will have a spin-off for jobs, health and sports medicine. The facilities that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech have been run down. We should refurbish them so that they can be used by the local community and people benefit from the games.

We estimate that a successful Commonwealth games will create 2,500 or so local jobs if we put together that critical mass of facilities. We hope to be a regional centre of the UK Sports Institute. That is just one example of how we hope to ensure that English and local people in Manchester and the north-west participate in the games.

My final set of points is in support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's statement about his desire to bring the world cup to Britain in 2006 and to bring the Olympics here. I have tried as hard as it is possible to try to bring all the major sporting events to this country, but I caution against one thing—perhaps two things. First, there is an assumption—it is not stated publicly but people talk about it in private—that if Britain is to host the Olympics or the world athletics championship it will have to be in London. I do not agree. When London has competed before, the sports bodies that nominate cities to be the Olympic or Commonwealth games host city have, by and large, chosen Birmingham or Manchester.

Mr. Banks

One of the problems that London has experienced when making a bid and competing against Manchester and other cities is that there were two London bids because there was no single local authority for London to represent the city. That was the fundamental objection that flawed our bids. That problem will be resolved by the setting up of the new Greater London authority.

It is not my partiality that is involved: the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association have made it clear that the only city that they are prepared to nominate for an Olympic bid is London. As my hon. Friend must know, that is not my decision but the decision of the BOA and IOC.

Mr. Stringer

I am partially grateful for that intervention. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Balkanisation of London by the abolition of the Greater London council put London at a disadvantage and other cities made hay at London's expense during that time. The answer is to have elected mayors in other big cities as well.

I also agree that the choice is a matter for the BOA and the IOC. I am not aware that those decisions have been taken finally. They should be subject to influence so that there is proper competition and consideration when the decision is taken.

I add my tribute to Lord Howell. I competed with Denis Howell for the right to represent Britain in the bid to host the Olympic games—I represented Manchester when he represented Birmingham. He was a tough competitor and did not like Manchester getting the nomination because he had put a lot of effort into Birmingham's very good bid. Anyone who tries to bring the Olympic games or the world cup to this country should bear in mind his comment that we shall have the most immense difficulty until there are some British people involved at the highest level of international sport. We are almost devoid of representatives in all the world federations. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say how he will encourage our sports administrators and politicians to get involved at that level. We all want to bring those events here, but until our people are involved at the highest level, we shall not do so.

1.31 pm
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). I acknowledge the great contribution that he has made to his city and our country in championing the Manchester Olympic bids, which have resulted in a successful Commonwealth games bid. That is a good example of how sport can bring a community together around an objective in a wider political arena.

I declare an interest as an honorary vice-president of Raleigh International, because I want to widen our debate on sport to include adventure training and recreation, which, like sport, does much to develop an individual's sense of purpose and achievement. Our central objective as politicians is what sport can do for individuals.

When I was the organiser of a sports team in the Army, some people thought that I had become a professional cricket organiser, perhaps to the exclusion of the more military parts of my responsibilities. Much of taking part in sport depends on the enthusiasm, energy and drive of the enablers—the people who give their time voluntarily to organise sport and make it happen for others.

I should like to indulge myself a little with the Minister for Sport. I am sure that he will talk on the phone to Glenn Hoddle before England begin their world cup campaign. If I remember rightly, Germany have not lost a game of football on penalties since being beaten by Czechoslovakia in the European championship final in 1976. England have not won a game on penalties since before Italia 90. Having seen the lackadaisical performance in the recent penalty shoot-out against Belgium, I am horrified that our footballers will not have the skill of burying the ball in the corner of the net at 80 mph honed to perfection, given the likelihood that some of our games will have to be resolved in that way. I should therefore like the Minister for Sport to ask Glenn Hoddle to make sure that those skills are honed to perfection.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Blackley in his speech about the Commonwealth games, have talked about the necessity for international success, which is one of the twin pillars of the Government's policy, which I welcome. However, I hope that we recognise that, in a sense, that aim is subsidiary. We need international success to draw people into sport by example, but our aim as policymakers should be to enable people to take part. A sense of achievement, self-confidence, pride and leadership comes from taking part in sports, particularly team sports.

There has already been much discussion about the changes to the national curriculum, which are unfortunate. I would rather view the discussion in an international context. My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) said that in Germany the school curriculum contains three hours of sport a week. We should aim to do better than that. People who take part in sport and adventurous training activities develop themselves and that helps them achieve success in other areas, including academic subjects.

I accept that the Conservatives' record on playing fields was lamentable and that we should have protected them when we were in government. The blame, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) said, should be shared because it was in the main Labour-controlled authorities that were selling off playing fields. Let us put that behind us and make it clear that from now on we want to increase resources for playing fields, the curriculum and teachers to be used in the organised life of schoolchildren. We should give teachers physical and monetary resources—

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

And recognition.

Mr. Blunt

Indeed. That would give them the enthusiasm to take part and enable children to participate in those activities.

I want to concentrate on the contribution of volunteers, which has not been mentioned. It is they who work, outside the hours of schools and sports clubs—which are, by and large, voluntary—to enable sports and adventure training to take place. I hope that the money that we are taking out of sport by creating a sixth good cause will be replaced by allowing after-school clubs to get money for sport from the New Opportunities Fund.

My great worry is that we have already imposed on people who voluntarily organise activities for young people and others a level of regulation about how to conduct those activities—particularly in adventure training—that is driving many of them simply to give up. Last night, I attended the annual general meeting of Reigate and Banstead district scouts, where I was told that it is becoming more difficult for the scouts to organise outdoor activities, particularly at the more challenging end of the spectrum, for venture scouts. That is true not only for all adventure training pursuits but for sporting pursuits.

People will be killed playing sport and taking part in adventurous training. People will be killed on the rugby field. There will be accidents. What frightens me is that when deaths occur there is a reaction of shock and horror, and the temptation for politicians is to impose a disproportionate level of regulation. By loading that layer of regulation on to people who are giving up their time to organise activities, we make it too difficult for them to bother.

I ask the Minister to review those burdensome regulations and to be sympathetic when he is approached by sports organisations and sports organisers to do so.

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. However, for balance, does he agree that schemes of organisations, such as the Royal Yachting Association, to develop proficiency and train instructors—and to encourage younger people who are good at what they do themselves to become instructors—is a good way of raising standards and participation without imposing the burden of regulation? If he agrees with that, I should like to ask him whether, if he is a dinghy sailor, he would like next Thursday to join the House of Commons team at Westminster boating base? We are still short of one or two crew.

Mr. Blunt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.

My request to re-examine regulation is not a cry for bad practice. Good practice should be led by volunteers themselves, who organise the organisations. It is in their own interests that their sports and recreations should be well organised and safe. Neither the organisers, nor hon. Members nor our joint objectives will be well served if the House tries to legislate, to regulate or to cover every contingency because hon. Members do not want the embarrassment of having to say, "We could have prevented it had we passed legislation or regulations." We have to be prepared to stand up for those people, to enable them to make the fantastic contribution that they do in enabling young people to participate in their sport.

I hope that the interests of volunteers, as the enablers of so much United Kingdom sporting activity, will be at the forefront of the Minister's mind during his tenure in office.

1.41 pm
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

It is perhaps appropriate that this debate should be held on the same day as that classic sporting event, the Oaks, at Epsom. Although I cannot give any guide to this afternoon's form, I know some men and women who can. I am delighted to have within my constituency the headquarters of Ladbroke Racing Ltd., which is playing a crucial role in ensuring that horse racing enthusiasts have high-quality races to enjoy daily.

I draw the House's attention to the United Kingdom's Olympic performance in the past 20 years. In 1980, we finished ninth at the Moscow Olympic games. Five Olympic games on, in 1996, we had plummeted to 36th place. Our decline in medals has been even more dramatic, with the British team winning only one gold medal in Atlanta, compared with five such medals won four years earlier at Barcelona. We won 34 medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympic games; in 1992, at Barcelona, we managed to win only 20. By 1996, at Atlanta, our total medal haul had dropped to only 15.

Against that background—and after listening to what athletes wanted us to provide—the decision to establish the United Kingdom Sports Institute, and the excellent world-class performance programme, offer hope that our decline as a sporting nation will be reversed. Funding of our bobsleigh team undoubtedly helped to provide the right training environment for it to achieve its excellent bronze medal at Nagano.

I pay tribute to the work of Sir Rodney Walker in the past three years at the English Sports Council. The council's funding of the world-class performance programme is helping to provide much-needed support to governing bodies in modernising their infrastructure, systems and services, and in helping them to focus on achieving the international success that we all desire.

I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) on the need to develop sports administration. We have to continue modernising and professionalising our approach in working with elite sportsmen and sportswomen. I hope that the Minister will keep up the pressure on sports governing bodies, to encourage high standards not only in sporting performance and coaching but in management and administration.

I seek specific assurances that my hon. Friend the Minister is monitoring the issues raised by the trial of the former general secretary of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the collapse of the British Athletics Federation. We need to ensure that sports bodies that receive grant in aid money in addition to lottery money use their moneys wisely and are properly financially accountable.

The world-class performance programme is extending opportunities to the most talented sportsmen and sportswomen, identified by sporting bodies, so that we do not rely only on those who, as well as being talented, can afford to compete. I look forward to the development of the programme. Further schemes for supporting talented young people are in the pipeline. We urgently need a talent development system that identifies future medal-winners.

Harrow School of Gymnastics, in my borough, is in an excellent position to help in such a system; in the past 10 years, it has been an excellent nursery for much of British gymnastic talent. It currently has two Olympic prospects in Kanukai Jackson and Paul Morris. Recently, British Gymnastics awarded the school's head coach, Carol Ford, the status of elite coach of the year.

As many of my hon. Friends have said, in the approach to the general election we knew that grass-roots sport in communities and schools was under considerable pressure. In schools, extra-curricular sporting activities had declined by more than three quarters under the Conservatives and, thanks to the previous Government's now notorious policy on playing fields, more than 5,000 fields had been lost. I commend the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) for having the courage to take responsibility for that failure.

I welcome the plans of the Minister for Sport, in conjunction with the Department for Education and Employment, to develop proposals for community sports co-ordinators, to build and support links between schools and sports clubs. I hope that, in his speech, he will detail the progress of those plans.

It is essential that local authorities produce a leisure strategy, setting out their plans to encourage and facilitate sport in their area. Sadly, not every local authority does so. I hope that the Minister will take action to encourage local authorities to develop their sport strategies as a matter of urgency.

Encouraging young people to take up sport is always made easier when high-profile sporting events take place in our country. I commend the Minister for Sport on the excellent campaign that he is waging to host the 2006 world cup. It holds out real hope that, at long last, the world cup will return to Britain.

I support the case for a British Olympic bid. That bid should be for the 2012 games, and should be London based. I urge the Minister, while he is campaigning for the world cup bid, to consider the need now to start actively planning an Olympic bid. Long lead times to develop the sporting stadiums and the Olympic village, and to confront the considerable logistical challenges that such a bid would pose, need to start now. As the Minister said, we have taken a key step along the Olympic route by winning the referendum on the London mayor and Greater London authority. At last, we shall have the political structures to facilitate an effective bid.

We also need to get right the structure of our sports bodies in this country. A strong United Kingdom Sports Council is essential to ensure effective support for our international teams. Such a United Kingdom Sports Council must reflect our commitment to devolving powers to communities where appropriate. A strong UK Sports Council—working by partnership, not diktat—will be crucial in supporting an Olympic bid.

I welcome the Secretary of State's confirmation today that he will consult on a sporting strategy for Britain. I make a special plea to him to consider adventurous outdoor sports as part of that programme. Again, I commend the hon. Member for Reigate for raising that issue. Ofsted's 1996–97 report, published earlier this year, identified continuing weaknesses in provision for outdoor and adventurous activities. For example, according to the British Canoe Union, canoeists continue to be denied access to the overwhelming proportion of waters in Britain.

I commend the Ministers for the excellent start that they have made in the past 12 months. There is much work to be done, but it is in safe hands.

1.49 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

It is a great pleasure to speak at the Dispatch Box when you are in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know of your strong enthusiasm and support for sport. Your son—who is a successful sportsman—and I attended the same school at different times, and it is good to know that you have sporting connections.

I join the tributes rightly paid from both sides of the House to the late Lord Howell. I got to know Denis Howell over the past six years, and particularly well in the past 12 months when I became one of the three deputy chairmen of the all-party sports group. He was a great man and a great sportsman, and I am sure that he would have been pleased by the high calibre of today's debate. The Minister may be interested to know that, on the day that Lord Howell's death was announced, I was on my way to Stamford bridge with my two sons to watch Chelsea beat Sheffield Wednesday. The car radio was tuned in to BBC Radio 4 and at the beginning of the one o'clock news it was announced that Denis Howell had collapsed. The programme was then interrupted to announce that Lord Howell had died, and many tributes were paid to him.

All who knew Denis Howell will acknowledge that we must carry on his work in the House. It is good to see that every member of the all-party sports group has participated in today's debate. I know that Denis Howell would have approved of that. My last memory of him is from just before the Easter recess when he left me a message saying that he agreed with a letter that I had drafted jointly with the hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) to the Secretary of State on the important subject of listed sporting events. Lord Howell said that he was looking forward to seeing us again shortly after Easter, but, sadly, we did not have that meeting.

I must send a message of congratulations to another great sports personality. Hon. Members may have noticed in yesterday's papers that our great Olympian, Sally Gunnell, has had a baby. I gather from the press reports that mother and baby are doing extremely well, and I am sure that all hon. Members send their best wishes to Sally, her husband and their baby.

I turn to the important subjects that have been raised in this debate, and in particular to the concerns expressed on this side of the House. I shall expand upon the remarks of my hon. Friends, and in particular on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) in opening the debate for the Opposition. We believe that the structure of sport in Britain needs further attention. The Secretary of State referred to the recent rather sudden departure of Howard Wells and wished him well in the future. We also send those good wishes, but wonder whether the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the proposed review of the current administrative arrangements requires a radical overhaul of the sports councils so that the governing bodies, member clubs and local authorities can work more efficiently. The Secretary of State and the Minister will be aware that that is the view of the Central Council of Physical Recreation. I am sure that the Minister shares my view that David Oxley and his colleagues at the CCPR, such as Nigel Hook, do a terrific job promoting important issues in sport and furthering the debate.

It is a pleasure to look across the Dispatch Box at the Minister. I do not know whether he remembers, but he followed my maiden speech in the House in 1992 and he will now follow my second appearance at the Dispatch Box. So there is a certain accidental continuity at work. Even though the Minister and I disagree slightly about some issues, as my colleagues said earlier, he is genuinely committed to sport. He is probably the best known football fan in the country and he has carried on the important work of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde to whom I pay tribute and with whom I always enjoy working. It is fair to say that there is much common ground on these issues, but I hope that the Minister will consider the concerns raised by hon. Members, including many Labour Members, in the debate. In particular, at a time when the national governing bodies of sport are being asked to devote more of their energies to developing programmes for youth sport, the sports councils have reduced the levels of grant in aid. Does the Minister agree that the governing bodies of sport deserve that grants be maintained, at least in line with inflation?

I am especially concerned about the position of the British Olympic Association. Unlike most other countries, our Olympic association receives no Government funding and must therefore raise its own funds. It does a fantastic job, raising funds primarily through sponsorship. In addition to the representation of Britain at the Olympic games, the BOA has an extensive education programme in schools, in which I take a particular interest, and uses most of its income to provide services to governing bodies' elite squads.

As the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) rightly said, we are all concerned about the reduction in the number of medals that we have won at recent Olympics. There must come a time when the BOA plays a more central part in the Government's thinking and perhaps in Government funding. I hope that the Minister will deal with that. If we are to bid successfully for a future Olympics and for the world cup, the BOA will as has rightly been said, play a key role.

I echo the comments of several hon. Members about the importance of Paralympic sport. In recent years, there has been widespread support, including support from all parties in the House, for our Paralympic athletes. The Minister is well aware from conversations that we have had on the subject that I have been involved in fund raising for our Paralympic fencers and swimmers. My contact with Paralympic athletes has reinforced my view that we must continuously improve facilities. I know that the current Government are committed to that, as were the previous Government.

I am particularly concerned that all our sporting arenas should be made accessible to Paralympic athletes and spectators. We heard earlier about the importance of ensuring access for the disabled at all our sporting venues. I hope that the Minister will comment on progress in that regard.

I hope that we can continue to improve facilities for sport for all. I agreed with the remarks of the Secretary of State, but it is clear from subsequent interventions and speeches, while he was understandably absent from the Chamber, that there has been a reduction in the Government's commitment to sport in schools. Whatever the Secretary of State, the Minister and Labour Members may say, the decision by the Secretary of State for Education to remove compulsory PE from the core curriculum—the crucial word is core—was a step in the wrong direction.

Chairmen and deputy chairmen of local authority education committees will pay close attention to this debate and will want to know that PE is valued as much by this Government as it was by the previous Government.

Mr. Chris Smith

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give me the chance to clarify the matter once and for all. The distinction that the Opposition are trying to draw between a core curriculum and a non-core curriculum with regard to physical education is fallacious. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment announced that there will be one specified hour of literacy and one specified hour of numeracy in the school day every day in primary schools. There will be flexibility for the school in determining when during the school week the other subjects, including PE, are taught, but there remains a clear requirement for schools to teach it.

Mr. Hawkins

I hear what the Secretary of State says, but it does not wash. None of the sporting bodies accept what he has just said. He does not have to take that from me. He has only to consider all the concerns that have been expressed by all the national sporting bodies about the decision announced by the Secretary of State for Education. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk said, it sends all the wrong signals. It says that this Government, unlike the previous Government, no longer regard PE as fundamental and compulsory. It makes sport discretionary, rather than compulsory.

Mr. Chris Smith

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hawkins

The Secretary of State may shake his head, but he should look at the reaction of the sporting bodies. We know that the Secretary of State lost the battle to the educationists in the Department for Education and Employment. That is what really happened. The Secretary of State's weasel words will not get him out of that.

I turn to a subject on which I agree with the Secretary of State. In this instance, I accept that the right hon. Gentleman and I are singing from the same hymn sheet. The right hon. Gentleman sent his congratulations on the successful first day and best wishes for continuing progress for the England team in the test match. Earlier in the debate there was news from the front—[Interruption.] I gather from the Minister for Sport that the score, when he last received news, was 326 for four.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

It has gone up.

Mr. Hawkins

I understand that it is now 344 for five. As usual, the Conservatives are first with the news and more accurate than Labour.

In getting the score brought to them, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport are following in a great tradition set by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I remember vividly when I happened to be in the House for a meeting in the Committee Room Corridor, long before I was lucky enough to be elected to this place. My right hon. Friend had just become Chief Secretary to the Treasury and was taking his first Finance Bill through Committee in that role. I saw large numbers of civil servants rushing in and out of the Committee Room, and wondered what dramatic developments were taking place.

It happened that one of the civil servants had been a university friend and contemporary. I asked her what all the rushing backwards and forwards was about. She replied, "It's all right. The Chief Secretary just wants to make sure he knows exactly what the current test score is every five minutes." I am sure that the Secretary of State and the Minister will continue to recognise, as was said earlier in the debate, that far more people in this country are interested in sport than in politics. That is something which no politician should ever forget.

It is important that we have these debates, and this has been a good, well-attended debate. The debates show that we as Members take an interest in the interests of those we represent.

I recognise that we need to consider carefully some of the issues that will be of great interest to voters in future. One of those issues is undoubtedly the continuing debate about our national sporting events on television. I think that the Secretary of State would accept that he has delayed his decision on more than one occasion. I was told only a few weeks ago by the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), who cannot be in the Chamber today, that he had been promised by the Secretary of State that the final decision—the right hon. Gentleman's response to his own advisory panel—would be taken by mid to late May. We understand that, yet again, the decision will be delayed for a few weeks. I hope that the decision, when it comes, will be in the interests of all sports enthusiasts.

I say to the Secretary of State that the concern of many Labour Members and that of Members on the Opposition Benches was that the chairman of the advisory panel, Lord Gordon, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the distinguished athlete Steve Cram were all saying that they felt constrained in coming to a particular recommendation by the very tight wording of their remit. They expressed concern that they might have come to different recommendations if the wording of their remit had been different. The Secretary of State may be needing to reflect for longer partly because of that wording and what was said publicly by the three individuals to whom I have referred. I see the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). He was present at the all-party sports group meeting.

Mr. Reed

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hawkins

I certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Reed

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the wording meant that for test cricket, for example, the decision that would be made was inevitable because of the criteria? Does the hon. Gentleman agree also that, especially for rugby, the idea that next year's rugby world cup at Cardiff, if we had an England-New Zealand final or even an England-Wales final, would have no "national resonance", as the report states, is plainly ridiculous?

Mr. Hawkins

I know that the hon. Gentleman has forcefully made those comments to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport. We shall hear in due course when the Secretary of State finally makes up his mind.

The constant delay in making important decisions is starting to become rather typical of the Secretary of State's stewardship of his current responsibilities. We had exactly the same thing with the UK Sports Institute. The Minister for Sport, within a couple of months of his appointment was saying, "It will not take too long to reach a decision." He was giving answers in the House stating that a decision would be made in August of last year. August went by, followed by September, October and November, and no decision was made. Finally, in December, we got the decision.

Those of us with long memories, who remember the disaster and cost overruns of the world student games in Sheffield, might be slightly concerned that history is repeating itself. However, we all want a national centre of sporting excellence. Conservative Members have repeatedly expressed concerns that too little prominence was being given to team sports and that the Secretary of State was perhaps reducing the importance of involving team sports like cricket and rugby union in the new national centre of excellence. We want it to succeed—make no bones about that.

We are extremely concerned, however, that since the decision was made there has been little further progress. Written answers that my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk received recently have made it clear that no contracts have been put out to tender. Nothing has been done except an announcement that the main academy would be in Sheffield and that there would then be some regional ones. It is taking far too long. The Secretary of State has continued to suggest that the academy will have a positive effect on the performance of our Olympic team in Sydney in 2000, but it will now not even open until 2000.

The Government must therefore recognise that sporting bodies, as well as hon. Members on both sides of the House interested in sport, want much more progress made more quickly. I know that the Secretary of State and the Minister want to attract major sporting events to this country. The Secretary of State referred to the team of Bobby Charlton and Tony Banks getting the world cup for Britain—[Interruption.] As the Minister says, it might have been a better team had it consisted of Bobby Charlton and Gordon Banks, but I was quoting the Secretary of State. It causes me grave concern to read in the press that the way in which the decision for the venue of the World cup in 2006 will be reached is by the different candidates for the presidency of FIFA trading off different countries' support, with candidates saying, "We shall definitely give it to Africa" to ensure that they get the African nations' support for their candidacy.

I am sure that the Minister will reflect that grave concern in his campaign. We do not want such horse trading. Everyone knows that that often happens in major international events, given their commercial significance, but I am sure that the Minister and the Secretary of State share our grave concern about it.

I wanted to take up some of the other points made in the debate because we have heard some good speeches. Many sporting bodies have expressed the concern about sponsorship. We all understand that the Government have their views on tobacco sponsorship, but, in a debate on sport we should ensure that the sporting bodies whom the Government say will have their main source of sponsorship taken away—sports as diverse as snooker and showjumping—will have a proper replacement. In the past, the Secretary of State promised a task force. The sporting bodies need to know when that task force will meet to help sports that were previously supported by tobacco sponsorship find alternative non-tobacco sponsors. They are concerned that, once again, little progress seems to have been made. Like so many announcements from the Government, there are many fine words but no progress follows.

Concern has also been expressed about the decision to chip away at the additionality principle of funding from the lottery. The Secretary of State said today that the sporting bodies would get what they thought they would get. However, the sporting bodies legitimately expected that, given that the national lottery introduced by the previous Government was more successful than anybody anticipated, they would benefit from the extra money raised. Instead, the Government have decided to take away that extra money to subsidise core Government programmes, thus undermining the additionality principle. Submission after submission from sporting bodies has stressed that continuing concern.

In the few remaining minutes, I wish to reinforce one or two concerns that were expressed by other speakers. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) spoke about the importance of continuing to provide opportunities for minor sporting clubs to take advantage of funding. He rightly referred to his pleasure at seeing his team, Cheltenham Town, appear at Wembley. The opportunity for smaller clubs to appear in the play-offs has been a great success. The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen), whose kind words I appreciated, and I were lucky enough to see the wonderful first division play-off game between Charlton and Sunderland, which was probably the finest football match that I have ever seen. It ended in a four-all draw with the first 12 penalties all being scored. Everyone contributed to the great success of that game, but we want small sporting clubs around the country to be supported, whether through their own success or by their success in obtaining lottery grants.

We want school sport to continue to be supported, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) rightly made clear, and we want the concerns of the fans to be responded to, as my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) said. We must ensure that sport is considered as part of the health strategy in this nation: as my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) rightly made clear, people are coming out of 10 or more years of compulsory state education far less fit than people in the 1950s and 1960s. The Army has to provide remedial training for recruits, because they simply are not fit enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poole rightly said, 48 per cent. of men and 40 per cent. of women are regarded as overweight. In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate mentioned the importance of widening the debate to include adventure training in sport.

This has been an excellent debate. I look forward to the Minister's response to our concerns, and to his reflecting on the fact that there must be more action, not only words.

2.10 pm
The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)

May I say straight away that the score is 333 for five? No doubt it will change as I make my speech.

I thank the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) for his kind words and constructive approach, which has characterised the debate. Of course there are differences of opinion between us, and some things have been said that we may find a little harsh, but, as debates in this place go, the sports debate is one of the better ones.

Yet again, I have been given an impossible task in my winding-up speech: I have to try to cover all points in 19 minutes. Hon. Members whose points I do not address can be assured that I shall write to them to answer as far as I can.

I join the tribute paid to the late Lord Howell by hon. Members on both sides of the House. He is an impossible act to follow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) reminded me that I said on my appointment that becoming the Minister for Sport was like going to heaven without the inconvenience of dying. I have discovered that there is more than a little bit of hell involved in the job and there are a considerable number of frustrations. First, I am not in a position to take the executive action that hon. Members continually demand that I should, because I simply do not have the power. I do not like delays any more than any hon. Member, but there are a lot of frustrations in this job: For aspiring candidates, I shall quickly run through the litany.

First, about £50 million comes into the Department for sport, and £49 million goes out immediately to the Sports Councils, which operate an arm's-length policy and carry out the fun decisions that we spend our time winning elections to achieve. I am the Minister for Sport, but sports policy and activities are involved in the following Departments: Education and Employment—crucially, as we have heard so often in the debate; Environment, Transport and the Regions; Defence; the Foreign Office; the Home Office; Trade and Industry; International Development; and Health. Add to that 112 recognised sports, 413 governing bodies, five Sports Councils and four Ministers with sports responsibilities, and I hope that my hon. Friends will appreciate the complexity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said that the politics of sport are more complicated and dangerous than Westminster politics. I appreciate that, probably more than anyone. Enough elephant traps are being dug for even the most careful of Ministers to avoid. I certainly could not be accused of being especially careful.

Sports politics presents a byzantine complexity that would have made Machiavelli take up macramé. I should dearly love to knock heads together, and I can assure hon. Members that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are determined to do what we can to secure greater coherence in sport in this country and to secure a strategic plan for United Kingdom sport—but the obstacles are enormous.

I see no reason why I should use honeyed words, so I shall be honest with the House. One of the reasons is that I am the political equivalent of a tea boy. It is an honourable task, but it is not an overpowerful situation. It is a job which is heavy on influence, I accept, but light on executive authority. Essentially, I see my job as being an advocate for sport inside and outside Government, with the greater emphasis being on the internal aspects of the job.

The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who has gone to his constituency—we accept that—referred to the problems of horse racing. That is a matter for the Home Office, not for the Minister for Sport, although I clearly have an interest. I certainly have an interest in the Derby. The hon. Gentleman wanted a tip and I will give him one: Second Empire; put a few quid on it.

Other hon. Members referred to the imposition of value added tax on a number of sports-related activities. We all know that that is a matter for the Treasury. On the 12.5 per cent. take from the lottery by the Treasury, I now know what,"It's you!" means. As far as I can work out it means, "It's you, Chancellor of the Exchequer", every single week. However, that was a decision that the Conservative party made when in government, so there is not much point Conservative Members whingeing about it now. I can assure the House that my Department has made, and will continue to make, representations to the Chancellor on sport. Personally, I believe that we should devote more of our national resources to sport. It is one of the finest investments that we can make because it is an investment in youth, fitness, health, education and achievement.

The vital element of my job is to campaign for more resources. As we all know, the Chancellor is notoriously tight with our national resources. I often get the feeling that he sits in the Treasury at night counting the money himself, and a very good job he is making of it. If we are to get more resources for sport, we need to make a case in the House for sport. Through debates such as this, which show the all-party consensus that exists throughout so much of sport policy, we can win politically the case for sport, pushing it higher up the agenda and, therefore, enabling us to get greater resources.

I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), who said that sport was in crisis in this country. Frankly, that is nonsense. The lottery has transformed sport at all levels since its inception. To date, some £812 million has been spent or pledged to more than 4,000 projects in the United Kingdom. That is money that would have been undreamt of four years ago. If one had said then that in four years' time sport would have had £812 million handed out to it, people would have thought that one had escaped from a lunatic asylum. Now, that money has been discounted, as often happens; I understand that. People say, "Yes, fine, we know all about that, but what about some more?" and I understand that as well. With all that money going into sport now, it is bordering on the grotesque to describe sport as being in crisis. That money is making a fundamental difference to sport in this country and I am pleased to acknowledge the role of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) in getting the lottery up and running, supported by many Labour Members when we were in opposition.

A number of hon. Members mentioned giving an undertaking on sport continuing to be one of the good causes in the lottery. All that I can do is to repeat my assurance that the Government have no plans to alter funding of existing good causes before 2001 or, indeed, beyond it. I must tell the House—I want hon. Members to listen carefully to this—that if there were any proposals to remove sport as a lottery good cause, I would stand down as Minister for Sport. Indeed, under those circumstances there would be precious little need for such a Minister. What more can I say to try to reassure Conservative Members?

The hon. Member for West Suffolk mentioned the bipartisan approach in sport, and I welcome that. Of course, we have differences, but we all share a common concern for the good and the advancement of sport, which is something that sport should welcome. That shows the House at its most constructive and best. We all want sports activities to flourish at all levels of our society, from primary schools right through to the Olympic podium. Indeed, if sport is not flourishing in the primary schools, we can forget any achievement at the Olympic podium. We will get one or two geniuses coming through, but we will not get the consistent success rate that the House and the country demand.

Mr. Bercow

In the light of those remarks, does the Minister believe that there should be an irreducible minimum number of hours available to primary school children for sport?

Mr. Banks

An irreducible minimum is an interesting concept. Three hours seems to be the norm—it is consistent with what applies in those countries that we regard as our sporting competitors—and that is the figure that I would have in mind. That is only a minimum, however. I should like to see far more.

I hope that the House has been reassured by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the national curriculum. We are making it absolutely clear that sport remains compulsory in the curriculum. The national curriculum for primary schoolchildren has been relaxed to ensure that our numeracy and literacy targets can be met, but there is no way that primary schools should stop teaching all the other subjects. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is advising us on how we can maintain a curriculum that not only is broad and balanced, but allows us to meet our important numeracy and literacy targets.

On the UK Sports Institute—I apologise to the House for gabbling through my speech—yes, there has been delay, but we make no apologies for that. We have waited for years—indeed, for generations—for a proper focus for elite sport, and the Government are determined to get it right. When I was advancing various dates, I said that they would move if we believed that the proposals were not right.

I do not want delay as a matter of course, but I am not prepared to rush the decision, which must be right. We have set dates, however. We said that, by 30 June, the corporate structure for the ownership and management of the UK Sports Institute headquarters would be agreed; we said that we would progress to interim lottery application by 31 May—that has been done—and to full application by 31 October. We also said that, by 30 September, we would commence implementation of the UK Sports Institute programme of support for selected athletes.

Progress is being made, much of which involves negotiation of contractual arrangements. If one is not always saying that progress is being made, the House should not assume that nothing is being done. If nothing is being done, I wonder why I am working so damned hard running around all over the place.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

So do we.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman says, "So do we." He is a latecomer to our feast, but his presence is none the less welcome. In fact, much is being done. Conservative Members should not assume that, in the absence of announcements, there is a lack of activity.

Much is going on in our schools, particularly our junior schools. I pay tribute to the Youth Sports Trust for all its Tops initiatives in providing equipment to primary schools. It needs more resources, and we are trying to find ways in which to give them more, but I pay great tribute to Sue Campbell, the director, and to John Beckwith, the chairman, who is putting a lot of his personal money into the trust—such people are doing much for sport in this country, and we pay due tribute to them. However, we must always acknowledge the vital role that the Government have to play.

The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) made a robust, eloquent and, I thought, dangerous speech about world cup tickets. I mean that it was dangerous for me, as I should not get involved in the subject—I know a poisoned chalice when I am offered one, and I do not intend to sup from it this afternoon. The Government have been making representations to the French authorities about ticket allocation since we first learned about it only in February. The Football Association, backed by the Government, pressed for an increase in Britain's original allocation of 9,128 tickets for the first three matches—I accept that that figure was ridiculous and pathetic. I spoke to the French Minister Mrs. Buffet on a number of occasions and registered the Government's strongest feelings about the problem. As hon. Members will know, the allocation was increased to 14,800. That is a 60 per cent. increase, which sounds like a lot, but 14,800 does not even begin to match the demand in this country, especially as the official FA travelling club has 32,000 members.

There were never going to be enough tickets to go round, but it would be wrong to blame only the French, as some of our newspapers have. FIFA, the national football associations, Governments and agents must all take a share of the blame. Ticket allocation is a mess, and one larded with injustice. Hon. Members who saw the recent Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme will realise how alarming the situation is if only half the programme was true. It probably was only half. The Government have acted quickly. Yesterday, my colleagues in the DTI moved against Great Portland Entertainments which had to tried to sell tickets that it did not have and which it was not authorised to sell.

It is no consolation to me to say that the problem is essentially out of my hands. We are determined to use our influence to ensure that it does not happen again. If we secure the 2006 world cup, I assure the House that it will not. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to hon. Members for the nice things that they said about my involvement in the 2006 campaign. It is a relatively easy part of my job because it has a clear objective. It is well focused and well funded.

Mr. Chris Smith

It is all over the world.

Mr. Banks

As my right hon. Friend says, it is all over the world. That is the way it goes. Even my colleagues are cynical. I pay tribute to Alec McGivan, the director of the 2006 campaign, and his staff, and to our three football ambassadors, especially to my good friend Sir Bobby Charlton. I also pay tribute to the chairman of the FA, Keith Wiseman, and Graham Kelly, its chief executive.

Mr. Stringer

Does my hon. Friend agree that the expectation, and reality, of a successful Commonwealth games will only add to a successful bid for the 2006 world cup?

Mr. Banks

I could not agree more. If I get the time, I hope to say a few words on the Commonwealth games in Manchester, which we all want to be a great success. We must ensure that they are, for the city and, more importantly, the country.

Our campaign for 2006 is going well; we are in front. I have great pleasure in telling the House that this morning the English FA publicly endorsed Sepp Blatter as our candidate for the presidency of FIFA. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath asked about the 24 members of FIFA. The crucial vote is on Monday. Keep an eye on it, because we believe that Mr. Blatter would be more impartial on our bid than Mr. Johansson.

The UK Sports Council was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) and for Stalybridge and Hyde. I also pay tribute to Howard Wells, who is standing down as chief executive, and to Sir Rodney Walker for standing in so well as acting chair. Howard is a friend. We see eye to eye on the problems of British sport. The council's future structure has taxed me greatly. The Secretary of State and I advanced a proposal to our ministerial colleagues in the other home countries. In the light of their opinions, we have amended our proposals and will submit them.

All that has to be done by negotiation and agreement. It is time consuming, but, again, we are again determined to get it right. Subject to no sudden, unexpected difficulties, we are optimistic that a full statement on the future structure and funding of the UKSC, and the announcement of a new chairman and pro-tern chief executive will be made this month. It will be responsible for giving our fragmented sports structure a UK dimension and for the world-class performance programme on which we depend so much for future medal success. However, the programme will have to be in place for at least 10 years for us to see the continuing benefit that it will produce. The UKSC will be responsible, as at present, for the overall policy direction of the UK Sports Institute. It will be our main vehicle for attracting major international sports events.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) mentioned the Commonwealth games in 2002. The English Sports Council has committed, I think, £113 million so far. We will continue to discuss and monitor outstanding problems as they arise. The games must succeed. We all understand their importance.

On the Olympic games, it is the British Olympic Association which will make the bid. The Government want it to make a bid. Opinion seems to be coalescing around a date of 2012. The location is for the BOA and the International Olympic Committee. Ultimately, I get the impression that the BOA is only prepared to nominate London. We have to accept that, because the IOC has made it clear as well.

My final point, although there are many that I want to raise, is about medal success in the Olympic games. The one area in which we remain successful is the Paralympics, and we are doing tremendously well. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde rightly, and generously, pointed out that that is a passion of mine. I maintain close contact with the British Paralympic Association, which will be an integral part of the UK Sports Institute.

Yesterday, I helped launch a campaign by Scope, the organisation for people with cerebral palsy. Their survey, "Shouting from the sidelines: disabled children on sport", is a poignant record of what the kids say. A kid with physical disabilities said that his best day was when he scored a goal. In other months, his worst days were when he had to watch other boys at school play football and he could not join in although he wanted to. Whatever one's disability, sport offers liberation. The Government, supported by the Opposition and by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath, will make sure that disabled sport gets the resources it richly deserves.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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