HC Deb 29 June 1998 vol 315 cc6-7
5. Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest)

How his Department is working with the social exclusion unit to ensure sport plays a role in combating social exclusion. [46315]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)

My Department is working closely with the social exclusion unit. The last meeting took place as recently as 16 June. We see great potential for sport to play a part and we have already announced that we are working on a comprehensive strategy on sport which will, among other areas, address the problems of social exclusion. Sport is a great motivator, as we can see at the moment; it has a role to play in youth social inclusion.

Mr. Lock

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Football Association has taken great strides over the years to foster social inclusion through having schools of excellence for young footballers in clubs throughout the country? However, will he join me in expressing dismay at the FA's recent decision to limit schools of excellence to premiership and league clubs, thus leaving conference clubs such as Kidderminster Harriers in my constituency out in the cold? The 165 boys at that club will have no school from next year. Will my hon. Friend join me in urging the FA to think again and use his office to encourage it to take a broad approach towards tackling social exclusion in football through schools of excellence?

Mr. Banks

Obviously, football has a great role to play in programmes for social inclusion and I share my hon. Friend's disappointment that the Kidderminster Harriers club was not granted a licence to operate as an FA centre of excellence. However, that is a matter for the FA, and the technical control board that is responsible decided, for a variety of reasons, that it would not recognise Kidderminster Harriers' scheme.

I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning, and I am more than ready to use my good offices to bring together my hon. Friend, the Football Association and Kidderminster Harriers so that we can explore that matter. We want football to flourish in Kidderminster and elsewhere. It was a great disappointment that, three years ago, Kidderminster was unable to join the football league because of its inability to meet the ground requirements. I shall certainly use my good offices to assist my hon. Friend and his club, and he is doing a great job in assisting it in the House today.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Is the Minister not embarrassed by the fact that, last week, the Secretary of State introduced a new form of potential social exclusion—the social exclusion of those who are keen on test cricket, who may well be unable in future to watch it on terrestrial television? As someone who, as a Back Bencher, was a scourge of the tabloidisation of British politics, does the Minister not recognise that two days of adverse headlines have resulted in a wanton act of appeasement of the main proprietor of the tabloid?

Mr. Banks

I could never be disappointed in the actions of my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman has a strange approach to this issue. Sky Television criticised my right hon. Friend's decision, while the British Broadcasting Corporation broadly welcomed it. Most importantly, the England and Wales Cricket Board welcomed the decision. Hon. Members must understand that the problem is how we get more resources into cricket while maintaining the maximum access through television. The money that the ECB will receive through Sky if the deals go ahead will enable cricket to be developed at school, county and local levels, which is why the Secretary of State made the right decision. It was a brave decision, but I am sure that it will lead to the development of greater cricketing ability in this country, which, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees, we desperately need.

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