HC Deb 29 March 1999 vol 328 cc711-2
1. Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

What recent representations he has received concerning the status of chess in the UK. [77368]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)

I have in recent months received a number of representations on chess from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and from members of the public, and all of them have been in favour of chess being classified as a sport. Hon. Members will be aware of my strong support for chess and of my recent announcement that, at the earliest parliamentary opportunity, we intend to amend existing legislation so that chess can be "recognised" as a sport.

Maria Eagle

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and welcome very much the support that he has shown for reclassifying chess as a sport. Does he agree that chess is an excellent pursuit in which boys and girls and men and women may learn concentration, strategy and tactics? Does he also agree that it is an excellent pursuit for children in after-school clubs—where it may have an immediate impact by increasing our younger children's concentration in school?

Mr. Banks

Both the Secretary of State and I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's view, which has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that chess is enormously valuable not only to young people, but to all people—although it does seem to be a sport that is better played the younger one is. We have an 11-year-old champion—Jessie Gilbert, from Croydon—who was the youngest adult winner of the world championships, which was absolutely amazing. We have 50,000 children playing chess in clubs across the country. Furthermore, the new opportunities fund offers another opportunity for chess to be taken into after-school clubs. There are, therefore, plenty of opportunities. Chess is a wonderful British success story in sport. We should recognise it as a sport, as do 11 of our partners in the European Union.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given the hon. Gentleman's reported remark that chess should be reclassified as a sport because we are very good at it", will he explain to the House how chess meets the requirement of the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937, which stipulates that, to be categorised as a sport, an activity should necessitate some physical—as distinct from mental—effort?

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman—who does a very good impression of a small pawn in the House—makes a point. I said only inter alia that we should recognise chess as a sport because we are good at it. Although that does not seem to be a bad reason for recognising it as a sport, there are many other reasons why we should do so. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right in saying that it does not meet the definition of a sport under the 1937 Act—which is precisely why I said that we shall seek the earliest parliamentary opportunity to amend that Act.

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