HC Deb 10 November 2000 vol 356 cc551-619

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)

There is a tendency in this country to exaggerate the significance for our sport of the last set of results. We win a test match, and the press writes up our cricketers as world beaters. We lose at football, and the mood swings to the other extreme. It is good to be able to report that we are holding the debate at a time when there is more considered and justified optimism about the future of British sport than there has been for a long time past.

That hopeful outlook has, of course, in part been brought about by the excellent performance of our Olympic and Paralympic teams in Sydney. Britain won 28 Olympic medals, including 11 gold medals. It was our best performance since 1920, and better even than the "Chariots of Fire" Olympic games in Paris in 1924. Our Paralympic team won 131 medals, including 41 gold, to finish second in the global medal table. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in congratulating all our Olympic and Paralympic competitors. The medal winners deserve particular praise, but we should also acknowledge all those who posted new personal best performances in Sydney or beat other sporting records. We should not forget the coaches and the performance directors, who prepared our athletes to produce their peak performance at exactly the right time.

I want also to congratulate the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association. Winning performances in competition need strong administrative support behind the scenes. There has been widespread and justified praise for the efficient and professional way in which they organised their teams. The support that our competitors received was much envied by other countries taking part.

We have done well in Sydney, and there have been other good sporting performances this year. Winning the test series against the West Indies was a highlight, as was Lennox Lewis's world heavyweight boxing title. In other sports, Yvonne McGregor became women's cycling pursuit world champion, Cassie Campion the women's squash world open champion, Yvette Baker was world orienteering champion, and we gained honours in the rowing world championships in the men's eights and the women's lightweight coxless pairs. However, we cannot be complacent. British sport can do better.

Make no mistake about it: sporting success is important. It lifts morale and brings the country together. Most important, it captures the imagination of our young people and encourages them to swap playstations for playing fields.

Let us look to the future. Our competitors surpassed our expectations in Sydney, and we want them to do even better at the Commonwealth games in 2002 and at the next Olympics and Paralympics in Athens. That is a tall order. As I have said, our Paralympians were second in the medal table, and there is only one way to improve on that. Our Olympic team will have its work cut out to improve on its impressive 10th place in the table. However, that must be one of our aims over the next 10 years.

Our main hope for the future is the young talent that is now emerging. One fine example among many is Lloyd Upsdell, who at 17 won two gold medals and one silver medal at the Paralympic games, and is a great prospect for the future. A number of other young competitors did not win medals this time round but did exceptionally well and have demonstrated rich potential for future championships across a range of sports. Examples might be Christian Malcolm, who was fifth in the 200 metres at the Sydney Olympics and who is only 21; Joe Glanfield, who also is only 21, and Nick Rogers, who is 23, who came fourth in the 470 class in sailing; and Stuart Bowman, who is 25 and came fourth in the canoe slalom.

There are many young athletes who did not go this time but hold real hope for the future. There is the exceptional Mark Lewis-Francis, the 18-year-old sprinter who qualified for Sydney but chose not to go this time in order to concentrate on the world junior championships in Chile. He and his advisers felt that that was best for his long-term development. It paid off in the short term too, as he won two gold medals at the world juniors, in the 100 metres and in the 4 x 100 metres relay.

All of these emerging sports stars benefit from funding from the national lottery through programmes such as the world class performance programme. In total, in the three years leading up to Sydney, our Olympic and Paralympic sportsmen and sportswomen have received more than £60 million in lottery awards from the UK programme. In addition, the home country sports councils also provide lottery support to our top athletes in home country-based sports through the Sport England world class programme, Wales's elite Cymru, and Scotland's and Northern Ireland's talented athlete programmes.

Our medal winners and others have acknowledged the enormous difference that funding has made to them. They can concentrate on training, instead of having to spend time fundraising. Many are now able to be full-time athletes and do not have to fit in their preparation around another job. Teams were able to train in conditions similar to those in which they would compete at Sydney: for example, our highly successful sailing squad derived enormous benefit from being able to train in Sydney harbour.

It is clear that the support we have provided through the world class programmes must continue if we are to build on the success at Sydney; that is why I have guaranteed that the funding will at least be maintained through the next Olympic cycle. We shall continue to invest in the success of our top competitors. That was confirmed by the sports cabinet on 6 October, at which it was agreed to continue the world class performance programme at least at its current level of funding. That will provide UK sport with £100 million over the next four years for the UK element of the programme, and provide the long-term assurance that sports have been seeking to enable them to plan with more confidence about the overall budget available over the period.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Everyone will endorse and applaud the Secretary of State's comments, but can I make a specific proposal on how to bring forward young talents and ensure that they can benefit from the regime? The other day, I spoke to a young boxer in my constituency, Matthew Thirlwall, who is an Amateur Boxing Association finalist. Just as we invite people to put forward names for honours and peerages, could we not invite people, through the press, to nominate people of every age—or invite people to nominate themselves—who have the potential to be champions or world-class athletes and swimmers; those who come through the system would be examined to see whether they qualified for the support, financial backing and professional encouragement that they need. It strikes me that such a general appeal would be likely to reach even more talent than the current system reaches.

Mr. Smith

That is an interesting idea and I shall certainly follow it up. Later, I shall make a proposal about the way in which sports governing bodies can and should work to identify new talent as it emerges. I hope that our work on school sport and specialist sports colleges will also help to identify potential stars of the future. However, an open invitation nomination process might well be a useful addition to the mix.

Successful as we have been, it is not enough simply to carry on as before. The world moves on, and a standard of performance that would have put us well up the medal table in Barcelona would have left us among the also-rans in Sydney. That is one reason why the achievement of our teams was so admirable, but we have to develop the programme. We have to make sure that world class funding reaches the right people, that it is efficiently administered and equitably distributed and that it gives the maximum benefit in terms of enhancing the performance of our leading competitors.

That is why the Prime Minister and I have asked our right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to lead a review of the world class programme's structure and funding and the relationship with the developments taking place with the UK Sports Institute. My right hon. Friend will be helped by a small group of top athletes and other experts to report back by mid-2001. I hope to be in a position to provide further details of the review and of the membership of the group soon. My right hon. Friend has asked me to convey his apologies for the fact that he is unable to attend today's debate.

The establishment of the United Kingdom Sports Institute, with its network of centres throughout the country, will provide much needed first-class training facilities, together with medical and other services, to provide our top performers with the sort of support that they have never had before. It will sit alongside the world class performance support for individual athletes. The facilities will be of value not only to Olympic and Paralympic sports, but to sports such as cricket, football and rugby, which are interested in supporting the development of the institute and foresee themselves becoming major users.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

Will the Secretary of State publish the terms of the review headed by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)?

Mr. Smith

Yes. I shall ensure that, when we publish full details of those who are to assist my right hon. Friend in the review, we also publish the exact terms of the task they are being asked to perform. Through a press notice, we have already made public the basic purposes of the review.

We expect that the early introduction of services and the continuous development of facilities at UKSI network sites over the next two years will enable the UKSI to contribute progressively to the development of our talented athletes and to improve performance. We have made a commitment to ensure that the UKSI is fully operational by the summer of 2002.

Recruitment of the key staff of the UKSI central services team has been completed. From this month, sports will have access to the technical, operational and programme support provided through the team. Already, across the UK as a whole, the athlete career and education programme is up and running, providing personal development courses to athletes to meet their individual needs, as well as a high-performance coaching programme, which has been introduced to provide a range of sport and coach-specific personalised programmes, from information technology skills to specific training sessions.

The establishment of the English Institute of Sport—the English element of the UKSI—moves on apace. The badminton centre in Milton Keynes, the aquatics centre and velodrome in Manchester and the ice centre in Nottingham are already available to athletes. In May-June this year, the water-based hockey pitches in Birmingham and Cannock became among the first completed new projects. Detailed designs and project development work have been undertaken for the network sites at Sheffield, Manchester, Bath and Loughborough. The stage 2 lottery application for athletics, judo, netball, table tennis and general facilities at Sheffield has already been approved.

I concede it has taken longer than we originally hoped to begin establishing the UKSI, but, at the outset of our Government, we took a hugely important decision, which was that—unlike the previous proposal—the UKSI should not be entirely concentrated in one central location, but should be based at 10 or 12 regional sites, forming a network throughout the country. That was the right decision. It was pressed on us by athletes and sports men and women themselves, and we are now in the midst of ensuring its delivery.

To date, more than £50 million of new lottery funding has been committed by Sport England for additional facilities for the English network. It is expected that the majority of the remaining lottery applications, representing more than £60 million of further investment in network facilities in England, will be made in the next six months. Once the full building programme has been completed, more than 80 facilities will make up the English Institute of Sport network. In terms of the services to be provided through the English network centres, interim arrangements are planned to be in place this month, with the full service becoming available by April 2001 in the majority of the regions.

The UKSI Scottish Institute of Sport, funded by Sport Scotland, has been established and operating for 18 months. The Sports Council for Wales has been operating and developing UKSI Cymru for some time. Both have been providing a range of services directly to athletes, including technical training and support, conditioning guidance and supervision, preventive and reactive sports medical support and sports science.

The Sports Council for Northern Ireland has identified the university of Ulster as its preferred partner to develop in partnership the UKSI network for Northern Ireland. Initial principles of agreement have been signed by both parties, and work is under way to identify the most appropriate format to operate the network centre.

I am the first to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by our athletes' performance in Sydney. All the experts were telling us that the real benefits of the investment from the world class performance programme for the development of the UKSI would not be seen until the 2004 games at the earliest. However, individual athletes excelled themselves and built on the modest support that was already available to them. We now want to improve that modest support. The experts are right when they say that developing excellence in sport needs a long-term commitment.

It was with a view to the long term that we published our sports strategy document, "A Sporting Future for All", in April this year. There we set out a comprehensive vision for the future development of sport in this country. The document sets out the changes that we think are necessary to improve performance at the top level, but it emphasises the need to strengthen sport at every level. Our Olympic competitors stand at the tip of a pyramid that is made up of millions who take part in sport just for fun, who take part in representative sport at local or county level, or who are just beginning to progress to representative competition. What ends up on the Olympic podium starts in the local park, recreation ground, club or school.

A first requirement is to increase participation in all parts of the community, with a special emphasis—it must be a special emphasis—on school sport. That is worth doing in its own right. Taking part in sport brings a range of benefits to physical and mental health, it helps to integrate people into their communities, it teaches valuable life and social skills, and not least, it is a source of great enjoyment. Increasing participation also increases the size of the pool from which we identify those with the talent to progress further.

For most of us, our attitude to sport is shaped at school. It is there that we get the first chance to try out a range of sports, there that we receive our first coaching in the skills and tactics of the sport of our choice, and there that we first have the opportunity to take part in competitive matches—or it should be, and it used to be, but for too many years now competitive sport in our schools has been allowed to decline.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the main reason why competitive sport declined was that so many Labour party activists said that competition in education was bad? [Interruption.] It had nothing to do with policies on the sale of school playing fields. The main reason was Labour activists saying that competition is bad for children. I know that the Government have rejected that now, but it was the main reason.

Mr. Smith

No, I do not agree. There were two main reasons for the decline in school sport. One was that, under the previous Government, school playing fields were sold off at an enormous rate.

Mr. Hawkins

By Labour local authorities.

Mr. Smith

Prompted by the issuing of circulars by the Conservative Department of the Environment, which effectively instructed local authorities to sell them off.

The other reason why competitive sport in schools declined was that, when the teachers were in dispute with the then Government back in the late 1980s, and the Government failed to resolve the disputes that they had with the teachers, many teachers throughout the country withdrew from taking part in after-school and weekend sporting activity. That caused a real decline in inter-school competition. We are trying to put that right.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Smith

I shall give way in a moment. Let me finish with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) first.

Those two facts do not excuse a number of daft people from all political parties who have said at various times in the past that competition was somehow bad for children. That denied children opportunities that they ought to have had. There is no excuse for that, but it is not the main reason why school sport went into such decline.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given the Government's pledge to end the sales of school playing fields—sales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) rightly points out, that were overwhelmingly undertaken by Labour local authorities—how does the right hon. Gentleman justify the fact that, in the 15 months to 6 January this year, the Government had approved 101 out of 103 applications for the sale of school playing fields? Does that not prove that in this, as in other matters, the right hon. Gentleman speaks with forked tongue?

Mr. Smith

No. I shall deal with the specific point in a moment or two. The figures show that, under the Tory Government, the rate of sales of school playing fields averaged 40 per month around the country. It now averages five per month. That is still too many, and we are still not doing well enough, but it is a dramatic improvement on the previous situation.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

Does the Secretary of State agree that, in addition to the two reasons that he identified for the decline in school sport, there is a third—the Government's over-emphasis on academic achievement in schools, which is cutting out time for sport?

Mr. Smith

No. The Government are rightly putting a special emphasis on the development of numeracy and literacy skills. That emphasis is showing through in remarkably improved results for both literacy and numeracy in our schools. However, that must not diminish pupils' sporting and artistic activity. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment confirmed within the past few months that physical education, as well as music, drama and art, are part of the statutory curriculum which must be taught to children in every school in the country.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth


Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

I call Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

Mr. Ainsworth

Peter Ainsworth, Madam Deputy Speaker. Robert Ainsworth is a Government Whip, and I am not.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State. On the subject of school playing fields, the right hon. Gentleman repeated the old line that the Conservatives were selling off 40 playing fields a month. Is he aware that the basis for that oft-repeated allegation is a report conducted by the Central Council of Physical Recreation in September 1984? Labour Members have extrapolated from that 1984 report the rate throughout the entire period of the Conservative Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider that allegation, which is utterly bogus?

Mr. Smith

No, because that is not the only evidence. We know from local authority after local authority around the country that the rate of school playing fields sales continued right through the 1980s and early 1990s. The extrapolation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is entirely valid, as the rate of sale did not perceptibly diminish in any part of the country.

Mr. Ainsworth


Madam Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Peter Ainsworth.

Mr. Ainsworth

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I say unequivocally that too many playing fields were sold off over the past 20 years. There is no question about that. The Secretary of State should acknowledge that Labour authorities played a prominent role in that process. He says that it is not the only evidence. It is the only evidence evinced in a written answer by the then Minister responsible for school standards, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), in support of the allegation about 40 playing fields a month being sold off.

Mr. Chris Smith

There was no new information in that intervention, even though it allowed the nomenclature to be corrected. Of course, Labour local authorities conducted some of the sales, partly because the overwhelming majority of local authorities were under Labour control. However, they acted within a framework of guidance, advice and instruction from the then Department of the Environment. The circulars that the Tory Government issued through the Department of the Environment effectively forced local authorities to sell off playing fields. We have reversed that policy, and established the double-lock process, which involves both planning and educational requirements. The measures introduced by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department for Education and Employment have been important in slowing the sales of sports pitches.

Mr. Hawkins


Mr. Bercow


Mr. Smith

Let me complete the point before I give way. In April, as part of our sports strategy, we announced yet further measures to protect playing fields. The measures that we have already taken through the double-lock process, with reference to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, are already in place. We acknowledge that more needs to be done, and we are therefore doing more.

Mr. Hawkins

Despite all that the Secretary of State has said, the figures that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) gave remain valid. If the processes that the Government have established do not prevent the sales, they are clearly inadequate. The Secretary of State says that he is trying to do more; does he accept that his policy is not working?

Mr. Smith

Let me make two points. First, we have dramatically reduced the overall number of sales. The hon. Gentleman must not allow himself to be misled into assuming that that has not happened. Secondly, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment approves many applications either because the amount of land is tiny and its sale does not diminish the available space for sporting activity or because the disposal takes place to raise funds that are used to provide far better sporting facilities for the school and the local community. Those examples are included in the figures for disposals. I counsel the hon. Gentleman to be wary of using blanket figures and assuming that the picture is entirely bad; it is not.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a major factor in the decline in some sports in the 1980s and 1990s was the decline of the industrial areas under the previous Government? That meant that there was an enormous decline in cricket in England, since mining and other industrial areas produced generations of cricketers. In south Wales, rugby declined. That was due to the actions of the former Government, rather than those of Labour activists, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) suggested.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is right to make the point about traditional sporting activity in many industrial areas. That is one reason why we are currently paying particular attention to the needs of the former coalfield areas. We are giving them special attention, particularly through the lottery distributors. Sport England, the sports lottery distributor, is playing a leading role in that. We are considering new or revamped sporting facilities in many former coalfield areas.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

As an example of what my right hon. Friend described earlier, I have agreed to and supported the sale of a small parcel of land at Minster college on the Isle of Sheppey. The school is applying for sports school status, and the sale of the land will provide at least £150,000 of the money that we need to make it a centre of excellence for the whole community.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend is right. He gives a good illustration of the point that I was making to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. The blanket figures do not reveal the full picture. However, I readily admit that we can make further progress.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Smith

No, I must make some progress.

In April, as part of our sports strategy, we announced further measures to protect playing fields through a revision of planning policy guidance note on sport and recreation: PPG 17. We are also considering the need to tighten the categories of possible exceptions for development on playing fields and open space, and encouraging local planning authorities to provide information on planning decisions to enable Sport England and other organisations to monitor the outcome of planning applications that affect playing fields. We have also already fulfilled our strategy pledge to establish a playing fields monitoring group, which will examine the statistical information on playing fields and consider examples of land that is being sold for the benefit of sport and examples of land which is not being sold for that reason. The group will pursue any issues that arise from those figures. The Department for Education and Employment has also established a national advisory panel to monitor and advise on applications to dispose of school playing fields.

We believe that those measures, along with existing ones, will further protect playing fields, which schools and communities need. However, we go further. The new opportunities fund has recently announced the award partners for its green spaces and sustainable communities initiative. Sport England will have the responsibility for awarding £31 million of lottery money to projects throughout the country for creating and improving playing fields and recreation spaces for local communities. We are therefore not simply ensuring that school playing fields are not sold unnecessarily, but, through the new opportunities fund, we are providing resources to create new playing fields and recreation spaces to replace those that we have sadly lost in the past 20 years.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth


Mr. Smith

Whenever we mention the new opportunities fund, it seems that the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) wants to do away with it. Perhaps he will tell us whether he would scrap it and the green spaces scheme if he ever got into government.

Mr. Ainsworth

I did not rise to answer that, but to ask whether the Secretary of State acknowledges the profound disappointment of the National Playing Fields Association at not being invited to participate in the green spaces initiative. Has the Secretary of State any proposals to include it in the process? It has a valuable role to play.

Mr. Smith

Of course, the National Playing Fields Association, which is a doughty fighter, has an important role to play. The new opportunities fund decided that Sport England should be the lead body, but we hope that the National Playing Fields Association, which is already involved in the regular monitoring exercise that we are undertaking, will work closely with it to ensure that the funds go where they are needed.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Smith

No. I shall make some further progress.

As I said earlier, we should place special emphasis on school sport. We are doing much to improve matters. This year, we announced that we would double Exchequer funding for sport by 2003-04 and create a major programme of investment in school sport. At its heart will be the new school sports co-ordinators. They will mainly be teachers, who are experts in bringing sport to children and young people. They will be given time to organise coaching and inter-school competitions in a range of sports. Those competitions will bring together families of schools and local clubs to get the best out of their resources and provide a range of sporting opportunities, which surpass anything that schools have hitherto been able to provide. Those co-ordinators will increase the range and number of after-school sport opportunities and improve the quality and quantity of inter-school competition for primary and secondary school pupils. They will also identify, recruit and train more volunteers to lead, coach, officiate and administer after-school sport at local level.

Thirty-three partnerships are in place, and 145 co-ordinators and 654 primary link teachers are working in primary schools. We have announced total investment in the programme of £120 million of lottery and Exchequer funding, which will, by 2004, pay for at least 1,000 co-ordinators. The school sport co-ordinators are at the heart of our measures to increase participation and improve performance, but this is only the beginning of our investment programme.

There are now 67 specialist sports colleges, where young people can develop their sporting talent without sacrificing their studies, in 48 local education authorities across the country. In September, the Prime Minister announced an additional £24 million of funding, raising the target number of specialist sports colleges for 2004 from 110 to at least 150. Recent Ofsted research shows that specialist sports colleges have not only achieved improved exam results, but reduced social exclusion, helped develop responsible citizens through sports leadership and improved health among pupils. Not only are the results good, but ministerial and parliamentary colleagues who have visited the colleges have come away hugely impressed by the enthusiasm among staff, pupils, partner primary schools and local sports clubs alike for the way in which those colleges are highlighting the importance of sport for academic success and personal well-being among young people. Specialist sports colleges will be at the heart of the school sport co-ordinator partnerships so that as many young people as possible can benefit from their ethos.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the countries that did well in the Olympics were those where ambition and aspiration were at the centre of Government policy and that school co-ordinators and specialist colleges that encourage our children are the key to this country's success in future?

Mr. Smith

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, what he says is probably even more true of those areas of particular deprivation, where the physical environment is poor, where the employment and income prospects for young people are often not as good as in other parts of the country and where sport can provide a focus for energy, enthusiasm and ambition among young people. It is enormously important to ensure that they have such opportunities.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman has tried so valiantly to intervene and I am very soft hearted, so I shall give way.

Mr. Bercow

I am exceptionally grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Earlier in his speech, he referred to school as providing the first opportunity for pupils to learn the skills and tactics of their chosen sport. Does he accept that, although that might well be true at the direct-grant, selective George Watson's college in Edinburgh, which he had the good fortune to attend, it is far from being the truth in many state schools, one of which I attended, in which the quality of tennis coaching, for example, remains pitifully poor? Does he agree that at the early stages when children take up sport in schools, the quality of tuition needs to be much greater, not least in tennis, if we are to have any chance of raising our game and producing the first British Wimbledon singles champions since Fred Perry in 1936 and Virginia Wade in 1977?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman's basic point—wrapped in a little partisanship—is right: the quality of coaching available undoubtedly matters throughout young people's primary and secondary schooling. That is why we are carefully trying to put in place a structure that will deliver that quality of coaching, as well as the physical facilities that are needed.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming today's announcement from the Lawn Tennis Association that it will put £30 million—in effect, the profits from Wimbledon—into grass-roots tennis coaching? Will he go further and say that the money must be used not only in schools but in grass-roots clubs, and that a partnership of clubs and schools will be the best approach?

Mr. Smith

I entirely agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman has just said. The Lawn Tennis Association has an honourable and proud record of using the profits from Wimbledon to spread tennis facilities and coaching across the country. Indeed, some excellent facilities have been developed in the inner city at Islington as part of that programme—very welcome it is, too—but that is only part of an enormous programme. One of the hopeful things is that the programme is about providing not just tennis facilities where they are needed, but the advice, coaching, guidance, training and personal support that are also needed.

The Government's sport strategy, "A Sporting Future for All", places a great deal of emphasis on recruiting, retaining and rewarding volunteers, as well as professional coaches. Sport relies very heavily on its volunteers. Those who give their free time to coach, officiate and administrate in sport are a mainstay of community sport. We propose to invest £7 million in 2002 to 2004 to fund training for 55,000 volunteers to act as mentors, leaders, coaches, officials and sports administrators.

Mr. Bob Russell

Will all those volunteers be required to pay £10 to be checked out by the Criminal Records Bureau?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It is important that parents can have complete confidence that the volunteers who are in close regular contact with their children have no criminal record of offences against youngsters. We are, of course, working with our ministerial colleagues to ensure that the best possible system to achieve that confidence is in place.

Up to 15 per cent. of the volunteers will be adults working alongside 14 to 19-year-old sports leaders in schools and clubs. That initiative, funded partly by the active community programme, will be co-ordinated and focused on some of the most deprived areas of the country in sporting and socio-economic terms. Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust and the British Sport Trust, working with the national governing bodies of sport, have already developed effective programmes and resources to train and develop volunteers. Those programmes have been tried and tested on the ground. Our proposals for 2002-04 will give a huge boost to sport volunteering in communities and create a clearly defined and supported path for young people who want to volunteer in sport, as well as for the vast pool of adults whose skills and experience are not being used to the full.

Our investment in human resources is complemented by a programme of investment in school sports facilities. The space for sport and the arts scheme will provide £130 million for investment in new and improved facilities for primary schools, which have had to improvise sports provision too often in the past. Under the scheme, which was launched in October, bids from 65 LEAs in areas of deprivation have been invited for projects to renovate or develop new sport and arts facilities in primary schools, which will also be used by the wider community.

The third round of funding from the new opportunities fund includes a £750 million programme of investment throughout the United Kingdom for new sports facilities in schools, which will be available to the wider community, together with other youth projects. That funding will be administered centrally by the fund and is one of a number of new initiatives, each of which is now undergoing public consultation before implementation. If the public consultation supports our proposals, that money should come on stream in September 2001.

We expect priority to be given to areas of urban and rural deprivation, but they will not be the only ones to benefit. Innovation will be encouraged—in design, for example, and through groups of local schools sharing facilities, making them available to the wider community and attracting partnership funding. A key part of the proposal is that trained people should be in place to run new and improved facilities and that teachers and coaches should be on hand to run matches, training sessions and a wide range of sporting activities. As I have said, that funding will come from the new opportunities fund. I note that we have still not had a clear answer from the Opposition on what their policy would be were they, heaven help us, elected to government.

We are working closely with sport in all respects. A particularly strong example of that co-operation is provided by the Football Foundation—a new partnership between the premier league, the Football Association, the Government and Sport England that was launched by the Prime Minister in July. It will channel funds from football's TV deals and the lottery to create modern football facilities at the game's grass-roots in parks and schools. The foundation has some £24 million at its disposal this year. That will increase to more than £40 million a year from next year.

The foundation will help to provide equipment, improve pitches, build new changing facilities and reopen playing fields that have fallen out of use. One of the first places to get funding will be a park in Gateshead where the shipping container that serves for a changing room will be replaced with a brand new shower block. In south London, five overgrown pitches will be opened up again and new facilities will be built at pitches in Egremont in Cumbria where players have to get changed in their cars. In Ipswich, the foundation is creating a new grass pitch and artificial ones and changing rooms, while in Nottinghamshire, existing grass and all-weather pitches are being improved and extended, using land from adjacent former allotments.

We are making unprecedented investment in the foundations of sport, but we know, too, that we have to capture the imaginations of our children. The Sydney Olympics and Paralympics created huge interest in athletics and did wonders for sport in Australia. I am therefore proud that Britain will stage two major athletics events over the next few years: the Commonwealth games in Manchester and the 2005 world athletics championships at the Lee Valley stadium in London. I am confident that those events will help to put us back on the map as a major sporting nation.

The 2005 championships will not be held at Wembley. Instead, they will take place in a stadium specially built for athletics. We were right to reject spending £40 million of lottery players' money on converting Wembley. That expensive and cumbersome solution would have left the sport of athletics with nothing but memories. Instead, we have been able to aim for something much better. We are using the money saved, together with a committed £20 million returned from the Wembley lottery grant, to create a venue worthy of the 2005 games and to give the sport the legacy of a new national home. Progress on that work is good, and I was delighted to learn on Monday that Sport England has agreed a £1.3 million investment in detailed feasibility work for the Lee Valley project.

If the broad partnership between the Government and sport is to be effective, we must take steps to ensure that governing bodies of sport are equipped for their task in a world in which sporting standards constantly rise and commercial and technical developments present new and ever more challenging issues. Therefore, I can confirm that we shall make an extra £7 million available to our national governing bodies of sport to modernise their administrative systems and structures. They are crucial to the delivery of our objectives for sport.

We want to help governing bodies to gear up to expand their work in two areas: sending more coaches into primary and secondary schools to train children and spot talent; and running school leagues and cup competitions covering all schools in all parts of the country. That will place an extra cost on sport bodies and may require changes in how they work. We realise that, so we are making the additional funding available to help to ease the burden. In return, we want to put an end to the old-fashioned thinking that has bedevilled British sport for too long. Old ideas that certain sports are played only by people from certain social groups or genders should be left behind. As we celebrate the achievements of our Paralympians, we should ask sports governing bodies to extend access to participation in all sports to all potential athletes.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Secretary of State is clearly carrying the House with him on that point. Has he, however, reflected on the fact that countries such as Australia and France have been so successful over the past 20 years because they have made significant and continued public and private investment in sport—investment much greater than ours? Our position in the Olympic medals table encouraged us greatly, but if our success is compared with that of other countries on the basis of population and wealth, we appear halfway down that table, not near the top. Will he engage with his colleagues to enable the Government and the country to make the real investment—not just the 7 million quid—to begin the sustained development programme that he, the Minister for Sport and the country want to be established?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman's basic point is absolutely right. Three elements are necessary to achieving success in international sporting league tables: investment, broad participation in sport from an early age and individuals with real talent. Our approach is all about ensuring that those three elements can come together, which is precisely why we are substantially increasing the investment in sport across the board. The Exchequer money that goes to Sport England and UK Sport has been doubled, the new opportunities fund is providing £750 million for sport in schools and there is £130 million for the space for sport and the arts scheme. The targeted money for the national governing bodies of sport, which is part of that investment, shows our commitment.

I set this challenge for our governing bodies: if they reach out to all sections of the community, find and nurture talent wherever it exists and fulfil the country's potential in their sports, they will have our full support as well as direct and guaranteed funding to realise that support.

Improving coaching provision is a particular concern for governing bodies. There is much more work to be done to develop the pathway from the grass-roots to elite competition. To do that, we must be more effective at developing coaching skills. I followed with interest the reports about the appointment of the new England football coach. I said all along that the key test was not nationality, but getting the best person for the job. The Football Association has acquired a world-class coach in Sven-Goran Eriksson, and we wish him every success.

Football is not the only sport to have appointed an overseas coach. The recent success of our cricket team has been achieved under an overseas coach, Duncan Fletcher; our rowers in Sydney were coached by a German expert; and even the Welsh rugby team is coached by a New Zealander. Many other sports have brought in performance directors from overseas. However, towards the end of our top performers' playing careers, we have not encouraged them to become top coaches. There is clear evidence that we need to devote more resources and more imagination to developing top-class coaches. I am encouraged that one of Mr. Eriksson's responsibilities will be to bring on our leading young football coaches.

It is time to create a step change in the way in which coaches are recruited, trained and deployed. If we are to raise standards at the top of sport and provide quality opportunities for youngsters, we need to invest in coaches and their education. It is time to professionalise the structure and give coaches the recognition and support that they need to succeed because they are at the heart of sports development at every level.

The Government have never run sport in this country, and neither should they. However, we are well aware that policies at every level can have an impact on sport. Recently, there has been particular concern about the European Commission's challenge to the football transfer system. The Government believe that that system has benefits for the game as a whole, as it is important to the finances of smaller clubs and provides essential incentives to the development of young players. Of course, conditions of employment in football must comply with community and national law. However, it is essential that the law can be applied in a way that recognises the special characteristics of sport, and the original Monti proposals did not do that. The present transfer system is not perfect, but at least it recognises the investment that the club makes in the development of players.

We have been in close touch with our partner Governments across Europe on this issue, and I was encouraged to see that FIFA and UEFA both submitted proposals to the European Commission by its 31 October deadline. I hope that football will be able to unite in constructive discussions with the Commission to end the present uncertainty surrounding the transfer system.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of transfer fees and the European Commission, can he offer the House any assurance about what the Government will be doing to stop the Commission proposals, which could ruin a great part of our national game?


The hon. Lady is behind the Government in that respect. We have already made strong representations directly to the Commission and to our fellow sports Ministers across Europe. Indeed, the Minister for Sport met with her fellow sports Ministers on Monday. We are in close touch with the football authorities in this country to ensure that we achieve the best possible outcome on this issue.

Everything that I have described adds up to a comprehensive and substantial programme of support for sport. I have set out today the way in which the Government are providing a range of new initiatives amounting to almost £1 billion which, taken together, will help to improve sports facilities and services and the provision of sport in primary and secondary schools. They will also provide the sports bodies themselves with new challenges to ensure that they deliver a more effective service to the athletes whom they support and the public at large.

No one can deliver overnight results in sport. I have presented a continuing commitment to support sport in the UK in its efforts to restore our position as one of the world's leading sporting nations. As I said, the Government do not want to run sport, but we are ambitious for sport and we can help by providing proper funding and getting the basics right in schools, which is what we have pledged to do.

10.34 am
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

I welcome this opportunity to hold a debate on sport. I hope that one day it will be possible to hold a debate on sport with slightly more notice so that more of our colleagues are able to attend. I very much regret that owing to a long-standing meeting with head teachers in my constituency—at which, no doubt, sport will be discussed, as it always is at such meetings—I shall have to leave before the end of the debate. The Secretary of State was so generous in giving way that I shall probably be late. I should also declare an interest, as I am a member of the marketing committee of the MCC.

There is wholehearted agreement on both sides of the House about the importance of sport to individuals, communities and the nation. Sport brings enormous pleasure to millions of people, whether as spectators or participants, and brings enormous benefits to society. Impressions of the current state of sport in this country are inevitably coloured by the performance of our elite sports men and women. It was a great joy to witness their success at the Olympic and Paralympic games. As the Secretary of State pointed out, this summer, Britain enjoyed its most successful Olympics since 1920, and took home 11 gold, 10 silver and seven bronze medals. Our Paralympians followed that with a wonderful haul of 41 gold, 43 silver and 47 bronze medals, beating the total achieved in Atlanta in 1996. I have not met anyone who was unmoved by the achievements in Sydney. However often we saw Steve Redgrave winning his fifth gold, Jason Queally surprising even himself in the cycling, the triumph and modesty of Denise Lewis or Tammy Grey-Thompson going for gold, we were reminded again of the power of sport to inspire, uplift and make us proud: and that was just seeing it on the telly—there were no Government-funded trips to Sydney for me.

Incidentally, I am delighted that the BBC won recognition from the International Olympic Committee for its excellent coverage of events in Sydney. I join the Secretary of State in congratulating all involved—including sports bodies, the British Olympic Association, the British Paralympics Association and all those who took part, whether or not they achieved gold—on that wonderful event. I look forward to Britain hosting a successful Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002.

I hope and believe that sport will play an increasingly important role in the life of the nation, and I shall now consider the proper role of government in that. Some people question the need for a sports policy at all and believe that the Government have no business involving themselves in sport. I firmly reject the tendency of politicians, from the Prime Minister downwards, to intervene in operational decisions that are the proper business of governing bodies and managers. However, the social, health, economic and educational issues involved in sport amount to a very significant public interest indeed.

Sport can foster community spirit and a feeling of national identity in the best sense. It can offer a sense of personal accomplishment, teach people how to win and lose with equanimity and even improve cognitive skills, such as literacy and numeracy. It can also help to channel natural aggression, thereby helping to reduce crime. Sport makes a significant contribution to the economy. Reporting one of those statistics that are so disliked by the Treasury, Sport England said that for every £1 of central and local government support received, sport gives back £5 to the Exchequer.

We welcomed the Government's sports strategy when it was published last May, as it was a step in the right direction and built on initiatives that were launched under the previous Government. No debate on sport would be complete without reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) who, as Prime Minister, took an enthusiastic and informed interest in sport and demonstrated a commitment to raising the game. Most notably, he established the national lottery and had the vision to ensure that sport was a beneficiary of that powerhouse of additional funding. Since its inception, well over £1 billion has flowed into sport, funding more than 3,000 worthwhile projects.

The present Government's approach to lottery funding is, at best, confused. They set up the new opportunities fund as a sixth good cause, the effect of which was to direct lottery funds away from sport. It is a fact that lottery funding for Sport England, even after adjustments for the diversion of funds to UK Sport, has fallen by more than £80 million since 1997-98 and is set to fall again in the current year. The Government's commitment to extra core spending in future must be seen against that background.

The Secretary of State has consistently refused to recognise that the new opportunities fund has had an impact on sports funding, but as a direct result of the Government's treatment of the lottery, elite athletes who were preparing to take part in the Sydney Olympics received letters from their governing bodies warning them that future funding would be cut. That did not make for good headlines. The Minister for Sport then announced that there would be no reduction in funding. Obviously, that is welcome, and the Secretary of State today provided further details on how that will be achieved. Presumably, the funding will continue to come from the lottery. However, that raises questions for the lottery distributors. They are concerned that the commitment to maintain high levels of funding at the high-performance end of sport may mean that they have to reduce their spending on other projects. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

The Government, not content with tampering with the overall funds that are available to Sport England, are also increasingly taking a hand in how the money is spent. The Secretary of State was at pains to say that he does not want to run sport, but the truth is that more and more funds are being ring-fenced for specific projects. Although those projects may be thoroughly worth while, the question inevitably arises of whether Sport England is to be trusted as an independent lottery distributor or to be constantly second-guessed by a Government who think that they know best.

Then there is the pledge, initially made by the Prime Minister, to direct £750 million over the next three years towards school and community sports projects. If those resources are properly used, I have no doubt that they will be very welcome. It is important, however, to recognise the concerns of local authorities about the revenue implications of such a major capital investment. I hope that the Minister will also comment on that.

Funding is to come from the new opportunities fund, and we learned today that it is also to be managed by the fund. The Government have, in effect, created another distributor of lottery funds for sport, adding to an already complex situation. Public funding for sport in Britain is now channelled through a growing multitude of separate bodies and initiatives, many with overlapping responsibilities. There is Sport England, with its core Exchequer funding, and the Sport England lottery fund, with its nine regional bodies which are also involved in lottery bids. There are separate funding operations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is UK Sport and, now, the new opportunities fund. There is also space for sport and the arts, Sportsmatch, the green spaces initiative and, in the public funding arena, local authorities, which spend nearly £1 billion a year on sport in England and Wales. Whatever else the arrangement may be, it is messy and confused. There is significant scope for rationalisation if we are to ensure that the maximum funds available for sport actually find their way into sport.

I regret to say that confusion and mess are in danger of becoming the defining characteristics of the Government's actions on sport. Let us consider the redevelopment of Wembley stadium, which the Secretary of State mentioned. We support the redevelopment of Wembley. We believe that the country needs a new national stadium. However marvellous the old stadium has been, and however much of an icon it is across the world, we need to redevelop it because we need a world-class national stadium.

However, many people in the sporting world are still trying to work out how a design, which the Secretary of State described as stunning, could have been rejected by the Government within just a few months. Be that as it may, athletics have been kicked out of Wembley, and with them dreams of constructing a national stadium for athletics. In November last year, the Yorkshire Post reported the Minister for Sport as saying: A national stadium should be just that—something that represents all sports. Because a lot of public money has gone into this via the Lottery, people have the right to expect that it shouldn't just be a football stadium. Those were her words—I see that she is smiling and nodding—and many people would agree with that view, but within a few weeks of the design being launched, the right of people to expect that their £120 million of lottery cash would build a national stadium was removed when the Secretary of State axed the plan.

Mr. Chris Smith

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that he would proceed with the platform solution at Wembley for athletics, at a cost of £40 million, taking six months to construct, six months to take down and leaving Wembley completely out of action for the whole of that period?

Mr. Ainsworth

The Secretary of State well knows that the Select Committee looked hard and long at the issue, and that is what it recommended. In an attempt to obtain the best, the British Olympic Association, in particular, has driven out the good. Although no one thought that the original design for Wembley was perfect, it was at least a solution. At the moment, it appears that we have none. Something rather than nothing is the response to the Secretary of State's question.

The consequences of the right hon. Gentleman's decision have yet to be fully played out. There is the matter of the £20 million repayment to Sport England by Wembley National Stadium Ltd. Under the terms of the original lottery award, Sport England had—or has—the right to reclaim its full £120 million in the event of a breach of conditions, and it was a condition of the grant that the new Wembley stadium would host athletics. However, Sport England was not an original party to the deal, which was reportedly spawned in Downing street and ratified in the Secretary of State's Islington home. Under the deal, a price tag of £20 million was arbitrarily determined as the cost of kicking out athletics. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that not a penny of that money has yet been paid? I wait in vain for an answer.

The Secretary of State has insisted—as he did again today—that a further £40 million will become available for athletics as a result of savings that come from clearing athletics out of Wembley. That is a phantom figure. The real savings, as he should know, are closer to £15 million. Assuming that the Islington deal is fulfilled, £35 million will be available for athletics, not the bogus £60 million that he has talked about.

Mr. Smith

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's figures are completely wrong. The cost of constructing the concrete platform at Wembley was variously judged at between £17 million and £22 million. For the sake of argument, let us call it £20 million. What he is leaving completely out of the equation is the need to construct a warm-up facility next to the stadium, which in any sensible location would have required the purchase of the land. That is where the other £20 million comes from.

Mr. Greenway

Well where is it?

Mr. Ainsworth

My hon. Friend asks a good question.

In the meantime—this is pertinent to the Secretary of State's remarks—I understand that the consultants who were appointed to investigate the viability of a new athletics facility at Lee Valley have made a preliminary estimate of £95 million for building costs. That raises serious doubts about its viability. I note what the Secretary of State said about feasibility studies, but they will not build a stadium, and time is pressing if it is to be up, running and ready to use by 2004, when the International Amateur Athletics Federation has said that it will need it. Therefore, our ability to host the 2005 world athletics championships is at risk, as officials from Sport England conceded earlier this week. We can also wave goodbye to any hope of putting in a credible bid to host the Olympic games in London.

Even if the plans for Pickett's Lock go ahead—I hope that the Secretary of State's optimism is well founded—and it becomes a stand-alone athletics facility, what would be the implications of that for facilities elsewhere? The Minister might like to deal with concerns about that. What are the implications for athletics at Gateshead, Sheffield, Birmingham, Crystal Palace and so on? The Secretary of State's handling of the redevelopment at Wembley has been nothing short of a disaster. Instead of consistency, clarity and leadership, we have had to witness vacillation, contradiction and misjudgment.

There is a case for saying that the Government should keep out of sports developments and trust the private sector and independent sporting bodies to get on with the job. There is a case for saying that a major national project involving hundreds of millions of lottery money, major infrastructure improvements, large-scale regeneration and, at the end of it all, the hope of hosting the Olympic games deserves the full attention, support and encouragement of the Government. There is no case at all for what has happened. There is no excuse for a Government's dipping in and out of major projects, failing to co-ordinate, failing to consult, intervening sporadically, and doing so ineptly and on hasty advice.

There is no excuse for incompetence, but incompetence has become a bit of a trademark of this Department—take the bid to host the world cup earlier this year. The football authorities had put together a fine bid which, like the redevelopment of Wembley, we fully supported. The cost of the bid amounted to about £10 million. I congratulate Sir Bobby Charlton and Alec McGiven—and the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who cannot be with us today because, he tells me, it is "Newham's day in the dome". I sincerely hope that he is enjoying himself. I know how much he would like to have been here.

I congratulate all those people on the immense hard work that they put in; but we now know that, in the opinion of the Minister for Sport: We never had a chance of winning. But people kept saying we did, and swallowed the words of Alec McGiven as if he were some kind of God. All I can say is, "Thanks for telling us after the event." Might it not have been a little more honest to do so before?

What of the UK Sports Institute? Progress on that has been achingly slow, although there has been some: the Secretary of State told us a bit more about it today. We all know the official version in the Government's annual report, which states: This year saw the opening of the UK Sports Institute, providing world class facilities, coaching and support in Sheffield. That was subsequently corrected by the Prime Minister to read: This year saw the opening of the UK Sports Institute, which will provide world class facilities, coaching and support in Sheffield. Not even the most proficient of all the Government's spin doctors could conjure up a facility of that kind in Sheffield. The Government seem to have forgotten that they did a U-turn on Sheffield last year, and that the headquarters of the UK Sports Institute are to be in London.

The foundations of our future as a sporting nation lie with our children. I warmly commend the way in which Trevor Brooking, chairman of Sport England, has championed the cause of sport in schools. He does so with great passion and enthusiasm. I also commend the excellent work of the Youth Sport Trust. The TOPS programme in particular should be singled out for recognition: it includes the tots and TOP start programmes, which are aimed at very young children.

The Youth Sport Trust has reached 3.5 million young people in the last year, and has levered in half a million £ of private sector money from sponsors such as Nutella, Medisport and Nike. I very much welcome their work. On the other hand, we have received numerous complaints from schools that the growing burdens of the national curriculum are marginalising the time available for sport. Research at Exeter university has shown that the majority of 11 to 16-year-olds get less than 20 minutes of proper physical activity in school each week.

In a debate last May in Westminster Hall, the Minister for Sport rightly said: As the Minister for Sport, I can make all sorts of pronouncements … but unless the Department for Education and Employment is fully signed up, we shall not make the changes.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 4 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 114WH.] How signed up is the Department? A recent MORI poll commissioned by Sport England confirmed that the amount of time attributed to school sport and physical education is in decline, as is the time devoted to individual games such as hockey, gymnastics and swimming. The decline in swimming is particularly worrying, given its capacity as a life-saver. Earlier this week, a report by the Office for Standards in Education suggested that one in five pupils could not swim 25 metres by the time they went to secondary school. That is simply unacceptable.

A survey funded jointly by Sport England and Leeds Metropolitan university revealed that more than half a million hours of physical education had been lost in primary schools—squeezed out to make room for numeracy and literacy. I have nothing against numeracy or literacy, but sport, with its attendant benefits to health, personal development and academic performance, should form an integral—not peripheral—part of any sensible, holistic approach to education. Under the Conservative policy of free schools, which would get the Government out of the classroom and give real authority to schools and parents, we would expect to see more time being made available for sport.

Mr. Bob Russell

If a Conservative Government would get out of the classroom, how could they insist that free schools provided more time for physical education?

Mr. Ainsworth

I am coming to that very point. The whole policy of free schools is intended to allow schools to determine their own priorities, in consultation with parents.

The hon. Gentleman may know that Sport England research has found that eight out of 10 parents believe that PE is as important as academic work. Sport is the most popular choice for after-school clubs; 96 per cent. of young people say that they like participating in sport; and fitter children achieve better exam results, and are less prone to truancy. There is the answer to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] If schools are going to set their priorities, they are going to listen to the evidence. The hon. Gentleman's laughter suggests that he has no confidence whatever in head teachers, governors or parents, and does not trust them to know what is best for their children.

We welcome the development of the school sports co-ordinators programme. However, it would be interesting to know from the Minister—the Secretary of State may have mentioned this; if he did, I apologise for having missed it—how many of those school sports co-ordinators are in post. We also welcome the extra money for after-school clubs. We believe, however, that sport will not secure the place it deserves in children's lives in the absence of a radical reshaping of the education system to give real freedom to schools. To reflect parental wishes, we would require Ofsted to provide a greater and more detailed qualitative assessment of the provision of sport and PE in primary and secondary schools, and to report on the amount of competitive games undertaken in and between schools.

Obviously, if young people are to benefit from taking part in sport, they need sports teachers and places in which to play games. There has been a disturbing spate of reports about the recent fall in the number of people taking PE courses at teacher training colleges. Another report says that as few as six hours in the initial teacher training programme are devoted to PE. I am sure that the Minister wants that deficiency to be addressed.

We have already discussed the question of school playing fields and the availability of space. It is worth remembering that it was a Conservative Government who first made Sport England a statutory consultee on proposals to dispose of playing fields. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, the present Government were elected on a pledge to stop the sale of playing fields, and they have not done so—as a parliamentary answer given by the Minister for Sport on 23 October freely admits. We believe that there is still a need for a proper database of recreational space. We would extend statutory consultee status beyond Sport England, and we would like the bodies charged with representing the interests of sport to be involved earlier in the whole planning process.

I believe in praising the Government when they do the right thing. I therefore welcome proposals that more public funds for sport should be devoted and devolved to governing bodies. By and large, they are best placed to determine their own priorities. But sport needs to look at ways of streamlining its own governance. Here again, I agree with the Secretary of State. It is not satisfactory that we now have more than 400 national governing bodies representing about 112 different sports. If there is to be a proper or even coherent dialogue between Government and sport, there is work to be done on both sides.

Earlier this year, we mounted a major consultation exercise with all the major sporting bodies. They acknowledged the need for reform. What they want from the Government, above all, is leadership, which is not the same as ownership. The Conservative party offers sport leadership without ownership,

There is a need for Government to get their act together. The Central Council of Physical Recreation believes that 17 different Departments have an impact on sport. We promise a Sports Minister with real clout who is able—with the authority of the Prime Minister—to co-ordinate policies throughout all Departments whose activities have a bearing on sport.

We are delighted to endorse the national action plan for women's and girl's sports and physical activity, launched with the Women's Sports Foundation in conjunction with Sport England, and we look forward to the Government following suit. Today, I was interested to note a Youth Sport Trust report which tells us that many girls drop out of sport aged 13 or 14. There has been similar evidence in other recent reports. Reasons given are humiliating clothes—the gymslip syndrome—and a focus on less popular sports. I mean no disrespect to netball when I say that I have never understood why there are not more opportunities for girls to play, for example, cricket or football. Schools need to deal with that issue.

We believe that all sports could take a leaf out of football's book in making a determined effort to rid sport of any remaining remnants of racism. All sports should kick it out.

For as long as it is necessary, we will work with the Government to support improvements in sporting provision—but we look forward more to having the opportunity to provide in government the leadership that sport wants and needs and that we are ready to provide.

11.2 am

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

This is the first time that I have caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your appointment.

I apologise to the House. I have to visit a cancer hospice. The appointment was this morning, but it is now this afternoon, so I shall not be here to hear the Minister's response.

Sport has been one of the great change agents in my life. In the early 1980s, when researching a book called "Winning in Sport", I had the chance to travel throughout America to interview Olympic gold medallists. I came across someone called David Hemery, who was teaching at Boston university—a Colchester man, as the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) knows. David had on his staff another amazing athlete called Joan Benoit, who was to go on to win the women's marathon in Los Angeles in 1984. Amazingly, six weeks before that, she had undergone major surgery.

David's story is worth telling. When he was a boy, his mother came into the garden to tell him that Roger Bannister had broken the four-minute mile. David was, to put it mildly, unhappy. As a young boy, he had wanted to be the first person to break the four-minute mile. He threw what I imagine we would call a tantrum.

David not only went on to win the 400 m hurdles in the 1968 Mexico Olympics but at the same time broke the world record. Double golds are very rare. It must be recalled that David achieved that after a false start, yet in his mind for many years he knew that one day he would be ready to go to that final. He had played it out in his mind time and again that he would win and break the tape. Today, he is chairman of UK Athletics and is giving something back to a sport that has given him a huge amount. David's mentor was Roger Bannister. For each generation, there is a Pele, a Best, a Nicklaus, a Woods, a Herb Elliott or a Steve Ovett. Sport needs heroes.

I mention David because we witnessed, as other Members have said, an amazing September and October in the Olympics and Paralympics in Sydney. I look forward to the day when there are not two separate Olympics and our people come together in one Olympics. I hope that we will not have to wait too long. It was wonderful.

It saddens me that the women's soccer movement and the young men's soccer movement are not allowed to compete in the Olympics as a result of parochial thinking in the soccer unions in the four countries of the United Kingdom. We are also struggling in cricket in world terms and in rugby league. Hockey needs a renaissance and my own sport, rugby union, has still regularly to threaten the hegemony of the southern hemisphere countries. In the so-called professional team sports, we are second—sometimes third—division. Until the base of the pyramid is more secure, it will for ever be thus, but I am pleased that, for the first time, we have a Government who are committed to trying to arrest that decline.

The Olympics showed that we have a rich sporting heritage and that excellence is possible, with or without state aid. We need to build on our Olympic success, but, two months on, where are we?

At 1 am, a large audience of just under 7 million, many of whom were children, watched Sir Steve Redgrave, as I hope he will become, win his fifth gold medal, and let us not forget Matthew Pinsent's fantastic achievements in rowing.

Where would those children have gone the next day if they had wanted to try rowing? How would they have found out about it? Where would they have gone the next week? What is true of rowing, which is our most successful sport in the Olympics, is true of other sports. Where would they have gone for cycling, athletics or sailing? Soon, all the good will created by the Olympics will have been dissipated, which is sad.

I suggest a change agent for the way in which we think about sport. Will the Minister consider the establishment of a post-Olympic fund to hire the likes of the Redgraves to act as Olympic ambassadors? We should not be frightened to award them a two-year contract worth £250,000. That is what the FA did for its 2006 World cup bid. It hired Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst. We need those ambassadors to act as full-time mentors for our children.

To make that work, we need to build from the grass roots a lottery-funded Olympic club in every constituency. Into the club would go the clubs and school teachers of the region, so that for once we would build one organisation that represented the entity of sport in a community. Into that would go the 1,000 sports co-ordinators and the ownership of the parks.

One of the problems is that, unlike the National Trust, we have no national trust for urban parks, which we need. That is why club houses are torched and cricket squares are dug up. That is why they become drug ridden and why prostitutes occasionally ply their trade in them. We need to get back ownership of the parks. It is easy to let local authority funds for parks go. It is wrong that a warden on a moped should have to try to ensure the security of three parks in a community. The ownership of parks is key because they are where green spaces are; they could be owned by the Olympic club in the constituency.

Each Olympic club could be linked quickly by a sporting portal on the internet, whereby people could seek information and find out about coaching, where coaches are, what their addresses are, where the facilities are, what time they open and so on. Members will have almost guessed what is coming next. Side by side with that sporting portal should be an Olympic sports channel on digital television.

I would have added that that should be a public service channel paid for by the BBC from the licence fee, but I am no longer sure that the BBC sees itself as a public service organisation. I shall dwell on its role in sports broadcasting.

If, over the next six months, we lose the debate about a dedicated sports channel, we will have to ponder whether the BBC should be allowed monopoly of access to the licence fee. There is a precedent. In the late 1960s, the Open university, another major change agent in my life, was supported by Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee. They put pressure on the BBC governors to allow a £3 million "allowance" to kick start the Open university.

I urge Ministers, especially my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to demand that the BBC provide a public service sports channel. If it does not want to do so, we should put out a tender document for it. We should take the £40 million required to run such a service directly out of the licence fee.

If the BBC refuses to do that, let us ensure that the White Paper on communications that is due in mid-December recommends that the licence fee will no longer automatically be paid to the BBC. I am serious. The BBC has wasted perhaps as much as £300 million on BBC Choice, BBC Knowledge and BBC News 24 for its own vanity. That is enough to operate an Olympic sports channel for seven years.

Sport is the largest cultural activity in the world. There are more members of FIFA and of the International Olympic Committee than there are of the United Nations. If we are to move sport up the political ladder, it is vital that we as a Government deliver a public service sports channel. We need such a channel for sport education, sports coaching, sports history, sports medicine and sports psychology, and for delivering the sports curriculum to our primary and secondary schools. It is very important that we win this debate in the next six months.

Whereas the Olympic ideal is more or less alive—that was proved in September and October—the same cannot be said of the IOC. I should like to dwell a little on the relationship between the IOC and the British Olympic Association. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee took evidence last year from Mr. Craig Reedie. He was in Manchester, which at the time was bidding for the 2000 games, preparing for the IOC allegations of misbehaviour by its members.

Despite the IOC's claims that it is now a transparent organisation, Mr. Reedie has declined to disclose the contents of the letter detailing the allegations to the media or to the joint leader of the Manchester bid, who is now the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). BOA officials have variously claimed that they no longer have a copy of the letter or that, if they do, it is the copyright of the IOC and cannot be disclosed without its consent.

It is common knowledge that the two IOC members—Mr. Augustin Arroyo of Ecuador and Mr. Tony Bridge of Jamaica—behaved badly during their visit to Manchester in 1993. If we are to make an Olympic bid—I currently have some doubts about the validity of such bids—we must be confident that the IOC and our own BOA will behave openly and transparently. We must know whether the BOA report puts Britain's interests—or those of the IOC—first.

I should give the House a little more background on the matter. On 29 January 1999, as the Salt Lake City corruption scandal peaked, new allegations of corruption were spilling out of former bidding cities worldwide. In an attempt to staunch the disclosures, IOC President Samaranch sent a letter to the national Olympic committees of all countries that had recently bid for games. He wrote: I am certain that you are as concerned as the IOC in fully restoring the reputation of the IOC and the entire Olympic Movement. I hereby ask you for a full and candid report in response to this request, including all relevant facts, names and any available evidence.

Five weeks later, as I have already intimated, Craig Reedie, British IOC member and chairman of the BOA, and Simon Clegg, the BOA chief executive, gave evidence to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Mr. Reedie, when asked about the IOC corruption scandal, and speaking on the 1998-99 disclosures from Salt Lake City, said: To the best of my knowledge that was the first occasion on which there was definite evidence that a number of members had broken their oath.

The statement might seem to be at odds with the fact that Mr. Reedie was a member of the Manchester bid team and might have been expected to know of both the incidents in 1993 to which I have alluded.

Simon Clegg added: The British Olympic Association over the last month have conducted inquiries in conjunction with Birmingham City Council and Manchester City Council at the request of the International Olympic Committee. The findings of those inquiries have now been forwarded to the International Olympic Committee.

Later in the year, the IOC announced that none of the reports from bid cities, which were drafted by national IOC committees, was as serious as to merit a warning. The committee announced that there were no "cases".

What is the truth of the Manchester allegations? Did the British Olympic Association make a full and frank report that has been ignored by the IOC? We do not know. I ask the Minister to make a copy of the report available in the Library. It is important that that is done. Craig Reedie is a board member of the UK Sports Council and is a major player in sports administration. It is also important that, in the 21st century, the United Kingdom, which has given so much to the world of sport, maintains an integrity in the Olympic movement. That is much more important than winning brownie points. I also ask that there be greater transparency, particularly in relation to that report.

Today, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) tabled his Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill, which broadly reflects the contents of my own ten-minute Bill, the Equal Access (Public and Private Buildings) Bill. His Bill seeks to end discrimination in sport, which so many women endure daily.

I shall give a couple of examples of that discrimination. A woman who belongs to a bowling club in Faversham has to pay the same membership fee as a man but is denied a vote at the annual general meeting. There are many examples of such discrimination in women's golf. One hon. Member's wife was to play at a national tournament at the Royal and Ancient in Scotland, but was told that she could not change in the clubhouse as women were not allowed there. She therefore changed in her car.

The provisions of the hon. Gentleman's small Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill aim to deal with discrimination against women. The Bill gives us an opportunity to end the last remnants in sport of discrimination against 51 per cent. of our population, but, astonishingly, we are not willing to allow it sufficient time for consideration in this place.

Miss Kirkbride

Does the private Member's Bill propose to require women to pay the same membership fee as men at all clubs? As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, at many clubs, although perhaps not at the ones that he mentioned, women pay a concessionary fee. Many women much prefer that, as paying the full fee would add considerably to the family budget.

Mr. Wyatt

I am aware of that. I am aware, too, that there are differences of opinion on the issue between public and private golf clubs—which may be the specific example of which the hon. Lady is thinking. As she will know, there are stories—possibly apocryphal—about dogs, but not women, being allowed in clubs.

We are talking about equal access to buildings and facilities. At some private clubs, although women pay equal subscriptions, they are not allowed to tee-off on a Sunday morning. Such practices are anachronisms. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there is a blazer brigade whose thinking is of the 18th and 19th centuries. The brigade has predominated in tennis, which has always been a class-driven sport. It is very sad that the brigade has realised only now, after 30 years of financial success, that tennis has a role to play in helping underprivileged children in the worst parts of our inner cities.

Mr. Bob Russell

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that there is no sex discrimination in darts?

Mr. Wyatt

I should like to reverse the question by asking whether darts is a sport. However, we have not yet defined sport. Perhaps we may have that philosophical discussion on another occasion.

Sex discrimination is a very important issue, and we have sat on the fence on the issue for too long.

Sport changed my life. I urge the Government to consider funding an Olympic sports channel, so that thousands of children may have access to it, on the internet and on digital television, and sports can change their lives, too.

11.18 am
Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

"Government support for sport" is the title of today's debate as it appears on the Order Paper. Although that support is getting better, there is still a very long way to go. For years, successive Governments have held sport in low esteem. Although I do not want to be unfair to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport or to the Minister for Sport—both of whom, I know, are doing all that they can to give sport a higher profile—the stark reality is that, collectively, the Government do not give sport the importance that it deserves.

Here we are, on a Friday morning, in a near-deserted Chamber, debating an activity which—in scores of sports—is enjoyed by millions of our citizens. There are countless millions who would like to see a lot more done for sport, including those who no longer participate in sport and those who, as a result of infirmity, were never able to do so.

Today, we have at least moved to the main arena. The previous debate on sports, six months ago, occurred on a Thursday, on the practice pitch of Westminster Hall. It was held on the same day as the local elections, when it was known that the Commons would be as deserted as it is today. If the Government really want to promote sport, and to show that their heart is in providing substantial support to sport, they are hardly conveying the right message by the way in which they table sport as a subject for debate in the Chamber. Why is sport not given prime-time billing in the Chamber?

Having pointed out the Government's down-playing of sport, I join the Secretary of State in saluting those of our sports men and women who flew the flag for our country in the recent Olympic and Paralympic games and brought back from Sydney the best gold medal tally for 80 years—in a previous era of Liberal influence.

Without amending the broad thrust of my criticism of successive Governments, I would say that what investment there has been by the previous and present Governments clearly helped to improve the UK's success—and I am delighted to acknowledge that. I trust, though, that there will be no resting on laurels—just think how much more could have been achieved with even more investment.

Perhaps the Minister for Sport would care to respond today to a point that I first raised six months ago: is it not extraordinary that the British Olympic Association is one of only two national Olympic committees that does not receive public money? In this connection—and please note that I am wearing a "Team GB" supporter lapel badge—I draw attention to early-day motion 1076, which I tabled, entitled "British Olympic Achievements". Naming the 22 individuals who won gold medals in 11 events, with special praise to Steve Redgrave for winning a gold medal in five consecutive Olympics, the motion congratulates all UK participants at Sydney; it goes on, in what is perhaps the most relevant part for today's debate: this House … welcomes the advances made in recent years which enabled the United Kingdom to improve its medal success at the Olympics; but, in recognising that more needs to be done to continue this trend, calls on central and local government to provide greater investment in sporting facilities for all interests and age groups, together with the necessary qualified coaching staff; and urges that individual and team sports in schools are encouraged with pupils required to have a minimum two hours physical education every week.

In the past few days I received a generous letter of thanks from the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, Mr. Simon Clegg, who told me: We would endorse the general thrust of the argument that additional prioritisation of physical education in schools and greater investment in facilities are an essential prerequisite of continued improvement in our national team's performance in sporting conditions including the Olympic Games.

I also wish to pay tribute to all from the UK who took part in the Paralympics in Sydney. They likewise registered many successes, showing how even those with disabilities can not only participate in sport but compete at the highest levels.

Mr. Wyatt

I note that members of the Australian rugby league team are sitting in the Strangers Gallery—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. That is out of order.

Mr. Russell

It is not all about winning international competitions. There is more to sport than catering for elite athletes, important though it is to support our elite performers, together with those with the potential to reach the top. What we need is sport for all, to coin a phrase from yesteryear. The more participation we have by the population at large the more likely we are to produce champions.

In summing up, will the Minister state when Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Employment last met to discuss the appalling failure to ensure that pupils undertake even the minimum required level of two hours of physical education every week? Will the Minister confirm that, according to the Office of Standards in Education, 75 per cent. of pupils do not have the minimum two hours each week? What are the Government doing to ensure that this performance standard is achieved within the normal school day?

Sport England tells me: At present the Government's aspiration is that all schools should provide two hours of curricular or extra-curricular activities per week. Sport England believes that this level of activity should be achieved within school hours—and not through a combination of intra and extra-curricular time. The physical development of the child deserves the same status within the curriculum as literacy and numeracy. If Ministers agree with that firm statement from Sport England, would they care to invite the Prime Minister to impress upon the Department for Education and Employment the need for action rather than aspiration? The Department for Education and Employment is clearly off-message when it comes to Government support for sport.

Incidentally, I am appalled that only 20 per cent. of pupils can swim 25 metres by the time they reach secondary school. It seems that swimming lessons have ended in many schools because the additional academic pressures imposed by the Department for Education and Employment mean that there is no time for an activity that is not only good for a child's health but is a potential life saver. It is also worth noting that the UK failed to win a single Olympic medal for swimming at Sydney.

Are all Government Departments signed up to what the Secretary of State said this morning about Government support for sport? Can Ministers recall when an education Minister last proclaimed that sporting achievements and academic standards go hand in hand? Indeed, when did an education Minister last make a speech promoting sport in school and stressing in particular the importance of ensuring that every pupil achieves the minimum two hours physical education every week?

The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to give the impression that Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment took no interest in sport. Indeed, the Minister for School Standards recently joined me at a conference on the importance of school sport, organised by the sports councils and attended by some 300 people from all over the country. My right hon. Friend and I made statements that were absolutely joined-up.

Mr. Russell

I am delighted to hear that and I look forward to the next debate on sport, when the Minister will no doubt be able to give us the excellent news that the Government have put their aspirations into action, and that every child—rather than 25 per cent. of children at present—will get a minimum of two hours' physical education a week during school time.

Last year, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport concluded that active participation in sport complements academic elements of education; and it encourages social skills. Why, in my opinion, is this view being ignored by the Department for Education and Employment? The reality is that sport is not encouraged in schools—it is discouraged.

The Government are all too quick to talk about wanting to raise levels of examination successes and higher expectations with league tables and other measurements of academic achievement, but they are not enthusiastic about encouraging sport in schools.

Such is the over-emphasis on academic results—regardless of anything else, it would seem—that we are producing a generation of young people hundreds of thousands of whom are missing out on what is known as informal education, of which membership of youth movements and sports clubs can play such an important part in developing the young adults of tomorrow as citizens with a rounded education and attitude to civilised society. Frankly, we need less emphasis on life in the classroom and more emphasise on sport and physical education—and let us give our young people the time outside school hours to be involved in organised youth movements and other worthwhile pursuits.

I know that the Government are making a lot of noise about appointing schools sports co-ordinators, but they will be few when one considers how many schools there are. By 2003, it is intended that there will be 110 designated specialist sports colleges, but there are 3,560 state secondary schools and 18,234 primary schools in England. Surely sport should be for the many, not the few. If the Minister will not agree with me, will she at least agree with the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which says: There is no substitute for adequate time within the curriculum with well-trained teachers.

The Prime Minister has announced £750 million for secondary school and community sports facilities. To put that into perspective, the sum to be spread around the whole country is less than the cost of the millennium dome.

The figure of £750 million could also be topped by the new Wembley stadium if costs for this as yet to be started debacle continue to rise. The last figure I read was that it would cost £660 million. Wembley is turning into a new dome-style fiasco. The Government are replacing the most famous stadium in the world with a horrendously expensive modern structure, which will still be served by hopelessly inadequate transport links.

I make no apology for pursuing concerns that I have raised before—that we are producing a generation that is less fit than previous generations with the result that we have a health time-bomb ticking away that in due course will overwhelm our already hard-pressed health services. People will suffer from breathing, mobility and heart problems at an earlier age than my generation because they have not had sufficient physical education during their formative years at school.

It also needs to be said that there is evidence that young people who take part in sports—not necessarily those who excel but those who do it for enjoyment—find that being fit and healthy benefits their academic achievements. It makes sense to be healthy. But far from helping our young people, the Government will next year make it more difficult for voluntary youth organisations, thanks to their proposed tax on volunteers, otherwise known as the Criminal Records Bureau. I support the establishment of the bureau, as, in a collective sense, does everyone associated with the youth movement, but to expect all potential volunteers to pay £10 for a check to be made to see whether they have a criminal record and are therefore unsuitable for youth work, is a financial deterrent to volunteering.

I suspect that most organisations keen to recruit new volunteers will pay the £10 for the potential volunteer.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the £10 fee may act as a deterrent, but will it not deter many of the people who should be deterred

Mr. Russell

I do not think that anyone with a criminal record will volunteer knowing that there are to be checks, so the bureau has served its purpose.

I want to explain why I think that the £10 is wrong, and I do so in the certain knowledge that every voluntary youth organisation that I know concurs with my view. I suspect that most organisations keen to recruit new volunteers will pay the £10 rather than leave the volunteer to pay it. Across the youth movement collectively, which includes many sports clubs, that will lead to millions of pounds being taken out of budgets for young people in order to pay for the bureaucracy of the Criminal Records Bureau.

There is an easy solution. If the Government are serious about encouraging people to volunteer to help in the youth movement, including in those clubs catering for a wide range of sports, they should agree that there should be no charge for volunteers. Now that really would be a positive measure of Government support for sport.

Will Ministers today give a pledge that they will raise this issue with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary? This tax on volunteers should be dropped. The cost should be met by the Government, not volunteers or youth groups, many of which are already struggling to survive in the face of escalating costs.

The Government can also help sports clubs by ending what the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which speaks for 256 national governing bodies of sport and recreation, describes as the unfair tax regime on voluntary sports clubs. Will Ministers give an assurance that they will press other arms of government to remove all business rates from community amateur sports clubs? Such a measure would at a stroke release money for clubs to invest in improved facilities, better equipment and higher-quality training, encouraging them to extend fundraising for even more improvements.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have much sympathy with the sentiment that he is expressing, but I wonder whether his party has done any research into what the measures that he advocates would cost.

Mr. Russell

I was about to pay tribute to my noble Friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury for his efforts to secure a tax exemption for such clubs. The CCPR says: Whilst schools provide the universal foundations of sporting participation, sports clubs provide opportunities for lifelong participation and the natural pathway to international sport. Unfortunately, the number of sports clubs has decreased since 1996. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) will know that, once we start putting things into compartments, we can make all sorts of arguments. I will throw one back to him: if we can keep 44 young people out of prison, that will save the public purse £1 million.

The Government can give further practical financial assistance to sports clubs by cutting the 17.5 per cent. VAT on sports club building works. Two days ago, the Chancellor announced his intention to cut VAT on church repairs to 5 per cent. Let us follow his spiritual lead and likewise reduce VAT on sports clubs. The CCPR reports that it has been calculated that the Government take four times more money from sport in taxes than they return through central and local government combined. Perhaps sports people could learn a thing or two from pensioners and fuel protesters.

Mr. Hawkins

Have the pledges that the hon. Gentleman is giving as his party's spokesman been fulfilled where his party is the junior partner in coalitions? Have any of his colleagues in Scotland and Wales persuaded the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly to do any of what he is advocating?

Mr. Russell

I recognise the validity of the question, but I am speaking as my party's sport spokesman in a debate in the House of Commons, and I will not be diverted down that blind alley.

Sport England makes the plea that either the Recreational Charities Act 1958 should be modernised or tax exemptions should be introduced to help to secure the future of many community and amateur sports clubs across the country. It says: Charitable status can strengthen a sports club's financial well-being through a combination of tax exemptions and people's increased willingness to give time, money and advice to an organisation which is adjudged to be pursuing charitable objectives. Do Ministers agree that adopting Sport England's proposals would be a practical measure of Government support for sport? I give a pledge to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that my speech will be conveyed to my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly so that they can follow up the excellent proposals being made today by hon. Members of all parties.

Mr. Greenway

I can help the hon. Gentleman. There is a different policy in Scotland, and many of us think that what applies there should apply in England and Wales, but I suspect that his party's Treasury spokesmen will be as difficult a nut to crack as my party's and the Government's.

Mr. Russell

In a previous speech, I said that sport will be taken seriously only when it has a department of its own with its own—greater—resources.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 4 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 134WH.] The CCPR says: Seventeen different Government departments have an impact upon sport and recreation. Moves to strengthen the voice of sport within the Government process would be supported. It is felt that there is a strong case to be made for a Minister for British Sport within the Cabinet to co-ordinate Government policy for Sport. What does the Secretary of State think about that? What does it say about the current effectiveness of the voice of sport in the Cabinet?

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to concentrate purely on England. Will he have a word with his Liberal Democrat colleagues who run North Wiltshire district council, whose meeting this week was made famous by Councillor Ruth Coleman sitting through it knitting a bobble hat? At that very important meeting, the hon. Gentleman's colleagues agreed to sell playing fields for the building of 595 houses in the town of Corsham, on Peel circus, Pockeridge farm? Will he advise them to listen to Sport England, which advised strongly against giving that planning permission?

Mr. Russell

If I do not convey that information to the Liberal Democrat group on the hon. Gentleman's local council, I am sure that he will. To the best of my knowledge, knitting is not yet a recognised sport.

We hear a lot a about joined-up government but much more still needs to be done when it comes to sport and the impact of other Departments. I have already mentioned the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of Health, the Treasury and the Home Office. I now add another to the list: the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

While the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Minister for Sport dream of expanding sports provision, out there in the real world local government is facing the nightmare of yet more cuts that will inevitably mean a reduction in the level of service and the provision of facilities. Which of today's Ministers will have the courage to tell the Deputy Prime Minister that his local government spending cuts are affecting sport? While the lucky Minister is with the far-from-sporty Deputy Prime Minister, can he also be asked what progress the DETR has made to tighten planning guidance of PPG17 so as to safeguard all sports pitches—not only school playing fields but those owned by local government and the private sector?

The sale of school playing fields is an important issue, but we are fooling the public if we ignore the much bigger threat of the loss of private playing fields owned by companies that for many years have in effect provided a public amenity for the communities in which they are based.

In my constituency of Colchester, it was announced just 48 hours ago that a social club, bowling green and tennis courts owned by GEC Estates are to close and the land is to be sold for development. Also in Colchester, two months ago Royal London Assurance closed its modern, purpose-built sports centre and the adjoining playing fields, including four football pitches—again in the hope that the land can be developed.

The same thing has happened in many places around the country—as well as the loss of school playing fields. The loss of these open spaces will continue unless the planning rules are tightened to protect the green oases in our urban neighbourhoods that such privately owned playing fields provide. Otherwise, even more faceless company accountants will be recommending to boards of directors that their sports fields are a disposable asset.

Government Departments may behave no differently from the private sector. I invite the Minister to remind her colleagues in the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence that, morally, they are subject to the same planning constraints as schools when it comes to disposing of playing fields. In my constituency, football pitches have already been closed by the national health service, and more are to be lost on MOD land.

Last evening I had a meeting in the House with three members of the east region sports board. The Minister for Sport will be pleased to know that in September the eastern consortium for athletes services was established to serve sub-world-class athletes in the six counties of eastern England. Its aim is to help them to become elite world-class athletes. That is the good news. The bad news is that funds available to the consortium, part of the English Institute of Sport, are virtually non-existent. Will the Minister give an assurance that she and her team will see what help can be promised for the eastern consortium?

As with the national heath service, I guess that there will never be enough funds for all sport's requirements. However, the Government can do more. I have already mentioned ways in which sports clubs can be helped financially by changes to existing Government policies on VAT and business rates, and by scrapping the tax on volunteers. In addition, the Government could return to sport the lottery money that they have switched into education and health—services that should be funded by central taxation, not the proceeds of gambling. Only this week it was revealed that sports, arts and charities have been deprived of a further £300 million of lottery money.

Another source of funding is football. The professional game in England has never been so rich in money—although, paradoxically, never so bankrupt in talent when it comes to leadership of the game off the pitch and playing ability on the pitch. Does the Minister agree that a tax system should be introduced for football that would bring about a redistribution of money within the game based on the turnover of clubs, benefiting the smaller professional clubs? Some money from the top flight of football trickles down, but it is little more than petty cash when one considers the mega millions sloshing around, with grotesque salaries going to a relatively small number of players who are aided and abetted by parasitic agents sucking vast sums of money out of the game.

It should be possible for the Government to introduce financial strategies to enable football's wealth to help grass-roots football. Junior clubs and youth teams would benefit greatly. I invite the Minister to ask her Treasury colleagues to look at the proposal. It would not involve additional public expenditure, but the money available to football would be used in a better and fairer way.

On the so-called minority sports, more than 100 activities are recognised as sports but they do not always receive the public recognition and support that they deserve. Rowing is an example. Its Olympic success was well in excess of that achieved by some other sports. It is thus in the national interest that we encourage minority sports, not just because success in them will gladden the nation's heart when other more popular sports do not shine in the medals table but because they add choice and variety to the sporting menu.

To what extent do minority sports feature in the Government's support for sport? I am aware that the Minister has communicated with the president of the Colchester and district sports council, Mr. Bill Tucker, MBE, on the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) has asked me to draw the Minister's attention to the campaign, which he supports, for the British Gliding Association to be allowed access to lottery money for training and development of teams.

I mean no disrespect to those who play korfball, which is recognised as a sport by our national sports bodies. I cannot recall it being featured by the media—local or national—in print or on television, but nevertheless it has the status of a sport and I wish all participants every success and enjoyment.

In contrast, the country's most popular sports activity, which, by common consent of the public and media is a sport, is not recognised as such by the sports bodies. I refer to darts. Can the Minister confirm, however, that the sports mandarins are now less opposed to recognition than they once were? Does she agree that the hitherto snobbish opposition is gradually being replaced with an acceptance that darts really is a sport and should be treated as such? Should the nation's millions of darts players be encouraged by the Secretary of State's comments today about the changing attitudes of the sports authorities? Will the hon. Lady give an assurance that in the coming week—in the spirit of demonstrating Government support for sport—she will make representations to the relevant sports bodies and ask them to recognise darts as a sport?

Sport England, which I wish to congratulate for all that it has done to lead the development of sport, tells me that the increase in Government support for sport has been very welcome. It says, however, that much needs to be done if the commitment shown by the Government is to be translated into significantly higher levels of participation and performance. What is the Government's response to the challenge posed in that second sentence?

Liberal Democrats genuinely welcome the progress that has been made for sport in the widest sense, but from what has been said in today's debate, coupled with the views of organisations such as Sport England and the Central Council of Physical Recreation, it is clear that the Government can do a lot more to support sport.

The importance of sport is obvious. It improves the health and fitness of participants, and is of significant educational value. Sport is big business—it creates wealth and jobs, and is a net contributor to the public purse. That is why I believe that the Government should be doing more to support sport, and I believe that the Minister for Sport agrees. I wish her every success in her endeavours to persuade her Government colleagues that sport is so important that it needs greater support. There is everything to play for.

11.46 am
Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham)

I particularly welcome the funding package announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, which will enable school children up and down the country to receive the quality of sporting education that is deserved by all.

There is no doubt in my mind that sport for young people is a big piece of the jigsaw that is urban and community regeneration. Sport is an integral part of community life for many communitie—it is the focal point. Sport is far more than incidental in turning around neighbourhoods with multiple disadvantages, whether in inner-city or rural areas. Through sport, we are not only able to tackle the symptoms of social exclusion but to crush its very causes.

Many of my constituents will celebrate today's announcement by my right hon. Friend, because plans to invest an additional £1 billion in sport between 2001 and 2004 is a signal of aspiration and ambition for our children and our country. It brings to an end the mediocrity that was the brand image of sport under the Conservatives. For 18 years, the Tories neglected our schools, selling off their assets, their sports grounds and facilities, leaving deprived schools with degraded facilities and low expectations. This investment is a breath of fresh air blowing through the decrepit gyms that the Tories left behind.

The wider effects of low investment in sport are clear for all to see. It is perfectly obvious that play promotes children's development, learning, health, creativity and independence. I say this because I am sure that I would not have the confidence to be in this place today were it not for the role of art and sport in my formative years. I received my school education in urban, inner-city London and in suburban middle England. How surprised I was when, at 11, I left London and the cement playgrounds that are all too frequent here for the playing fields of East Anglia. Too often, in the past, we were content for urban children and children in industrial areas to be satisfied with their Gameboys, Mars bars and Walkmans, rather than hockey sticks, footballs and swimming pools.

Miss Kirkbride

Surely the hon. Gentleman's comments reflect what Conservative Members have said. In inner London, which tends to be run by Labour authorities, he played on cement grounds, but when he moved to the Tory shires of East Anglia, he found green fields.

Mr. Lammy

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that the guidelines and framework adopted by the Conservative Government led to that problem. That Government also imposed significant cuts on sports provision, and we do not want a repeat of that. That is why I welcome today's announcement, because I want to see a Tiger Woods, a Cathy Freeman and a Michael Jordan coming from constituencies such as my own.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will look at the role of universities and colleges in supporting and promoting sport in this country. Clearly, in the United States and Australia, universities and colleges play a big role in coaching and providing the stars of the future. Although universities have not been mentioned today, I hope that they will play an integral role.

Everyone in this House will appreciate that it is an honour for me to represent a constituency that can boast some of the finest footballers in London; the club down the road at Highbury notwithstanding. Those footballers are local heroes, not just because they are skilled players, but because they unite and inspire people in my community. Most of those men began their lives in parts of the country not dissimilar to Tottenham. They are inner-city lads who had talent, but also support and encouragement and, above all, investment made in their skills and abilities. That is what I want for all British children and that is precisely the commitment that the Government are making.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know that the appetite for investment runs deep. I wish to give three examples of sporting projects in my constituency that will benefit from today's announcement. A few weeks ago, I attended a basketball match between a local team called Interbasket and a team from Teesside in the north-east of England. My team lost, sadly, but the dedication and camaraderie shown by both teams—coming as they did from deprived communities—was a joy to witness. It was a joy because I was not in America, where this sport and the skills of its stars have been a beacon of light in some of the worst urban environments in that country. I was in my home, in Britain. I was delighted that because of Interbasket's partnership with our local council and local schools, it will benefit from today's announcement. I hope that the Department will continue to promote minority sports such as basketball.

Last week, I attended a youth amateur boxing club tournament, with the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). The event was sponsored and paid for by Tottenham Hotspur football club and supported and organised by our local police service. That is a tremendous credit to my constituency; a partnership that has ensured that young men in my constituency can harness their energies in a constructive and regulated manner. Those young lads will benefit from today's announcement.

Only this week, I visited a school in my constituency, Park View academy. Until two years ago the school was subject to special measures, but it is now turning the corner through the Government's excellence in cities programme. That school is in a groundbreaking partnership with our local football club and the council. Later this month, Park View will be celebrating the official launch—by the Spurs captain, Sol Campbell—of its own coaching academy, run by staff of the club at the school. That has provided a positive role model for children living in the area.

Investment in people is fundamental to the health of my community and that of many others in this country. I commend my right hon. Friend's announcement today.

11.56 am
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

Madam Deputy Speaker, I join other colleagues in offering my congratulations to you on being chosen as Deputy Speaker.

Like other Members, it may not be possible for me to stay for the entire debate. Four weeks ago, I gave birth to a 91b loz baby and I am afraid that he is a more effective tyrant than a husband or party Whip can ever be. I need to get back for his requirements and I hope the House and the Minister will forgive me if I am unable to stay for the full debate.

In many ways I commend the Government on their investment in sport. Sport does not need to be a party political issue, although some of the remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) on the complicated picture relating to the distribution of lottery funds have resonance. Nevertheless, the money going into sport is extremely welcome.

My speech is somewhat hypocritical, because when I was at school, I shared some of the views recorded in the report about the kind of clothes that we had to wear. I remember the horizontal rain on the playing fields while I was forced to go out in my shorts, thinking that I hated hockey and never wanted to play it again. We need practical solutions to encourage girls to participate in sport; bearing in mind what they have to wear might be one of them.

We should encourage sport in schools because its important overall effects cannot be disputed. Personal development is aided by team sports, which I am glad to see being reintroduced in schools. The benefit to health is also extremely important because, sadly, we are producing a nation of couch potatoes. The use of computer games and the fact that fewer children walk to school are other reasons why participation in sports in schools is important.

We were glad to hear the Minister confirm from a sedentary position that she has the full support of the Department for Education and Employment for the Government's proposals. Sport England, however, has said that the curriculum is a barrier to participation in school sport, and she should be vigilant on that. Much remains to be done, and we should monitor the situation. Improvements are still needed.

We welcome the £750 million for sport in schools. I echo what others have said about the importance of coaching. In these litigious times—not always helpful to the public purse or individuals—we all understand why teachers do not want to take sporting lessons without proper qualifications and an understanding of how to teach sport. However, we must ensure that there are enough teachers to give physical education lessons and coaching in tennis, football or whatever might engage the interest of youngsters in a sporting career, whether for Spurs or for a local football team. Young people who take an interest in sport at school enjoy healthier lives later. The Government's proposals are welcome, therefore, and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport will take a keen interest in them. Thus far, I can agree with what has been said today.

The Conservatives, none the less, continue to be concerned—as is the Select Committee, which endorsed the views of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey—about whether the correct decisions have been taken on Wembley. The Government's manifesto contained a pledge to bring the Olympic games to the United Kingdom. I fear that that is unlikely to receive a tick in the Government's report. That would be a great disappointment to us all, and the decision taken on Wembley makes it even more unlikely.

The best available option was a Wembley complex for all sports, not just football. We welcome development of a new national stadium for football, which is needed, as well as development of a stadium for other events. It is hard, however, to see how the Pickett's Lock proposal adds up financially, and there are questions over whether it will be constructed in time. The Secretary of State was being disingenuous when he told us of savings. The £40 million that he said would be available for Pickett's Lock lies in the future. The figure of £20 million for purchase of the land was hypothetically based on our bidding successfully for the Olympic games. If we do not, there will be no saving of £40 million.

Kate Hoey

I should point out that the £20 million was not for the Olympic games, but for land for a warm-up stadium for the world athletics championships.

Miss Kirkbride

I understood that the world athletics championships would not be as expensive as that. The bodies concerned would have been happy to accept improved sporting facilities at a local school, which would have cost much less than the £20 million set aside for the Olympics. That would also have had the advantage of improving the school facilities. Concern remains about whether £40 million currently exists to build Pickett's Lock.

The Olympic games would not be held in the UK for some years to come, but bodies that distribute money for sport are concerned about how much is being paid out in any financial year. Pickett's Lock would have to be built before 2005 if the Olympic games were to be held there, and we would wish it to be built by 2004. Yet budgets are under pressure today for the building of a new athletics stadium. Sport England is concerned about that because it wants to spend more money in all our constituencies. Incidentally, I congratulate Sport England on helping to build two excellent facilities in my constituency. There are wonderful facilities at Haybridge high school for the community in Hagley, and we have a new bowling complex that many of my pensioners could not do without.

I fear that Sport England and other bodies responsible for distributing lottery money may not be able to continue to provide such facilities because of the pressures put on budgets by the international athletics stadium. Questions remain about whether enough events can take place at the stadium to ensure that it is viable. If the new stadium is used heavily, that will have an impact on the income of other national stadiums.

The Department should ask itself some difficult questions. There is much concern in the sporting world about whether the correct decisions have been taken. It may be too late to go back on them, but I think that the Department has a case to answer. It will have to reassure the sporting public that it has made the right decisions and that other sporting programmes will not be denuded.

I was pleased that the Secretary of State referred to the European Commission's intentions on the issue of transfer fees, which will have a great impact on our sporting activity in the short term. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer the questions that arise. I was delighted to hear what the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) said about his local football club and what it is doing in schools in his constituency by providing opportunities for youngsters, especially from deprived backgrounds, given the nature of the school that he described. The club is giving them an opportunity to learn to play football and, in their wildest dreams, to play for Spurs.

The Commission's proposals could threaten precisely that activity. Denuding football clubs of money to find talent in the local community—they will no longer have money from transfer fees—could cause a huge problem. I think that the UK has the biggest league in Europe, or one of the biggest. We have more professional football clubs than most other European countries. The role of many clubs is talent spotting. They have been doing what we would like other sports to do, which is to go into the community to find talented youngsters who will play for them in the longer term.

We all benefit from that approach, including the individuals who are spotted, the clubs and the fans. God help us, one day the English football team might benefit from it. Sadly, that has not happened yet. The European Commission is threatening to destroy the way that we have run our national game. Its proposals would reduce the opportunities for our young people to play for a big sporting club and to earn a huge sum of money, which most of us in this place can only dream of. There is the opportunity as well to play for England.

The Secretary of State said that he welcomed football's interest in what the Commission is doing. However, I am concerned that the Government's response in trying to stop the proposals being implemented seems to be lacking. The situation is extremely serious. That the Commission is even contemplating implementing its proposals seems to be an own goal.

I do not understand how the Commission makes a parallel with the wider labour market. If someone has a particular talent and is employed by a company as its chief executive, he will normally be employed on a contract. If he walks away from the company or is employed by another company, it is normally necessary for him to be bought out. His talents, contacts or customers, for example, are bought by the company that offers the contract. That company has an expectation that if the contract is broken, it will receive some recompense. At that level, the company, for example, is paying for a particular skill, whatever it may be. There is a well-used contractual obligation, which I think should apply equally in football. I do not accept the Commission's assertion that football's arrangements should be different, but I am afraid that the Government, fearing that they will lose the argument, will not fight strenuously enough for British football and will fail to emphasise the problems that will be caused in British football if the Commission's views prevail.

Although I hope that the Minister for Sport will be able to provide reassurance, I fear that the bottom line is that she cannot prevent the implementation of the Commission's proposal. I do not know whether the Commission derives its right to interfere in the game from social chapter arrangements or from previous agreements in Europe, but its action is extremely unwelcome. The only people who will benefit from the proposals are football players—but only those who are lucky enough to be established in the game already and who are, therefore, marketable commodities.

It is hard to emphasise too strongly how great the problems will be. Britain will lose its smaller clubs; they will be forced to become amateur clubs, because if they cannot find and sell on young talent to richer clubs, they will have no financial bottom. They will be unable to continue their proactive role in the community and probably be unable to continue playing at their current level in the league. They will no longer be able to take older players from the larger clubs, which enables the players to slow down in the sport and creates spaces for younger players to move up.

In short, our base of footballing talent will shrink. Clubs at the top of the league, who will continue to derive lots of money from the big gates they command among fans who will continue to pay in the hope of seeing their team win on Saturday afternoon, will go out into the international market and buy their players abroad instead of looking for talent in smaller British clubs. That will do our young footballing talent no service, and it will make finding those precious players who can play for our national team even harder, because there will be fewer players who can be picked.

I hope that I have persuaded the Minister for Sport that the Opposition will support her efforts to fight alongside the football authorities against the European Commission. The Commission must see sense. The hon. Lady might be tempted to accuse the Conservatives of Europe-bashing at every possible opportunity, but the Commission's proposal beggars belief. If the Government want an opportunity to prove that they are willing to stand up to Europe and that they are not as federally minded as we often claim, they have an opportunity to do so and to do our national game a great service. I wish the Minister well in those negotiations.

12.13 pm
Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your appointment.

Because I have not had an opportunity to do so since his election to Parliament, I take this opportunity also to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). I knew his predecessor well for many years. He might not know that Bernie Grant was a cricketer—I believe a fast bowler—in Guyana before he came to Britain to spread his customary sweetness and light in his adopted country.

I echo the comment of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) that it is a shame that the Chamber is so empty today, on a one-line Whip on a Friday. However, I have a suggestion: perhaps the next time they have an Opposition day, the Liberal Democrats will consider making sport the subject of debate, rather than some of the other subjects that they have recently chosen.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and other speakers have mentioned Britain's achievements in the Olympic and Paralympic games. I am sure that I am not the only Member of Parliament present who stayed up late at night, or rose early in the morning, to watch some of our sporting triumphs. The events acted as a sort of beacon: my two elder children, aged five and four, watched excerpts and continue to this day to ask me when the Olympics are going to start again. They think it is going to be next week or next month. I keep telling them that the next Olympics will be in four years, but they do not seem to be able to grasp that concept.

Another enormous achievement is that of Lennox Lewis, who has become Britain's first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons, who lost the title in 1899.

Although I have lived in the south-east since I was 18, I originally come from Yorkshire, which has a strong sporting tradition, especially in cricket. Since 1945, Yorkshire has provided more international cricketers than any other county—I believe that that is still the case. Cricket is a fiercely contested sport in Yorkshire. The area where I grew up was part of the Bradford league, which is one of the most professionalised and fiercely competitive leagues in the country.

I know that you will be interested, Madam Deputy Speaker, in how fiercely contested cricket games are in the Bradford league, so I shall give a few examples. Many years ago, before I was born, a game took place which has gone into folklore in Yorkshire. It was a game between Saltaire and Windhill. On the last ball, the team batting needed six to win. It was the last wicket. As often happens, the batsman hit the ball to the boundary. The ball was caught on the boundary with one hand, by a man standing right on the boundary rope. The umpires had to adjudge whether his hand had been over the boundary rope or inside the boundary rope. The decision would obviously change the result of the game. The umpires ruled that the batsman was caught—that the ball was caught inside the boundary rope—and Saltaire therefore won. The umpires needed police protection when they left the pavilion that evening. That shows just how fiercely contested some of the games are.

At that time, many of the cricketers in Yorkshire, Lancashire, the midlands and other parts of the country were drawn from the old heavily industrialised areas. That has declined over the past 40 or more years. In the inter-war and post-war years, the great fast bowlers in particular tended to come from mining areas, or at least heavily industrialised areas.

Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, who were the spearhead of the England attack in the 1930s, were both miners and worked in the pits long after their cricketing careers were over. They were the spearhead during the Bodyline tour of Australia and brought back the Ashes for the first time since before the first world war. However, they were denigrated by the British establishment, which shows how class-ridden the British cricketing establishment was then—and, I suspect, still is to this day. The two bowlers who won the series for us got into a bit of hot water for being so successful and beating a team that was thought to be invincible. They were turned on by their own people back in England. Harold Larwood never played for England again after the Bodyline tour.

There were other great players—Bill Copson, for instance. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is a great fan of Copson, the Derbyshire strike bowler, who was a former miner. F. S. Trueman, the great Yorkshire and England fast bowler, was also a miner. When the Tories closed the pits, the steelworks and the shipyards, that basis of sport was lost. It may not have been deliberate, but I tend to think that it was. I believe that such things are deliberate when the Tories do them. When they politically attacked the mining areas and destroyed the heavy industries, there was no longer that great social and industrial base to provide players for the England cricket team.

In Wales, rugby has declined in a way that would have been unthinkable 25 years ago. One can chart that decline and see that it corresponds closely to the decline of the pits. The pit teams used to be the source of players for Wales, and until comparatively recently, the Welsh rugby team was still drawing players from the pit valleys and villages. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)—I keep wanting to say "the hon. Member for the chicken run"—insisted that the decline of England in sport was due to left-wing activists. That is moving into the realm of fantasy. Let us consider another example, boxing, which has not been discussed. All the big public schools have abandoned boxing as a sport. If we believed the hon. Gentleman, one would start to believe that wild-eyed Trots from the lunatic fringe had infiltrated all the public schools and forced them to abandon rugby. Actually, it is a matter of fashion.

Mr. Hawkins

The hon. Gentleman's ludicrous and class-based analysis of cricket is shown to be spurious by the fact that the most reviled person on the Bodyline tour was its captain, the extremely wealthy Douglas Jardine, who was very much an establishment figure. He suffered far more prejudice and attacks than Larwood or Voce ever did.

Mr. Cryer

That is complete fantasy. Jardine continued to captain England. I could become very passionate about this subject, because I am that sort of person. Jardine captained England against India and continued to be a first-class player and captain. Larwood and Voce were both ditched by the establishment.

Mr. Bob Russell

In what year did that happen, and what does it have to do with this debate, which is on Government support for sport?

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman should stop nitpicking. It happened in 1932-33. We should be aware of our history, whether in sport or anything else, because it enables us to know where we have come from and where we are going. That should be self-evident to all hon. Members, apart, perhaps, from those on the packed Liberal Democrat Benches.

During the past 10 or 20 years, we have seen an influx of big money into sport, especially football, in which there has been a shift of focus from the collective effort of the club and team to the individual. That movement towards a more individualised process has been largely due to the big money. I am not speaking about Government investment or sponsorship, although I must say that it always irks me to see cricket grounds covered in sponsors names and so on. I refer mainly to television money, which has had an especially long-term and corrosive effect on football. It has tended to take the sport away from supporters and to put it in the hands of a few individuals who form an elite right at the top.

Such money has also had a corrosive effect on professional boxing, although it cannot be said that there has ever been a golden age in the professional game. For example, there was no golden age during the 1950s and 1960s in America, when boxing was largely controlled by the Mafia. Frank Carbo was the most notorious person involved in boxing in those days. He ran, among others, Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champion. These days, however, the big money comes from television, which demands blood and a spectacle of the sort that was not demanded 40 or 50 years ago.

Some of the greatest British boxers in past decades, such as Alan Minter, Howard Winstone, Tommy Farr and Len Harvey, were comparatively light punchers. None of those boxers had especially big punches, but managed to build up their points by clever counter-punching. A particular boxing hero of mine when I was growing up was Herol Graham, the great Sheffield boxer. He was a superb counter-puncher and should have been world champion. Unfortunately, various circumstances denied him that achievement. That era seems more or less over, with the current demand for big punching and blood and gore.

The British Boxing Board of Control does a pretty good job of governing the sport. The professional game is a great deal safer in Britain than in America. Far fewer serious injuries and fatalities occur here, where amateur sport is very much safer. As I said earlier, most public schools have given up boxing, which has been abandoned by the vast majority of schools in Britain. Only a handful of schools still provide amateur boxing, which is ridiculous. The statistics for injuries accrued in the amateur ring compare roughly with the statistics for injuries in swimming. I was a competitive swimmer for 20 years and I saw one serious injury in the pool.

I think that Winchester was the last big public school to give up boxing. If my memory serves me correctly, it did so approximately 10 or 12 years ago. Radio 4 broadcast a programme about it at the time, which included an interview with one of the boys who had been an enthusiastic boxer. He was appalled. He spoke about the school's track record in rugby and pointed out that in the previous couple of weeks, there had been two broken noses, a broken leg, a concussion and various other minor injuries. That does not happen in a year in the boxing ring, but schools have decided to abandon the sport, which is a great shame.

In my constituency, there is a large variety of clubs covering the whole range of sport. We have a successful amateur boxing club at Elm park and several cricket clubs. Rainham cricket club is in the south of my constituency. Rainham—a former village near the River Thames—is not a wealthy or particularly privileged area and Rainham cricket club struggled for years to raise the resources to put nets on the pitch. I have played cricket—pretty unsuccessfully, but I could on-drive, cut, hook and pull absolutely superbly, but unfortunately largely without making contact with the ball. Cricket has always been a great passion of mine.

Rainham cricket club had no nets until it managed to get the money from a local landfill trust. Anyone who plays cricket will know that youngsters, or people of any age, cannot be attracted without practice facilities, so there must be cricket nets on the pitch, where people can go and practice week in, week out and hone their skills. The club was able to put up the nets, but they were then vandalised. I like to think that I played a modest part in raising the money for the nets, so I was enormously angered when the secretary of the club told me that they had been vandalised two weeks after I had opened them. They have since been repaired, but I was particularly appalled that they were wrecked by mindless yobs—probably half out of their heads on drugs—given that volunteers devote their time to Rainham cricket club. They give of their own time and struggle—week in, week out; year in, year out—to make the club a success, to get the proper facilities and to attract youngsters, which they are starting to do.

I have discussed with the Home Office and the local police how to make our public parks safer. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) raised that issue. It is particularly important in places such as Rainham, which have few facilities and where even those that exist are not particularly great and do not receive much investment.

Swimming is another sport close to my heart, because I competed in it for so long. There are several successful swimming clubs in my area—probably the most successful being a club called Killer Whales.

Mr. Bob Russell

I have heard of it.

Mr. Cryer


Killer Whales is one of the most successful swimming clubs in the country. It has sporadically managed to compete with the really big clubs, such as City of Leeds and City of Bath, which employ a lot of full-time staff and have big turnovers. Killer Whales has a tiny turnover and is run almost entirely by volunteers, yet it manages to compete with the very best. However, the swimming facilities in Havering—the borough in which my constituency lies—are not particularly great. Chaffords swimming pool in Rainham does not even have any showers—a pretty basic requirement for a swimming pool. It is bang next to a school—also called Chaffords—which should provide a great opportunity for children to swim. They use the pool, but it is not a good facility; it needs investment. The council has put in some money, but it needs more.

I welcome the Government's investment in sport. We are seeing the fruits of that investment, and we shall continue to do so in the future, but some places, such as Rainham, are receiving no real investment.

I should like deal with safe routes to schools. That issue might not have an apparent connection with sport, but if we could invest more in creating safe cycleways, children could cycle to school and they would be fitter. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) mentioned the fact that current generations are much less fit than previous ones. That is true, and the culture of not walking, cycling or engaging in physical activities is part of the problem.

In my constituency and, I suppose, most parts of the country, many parents drive their children to school, even if the school is just around the corner. We will not get those children on to bikes or get them fitter unless we create roads on which people on bikes feel safe. In Greater London—even in Havering, which is right on the edge of Greater London—people do not feel safe on bikes. I know that because I use my bike regularly. I often use it to get to constituency events. People feel very vulnerable on Britain's roads today, and real investment is needed to overcome that.

The problem is that many borough engineers come from an era when the car was automatically regarded as absolutely supreme, but we are moving on to a different era. Those engineers seem to think that painting a few lines on the road is enough to encourage people to cycle, but they will cycle only when they feel safe. When they feel safe, they will, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, swap Playstations for playing fields.

On school sports, which is an important consideration, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who is not in his place, mentioned tennis coaching at his school. I assume from his comments that, like me, he went to a comprehensive. The sports facilities at my school were, to say the least, pretty third rate and tennis coaching, so far as I can remember, was non-existent. I do not know whether his comments were intended as a criticism of comprehensive education—he is not here to clarify his remarks—but if they were, that would be deeply unfair.

Comprehensive schools face two problems: they have never been properly resourced—there is no comparison between the resources available to public schools and those available to comprehensive schools—and, traditionally, many children at comprehensive schools, including me, played sports outside school in the evenings at cricket, football, boxing and rugby clubs. However, that is not a reason for not starting to pump money and resources into the provision of proper sporting facilities in all state schools.

Trevor Brooking's role with Sport England was mentioned earlier. He regularly visits my constituency, where we hold a half-marathon each year, and does an awful lot of work, much of it in his spare time, to encourage children to take part in sport, particularly football and cricket.

I understand the point that the hon. Member for Colchester made about the £10 fee for police checks. I raised that matter when I was a member of a Standing Committee that considered a child protection Bill. 1 should rather have a £10 fee, which is modest, and a check than no fee and no check, which would mean that people would not be properly vetted. However, it would probably be better to consider abolishing the fee and use state funding to carry out checks. Although the fee will turn people away, many of those who will be turned away will be people whom we want to be turned away from children's organisations.

In view of the various factors that have influenced the decline in many sports in this country, we need, in the longer term, to invest in schools and to make facilities available in schools—all state schools—so that children can participate in their chosen sports. We also need to invest in clubs outside schools, such as Rainham cricket club and Killer 'Whales. Such facilities will produce the champions of tomorrow. The telling fact that we did not win a swimming medal at the last Olympics, despite our successes in other sports, was mentioned earlier. If swimming receives investment and facilities, we will start to produce champions.

12.34 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

As vice-chairman of the all-party sports committee, may I say that it is a pleasure to contribute to the debate.

I start, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a non-partisan note: I welcome the fact that I am speaking while you, as a great supporter of sport throughout your life, are in the Chair. However, I regret that the chairman of the all-party sports committee, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), is unavoidably absent. I know that all Members—not only those present in the Chamber today—recognise the important part that the hon. Gentleman's chairmanship has played in the work of the committee. The Minister for Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) will agree that the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished former shadow spokesman on sport for his party, is normally vocal in his support for sport of all kinds. I know that the hon. Gentleman would particularly welcome the comments on boxing made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer).

I shall speak about several different sports and one or two constituency issues, and shall also make a couple of points about policy. May I start in a non-partisan spirit by saying how much I welcome the Minister's support for Sportsmatch? She and I were privileged to be at Wimbledon as the parliamentary guests of Sportsmatch and the Lawn Tennis Association Trust only two weeks ago, when she presented Sportsmatch awards. She is well aware that all of us in different political parties who have supported Sportsmatch over the years greatly welcome the fact that the Government have reconfirmed their commitment to and expanded their support for it. For hon. Members who are not aware of it, let me explain that the scheme encourages business sponsorship by a match funding scheme. I was involved in Sportsmatch when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to a previous Secretary of State in what was then the Department of National Heritage and have always thought that the scheme is very valuable. It has received consistent support since its launch under the previous Government and has also been supported by the present Government. I greatly welcome what the Minister said on the happy occasion to which I referred.

I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and to that of Nigel Hook, who always provides splendid briefings for Members of Parliament for debates on sporting issues. I should also like to pay tribute to Sport England, the team led by its chief executive Derek Casey and Trevor Brooking, and all the people who work for it, including Caroline Weber and Ian Wilton, whose work is greatly valued by Members of Parliament who take an interest in sporting matters. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who is shadow Secretary of State, was right to pay tribute to the contributions of Sport England. I shall refer later to the work that it has done in my constituency.

Despite our political differences, I greatly welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch on swimming and cricket. We may disagree on points of cricketing history from time to time, but I enjoyed playing cricket for the Lords and Commons XI with the hon. Gentleman's late father, a distinguished parliamentarian whom we all miss greatly. It is a great pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman continuing in the family tradition of supporting sport, in the Chamber and more generally. Having done a great deal of competitive swimming myself and having played a lot of cricket, I was delighted to hear what the hon. Gentleman said about those sports. He may be interested to learn that I know the Saltaire cricket club, as my parents lived in Saltaire when my father taught at Bradford university, and I have also played at Windhill against many Bradford league clubs. I was especially delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman's story about those two clubs.

Hon. Members have paid tribute to the work of the Youth Sport Trust. The work of people like Duncan Goodhew, himself a successful British Olympian, is extremely valuable. As other hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that the contribution made by volunteers throughout sport is vital. It is important not to decry the work of the governing bodies. There is a temptation to say that too many old-fashioned ideas are held by those who wear blazers and sit on committees. We often forget that those people were successful sports men and women when young; that they give freely of their own time; and that many of them spend a lot of their own money contributing to the work of committees. I am sure that the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale will recognise in their winding-up speeches that the administrators are unsung heroes who are often forgotten or decried.

In a speech lasting just over an hour, the Secretary of State began by talking about the way in which some parts of the British press put British sports men and women on a pedestal one day, only to enjoy knocking them down the next. Commentators within and outside the House have often said that we probably have the best broadsheet press and the worst tabloid press in the world, and it is fair to distinguish between them, even if both ends of the spectrum are sometimes under the same ownership. People often unfairly lambast the press as a whole without recognising that most of our broadsheet papers write far more balanced comment on sport. Only the tabloids tend to go in for the ludicrous business of putting people on a pedestal only to knock them down.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale would agree that it is sad when people who are not sports reporters are sent out to track down sports men and women so that they can attack them for activities that have nothing to do with their sporting prowess. I see the Minister nodding. I greatly regret that practice, and believe that we would have a far better coverage of sport in this country if we could stop it. I hope that people in the various official bodies that supervise the media will pay attention to the problem.

Experienced sports commentators have a much more balanced approach. I pay tribute to columnists in papers such as The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Independent on Sunday. Sometimes a person who has been a distinguished editor of a paper writes a column for another paper. For example, Donald Trelford often has some interesting comments to make on sport. I should also mention Paul Fox, who writes extremely well on sports coverage by the media, especially by broadcasters. I always enjoy reading those columns, as I am sure all hon. Members do.

As many hon. Members have said, it is sad that so few hon. Members are present. That is partly because so little notice was given of the debate. Many of my friends in the all-party sports committee, including such active supporters as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), would have been here had enough notice been given. Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade the Leader of the House to give us more warning of a sport debate next time.

To be here myself, I had to rearrange a visit to Ravenscote school in my constituency. Fortunately, I have been able to rearrange it for next Monday morning. I am delighted to say that that school is one of many in my constituency with a strong sporting tradition. The president of the Amateur Rowing Association told me at the Sportsmatch reception that she has worked closely with the headmaster and the governing body of Ravenscote school.

As for other schools in my constituency, I want to pay tribute in particular to the work of Mr. Bob Linnell, the headmaster of Ash Manor school. I am sure that the Minister, with her interest in sport and her sporting career before becoming a Member of Parliament, will be pleased to join me in welcoming the fact that Ash Manor school has had a very successful ladies cricket team. The school had problems before Mr. Linnell became headmaster, which was before my time in the House. During the past few years, supported by a good set of governors and a strong parents association, that school has been transformed and parents are now travelling large distances to ensure that their children can go to it. The school's sporting success is but one feature of what is now a very successful school.

I am very fortunate in that every secondary school in my constituency has a good reputation and all are committed to sport. I am well aware that that is not the case in every constituency. I am lucky that the primary schools and infant schools are also good and many of them are interested in sport. However, I am sure that the Minister would agree that we need to do more. The briefings that Sport England and the Central Council of Physical Recreation provided to hon. Members for this debate stress that there is not enough physical education in schools, especially for secondary school pupils—and there is certainly not enough swimming coaching. The hon. Member for Hornchurch and I share an interest in competitive swimming. There is a problem because, as an Ofsted report only four days ago pointed out, one in five pupils cannot swim 25 metres by the time they reach secondary school, and there is a direct correlation between the time available for swimming tuition and achievement—or lack of it, as the case may be. I am sure the Minister will want to remedy that problem, but important points have been made about the need for DFEE Ministers and civil servants—I stress "civil servants"—to buy into the importance of sport in schools. I heard the Minister say earlier that she would be appearing on platforms with her ministerial colleagues, but I fear that the mindset among many civil servants is that sport is not important.

As we have all said today, there are two crucial factors. First, there is clear evidence that those who participate in sport do better academically. Secondly, more people care about sport than care about politics. We should recognise that when it comes to political priorities, and we should make the case whenever we have an opportunity to do so. As Sport England has said, we need more people playing sport, more places in which they can play sport, and more medals as a result of higher standards of performance.

The creation of an additional good cause, the new opportunities fund, has reduced Sport England's annual lottery income by about £90 million since the Government came to power. Let me echo the tributes paid earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), and to all that he did for sport through both his personal commitment and his policies during his time as Prime Minister. I think that in the fulness of time, when the history of the last 25 years comes to be examined, we shall see that John Major's creation of the national lottery was one of the most significant features not only of sporting life—which it undoubtedly was—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not need me to remind him that we must use the correct parliamentary terms.

Mr. Hawkins

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is important to recognise the involvement in sport of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon. I trust it is in order for me to say that I hope the national lottery will one day be renamed the Major lottery.

I agree entirely with Sport England that more needs to be done. Like other Conservative Members, I am glad that the Government are showing a commitment to sport. I do not seek to criticise the current Minister for Sport: I know that she is personally very committed. What concerns me is that, with the best will in the world, she does not always persuade all her ministerial colleagues, and that not enough is being done to persuade the civil servants in particular.

As Sport England has pointed out, recent Ofsted figures, independently analysed, show that at key stage 1—ages five to seven—an average of one hour 20 minutes a week is devoted to PE or sport. At key stage 2—ages seven to 11—the average is one hour 35 minutes. Key stage 3—ages 11 to 14—is the only stage at which the recommended two-hour minimum applies. Personally, I would like the minimum to be three hours, four hours or more. At key stage 4—ages 14 to 16—the average drops still further, to one hour 15 minutes.

Conservative Members have consistently called for the reintroduction of what was our policy, and was enshrined in law. We want sport to be a compulsory part of the curriculum for those aged 14 to 16. We think the current Government were entirely wrong to end that, and I hope that one day it will indeed be reintroduced, although that may require a future Conservative Government—and, hopefully, we shall have one very soon.

I pay tribute to all that Sport England has achieved. Since 1994, it has distributed more than £1.3 billion to more than 3,200 sports projects, benefiting 62 sports in every part of the country. In my constituency, it assisted much local fundraising by my constituent Margaret Bartlett and her colleagues, and helped the Lightwater playing fields association to establish the new Lightwater leisure centre, opened by Trevor Brooking not long ago.

Tennis was mentioned earlier. Over the past few months, I have had the great pleasure of being involved in the opening of two new sets of courts. His Royal Highness Prince Edward opened the Bagshot playing fields association's new courts, and I—along with the current mayor of the borough of Surrey Heath—opened the Camberley lawn tennis club's courts. It is wonderful to see all those new facilities being opened, but one has to recognise that even more could be done if even more lottery bids succeeded. If Sport England finds that it has less money from the lottery than it had a legitimate right to expect, there will be a problem.

I heard what the Secretary of State said about his announcement about the new taskforce and the new analysis of world-class performance by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). It is interesting that the Secretary of State said that he was announcing that to the House today. I found that slightly surprising, given that all hon. Members were sent a briefing from one of the sporting bodies saying that they welcomed the fact that the right hon. Member for Copeland was taking on that role. That release was issued four days ago. It may be good to have a review—although I hope that it will not involve any junkets—but it is extraordinary that the Secretary of State claimed to be announcing something to the House when it was in a press release, issued four days ago, given to sporting bodies and then incorporated in their briefings to us in advance of the debate. Conservative Members have many times expressed concern at the fact that announcements are often made outside the House when they should be made to it.

I pay tribute to the people who were involved in our Olympic success. All of us have welcomed it. The school that I attended when I was fortunate enough to win a free place on the basis of the 11-plus—it was then a direct-grant grammar school—has its first Olympic gold medallist. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know the school well because your son attended it, too. Tim Foster, one of the successful gold medal-winning four, is an old boy of Bedford modern school. Rowing was one of the sports that I did not get involved in at school. I pay tribute to all the people who are involved in rowing coaching not only at my old school, but at many other schools throughout the country.

Steve Redgrave has paid tribute to the fact that, under the Conservative Government, the lottery came into existence. He said that he had to win his early gold medals out of the five all on his own, without any support. It is the lottery that has transformed our world-class performing athletes, whose success we saw. It must not be forgotten that all that is down to the initiative—against much opposition from both inside and outside this place—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon.

I turn to the problems with Wembley, although it is not something on which I have particular expertise. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), who sat through and participated in the Select Committee's analysis of that latest Government fiasco, has spoken about it, but I am concerned that all the problems of Wembley and the potential problems that are alleged to exist with Pickett's Lock in the Lee Valley could turn into as big a fiasco as the dome. I hope not, but I would like to have seen a lot of the money that has been wasted on the dome go into sport.

It was announced that £7 million was being provided to assist volunteers in sport, but that pales into insignificance compared with the amount of public money that has been wasted on the dome. At the Sportsmatch event, I talked to John Crowther of the Lawn Tennis Association about all the things the organisation was doing in tennis. On the radio this morning, I heard Roger Taylor, a distinguished and successful former British tennis player—I remember watching his many matches at Wimbledon and his brave performances over the years when I was a child—talk about the importance of tennis facilities in the inner cities. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) made a distinguished contribution. I agree with much of what he said about the importance of sport in the inner cities. Roger Taylor himself said that he began playing tennis in a public park in the city of Sheffield. We must not forget the needs of inner-city children. A lot of the money that was wasted on the dome could have been far more profitably spent on inner-city sport and sport generally.

I was lucky enough to attend a moving event in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn), who cannot be here today. Three of the wards in my constituency are part of Guildford borough, so I was invited to a sport-for-all day at the successful Guildford Spectrum sport centre. It was an extremely moving occasion. We had a very large number of disabled children, some of whom, I hope, will some day be Paralympians.

I have been very involved in raising money for Paralympic athletes, and I hope to continue doing so. I have also attended national sporting events for disabled athletes preparing for future Paralympic games. We should recognise the particular dedication shown by all the volunteers who help disabled athletes.

There are concerns about many sports. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) and I share a passion for rugby. We also recognise that many problems have been caused by the apparent collapse of the Andrew plan and the resignation of Rob Andrew, which I greatly regret. I hope that rugby, a sport about which I care deeply, gets its act together soon—as, happily, cricket has recently done.

I apologise to the Minister for the fact that, like many hon. Members, I am unable to stay for the replies to the debate. As I told her this morning, I have a constituency surgery today that was arranged long before I knew of this debate.

There is a great deal of good going on in United Kingdom sport. This has been a good debate, and I hope that we have more like it. I also hope that every hon. Member will remember that, even if they are not interested in sport, most of their constituents are.

12.56 pm
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

As someone who makes no claim of any type to sporting prowess or even to sporting knowledge, I should like to say what a great pleasure it has been to listen to the debate and to learn much from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I include in that not least my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who demonstrates his general commitment to sport by acting as vice-chairman of the all-party sports group.

I was also very impressed to hear from the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer), who introduced into an otherwise non-partisan debate a rare flash of good old Labour class warfare.

I was also glad to hear from the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who claims in his constituency one of the finest football teams. Although it was not his maiden speech, it must be close to it, and he should be congratulated on it. He has a distinguished future ahead of him, perhaps as the Opposition spokesman on sport. I hope that he will be in that position in the next six months or so, after the general election.

In saying that, I am not for a moment suggesting that I am not looking forward to the day when the Minister for Sport is promoted to the shadow Cabinet as the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and is replaced as shadow sports spokesman by the hon. Member for Tottenham.

I should like to take this opportunity to mention several constituency matters—although I hope to be able to draw some general conclusions from specific cases in my constituency. People might think that North Wiltshire has less distinction than Tottenham, for example, in the sporting world, but they would be quite wrong. Anyone who had the good fortune, as I did, just before the summer to attend Wembley for the final of the Football Association vase would have seen Chippenham Town come a very noble second to Deal Town as it was pipped at the post by one goal.

Such sporting prowess is achieved by the factors that we have been hearing about in this debate: the training and practice made available to both boys and girls—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath on that—in towns such as Chippenham, where we are fortunate to have two first-class comprehensive schools, both of which have excellent sports fields.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is currently considering whether to allow Hardenhuish school, in Chippenham, to sell part of its playing fields for the building of new houses. The sale would achieve some very worthwhile improvements in schools across my constituency. If the sale is allowed—I hope that the Secretary of State will make a decision on it soon—the school will still have gigantic playing fields that are vastly larger than any reasonable school could want. Therefore, rather contrary to the general tone of today's debate, I am rather in favour of such action in this case and hope that the Secretary of State will give his permission for the sale.

By contrast, as I mentioned earlier, the Liberal Democrat-controlled North Wiltshire district council has, this week, given planning permission for 595 houses in Corsham in my constituency, which will be built at least partly on a former Ministry of Defence sports pitch. Although the pitches themselves will be saved, the ash running track around the side is to go, as are the changing rooms. The houses will be built on a large greenfield site and the general amenity provided for the children of Corsham will be severely diminished. Again, I appeal to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who I know will be considering the district council's application for permission shortly, to give careful consideration to whether he should allow the development to go ahead. My view is that he certainly should not.

By contrast, in Chippenham 500 children play football every Saturday on what can best be described as a waterlogged and deeply unsatisfactory set of pitches. Again, I call on the Minister to give every encouragement to the district council, the county council, which is building a new school nearby, and others in the town to find a way of providing some decent sporting facilities for the children of Chippenham. If we do not do so collectively and individually, I fail to see how we can possibly hope for the prowess that was demonstrated by Chippenham Town at Wembley before the summer to continue.

One aspect of sporting prowess that we in north Wiltshire can claim, apart from football, has not been mentioned during today's debate. Equestrianism was an area of sporting prowess at the Sydney Olympics and much of its excellence is down to constituencies such as mine. Part of the Badminton great park is in my constituency. Many hon. Members will not be aware that the largest publicly attended sporting event in the world is the three-day event at Badminton. The Minister acknowledges that she does indeed know that. It is contested by Minneapolis, I believe—

Kate Hoey

I was privileged to spend a whole day at Badminton last season.

Mr. Gray

We were delighted to see the Minister there. She was lucky not to have been there the previous year when the rain was such that it was more like a swimming baths than an equestrian course.

Badminton, Burleigh and the other three-day events are centres of excellence in a sport that is often not given much thought. I am happy to pay tribute to my constituent Jane Holderness-Roddam, who is a gold medallist and does distinguished work with the disabled and others to encourage her sport.

In this context it is often thought that those who ride horses tend to be the gentry and are worthy of less support from the Government and elsewhere than those who play football, for example. I have some difficulty with that. People who take part in equestrianism are often very ordinary people who struggle significantly to find the massive amount of money necessary to attain the great achievements that they manage to accomplish. It is important to remember that people do not appear from nowhere and suddenly become Olympic gold medallists; some of the people who learn to ride in riding schools throughout the country go on to great things. As chairman of the Horse and Pony Taxation Committee and a consultant to the British Horse Industry Confederation, I am most concerned about the sharp decline in riding schools. Some 234-5 to 10 per cent.—of riding schools in England went out of business last year. If that process continues, we shall face a severe decline in the nation's equestrian prowess.

The issue was addressed to some degree in the recent Government announcement about the diversification of farms, when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stated that he would consider reducing the rates charged on farms that offered equestrian facilities. That is all very well, but since then two things have happened. He announced subsequently, first, that the measure would affect only extremely small equestrian businesses, and secondly, that it would apply only to new equestrian businesses, thereby putting existing equestrian businesses on farms out of business. Nor did the Minister say anything about reducing rates for existing riding schools. Therefore, farm businesses diversifying into equestrian activities would be competing unfairly with existing riding schools and might well exacerbate the decline in the riding school industry.

We are talking about ordinary, sensible suburban riding schools, with children learning to ride on Saturdays. That facility is progressively disappearing. If I may use the Minister as a conduit to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will he please consider making it easier for farms to diversify into equestrian businesses, by changing planning regulations and reducing the rateable burden on farms? Will he also bear in mind existing riding schools, and at least find ways of cutting the rateable burden on them by 50 per cent., which is what the industry has been calling for for some time?

When I saw the title of today's debate, I looked up the references that have been made to sport over the years. In the old days, it used to be said that football and rugby were not sports but games and that sport referred to two things: the sport of kings—racing, of course—and the sport of the gentry, which is fox hunting. The Minister is one of the rare people in the Labour party who are outspoken in favour of the ancient sport of fox hunting—but perhaps that is the subject for another debate.

I make one plea on behalf of the sport of kings. The VAT regulations on the breeding of thoroughbred horses in the United Kingdom mean that breeding is progressively being exported, in particular to southern Ireland, where no VAT is charged on blood horse breeding. Southern Ireland has an unfair advantage over the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will make representations to her colleagues in the Treasury, so that we can change the VAT regulations and curtail the progressive export of blood horse breeding.

We must not think of sport as being only football and rugby, as this country also offers excellence in badminton, ping pong, equestrianism, swimming and other sports. We must include a broad spectrum. Unlike the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt), I believe that darts is a splendid sport. His constituents will certainly have noticed that—extraordinarily—he does not consider it a legitimate sport.

We have a proud tradition, over hundreds of years, of being the best at every kind of sport. The national lottery has been a significant influence in turning round the decline in recent years, as was demonstrated in Sydney. I hope that the Government will build on the achievements of Sydney and take into account some of the detailed points that I have made on equestrianism so that, once again, we will be one of the great nations in the sporting world.

1.8 pm

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

It is always good to debate sport—some people talk of little else. This has been a valuable debate. Several hon. Members have referred to the sparse attendance today, but there is no doubt that we have had a high-quality debate. The attendance says more about Friday sittings and the current state of our transport network than about our enthusiasm for the subject. As there is 2 ft of water standing in my constituency office in Old Malton, there is not a great deal that I could have done with my constituency secretary in sorting out constituency post this afternoon had I been there. I look forward to seeing the state of the problem tomorrow.

I remind the House of my interest as the president of York City football club. I do not think that we will have a waterlogged pitch tomorrow. We are due for what is colloquially known as a nine-point match—at the bottom of the third division, there are no six-pointers, there are nine-pointers—against Torquay United tomorrow. May the best team win.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) emphasised the importance that the Conservative party attaches to sport. That was reflected in the initiatives of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), to which several hon. Friends have referred. The first fruits of those initiatives have been spectacularly realised in recent weeks in Sydney. We warmly congratulate all our athletes and sports men and women who took part, especially the medal winners.

I know that some names of those who were successful have been mentioned. I would single out as my favourite Denise Lewis, whose performance gave me the most joy when watching the events in Sydney on television. She is a tremendous ambassador for the sport of athletics, for women in sport and for this country. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) said that anyone from any background, in any walk of life, should be inspired to achieve the very best on the world stage, and my goodness, Denise Lewis has done that.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) said that even very young children got hooked on watching the Olympics. I hope that that will be reflected in a greater interest in sport among children, in schools and in clubs.

There is no doubt that the world-class elite programme has made a huge difference, and Conservative Members warmly welcome the athletes' acknowledgment of that. I am not making a party political point, but it is not often that politicians are thanked, and I was greatly gratified that so many successful sports men and women acknowledged the importance of the lottery. We welcome today the Government's commitment to maintain the funding. We look forward to the review that the Secretary of State announced. We also look forward to an explanation in due course of where the funding to maintain the world-class elite programme will come from.

There is a case for a review. In particular, I hope that we can maintain support for swimming. We have won a lot of medals on the water—in sailing and rowing—but none in the water. Considering the present floods across the country and the danger that they present to young children, we really must encourage more children to take an interest in swimming. Great Britain should win a lot more medals in swimming than it has in the past.

A good example of the importance of the world-class elite programme was explained at the Sport England annual meeting which I attended in London on Monday evening. We were presented with a brief explanation by Stephen Baddeley, the chief executive of the Badminton Association of England. It is important to concentrate on the link between the world-class elite programme and the grass-roots of sport.

Some 8 million people play badminton on a casual basis—a terrific number—and 2 million play regularly. In 1996-97, the elite play expenditure started off at £140,000. In 1997-98, the figure increased to £1 million. In the current year, the figure is £2.4 million. In 1997, badminton was awarded £3.6 million capital funding from the lottery for the new badminton centre opened in Milton Keynes in March 1999. We also have high performance centres in Loughborough and Bath. That means that competitive players at the grass-roots level can feel encouraged, knowing that world-class facilities are available to them in this country if they wish to proceed to international sports. The cherry on the cake was that Britain won its first Olympic medal in badminton at Sydney. We congratulate Simon Archer and Joanne Goode on their bronze; we hope to see silver and gold medals at future Olympics.

Lottery funding, through the sports lottery fund, has become indispensable. Arguably, it is the most significant development for generations. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey referred to some of our concerns about the Government's treatment of the lottery. I shall not dwell on that, except to say that I hope the Minister recognises that it is not just Opposition Members who are concerned about the riddle of the relationship between Sport England and the new opportunities fund and the money that the Government want to go to capital projects.

The funding of sport was a top priority for lottery proceeds under the previous Conservative Government and, under a future Conservative Government, sport will continue to enjoy a substantial stream of lottery income, year on year. We would hope to streamline the process, which many applicants find difficult.

We want the Government's proposal to provide more facilities for schools to succeed. It is important to stress that those new facilities must be for school and community use and that the investment is not just for the benefit of schools. How much, if any, partnership funding will be required from the £750 million over the next three years for the projects? The Secretary of State referred to partnership funding but I was not sure whether there would be a requirement for as much as 20 per cent. funding or, in some rural or inner-city areas, whether it might be possible for 100 per cent. funding of projects.

Local authorities and the Government must work with Sport England to identify where the need is greatest. In the Conservative party's consultation document—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)—we suggested an audit of facilities and fields, and that has become very much in vogue. We should see not only what we have, but where we have gaps. The funding announced by the Government can fill those gaps, and I know of some in my own constituency.

Mr. Bob Russell

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that this audit should include sports fields that are owned by Government Departments and private companies?

Mr. Greenway

Yes, in many ways I do. We need to know where assets are that could be used for the greater good. Partly because of reductions in lottery funding, Sport England has less money, more of which is pre-committed, and is telling local government not to ask for money for capital projects until strategic reviews, covering all available clubs and facilities, have been done.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch rightly said that many businesses, firms and industries used to provide sports club facilities, but that is no longer so. In the greater York area, substantial support was once provided by several businesses, some of which no longer exist. The old civil service sports club playing fields are in a desperate state. The club is short of money, and is being carried on almost as a private club. We need to know where facilities are so that we can best use the money available.

As well as trying to ensure opportunity for all, which implies having facilities everywhere from Bournemouth to Bolsover and from Ryedale to Rye, we must note the difficulties that new facilities entail for revenue funding to keep them in good enough condition to support sporting activity. There are huge revenue implications for every major sporting capital project. That is a problem for local authorities, which increasingly find it difficult to support and maintain existing facilities, let alone new ones. York has a huge headache over the future of its swimming baths, and is not the only local authority with a problem. The hon. Member for Hornchurch and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath also referred to problems with swimming pools.

At Sport England's meeting on Monday, a governor from St. Aloysius school in north London—Islington and Hornsey—raised a problem with the school's playing field. I hope soon to visit the school, and I see the hon. Member for Tottenham nodding in recognition of that. The school has a tremendous record of success in soccer. In the last academic year, it did the treble, winning the district cup, the county cup and the all-England schoolboys cup, played at Molineux. Among its former pupils currently playing in the Football League are Joe Cole, Gary Breen and Danny Granville, and 20 more lads have signed with professional clubs. Because the local authority does not have enough money, the school's changing rooms, which are used by just under 1,000 boys a week, have deteriorated so far that they have been condemned. Even worse, the school may lose use of its playing field. Every effort to win financial support has fallen on deaf ears.

I do not mean to make a partisan point about the Labour local authority. The hon. Member for Tottenham referred earlier to decrepit, run-down facilities, of which those at that school are a good example. As school governors, each of us knows of such problems and what needs to be done. I raise this case because, although the Government rightly say that capital expenditure is available to create new facilities, we must keep an eye on schools with existing facilities that need major renovation. People are desperate for support. That was why the governor went to the school. Knowing the Minister as I do, I know that she and I will try together to do something to help that school. There are plenty more examples around the country. The maintenance of new facilities and pitches will also need thought and attention. I note the extent to which district councils in shire county areas particularly are becoming increasingly involved in resource issues. However, that is not a statutory requirement. They are not provided with significant funding to undertake that role.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch referred to sports clubs in the context of funding and sports facilities. Those clubs are feeling not only neglected but unwanted. It is entirely understandable that the Prime Minister wanted to make a high-profile announcement that £750 million more would be provided for sport in schools. However, the clubs are feeling left out. Many of them cannot obtain money from the lottery for capital projects for the reasons that we have gone into.

It is vital that we encourage and foster a partnership approach and energise all volunteers, and the Secretary of State said that he wants to do that. Sports clubs can often provide a better opportunity for coaching and competitive team sport for many youngsters than can schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) referred especially to coaching.

As we see this policy progressed, I hope that we shall see a partnership approach between schools, clubs and local authorities so as to get the very best out of the money that is being made available, and to ensure that we have a comprehensive coverage of sporting opportunity for children and local communities throughout the country.

Several hon. Members have referred to the school curriculum, into which I do not want to go in any detail except to say that once again, in many parts of the country, children are playing team games competitively much more through clubs than through schools. I hope that school sports co-ordinators will embrace the opportunities that clubs provide.

If a child is one of 50 or 60 pupils at a tiny rural school on the North Yorkshire moors, he will not be able to play soccer for that school, let alone play in a team of one age. However, many children play at local sports clubs where, thanks to lottery money, we have seen significant improvements in many facilities. Through the co-ordinators, there is a great chance to ensure that all the children who should have a chance have that chance. It does not matter whether it is a school or a club. What matters is that children have the opportunity to play. Unless we expose every youngster to opportunity, we shall not find the new young talent which, when properly coached by a qualified and experienced person, can enable us to enjoy more international success for either Great Britain or England, depending on the stage, in the years to come.

We need also to encourage more business sponsorship of sport. Business in Sport and Leisure is well placed to achieve that. Sportsmatch has been mentioned as a successful initiative. There is also the sponsorship of events. I am slightly surprised that it has not been mentioned, but there is still the vexed problem of replacing tobacco sponsorship in a number of sports. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) referred to darts. I think that there are only three more years in which to save the sport. Thus far no alternative sponsor has been identified to provide anything like the support that it now receives and enjoys from Imperial Tobacco. We need to keep that in mind.

We welcome the Secretary of State's update on progress with the sports institute. Once identified, youngsters of real potential will gain a great deal from the facilities that are being established throughout the country through the English Institute for Sport. The initiative was much delayed, and that is to be regretted, but we welcome the progress that has been made. It is a vital part of the vision of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon of the sporting life of our country in future. Like the Minister for Sport, we welcome the development of the Football Foundation. It is extremely important that the grass-roots facilities that the foundation has helped to finance have multi-sports use.

Although it has been said that the number of schemes and sources of finance is confusing, I believe that Sport England should be the lead body. Several speakers have mentioned playing fields. Now that it is going through the audit of facilities and playing fields, Sport England is best placed to decide and advise on whether a playing field can be sold off, or ought to be retained. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire gave two examples. I remember discussing the issue with the Minister for Sport in a Westminster Hall debate, and I have been the governor of a school that decided to sell. If a school can create a new gym or library while retaining lord knows how many acres of pitches, selling makes sense; however, in many other cases, what is sold off is the birthright of sporting opportunity. Sport England must be given a bigger say in determining whether sale makes sense.

Several speakers have mentioned Wembley and Pickett's Lock, and I have an observation to make in connection with Wembley. I do not think that the high cost of the project has been touched on today. We want the new stadium to be the best in the world and we have every opportunity to make it so. Notwithstanding the arguments about athletics, the high cost of new Wembley is giving rise to great concern among supporters about ticket prices. I am sure that the Minister for Sport agrees that the cost of the project, much of which is associated with development unconnected with the actual pitch, must not be reflected unfairly in excessive seat prices.

Fans in London will carefully watch the development at Arsenal, which, like me, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport will be eager to see. To have 68,000 at Old Trafford on a Saturday, but only 30,000 at Highbury, is like competing with one arm tied behind one's back—the competition is not entirely fair, given the sums of money available in football these days. If Arsenal can build a stadium that seats 60,000 for £200 million and keep ticket prices reasonable, fans will want to know why they face the possibility of having to pay two or three times as much at Wembley.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove who, understandably, has gone to attend to domestic duties, asked whether Pickett's Lock would be viable. I visited Pickett's Lock on the day the announcement in Paris was made, and I saw the excitement among those who wanted the development to take place. I said that the timetable—to get the facility in place by 2004—was extremely challenging and that it might not be possible to adhere to it. That was April; now, in November, we are about to embark on another feasibility study. I understand the need for detail, but we need a formal, definite decision that the project will go ahead.

There are to be no athletics at Wembley, which clears the field, so to speak. Athletics is out. One assumes that £20 million will be paid back soon, and that once it has been paid, athletics could take place at Wembley only if a commercial rate were negotiated. That is unlikely, as I do not believe that the relevant bodies could afford it.

Urgent progress on Pickett's Lock is needed. Other centres will be affected—Gateshead, Sheffield, Birmingham and possibly Crystal Palace—but if the Government are committed to an athletics stadium based in north London, we support that, and we want to see some action.

On the subject of international sporting events, there is still in the background the issue of an Olympic bid. The Secretary of State would no doubt agree that any Olympic bid would not be credible if the world athletics championships that we have promised to host in London in 2005 were anything other than a rip-roaring success. I believe that the Commonwealth games will be a great success, and that proportionately, Manchester will be every bit as successful as Sydney.

Several hon. Members referred to the charitable status of sports clubs. From our exchanges and interventions, we all made it clear where we stand. The hon. Member for Hornchurch said that many sports clubs that used to have the support of business or industry no longer do so. That should concentrate the minds of those who run the clubs as to whether they are getting support. They do not get revenue help, but it is not easy to find a way through the problem of charitable status. I hope that that will be possible. The Opposition are committed to free access to criminal record checks for the volunteers who do such sterling work in many of those clubs.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire rightly introduced into our debate the future of sport and the horse. Although I shall not comment on the equestrian aspect, I agree that we must ensure that the VAT issue is successfully resolved. I was one of the three officers of the all-party racing and bloodstock committee who persuaded the previous Government to allow the VAT derogation, if that is the correct word. That is again under threat. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State is aware of that.

We must ensure that the vast horse racing and training industry, which is extremely important in my constituency, continues to enjoy support. It was good to see the Minister at the point-to-point dinner recently, and the charming photographs in the press. I know that her visit was warmly welcomed.

On a matter which, although it is not part of the right hon. Gentleman's brief, but part of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's, nevertheless relates entirely to the Government's support for sport, we welcome the Chancellor's indication this week of a change in general betting duty, brought on largely by the haemorrhage of betting to the internet overseas. We want the Tote to be sold to a racing trust as quickly as possible, and we support the proposal to abolish the levy. Through this debate, I encourage racing and bookmaking interests to reach an early agreement. The industry is important for all those who work in it, and particularly for the rural areas.

On the football transfer system, the right hon. Gentleman and I exchanged views during parliamentary questions on Monday, from which it is clear that there is some agreement between us. The matter is vital to clubs and their supporters. I was in Brussels two weeks ago today, trying to discover the EC view. I know that some of the hon. Members who raised the matter have had to leave, but they will doubtless read Hansard. As I understand the position, the Commission wants to ensure that if another football player—there are several cases pending in Belgium—challenges the legality of the existing system, the transfer system will have been amended in such a way that the Commission could support it in any court case. If that is what the Commission is trying to achieve, its approach is wholly desirable. However, the threat of the 31 October deadline, about which most clubs did not know until the middle of August, gave football the impression that the sword of Damocles would descend and that the idea would be scrapped. It does not matter whether that is true; it was perceived to be the case.

We should try to gain some EC support for a reform that would help to resist any court challenge. However, it must not be at the expense of football's having to agree to a system that would wreak havoc on soccer as we know it. I hope that we can find a compromise, and that the crucial elements about which the Secretary of State and I agreed on Monday are included in any arrangement that commands the support of football and the agreement of the Commission.

I shall refer briefly to a rather different sport, which no one else has mentioned, although we have referred to the floods. The sport is angling, which more than 3 million people in this country enjoy and is worth approximately £3.5 billion to the rural economy. I commend to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport the early-day motion on the coarse fishing close season that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) has tabled. As shadow Minister for Sport, I cannot sign it.

The salmon and freshwater fisheries review group recommended the removal of the close season, which runs from mid-March to mid-June, on rivers and streams. I am told that the recommendation has met with considerable opposition from Britain's 3 million anglers. I have been lobbied about it, and a recent opinion poll showed 80 per cent. support for retaining the current arrangements. Today's debate affords a good opportunity to highlight the importance of the issue. The fishing industry believes that it is underfunded by the Environment Agency. I appreciate, however, that that body currently has its work cut out with the recent flooding.

The debate has shown that there are some differences between the parties. We are worried about the Government's treatment of the lottery, however well intentioned. We believe that an arm's-length approach and additionality are important principles, which are being undermined. The Secretary of State knows that we are less than impressed by the Government's handling of the Wembley project. We remain deeply anxious about ensuring a suitable venue for the world athletics championships in 2005. Nevertheless, we share the overriding objectives of strengthening our international performance, securing an even bigger role for sport in society, and ensuring that all youngsters have a sporting chance and are given greater encouragement to play sport. The Youth Sport Trust report, which is published today, highlights the importance of that.

We pride ourselves on being a sporting nation, but we cannot take pride in the current state of sport in schools or the community, and especially not in the facilities that many young people have to use to play sport. The programme of action to put that right began in 1995 and it must be seen through to a proper conclusion. The Opposition are as committed to that as anyone else.

1.44 pm
The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey)

We have had an interesting morning. Although we are few in number, as all speakers pointed out, the debate has been good tempered and of good quality. We heard a little bit of cricket history, from which we learned a lot.

It is not often that a debate is watched by one of the greatest sporting teams in the world—the Australian rugby league team was listening to our every word earlier. I am not sure what that will have done for the team's knowledge of sport in this country, but it gives me an opportunity to welcome the fact that we are hosting the rugby league world cup and to pay tribute to all the work that has gone into organising that event. I hope that the best teams will be in the final at Old Trafford in a couple of weeks, and that one of them will be England—but saying that might raise objections from hon. Members.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have returned from watching the Olympics and Paralympics and other hon. Members have referred to watching them on television. Those who care deeply about sport have been invigorated by the results at the Olympics. Although we were not given much notice of this debate, we all had the same notice, and it is important that we are not complacent but build on the strength of our Olympic and Paralympic success. Therefore, our commitment to maintain—and, indeed, strengthen—the lottery funding for elite sport and our world-class performance programme is important.

The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) did not question our commitment to maintaining that funding, but asked where the extra money would come from, as did the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). It is important that I clarify that matter. There is now simply more money in sport than ever before. Of course, we would all like there to be even more money, and it is absolutely clear that this country needs long-term investment in sport—and we are beginning to see that long-term, sustainable investment in sport.

Hon. Members will recall that the Chancellor announced the doubling of Exchequer funding for sport. From April, £4 million will go directly to the United Kingdom Sports Institute via UK Sport. Until now, people would have had to apply to each of the home countries for funds—the vast majority of which come from Sport England—to help towards the completion of the institute. That direct Exchequer funding will release extra money from the home countries sports councils and the lottery sports panel during the next three years. That money can be used in whatever way those organisations see fit.

As hon. Members have said, all our athletes at the Paralympics and Olympics drew attention to how much that support allowed them to have warm winter training and the back-up of sports doctors, scientists, medical experts and psychologists, all of whom gave those talented people the extra help that made the difference between winning and losing medals. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Gold Coast camp for all our Olympic athletes was the envy of many of our competitor countries.

We are committed to maintaining that funding. There is more money in sport than ever before, and the Government have to set strategies and targets. Clearly, we want those in sport to decide how they should spend that money. That is precisely why we have set up the review, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). It is important to deal with those aspects of lottery funding that did not work so well.

Last week, I met the performance directors of all the Olympic sports. They praised the amount of money involved, but of course some things could be done differently and better with less bureaucracy and red tape. That will ensure that the money is targeted so that there are no anomalies by which people in one part of the United Kingdom receive different funds from those in another area for representing the British team and the country. The small review group should come up with such proposals soon and reconsider ways in which to ensure that the institute works with different regional centres. We look forward to its report, which will appear by the middle of next year.

I shall respond to various points raised in our debate. I thank hon. Members from both sides of the House for their general support for the principles of "A Sporting Future for All". It is generally accepted that it sets a clear strategy to meet the relevant needs. The implementation groups that we set up contain people from sport. They do not specifically represent governing bodies or education, but involve people from local government, sport, governing bodies and community groups. The aim is for those groups to produce an action plan, and they are about to make a report.

For the first time, many people in sport feel empowered and able to express what they believe is needed to turn "A Sporting Future for All" into a reality. The report will go to me and, at least with regard to its education aspects, to Ministers in the Department for Education and Employment. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), who discussed joined-up government, will be interested in that.

Several hon. Members discussed the collaboration between my Department and the DFEE. There are close working relations between the Departments at ministerial and official level, although civil servants from different Departments can often speak in different languages when discussing the same things. The appointment of Sue Campbell, the chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, has helped the collaboration between the Departments and there is now a much greater understanding of what is meant by physical education, school sport and good-quality physical education provision. The implementation groups, which contain a wide range of expertise, are considering, for example, whether it is better to spend two hours on good-quality physical education or a longer period on physical education of not such good quality. Their results will bring about a sea change in attitude and in the relevant structures.

A crucial feature of "A Sporting Future for All" is that it recognises the need to begin with schools—even at pre-school—but it stresses that one cannot suddenly say, "Youngsters leave school, after which everything else is fine and will be looked after." There has been a good system at the top, and the situation may be improving at the bottom, but the situation in the middle—the link between schools and sports clubs, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ryedale—is crucial. That was stressed in the document and by the implementation groups. When the report is published, we expect it to contain some imaginative ideas that will make a difference. We cannot deliver without close co-operation between the schools and sports clubs.

That brings me to the role of sport co-ordinators. It is important that they work with sports colleges as they are the pinnacle around which all the other schools in an area will operate. The families of children in primary and secondary schools will be involved, and the sports colleges will lead the way by raising physical education standards in sport in schools and the local community and by using sport as a vehicle to raise a school's academic standards.

Mr. Bob Russell

Is the Minister flagging up the possibility that the minimum requirement of two hours physical education in the school timetable, which is already missed by 75 per cent. of children, will be diluted? That would remove the aspiration, let alone the achievement, of the two-hour target.

Kate Hoey

Absolutely not. The two-hour target is a firm aspiration, to which my Department and the DFEE are committed. The strategy and the work of the implementation groups, school sports co-ordinators and the sports colleges are geared towards providing good-quality sporting and physical education opportunities in schools. The additional £750 million for the improvement of facilities will also be used in that effort.

We must not get too hung up on the question of two hours, as there could be one hour 55 minutes or two hours and five minutes for sport. I want every child to have a good opportunity to get involved in physical education and learn about the things that it can give them so that they can get involved in sport. Some of that will happen in school, but some will happen after school hours, given the time that it takes to organise competitive matches. However, the two things must go together and physical education teachers, especially those who become school sport co-ordinators, will have the role of working on existing links.

Governing bodies have development officers working in the locality, as do local authority sports development officers, but no one is making it all fit into a coherent pattern. That will be the role of school sport co-ordinators. Having visited many sports colleges and seen the fantastic work that they are doing, I think that they will be a model for the way in which we can improve opportunities.

The hon. Member for Colchester talked about matters that, in effect, have been covered by the Bill on amateur sporting clubs introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) under the ten-minute rule. I have made no secret of the fact that we need to look at the way in which our amateur sports clubs are penalised when, perhaps, other amateur cultural organisations are not. We are in dialogue on that matter, but the final decision, as with many matters, lies with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There has been important cross-party support for that measure in relation to all sports, and it would be a terrific morale boost if it were introduced. However, there are many difficulties that we have to try and overcome in giving more support at grass-roots level.

The hon. Member for Colchester mentioned PPG 17 and the important issue of the protection of sports facilities in private or corporate ownership. I hope that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will publish a revised draft of that documentation for consultation. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the recent Green Paper on local government finance which, for the first time I believe, made specific reference to sport, as its annexe dealt with seeking views on rate relief for sports clubs. It is important that hon. Members read and react to that document.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the British Olympic Association does not get Government funding. Only two countries in the world do not get direct Government funding. Many use the BOA as an overall body for sport in the same way as they use UK Sport and the sports councils. The position may change, but the BOA has cherished its independence from Government. For example, when Margaret Thatcher tried to prevent our sporting team going to the Moscow Olympics in 1980, it was able to stand up and say that it would go if it wanted to. There has been no argument in favour of changing the BOA' s position, but it could happen.

We congratulate the BOA on the huge amount of money that it has managed to raise. It has done a terrific job with sponsors and supporters. All the sponsors who saw the success of the teams who went to the Olympics and Paralympics will be very pleased indeed that they put their name to that. Those who did not sponsor the teams may well hope that they can get involved in sponsoring the teams for the next games in Athens.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) told a nice story about his two children looking forward to the next Olympics and wanting to know when they were going to start. I realise that the Commonwealth games are two years away, but we should tell them how important they are. When I was out in Australia, it was interesting to discover how many Australians thought that the Commonwealth games were really important. They will come with a united Australian team, but we will compete as home countries and might not, therefore, have the same success in the team events that we had at the Olympics.

Work is going on to make the Commonwealth games an important sporting event for the nation, and for Manchester and the north-west in particular. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has provided additional money to ensure that we have high-quality opening and closing ceremonies. It is always difficult to think of emulating an event as successful as the Sydney games, but we will produce the Commonwealth games differently and make them a high-quality event.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned boxing, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). I have been a great supporter of amateur boxing. Boxing clubs in my constituency get youngsters into a disciplined atmosphere that provides them with skills and attributes that they would not get at that age in many other sports. I share his disappointment that boxing is no longer a school sport. I recently met the English Schools Boxing Association, which is considering areas of the country that might pilot boxing schemes. I am sure that it will read his comments with interest.

I was also pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch said how important it is that the money from television is going to the grass roots through organisations such as the Football Foundation. We have to find ways to get money from the very rich sports into sport at a lower level. The Football Foundation is only a start and I hope that, as television money increases, more money will be put into it. Cricket, tennis and rugby also put substantial sums into their sports. We need to look at the longer-term future of sport and consider how we can get money into those sports that do not attract huge money from television.

My hon. Friend mentioned cricket. That sport also receives a great deal of criticism about what it has done over the years for its sport at the grass roots. I have been very pleased with the enormous amount of work that the England and Wales cricket board is doing around the country. We hope that money will be put into those sports that have not modernised because they have not recognised how sport has changed. It makes a difference when governing bodies realise that they can no longer assume that people will come to watch their sport. There are so many other opportunities for young people, and much more has to be done. The governing bodies have to get out there and sell their sport.

I join the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) in paying tribute to the work of Sportsmatch, which does a terrific job. I am very pleased that, as part of the Exchequer funding, we have been able to increase the Government's contribution to it. Sportsmatch makes a difference and helps to provide excellent local community facilities. I also join the hon. Gentleman in supporting the work of the Youth Sport Trust.

Just yesterday—I think it was reported in the news today—I launched with the Youth Sport Trust and Nike their report on girls in sport, which the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) mentioned. The report is important. The support of the sponsors has meant that a great deal of research has been carried out. They are now going to schools throughout the country. They have the results on why young girls are turned off sport and physical education. Some of the problems are practical, such as what girls have to wear and attitudes to showers. The report has been welcomed by physical education teachers. It is important that we get results from it because too many young women are missing out on having an interest and involvement in sport, which might last the rest of their lives.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove mentioned women's sport. Increasing numbers of girls and young women are playing football, rugby and a range of other sports that traditionally have not been seen as women's sports. I am pleased that I have been able to give those sports as much support as possible over the past year.

In an interesting speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham made clear the similarity between our two constituencies. I strongly agree with what he said about the power of sport in communities, and the difference that sport can make to people's lives. I also agree with him that so-called minority sports need assistance. I try hard to spend a lot of time listening to spokesmen for such sports, who often have useful ideas about what could be done to make a difference, with not huge but quite small sums.

Rowing, which was cited as a minority sport, has now become one of our most successful sports—

Mr. Bob Russell

Successful minority sports.

Kate Hoey

Successful minority sports, then.

I pay tribute to the Amateur Rowing Association, whose success this year has not come about overnight. It has organised itself properly, and I would hold it up as model of a governing body that is working with the grass roots. Its "Project Oarsome" has been a terrific success throughout the country, introducing young people still at school to rowing, but it also has a very clear idea of where it is going and what it wants. Its members work together as a team, and they are a credit to minority sports—if we have to use that term.

Let me say a quick word about football transfers. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, we take them seriously, and we are working closely with the football authorities. It is important for football to speak with one voice, not just in this country but in Europe generally. I am pleased that the UEFA-FIFA joint paper has now been submitted, although it is a pity that it took so long: they knew that this had been coming for a long time.

Mr. Greenway

The clubs did not.

Kate Hoey

The hon. Gentleman is right, but that was neither the Government's nor the clubs' fault.

At the EU Sports Ministers meeting on Monday, there was a real feeling that this was an issue that we had to fight. There was particular support from the German Minister, but there was also support from Ministers representing a number of other countries. We are speaking with one voice—and, as hon. Members know, the German Chancellor also made a statement. What makes football in this country is the fact that it is spread throughout the community. We must support the smaller clubs in whatever way we can.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) made a number of points, about which I shall write to him. He had some interesting ideas about Olympic clubs and ambassadors. It is important that we should not create another layer of bureaucracy, but some of my hon. Friend's ideas should clearly be considered.

A number of questions were asked about the huge number of organisations involved in sport. Given the amount that my Department and the Department for Education and Employment spend on sport—indeed, there is spending throughout Departments; some of the Home Office's anti-drugs initiatives may be sports-related—there clearly needs to be more co-ordination in regard to how the money is spent. We have therefore announced the establishment of a new forum, the strategic alliance for school sport. It will constitute a partnership between the Youth Sport Trust, which is predominantly the delivery mechanism for DFEE initiatives, and Sport England, which is predominantly the delivery mechanism for our Department's initiatives. They will come together with representatives from the two Departments and the new opportunities fund.

That alliance will bring together the key stakeholders in the future development of sport in schools. It will help to ensure that all the money is spent in the best way. It will be chaired by Trevor Brooking, chair of Sport England. It is another way of the two Departments working more closely together and of ensuring that what one Department is spending does not contradict what another Department is spending.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that important and useful clarification, but can she say at what point the local government organisations will be involved in that process? It seems that they will very much be part of the delivery of that.

Kate Hoey

Local government has an important role to play in the delivery of sport. As we know, huge amounts of money go in, but this is specifically money that is related to schools sport. It will not be just a simple bidding process, where every local authority puts in for a certain amount of money. We must look at where the need is and which area has not had any support. That is the sort of thing that that body will do, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I meet regularly with the Local Government Association to discuss sport. There is an important role for local government. Indeed, in "A Sporting Future for All," there was more mention of local authorities and local government than there had been in any other sporting document. We cannot deliver our sporting opportunities without local government being involved.

I think that I have covered all the main points. We have made great strides. There has been an acceptance that there has been a lot of neglect in certain areas of sport over many years. We are now putting into place a funding system and funding that will be sustainable and long term—not just a one-off amount of money. We must see it long term. We cannot get a sporting nation that will continue to be successful at the top and become even more successful if we do not get the basis right, if we do not get the foundation right, and if we do not get it right in our schools. We are beginning to make those strides.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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