HC Deb 05 November 2001 vol 374 cc3-5
2. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

If she will make a statement on her targets for encouraging sport in local communities. [10020]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Department is committed to raise significantly year on year the average time spent on sport and physical activities by those aged six to 16. In support of that central objective, we are investing heavily in school sports facilities that will also be available to the wider community. In delivering that programme, we will ensure that school facilities are properly managed for the community as well as for schools. I recognise the problems involved in achieving that, but I am determined that we should use those assets for the wider community, and we shall pursue that.

I should inform the House that the announcement of a chief executive for Sport England is likely to be made later this week. I hope that the announcement will be made by Sport England. Contrary to some of the press speculation, on which I obviously cannot comment, it would be nice to bring an English missionary back from Australia.

Tom Brake

I thank the Minister for his response. Does he agree that youth football clubs, such as Roundshaw and District Colts football club, will help the Government to achieve their targets by developing youngsters' skills and boosting their fitness and by involving the local community? Does he further agree that those targets will be much easier to reach if clubs, such as the Roundshaw and District Colts, and better-known clubs, such as Wimbledon football club, respond to the wishes of their local communities as they seek to expand?

Mr. Caborn

I cannot comment on the specific cases that have been drawn to the House's attention, but I can say on behalf of football that, through the Football Foundation and the improved corporate governance of football, those involved are, first, seriously considering how to generate indigenous talent in the footballing world and, secondly, taking note of the facilities provided by the football academies that are being set up by a number of the premier and first division clubs. I welcome that, as well as the campaigns that have been run effectively to bring new sports facilities into the community, such as that by Donald Trelford of The Daily Telegraph for sports playing fields. Those campaigns are to be commended, and I hope that the Government will be able to respond to them.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough)

I understand the need to ensure that young people have access to sports facilities, but does the Minister accept that community and amateur sports clubs offer many people post-16 a lifeline and are worthwhile places in which to partake in athletics? Unfortunately, such clubs are disappearing. Most local sports clubs, such as mine, once had three or four teams, but many of them now run only one or two. Will the Minister use his energy to ensure that more is put back into community and amateur sports clubs? Specifically, has he had discussions with the Chancellor about the consultation on the tax break that I announced—sorry, suggested—in my ten-minute Bill?

Mr. Caborn

I am sure that all the authorities will be pleased to have heard my hon. Friend's announcement on what the Chancellor will say, and I am sure that the Chancellor will be waiting to hear what my hon. Friend says.

On the second question, the answer is, yes, the Chancellor has announced that he is seriously considering relief for sports clubs. That is a matter for the Chancellor, but I have no doubt that he will act on it in the near future. I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said about sports clubs. It is important that that part of the sports infrastructure is given due attention. Although we are investing heavily in education facilities—about £750 million through the new opportunities fund—we are clearly doing so with an eye to ensuring that the wider community is involved. We want a system in which every young person—indeed everyone—has access to quality facilities and coaching, so that they can realise their potential. We are determined to put that structure in place in the medium to long term.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the Minister recognise that all his fine words are undermined by the fact that a third of primary schools reduced the amount of time for physical education during the past year, as the Select Committee on Health has shown? When the Government allow building on playing fields, such as Foster's field in Sherborne—a policy that has been savagely criticised by the very journalist whom the Minister prayed in aid in an earlier answer—are not all the Minister's fine words completely belied by the real facts?

Mr. Caborn

One of the first ministerial jobs that I had when the Labour Government were elected in 1997 was as Minister with responsibility for planning, and one of the figures given to me by the civil servants was that 40 playing fields a month were being closed each month when we inherited the Administration from Conservative Members, so we want no lectures from them on investment in sports facilities or playing fields. We have brought that figure down to one and a quarter a month. If they had done what should have been done when they were in power, we would not have been left in the sorry state that we are now in.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

We are looking forward to the announcement of £750 million for sport in the United Kingdom, but will that money make provision for the employment of professional ground staff? When cuts are made in a local education budget, the first to go is either the librarian or the ground staff. We have no cricket fields or proper playing fields and, when there is a flood or it is hot, health and safety regulations deem it too dangerous for children to play. No one in the community cares about ground staff, so will my right hon. Friend reflect on that point and tell us whether it will be possible to use the money that will be made available for the employment of ground staff?

Mr. Caborn

My hon. Friend raises an important point relating to the links between schools and the local community. We all know that, on a Saturday afternoon, it is sometimes difficult to get the school caretaker to open changing facilities so that the local football team can use the playing fields. We must consider that issue. Sport England is engaged at the regional level in dialogue with local education authorities and local authorities to ensure that facilities are available for the community as well as for schools.

I hope that an announcement about the new opportunities fund will be made in the next few months and, when money is awarded for new facilities, one of the conditions will be that we examine the revenue side and try to ensure that the facilities are open for 24 hours a day seven days a week. I cannot guarantee that, but I will ensure that they are open to the community more than they are at present.

Forward to