HC Deb 15 September 2003 vol 410 cc572-3
2. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

Whether it is the Government's policy to seek to legislate to permit certain mind sports to be recognised as sports for the purpose of receiving national lottery funding. [129552]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism(Mr. Richard Caborn)

The Government recognise the benefits of participation in chess and other mind games and continue to look at the case for amending the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937. That could allow the sports councils to fund mind games. It would then be for the councils, including those of the devolved Administrations, to decide whether to recognise individual mind games as sports for funding purposes.

Dr. Harris

I am grateful for that response and the moral support that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills have given to chess and bridge. However, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge the unfairness, which means that British top-class and world-class players, especially juniors and disabled players, are sometimes unable to access the international competition that we should like them to experience because, consequent on the 1937 legislation, they cannot get lottery funding?

Mr. Caborn

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but chess is funded directly by the Exchequer to the tune of £50,000. Indeed, in 2003, the figure will be £60,000. It has also received just under £500,000 directly since the lottery's inception. Funding streams can therefore be accessed for chess and other mind games. I am aware of the world-class performance, but until the problem of the 1937 Act is resolved and chess is included in the definition of sport, it cannot have access to direct funding from the Sports Councils.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

I wish to support the line of questioning of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who is my bridge partner in the House of Commons team. However, my question does not constitute special pleading because although I do not believe that the House of Commons team will apply for any grants, we are considering a serious issue. In my constituency many people play contract bridge, but travel to events, booking halls and so on are restricted to those who are reasonably wealthy. Recent studies clearly show that Alzheimer's and such conditions can be ameliorated by engagement with mind sports. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to continue to use his best efforts to widen the canvas on which his brush is currently painting.

Mr. Caborn

Notwithstanding all those points, I suggest that my hon. Friend gets a partner from either Scotland or Wales who could put some pressure on the respective Sports Councils. I have raised the matter at the sports cabinet, which Sports Ministers of the devolved Administrations attend. I am bound to say that there is currently no appetite for change. Unless there is such appetite in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it will be difficult to proceed with changes to the 1937 Act.