HC Deb 05 January 2004 vol 416 cc3-4
2. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)

What assessment she has made of the level at which women's sport is funded compared with men's sport. [145828]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

Until recently, Sport England has based all its funding decisions on objective assessments of sporting need, without specific regard to gender issues. The Government's cross-departmental activity co-ordination team, the chairmanship of which is shared between my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism and the Under-Secretary with responsibility for public health. my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), will investigate whether that has produced disparities in provision as part of its work on building the evidence base for our developing sports policy. The 20 sports that will receive one-stop planning support from Sport England and UK Sport must have full equity agreements in place. Those agreements include a requirement to meet gender-funding targets that are based on the circumstances of the individual sports.

Dr. Harris

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for explaining what work is being done. She will recognise that compared with the USA, our position on women's sport is very poor. We have no professional football league for women and snooker's governing body recently withdrew funding for women's snooker. Does she recognise that without better media coverage of women's sport—the skill displayed, not just the outfits and appearance of the participants—we will continue to have difficulty in encouraging girls at school to continue with sport in the way that boys do, in emulation of their role models? Do the Government have any role in providing funding to redress the gender imbalance in the media coverage of sport?

Tessa Jowell

No, I do not see a role for the Government in providing funding for media coverage. However, I see a case for funding national sports governing bodies and Sport England—as we are doing—to increase participation in sport by young women and girls. All the evidence shows that when measures are introduced to encourage more girls to take part in sports—such as the Nike initiative, which operates through school sports partnerships—they do so. The problem is greater at the grass roots level of sporting activity than at the elite end. We are well aware of the weaknesses in performance in meeting the needs of women in sport, and we intend to do everything that we can to rectify them.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the BBC should have a public service remit to cover women's sport? In the licence fee changes that may be made after 2006, will she ensure that the right of women's sport to equal coverage is printed and published in the BBC's public service remit?

Tessa Jowell

That is an interesting proposition, and I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is active in such areas, will ensure that the current consultation on the review of the BBC's charter notes that precise point.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con)

I welcome the Chancellor's recent acceptance—at long last—of mandatory rate relief for community and amateur sports clubs. As the Secretary of State will know, I long argued for that provision from the Dispatch Box. In view of her reply to the hon. Member for Oxford. West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), does she agree that community clubs are more likely to persuade girls and young women to take part in sport when schools and colleges are not so successful in doing so?

Tessa Jowell

Such organisations have an important part to play and measures such as those announced by the Chancellor to improve the financial security of community sports clubs will help. The steps that we are taking to improve links between sport in school and in clubs, through investment in school-club links, will also increase the opportunities for participation for young women.