HL Deb 20 February 1986 vol 471 cc711-4

3.12 p.m.

Lord Bauer

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why they think it necessary to have a Minister for Sport, in view of their commitment to reduce the role of the state in everyday life.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)

My Lords, it is to reflect the Government's perception of the importance of sport, the degree of public interest in it, and the high level of public investment for which there must be parliamentary accountability. I must emphasise that the title Minister for Sport is a purely courtesy title. It does not give my honourable friend power to regulate either sport or sporting events.

Lord Bauer

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. But is there not necessarily much state spending in many different directions? Also, is there not much public interest in a variety of matters including children, women, sex and television, among others? Do the Government propose to set up Ministries for these also?

Further, is it not the case that the functions of the Ministry for Sport fall readily within the purview of the Home Office or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so that this Ministry is redundant, and merely politicises sport—

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede


Lord Bauer

—absorbs taxpayers' money and adds to the number of Ministers who have to vote with the Government of the day?

Lord Elton

My Lords, my noble friend asked me about the responsibilities for children, women and sex in the political sphere. These embrace the interests of my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Social Security and the Home Office. As to the number of Ministers, I can testify to the considerable load which they carry. I should point out that my honourable friend carries considerable burdens other than those represented by his honorific title. They extend to land use planning, regional policy, new towns, aspects of local government, the heritage and gypsies, and one should not belittle his ability.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to remind the House and millions outside that getting out of government has gone too far with this Government and that what we need is a Minister for Sport? Will the Minister also note that many of the less glamorous sports organisations, such as the British Judo Council, for example, require encouragement and support? Will he assure them and others outside that he intends to give encouragement to small organisations with small followings of people, as well as the large ones?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for all but the first part of his supplementary question. I can confirm that we are committed to supporting the efforts of sport through the Sports Council, an independent body set up by Royal Charter, which received from central government £30.6 million last year and will receive £37 million next year. The efforts of the Sports Council are directed in particular to small and not generally supported sports and it makes considerable and successful efforts to get them sponsorship.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is there still a separate Minister for Sport for Scotland? It used to be one of the Scottish Office Ministers. If so, will my noble friend convey to him warm congratulations on two matters: first, the success over the past five years of the ban in Scotland on liquor at football grounds, and, secondly, the high quality of the rugby football played by the Scottish XV in last Saturday's Calcutta Cup match, reflected in a score which has created a new record?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to the first part of my noble friend's question, I shall certainly pass on congratulations where they are due. As to the second, I think I had better kick for touch.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that there is a vast field of activity for a Minister for Sport, or whatever we might call him, to undertake in working with and encouraging local authorities and other sports organisations to make their facilities, which have a limited use, available for the general public, particularly children?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is right to remind me that the proper place for this important post is in the Department of the Environment, because that is the sponsoring department for so many activities of local government.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, will the Minister tell us exactly what is meant by "sport"? May we take it, for instance, that chess is sport?

Lord Elton

I should think marginally yes, my Lords.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, will the Minister give the House an assurance that the so-called Minister for Sport will not use his position to influence individual citizens in their rights to play their sport whether the sport be rugby, football, judo, darts or anything else anywhere in the world where they may wish to do so?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to the Gleneagles Agreement. The Government stand four-square behind it.

Lord Morris

My Lords, if the responsibilities of my noble friend's right honourable friend the Minister for Sport are so diverse, would he not consider calling him the Minister for Everything, not the Minister for Sport?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the list I have given is a small percentage of all the Government do, though it is a large percentage of my honourable and extremely active and able friend's workload.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, do your Lordships realise that the whole trouble with this Minister for Sport idea is that it brings competition into it? Bringing competition into sport has brought Britain a thoroughly bad name in sport throughout Europe. Fox-hunting is far and away the most popular and greatest British sport, precisely because there is no damned competition when one rides the country.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to introducing competition, which we on this side of the House regard as a thoroughly healthy thing, I should tell your Lordships that the last Minister to discharge this function before the title was attributed was the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. As to the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary, if the noble Lord is telling me that he does not exhibit any form of competition when he follows hounds, I am surprised to hear him say so.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that there is a very serious aspect to the original Question; namely, that in many parts of Britain, where people are aspiring to represent Britain in the Olympic Games, there are nothing like the facilities that are provided by other governments, by other countries, particularly in relation to swimming? Is the noble Minister aware that this is something that successive governments have ignored in that they have been unwilling to help and to provide the kinds of facilities which will enable our young Britons to prepare themselves when they take part in international games and particularly the world Olympics?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I accept that we have dealt with this Question at such length that the noble Lord may have forgotten the figures I gave earlier, which show that this Government in fact support sport extremely handsomely.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, will the Minister accept that in asking my question I was not referring to the Gleneagles Agreement, which as he will know refers to representative teams and not to the activities of individuals? May I ask again if the Minister will give an assurance that pressures will not be brought to bear on individuals, as opposed to representative teams, to prevent them from playing their games and sports anywhere in the world where they may wish to do so?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have sought to make it very clear that the Sports Council, which exercises influence over sport on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, is entirely independent of Her Majesty's Government. I do not recognise anything that the noble Lord has said as reflecting anything that it has done.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether all these questions and answers relate to outdoor sports or to indoor sports?

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I think perhaps your Lordships may feel that we have had enough sport for one afternoon and that we should go on to the next Question.