HL Deb 09 June 1993 vol 546 cc1019-36

8.41 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have additional proposals to improve and increase public sports facilities.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is some time since your Lordships' House debated sport. I believe that I initiated the debate on the previous occasion when we discussed the subject. I am sorry that the debate is taking place at this time of the night, after two very late sittings of the House, so that noble Lords are less inclined to stay for the debate. I should have thought that with all the difficulties facing sport at present the subject would have been worthy of a more substantial debate in order that all the representative points of view could be considered.

I shall not speak for long. I shall not speak about professional sport because I believe that that is well catered for by its own public relations staff who represent the individual sports. Little notice is taken of what is said about them because they are professional in name and in their activities. They run their own houses on a financial basis and control their own sports in their own way.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being invited to the annual general meeting of the Central Council of Physical Recreation. Afterwards, at the walkabout lunch following the meeting, I had the opportunity to meet groups of people representing various sports such as girls' netball, crown green bowls, flat green bowls, ten-pin bowls and so on. In this debate I am concerned with the lower end of the sports pyramid.

One of the main factors is the lack or shortage of finance. I recognise that it is difficult to talk about increases in finance for sport at a time of serious recession and economic difficulty, but I should like to make one or two principal points.

In the not too distant future substantial sums of money will be available from the national lottery. Sport will be a recipient of some of that money. I am told that one of the bodies which presently distributes money to sport does so at a cost of only £2 for every £100 distributed. However, it is possible that another body will be brought into being and given the job of distributing money for sport and that the cost will be much higher. I hope that the Government will think twice before making any alteration that will increase the administrative costs of distributing that money.

One of the main detrimental factors affecting sport in this country at the level with which I am concerned is the burden of the new uniform business rate. My noble friend Lord Howell referred to this subject when he was in another place. I believe that thousands of voluntary clubs have gone out of existence because they could not afford to keep going.

I am told that there are an estimated 150,000 voluntary sports clubs affiliated to the national governing bodies of sport, many of which own their own premises but are non-profit distributing and are reliant on volunteers to run their affairs. Independent sources estimate that £40 million is paid by voluntary clubs to the Treasury. A recent survey carried out in 1992–93 by the Central Council of Physical Recreation showed that 241 per cent. of clubs were being refused relief on the uniform business rate by local authorities. It is not an arbitrary matter, it is left to the discretion of local authorities. In Scotland, the cost of relief to the regional councils is estimated at nearly £3 million and in Northern Ireland at £1.33 million. At present there is no accurate figure in relation to the position in England.

I should like to put this very important point to the Minister concerning VAT. I understand that there is a new EC directive. The total amount that the Treasury claims from VAT on voluntary sports clubs is not clear, but the European Commission's sixth directive published in January 1993 stated that member states should be exempting voluntary sports clubs and associations. Great Britain is the only country in Europe not to exempt those clubs. The Central Council of Physical Recreation is having discussions with the Treasury and Customs and Excise officials to try to find a solution. If the Government could follow the same road as our colleagues in Europe immediately pre-Maastricht that would be money well spent.

There is no question about the benefits derived from sport at an early age. I do not want to give detailed figures, but the Royal College of Physicians has carried out a survey which shows that 13 per cent. of boys and 10 per cent. of girls are overweight. The national fitness survey showed that 70 per cent. of men and 91 per cent. of women do little or no exercise. It has been established that if young people have the opportunity to participate in physical exercise or games as youngsters they will carry on with that into adult life. That makes for a healthier Britain. There is general agreement that if youngsters have something wholesome to do, such as participating in any type of sport, whether it is soccer, cricket or running, or even fell walking, that keeps them out of mischief.

My noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Donoughue may have figures but I shall not spend more time quoting figures. However, there has been a dramatic fall in the availability of facilities for children of school age as a result of the disposal of school playing fields, and other facilities such as swimming pools, because of government policy. I do not wish to make this a political issue but I do not want the Minister to say that that has not happened, because it has.

I am a Mancunian by birth and I still live just outside Manchester. I remember when swimmers in Manchester who were good enough to make the Olympic team—and there were quite a number of them—used to train at High Street baths in the centre of Manchester. Those baths are now either in danger of closure or the decision has been taken to close them. That has caused absolute outrage because the number of local authority places where children can swim has diminished. It may be that one of my colleagues will wish to make further comments on that.

In 1990–91 local authorities received nearly £65 million for the sale of school playing grounds and other facilities. It is estimated that 40,000 playing fields and 70,000 sports pitches have been disposed of. When we are trying to keep our children off the streets and away from the juvenile courts it is tragic that that kind of massacre of facilities is taking place. I hope that the Government will take that on board because I am sure that the provision of such facilities would save the Government a great deal of money by keeping children away from juvenile crime. Many people voluntarily devote their lives' work to aiding such children and that is an extremely worthwhile exercise.

I do not wish to speak at length and other noble Lords wish to contribute to the debate. Therefore, I shall be brief and conclude my remarks with a few comments about funding and finance. I understand that the Secretary of State in another place has given a clear undertaking on more than one occasion that any money from the national lottery going to sport will be new money. In other words, it will not be used to raid the existing grants which are received from the Government—it will be additional money. That extra money will enable the voluntary sporting bodies to develop much-needed sports facilities.

I should have liked to speak for longer and I have available a mass of detail but I have confined myself to making one or two important points of principle. I know that this matter will be dealt with thoroughly by my noble friend Lord Howell who has had more direct involvement in sport than I have and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Donoughue will also have an important contribution to make. I ask the Government to consider carefully the points which I have made and, when there is time available, perhaps we may return to this matter for a fuller discussion.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, it is not often that as only the second speaker in the debate one can stand up and say in all honesty that most of the areas that one was going to cover have at least been touched upon by the first speaker; but that has happened today.

My first point concerns support for voluntary bodies. That is extremely important. As the noble Lord, Lord Dean, pointed out, we tax our voluntary sporting bodies extremely heavily. That is all the more unfortunate because they are increasingly having to provide sports education. That is a result of the Government introducing the national curriculum which has much going for it, but there is increasing pressure on the amount of school time available for non-core subjects. Those subjects are being pushed to one side. It means that extra curricula activities are pushed aside; for example, team games. It takes a long time to organise and drill a team, especially in technical sports like cricket and rugby. Those will always be the first to go if there is pressure on teachers' time.

Having warmed myself up for tomorrow's debates on the Report stage of the Education Bill, I turn now to the voluntary clubs and why they need that extra relief from taxation. All clubs, even at a very basic level, will need to generate some income; for example, to pay for outfits. You cannot play in a football team or a rugby team if all the players are wearing different jerseys because you will pass the ball to the wrong player. It is that simple. Therefore, there is always a need for some income.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dean, said, even clubs at the bottom end of the scale want to be competitive. In most organised team games people benefit from being competitive on the sports field. To be competitive they will need to have training sessions, which means hiring facilities if they do not own them, or maintaining facilities if they do own them. The teams will need coaching and physiotherapy.

In my sport of rugby union we are amateurs up to an extremely high level. Therefore, we need to generate money in order to compete at that high level. Coaches, physiotherapists, trainers, pitches, facilities and sports medicine all require money. If that is to be clone, there must be a lowering of the tax burden, especially if those clubs begin to take on the burden of sports education. We must make sure that more money is made available, especially for technical British sports.

The first and easiest way in which the Government can do that is by lowering the taxation burden to something akin to charitable status. If that were done, the Government would not have to go through the rigmarole of handing out more funds but would merely have to stop themselves from removing quite so much from those non-profit-making organisations which are raising the funds.

In all those sectors the growth in junior coaching has been phenomenal over the past few years. That is taking on an extremely important role in education. Surely the Government should have some sympathy for that kind of activity.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dean, said, as schools sports grounds and other communal local authority-owned land are being sold off, those clubs are under pressure to become more organised and to raise more funds because they must own their own facilities. For example, if training facilities are not available, they must be rented through the private sector. The Government really should address their mind to that issue.

Local government reorganisation is taking place. New councillors may have different priorities and sports facilities may suffer as a result. Therefore, it surely makes sense for the Government to relieve the voluntary clubs of that heavy tax burden.

Everybody agrees that if we encourage people to take part in sporting activities, they will benefit from a sense of achievement and it will also improve their health. For example, it has been said that a high percentage of the population is overweight. Most people who take part in sporting activities will lose weight. As has been pointed out to me even though a low-level activity may not do a great deal of good, if you are taking a gentle walk, at least you are not spending your time stuffing your face with chips. You must provide people with an incentive to take part in sporting activities. The Government must ensure that communal space is available and they must recognise the fact that basic sporting facilities need to be made available to the general public for most of the year.

I make no special plea for any particular type of activity because sport is as susceptible to fashion as are most other forms of activity. Aerobics have replaced jogging as the "in" way to keep fit. Walking has become increasingly popular. One person pointed out to me that once you have a car, a great variety of places can be reached from which to take a walk. However, an environmentalist pointed out that the atmosphere is then polluted by the car while it is travelling to the countryside and the countryside is ruined by people trampling across it. That is a debate which we could discuss for hours and in which we could involve dozens of elements of your Lordships' House.

We want a more cohesive approach from the Government and leadership from the centre. At present, we do not know where we are going. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, that the new national lottery funding must be seen to be extra funding. I say that because if it starts to replace anything, even very slowly, we shall be forced back into a very similar situation to the one in which we find ourselves at present. Indeed, we do not know how much money will he generated by the national lottery. That is another political decision. After all, the sureties and so on could change in the future. The in-fighting between the arts and sports lobbies may not be a pretty sight if both are forced to cut back on resources.

I hope that we can hear from the Government tonight what their attitude would be towards trying to introduce better tax incentives for those voluntary bodies which are taking on so much of the basic sports education and introduction in the country and offering people the opportunity to start and participate.

9 p.m.

Lord Howell

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick and to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for raising matters on this rare occasion of a sporting character. They both touched on areas with which I shall not necessarily deal in the hope of being effectively brief, although that may be difficult. Nevertheless, I can only hope that we shall have more such opportunities.

On the other hand, if we look at the attendance in the Chamber for the debate this evening and then look at the speakers' list to see the names of those who have indicated their wish to speak, it must be said that it will not-give much heart to British sport to know that there are four of us listening and two or three of us waiting to speak. But sport is much more important than this absence of speakers would indicate.

I begin by picking up the Prime Minister's statement that he is very depressed. He told the women Conservatives last week that he was depressed not about the state of the economy or about the finances of the nation; he said that he was depressed because England had lost 2-nil against Norway and that he was further depressed because we had lost three one-day cricket test matches and the First Test. I should like to tell the Prime Minister, very kindly, that the reason we are losing in sport is just as great a matter of concern to the Government as are their economic and financial policies. Indeed, part of the case that I shall make is that it is naturally and inevitably the fact that we shall do badly at international sport if we deny the grass roots of sport in our schools and in our local authorities the nurture that is absolutely essential. The one follows the other.

In the government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, there was a total obsession, not with the best interests of sport but with the Football Spectators Bill, which we spent many hours discussing in Committee, and so on, and which was supposed to deal with the problem of hooliganism. Following the recent match in Norway, we find that even the parts of the Bill that are still in place which deal with how to stop thugs going abroad have had no effect. Indeed, large numbers of people were arrested, thereby disgracing the name of our country, because, yet again, the Government failed to listen to what we told them.

It is no use the new Secretary of State at the Home Office saying that he wants the Norwegians to prosecute. That is a very old story. I called for that myself time and again in the World Cup and elsewhere. However, he is right: the rest of the world is fed up with the British so-called "supporters" that we import into their countries. They do not want to prosecute them; they want to get rid of them back to this country. The only way to deal with the matter is to stop such people travelling abroad once they have a record of any sort. We told the Government that the Bill would not deal with the problem; indeed, it has not done so. If the Government want to amend it, I would be most happy.

Incidentally, I should like to stress that I am not particularly encouraged by the fact that Mr. Robert Key was one of the few Ministers to be moved in the recent reshuffle. I should like to pay my tribute to him. In fact, he had made a considerable mark. He listened to people and put himself around to be talked to, and so on. Moreover, he was gaining confidence. Therefore, I think that it is rather sad that he was moved at this moment in time, although I wish his successor well.

The debate is about local authority contribution to sport and recreation. The essential point to be made about sport and recreation is that it is a social service. Unless it is treated as such—it involves people's leisure time and helping them to spend it constructively and develop their personalities by playing sports—we shall never get the matter right. On the whole local authorities are the great providers of sport. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said about the voluntary sector. I endorse every word he said. On the question of concessions for rating and business relief and other such matters, I very much hope the Government will go as far as they can, although this is perhaps not a very good time. However, as I said before, it is essential to understand that sport is a social service.

I have only one quotation in my speech. It comes from a document of the Sports Council which I have with me. It reads: The decline of sport in schools—particularly team games —has been a matter of great concern to the Sports Council. In its submission to the Minister for Sport's Policy Review, school aged sport was identified as the Council's main current concern. Team sports have been hit particularly hard by the decline in the time available to teachers and pupils for extra-curricular activities. Local management of schools and financial pressures on local authorities present further challenges to the future of sport in schools". That is a very serious statement. The schools are the foundation of the whole of British sport—that is, of international and national sport as well as encouraging thousands of people to take up sports for the enjoyment and pleasure thereof. That is sport's true purpose: the joy and the happiness that it provides. It is the health of our communities that concerns us, as well as the future skills and performances of our national teams. Sport in the schools and the sports provision of local authorities are the bedrock upon which all that must be built. They are indissoluble. We should be concerned with sport in schools but particularly the provision for sport in primary schools. I go further and say that the drift away from proper sport provision in our schools originated in teacher training colleges. If we are having trouble in providing tennis players for Wimbledon, we are hardly likely to rectify that position until more tennis players are nurtured in schools, and that is not likely to occur until we provide the appropriate facilities and teachers who are trained in tennis coaching. Nothing I have seen in teacher training colleges comforts me in this regard.

Someone once said that there is not one qualified PE teacher in any primary school in this country. That may be a slight exaggeration but I believe it is near the truth. Teacher training colleges are now trying desperately to rectify that situation. However, they are hampered by inadequate funding. I come back to the Prime Minister's problems that I mentioned earlier. We should observe the performance of the England football team. We may find that a difficult thing to do but we may well do that at a later date and I wish them better luck on that occasion. Anyone who knows anything about football can see that the team lacks basic skills in football. Players are unable, even at this level, to trap the ball properly unless they have two or three yards to spare. One can see that on football pitches every Saturday afternoon. There is an inability to shoot straight or to pass the ball accurately. Those basic skills need to be taught to children in primary schools and certainly at an early stage in secondary schools.

Our England batsmen are often left in no-man's land during cricket matches. They do not know whether to go forward or back. They stay where they are and they are called out. Captains and bowlers do not know where bowlers should be bowling. That was very evident last week. When the captains decide where their bowlers are bowling, they do not know how to set the field for their bowlers. If they are bowling down the leg side, they put the fielders on the off side and vice versa. Those are elementary observations. I never thought I would have to point them out.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will reply, I am sure, with his usual aplomb, courtesy and concern. I beg of him to ask the Department for Education to stop talking absolute balderdash about the number of PE teachers in schools. We do not have enough PE teachers and it is no good saying there are enough to go round. I have been connected with Carnegie College for some years now. That is the oldest of our PE colleges. That college is trying to run a course for curriculum leaders but there is a shortage of funds. The staff at the college have informed me that the biggest problem they face is not being able to offer in-service training of primary school teachers as they do not have the funds to do so.

I now turn to the national curriculum. What we need is a strong statement from the Government on the philosophy and the purpose that they envisage for physical education within the school curriculum. We do not have such a philosophy and we suffer as a result. What do the Government perceive as the role of PE in schools and what do the Government perceive as the purpose of sport in schools?

A member of my family is a teacher and she has told me that in her school the ludicrous tests and the preparations for them which we have all heard about meant that all PE was abandoned during the period when the school was obsessed with preparing for the tests. The tests were not conducted but they nevertheless had to be prepared for. That shows that PE is not acknowledged as playing a central role in the development of the child. As I have reminded the House on a previous occasion, when Rab Butler's Act was passed physical education and religious education were the two compulsory subjects in the curriculum, as it was considered that they dealt with the spiritual and physical development of the child. Rab Butler got the matter right and we have been going downhill ever since we abandoned his principle.

As regards local government and schools, I believe the Government's policies are undermining their own purpose. Young people are being priced out of sports facilities as a result of Government policy and the cut-backs in local government spending. There can be no doubt at all about that. Playing fields are being sold off at a time when we have massive unemployment among young people, with delinquency, as my noble friend Lord Dean pointed out, and vandalism in our societies and communities. There is no proper maintenance of these sports facilities. I draw to your Lordships' attention that this is an inevitable result of the compulsory tendering regime. What is happening now in all our local authorities—I ask the Minister to take this point back—is that, if you say you are going to have compulsory tendering of management, maintenance, grass mowing and so on, then when people have to find savings all those areas in sports recreation will be denied to us, because they will often be put out to the private sector. I am not arguing that case at the moment: all I am saying is that the inevitable result is that spending in local government is very much restricted. Consequently, cuts fall on development work, coaching and the teaching of skills and on holiday courses and work for the disadvantaged such as we have been talking about, together with the unemployed, and so on.

I move rapidly on to the role of school sports associations, which I have talked about on many occasions, in this House and in the other place. The help of school sports associations is essential for all sports provision in the community and for our national teams. It is now almost an impossibility to find teachers who will turn out in their spare time on Saturday afternoons or evenings during the week because such a feeling of alienation has grown up between the Government and the teaching profession. It started, incidentally, with a decision of the Government that teachers have to clock in. I think they have to do a certain number of hours during the year—I believe 1,400 hours—and teachers are saying, "I have been giving my service to school sports on Saturday mornings and Saturday afternoons for years and I am now told that that is being discounted and I have to do 1,400 hours. I will do those hours, and I will not do any more." We have a chronic crisis in school sports associations. I would ask the Government to consider what they are going to do about this and how they are going to get the teachers back into running school sports and specialist team sports, athletics and so on.

I would like to say one word about the national lottery, of which I am a great supporter. The problems of local authorities now relate not to capital projects but to revenue considerations. We are told that most of the money from national lotteries will go on capital projects. As I have said on other occasions, every capital project has a revenue consequence, and you cannot depart from the revenue consequence. The biggest need for local authorities at the moment is to put right all the facilities that have been built since the war, which are crumbling. The facilities that are decaying can only be dealt with by revenue money. We do not need any more capital projects, or very few of them. We do not need many capital projects built for most of our local authorities. We need to employ coaches and to buy equipment. We need to have maintenance and we need to open up with the Sports Council rating relief; and we need to raise money in ways that have been suggested.

My final point is that we cannot avoid the cost of sport and recreational policy. When I was a Minister I had an exercise done—I think it was at Huyton, near Liverpool, which my noble friend will know well—on finding the cost to the community of dealing with all the damage, the delinquency and vandalism on that estate. It was necessary to find how that equated with the amount of money spent on sports and recreational facilities on that estate. The answer was outstanding: it was that we were spending money on repairing broken windows and all sorts of damage to facilities because we were not spending money in the first place to get people happily engaged in healthy sport, which is the way to terminate delinquency. We have to have more policemen on our forces, and on our beats. But how much better to have young people doing constructive tasks so that we do not need so many additional policemen on the beat.

There can be only one choice facing the country with regard to sports and recreation in the community. It is an absolutely essential service. There is only one way to deliver such a social service. It is through the local authorities. I again congratulate my noble friend for bringing that important point to the attention of the House.

9.21 p.m.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I apologise that my name was erroneously omitted from the list of speakers. I am sorry that my intervention adds 25 per cent. to the list and takes us to a later hour. It is a cosy gathering. One feels that we might more conveniently and convivially have met in the bar. However, I am confident that the quality of speeches more than compensates for the absence of quantity.

First, like my predecessor, I thank my noble friend Lord Dean for giving us the opportunity to debate sport. I agreed with all that he said, especially his stress on the base of the pyramid. Sport, as we would all agree, is an issue which concerns a wide range of citizens from all walks of life. A healthy society, both physically, mentally, socially and even medically, is one which has a vibrant sporting life.

There are many aspects to sport and to this Question. A number have been well addressed by my noble friends Lord Dean and Lord Howell. My noble friend Lord Howell especially speaks with more knowledge and experience than anyone in either House of Parliament.

Of particular importance are the roles of sport in relation to the nation's health and as a way of improving the social behaviour of our youth. It is not even financially sensible to save money by cutting sports facilities and then to have to spend 10 times as much on juvenile vandalism. However, I wish to focus especially on the impact of central and local government on the nation's sporting landscape.

I was a member of the original Sports Council set up by my noble friend Lord Howell nearly 30 years ago. We were excited and inspired then by a new vision of expanding sports facilities and sport access to the whole nation. I give two examples. One was the drive to build multi-purpose sports halls; barely a dozen then existed. In the next two decades some 1,500 were built. We were also deeply concerned that local authorities should open facilities, in particular in schools, to wider dual use.

I fear that some of that momentum has been lost. The local authorities, always the engine-rooms of sports provision in this country, have been squeezed particularly hard in that area. Spending on sport has been cut by 25 per cent. from £600 million to £450 million between 1987–88 and 1991–92. Further cuts are expected. Overall sports and recreation budgets were 5.1 per cent. of expenditure in 1987–88 and by this year are down to 4.3 per cent.

According to a recent Sports Council analysis, the United Kingdom spends one-third less on sport than any other EC country except Portugal. That is a disgrace and a betrayal of British sport. Public money matters. When applied to sport it is an investment, not only in sport itself but in the activities which relate to sport—tourism, media technology, and so on. It also pays off for the national Treasury. The Sports Council estimates that the Treasury receives £3.5 billion annually in tax revenue on sport and sports-related activities. That is seven times what it spends on sport. Adequate grants to sport are an investment in the nation's health, leisure and its industry.

Sport is basically a vital part of our quality of life. Yet in simple health terms, as my noble friend Lord Dean pointed out, the White Paper The Health of the Nation found that 70 per cent. of men and 91 per cent. of women do not take sufficient exercise for a healthy lifestyle. As I think he pointed out, 13 per cent. of boys and 10 per cent. of girls—and, I imagine, a much larger percentage of the Government Front Bench—were classified as overweight. How much of that is due to the absence of convenient and accessible public sports facilities?

The situation in schools is particularly worrying and that was quite rightly stressed by my noble friend Lord Howell. The 1991 report of the National Association of Head Teachers established that 56 per cent. of all schools said that they had insufficient sports facilities to conduct the new PE curriculum. The 1990 report of the Secondary Heads Association shows that three-quarters of their children have less than two hours of sport and physical recreation a week. I personally know, from experience with my own children at an inner London comprehensive school, how unsatisfactory sports provision can be. And it is getting worse. The Secondary Heads Association report to which I referred stated that 70 per cent. of state schools had suffered a decrease in extra-curricular activities in recent years. One reason for that deterioration is the policy of selling off local authority playing fields, made easy by the Government's 1981 regulations.

The CCPR estimates—as my noble friend Lord Dean mentioned —that £100,000 worth of sports fields are being sold off a day by local authorities. As he said, they received £65 million for the sale of sports facilities in the last recorded year for which we have figures. How can this massacre of facilities, as he quite rightly said, be justified? It is reversing our policies of expanding sports provision carried out by governments of both parties in the previous quarter of a century.

This difficult and undesirable situation is made worse again by the new provisions that where schools have dual use facilities, the schools alone are deemed to control them. I think that is bound to deter local authority and community efforts to establish such dual use facilities. Once more, that reverses the important and often difficult progress made in the field over previous decades. Dual use is an integral part of the Sports Council's policy for Britain. I should like the Minister to say something tonight to give us reassurance on dual use in the future.

The whole nation is concerned at Britain's present sports performance at national level, as my noble friend Lord Howell mentioned. Our cricket is depressing, our tennis is virtually non-existent at Wimbledon level, our Olympic performance is mediocre, our soccer is embarrassing. Tonight we tremble at what will happen across the Atlantic; one wonders, will our national team revert to the ancient habit of actually passing to its own side? But captains and team managers get the blame.

A nation's sport flowers only if its roots are properly nurtured. If we neglect the grassroots of our sport which are basically in our schools and the local clubs, then we are certain to do badly at the top. That is why we must halt the neglect and decline of public provision for sport. That is why we must invest, not only in Manchester for the Olympic 2000—though we must certainly do that—but also in our youth who will be competing at the Olympics and on football and other sporting fields long after that. We must not focus only on the Olympian heights. The needs of ordinary, everyday sportsmen with no pretensions to such high levels are of equal importance in our society, as my noble friend stressed.

I might add, since the national lottery has been mentioned, that it would be quite wrong to assume —as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, in what I thought was an excellent speech—that the new national lottery will perform miracles in this field. In this House we shall have other opportunities to discuss that point. But I stress that the lottery is supposed to be new money, additional to normal sports expenditure. I look forward to the Minister's reply to the question of my noble friend Lord Howell regarding the stress on capital projects and the need for current assistance. I should also like to ask him, in relation to the Manchester Olympics, what happens to the money that we have been told has been set aside for Manchester's bid if that bid fails? Will it be used for other sports? We should like the Minister to give us some assurance on that point.

But we need not be all doom and gloom about sport. Millions of people up and down Britain derive great pleasure each week from participating in and watching sport of all kinds. I may say that my noble friend Lord Peston (I am told privately, and perhaps it is unfair to reveal it publicly) even derives pleasure from going to Highbury to watch the Arsenal.

I am deeply concerned that the great progress made in national sports provision over recent decades is being jeopardised by—if I may quote what Mr. Lamont said in another place today when he denounced it—this Government's short-termism. I look forward—I have to admit more with hope than expectation—to some reassurances from the Minister. Above all, I think that we would all welcome a clear statement of the Government's attitude to nurturing sport at the grass roots, and especially in the schools.

9.31 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords I welcome the opportunity provided by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, to set out what this Government are doing to improve and increase public sports facilities. As always, we have had an interesting debate. I was intrigued by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, until I looked him up in Dod's and saw that he was a Minister in the Department of Education and Science from 1964 to 1969. I then understood how he equated our success in the 1966 World Cup with an increase in Labour's majority in the election that followed. It is a good line and I enjoy it. But I have to deal with the present day in 1993.

I always thought that to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, sport was a day out at Towcester race course. So I was delighted to discover his interest in and knowledge of some of the other sports in which he and I are also interested.

The Government are doing much in the area of sports facilities of which they can be justly proud. It would be wrong to concentrate solely on the provision of new facilities, as some noble Lords have said. Of perhaps greater importance is to make better use of what we have by attracting more customers. This means improving the sensitivity of management to customer demands and the quality of what is provided for any given price. Before the taxpayer is asked to pay more for additional facilities, or the private sector has the confidence to invest in partnership arrangements, they are entitled to see value for money demonstrated in what is already provided and in how it is managed.

I should like to pay tribute to what local authorities have provided in recent years in the leisure field. There has been a considerable increase in sports facilities over the past 10 years; in particular, increases in the number of sports halls and leisure centres. The number of public indoor swimming-pools in England has increased from 964 in 1981 to 1,050 in 1990. There are now over 1,500 sports halls and leisure centres in England compared with just 771 in 1981–82. There were only 30 artificial pitches in England in 1981, where now there are nearly 300. Of course, there have been unfortunate examples of out-of-date and expensive facilities being closed as part of a replacement and rationalisation programme, and in some cases as a result of poor management. But overall as these figures demonstrate, there has been a very substantial increase in the number of sports facilities open to the public.

It is sometimes alleged that playing fields are being sold off at an alarming rate to the detriment of both existing and future sports provision. There is no firm evidence to support such a view. My department granted the Sports Council some El million in 1991–92 to carry out for the first time a comprehensive survey of playing field provision to be up-dated on a continuing basis—a register. The results should be available later this month. Our policy remains firm that before playing fields are disposed of by local authorities, the local authorities should take account of long-term community needs. The Government and the Sports Council have been playing their part in improving the quality and competence of management, which is essential if the quality of provision is to be increased.

I would like briefly to refer to some of the incentives and measures available to leisure managers to increase efficiency and improve their services. One of the tools which managers can refer to is the Citizen's Charter. Its six key principles are: published standards of service; customer views to be taken into account in setting those standards; clear information about the range of services to be provided; courteous and efficient customer service; well-signposted avenues for complaint with independent review whenever possible; and independent validation of performance against standards and a clear commitment to improving value for money. We have had a very positive response to the Citizen's Charter guidelines.

A recent most important development was the introduction of national vocational qualifications launched last November in the sport and recreational field. The new qualification and occupational standards should provide a framework for the development and training of staff and volunteers in the sport and recreation industry on a par with opportunities in all other sectors of the economy.

This initiative has encouraged a new unity. In addition to the education and training consortium which has been set up by leading sports organisations to promote the implementation of NVQs, an important further step has been the development of the "Running Sport" initiative, planned jointly by the Sports Council, the British Olympic Association, the National Sports Development Centres and the British Association of National Sports Administrators.

Let me turn to competitive tendering, an issue raised, among others, by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Competitive tendering for the management of sports and leisure facilities is an example of where it is now increasingly accepted by the private sector that there will be circumstances in which the in-house team can do a better job that it could do. Conversely, there are examples of where the public sector has much to learn from the private sector. Initially there were fears on the one side that local government invariably kills initiative and on the other that the profit motive is incompatible with a high quality of service. Both those fears were exaggerated. Compulsory competitive tendering has succeeded in stimulating a positive review of local authority practices and improved efficiency in the sphere of leisure management, whether performed in-house or externally.

Despite the recent troubles in Oslo, the past two years represent a turning point for football in Britain. Prompted by the appalling tragedies at Bradford and Hillsborough, and the subsequent report into football by Lord Justice Taylor, the football authorities and clubs have recognised the need to put right the damage caused by years of neglect and to turn football stadiums into facilities which we as spectators can be proud of as we enter the next century. Earlier today I was in Bath, addressing the Institute of Building Control, which over the next few days will be looking at safety issues in football and in sport.

I should like to turn to resources and the resources available to local authorities and to other and new sources of provision. That is a point brought up by the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Donoughue. Provisional indications are that gross capital expenditure by local authorities in England increased from £161 million in 1986–87 to £240 million in 1992–93.

Local authorities in England and Wales are entitled to spend nearly all—rather than a proportion—of the capital receipts they realise between 13th November 1992 and 31st December 1993. Authorities are not obliged to spend the receipts during that period and can spend them on any kind of capital expenditure. That measure represents a substantial increase in local authorities' spending power. On the assumption that authorities' receipts continue at about the levels they themselves forecast for 1992–93, the concession should add about £1.75 billion to local authority capital spending in England and Wales. I hope that they are finding ways of putting those receipts to good use, including for sport and recreation projects which represent such a good investment both for the individual citizen and the community at large.

An important theme of the Government's approach to the provision of sports facilities is that we should move away from the concepts of separate local authority sports facilities and separate private sector commercial leisure. The Government are keen to encourage partnerships and many have already been created successfully. Charitable trusts can also be used to assist such partnerships and keep entrance fees low. That has been suggested by the commercial leisure operators represented by Business in Sport and Leisure in its discussions with the Association of District Councils and others.

It may be helpful to quote a hypothetical example. A local authority needs a new swimming pool, but has a site that is attractive to the private sector that could take a well-designed ten-pin bowling alley and other commercial facilities. The private sector acquires the whole site for development. It could then set up a charitable trust for the swimming pool which would be used to teach children to swim and be open to the public at large. All sectors of the community could be represented on the trust. The trust would be exempt from at least 80 per cent. of uniform business rate and by taking advantage of gift aid and covenants to reduce building costs, entrance costs could be kept to a minimum. The swimming pool would be a true community facility.

Grass roots sport in Great Britain has benefited by almost £3.5 million following the launch of the Government's Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme for Sport or "Sportsmatch". Launched last November, the scheme aims to increase the amount of business sponsorship going into grass roots sport by offering pound for pound matching funding for new and extended sponsorships. In the difficult economic circumstances which companies were experiencing, even as we come out of recession, the Government were concerned at the impact on grass roots sponsorship of sport. Priority areas for the scheme are the. young, disabled people, ethnic minorities and deprived urban and rural areas. For Great Britain as a whole some £3.7 million a year is being put into the scheme of which £3 million is for England. After a small allowance for administrative expenses that should bring around £7 million per year of additional funding into grass roots sport.

I now deal with some of the points raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked what the Government are doing to promote sport in the school curriculum. PE, which includes sport, is one of the 10 foundation subjects in the national curriculum. The attainment target and programmes of study for PE were introduced for pupils in Key Stages 1 to 3 from August 1992. The introduction of PE for pupils in Key Stage 4, which is 14 to 16, will begin from August 1995.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was also concerned about the training for teachers to teach national curriculum PE. We want to ensure that initial teacher training courses are more closely related to the needs of schools and their pupils by improving the focus on national curriculum requirements. Most secondary school PE teachers are trained through undergraduate courses, ensuring that sufficient time is available for thorough training. We also intend that some primary teachers should undergo training which prepares them to become subject specialists or curriculum leaders in PE.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, asked whether the Government intend to do anything to address the inconsistencies which exist between local authorities in the area of discretionary rate relief. I sympathise with some clubs' concerns, given the variation in practice which appears to exist between local authorities in this area. However, local authorities value their independence a great deal, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Dean, realises far better than I do.

The Government's view is that the element of local discretion in the granting of rate relief is vital for ensuring that relief is targeted at more deserving cases, having regard to the interests of the local community. It is the Department of the Environment which has the responsibility for the current system of discretionary rate relief for voluntary clubs. In January this year, and at my department's instigation together with the Department of the Environment, Department of the Environment officials wrote to all charging authorities in England reminding them of the need to consider each case on its merits when granting discretionary rate relief and that failure to do so would leave them open to the risk of legal challenge. Furthermore, we reminded authorities of the advice in the guidance that they should consider notifying organisations of the reasons for refusal.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, also asked me about VAT and the European directive. I understand that Customs and Excise are currently considering the position of non-profit making sports clubs under EC VAT directives. I am fully aware of the case made by sport and my department has made its views known to Customs and Excise.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked why charitable status is not given to sport. The principle of charitable status for sport is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government's position is that it would be wrong to single out sport in this way when there are other equally worthy causes which do not enjoy this benefit. But partly at our instigation, the Sports Council, in partnership with Touche Ross, has published an information leaflet on the benefits of charitable status and how to obtain it. Any sports organisation obtaining charitable status would qualify for mandatory rate relief at 80 per cent. The leaflet, which was published in March, should prove very helpful to sports clubs in their efforts to obtain charitable status within the existing legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, asked me what would happen if Manchester does not win its bid for the Olympic Games. We are not talking about losing. We are optimistic about Manchester's bid. The Government have backed Manchester's bid with money. We hope that Manchester wins its bid to hold the Olympics. But regardless of the decision of the IOC—none of us can forecast what that decision may be—Manchester will still get a new indoor velodrome, a multipurpose arena and an excellent development site in east Manchester. We will fulfil our promise to legislate for the protection of the Olympic symbols, which will provide long-term benefit for British sport. There are a great many other key decisions to be made but I think that these decisions are more appropriate to be made after the IOC announcement in September.

Your Lordships have brought up the national lottery. Sport will be fortunate in having a major new source of funding from the national lottery when it becomes operational by the end of 1994. The Government have decided to utilise the expertise of the Sports Council and the proposed new UK Sports Commission as the distributing bodies for the sports element of the proceeds. I am happy to give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, that control of costs will be a very important factor. The lottery funds will be an additional source of funding. The Government have always made that clear. We will have ample opportunity next Thursday to discuss the National Lottery etc. Bill in Committee Sport is a key area for my department.

Lord Howell

My Lords, before the Minister comes to his peroration—and I appreciate his expert contribution—can he at least take back for consideration the point, fiat the lottery should not be pre-eminently for capital works but that revenue consequences and revenue considerations should be much more to the forefront? I do not expect the Minister to give me an assurance now—and we shall certainly come back to this matter next week—but I do think that the Government need to rethink this point so that they get the balance right.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I quite understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. At Second Reading I said that we were looking at capital funding together with endowments and various options that might be available. It is a slightly complex subject all on its own and I believe that it probably deserves our considered opinion next week. I give the noble Lord an assurance that it is something which we are looking into very carefully.

As I have said, sport is a key area for my department. I agree with your Lordships about its importance, for the many reasons which your Lordships have mentioned. My department and the Government will play our part in the future of sport in this country.

House adjourned at ten minutes before ten o'clock.