HL Deb 23 July 1997 vol 581 cc1436-40

3.7 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they intend to implement their intention to persuade the Wimbledon tennis authorities to introduce more "People's Sundays" for "real people" as reported in the Daily Telegraph of 2nd July 1997.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, Chris Smith, the Secretary of State, has great powers of persuasion, but even he cannot persuade people out of the hospitality tent into the court. The Government are certainly keen to widen access to major tournaments such as the Wimbledon championships. The point has been made; it is now for the organisers to consider how best to respond. The People's Sunday was, after all, the organisers' own initiative.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. According to the Telegraph the Secretary of State, Chris Smith, said that he would put pressure on organisers, "to understand that for the real people access is the important thing". As Wimbledon is a private club and, as I understand it, is not in receipt of public funds, what on earth business is it of the Secretary of State to interfere in the way in which it runs its affairs? Secondly, how do the Government define "real people"? Why is somebody who bought his or her ticket in advance, and not on the day, any less a real person than those who bought them on the day?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord read the report in the Telegraph. I have the advantage of the transcript of the Secretary of State's interview on "The World at One", in which he neither used the word "pressure" nor the phrase, "real people". So the noble Lord's strictures do not apply in this case.

I am not sure what I would understand by the term "real people". On the rare occasions when I go to Wimbledon I see a number of noble Lords in the members' enclosure. They look real enough to me.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the only reason that there was a "People's Sunday" for "real people"—and the definition of "real people" certainly excludes hereditary Peers—

Noble Lords


Lord Ewing of Kirkford

The only reason that there was a People's Sunday for "real people" was the torrential rain during Wimbledon fortnight. Is my noble friend aware that Labour governments can perform all sorts of miracles? During the long, hot summer of 1978, my noble friend Lord Callaghan, who was at that time Prime Minister, appointed my noble friend Lord Howell as Minister for Rain. What we need in this new Labour Government is a Minister for Rain in order to ensure that there is always a People's Sunday for real people. As one of the wettest of wets in this House, may I put forward my own name?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Howell on his achievements as Minister for Rain, although from where I am I cannot join in patting him on the head as my noble friend Lord Ewing did. I am interested to learn of the willingness of my noble friend Lord Ewing to be appointed as Minister for Rain because I shall certainly not volunteer myself.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as a "real" person and also a member of the All England Club at Wimbledon. Is the Minister aware that the Wimbledon championships are one of the great sporting activities of which this country is very proud? The completion of the present championships within the specified time, despite the rain, was a remarkable achievement.

Is the Minister further aware that the spectators at Wimbledon have a proud reputation for their impartiality and good sportsmanship? They very often give more encouragement to the under-dog than to the person who is winning the match. It would be a great shame if that were in any way endangered by trying to alter the atmosphere of the championships.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am happy to confirm what the noble Lord said about the importance and distinction of the Wimbledon championships. My understanding is that the reason we do not have the equivalent of "People's Sundays" at every championship is not just that in most years there is not enough rain, but that the organisers of the championships find it desirable to have the Sunday off in the middle of the two weeks in order to prepare for the second week. They have great difficulty in running the championships right through and that is a point which the Government will have to recognise in whatever persuasion they seek to apply to the organisers.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, has the Minister's attention been drawn to the excellent arrangements that were made for the Open Golf Championship at Troon over the weekend? Is he aware that the championship is run by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews which does not enjoy protected status for the Open Championship but has agreed to give the contract to the BBC so that everyone can see the Open Championship?

Is the Minister further aware that on this great occasion the Royal and Ancient Golf Club opened the viewing facilities to children accompanied by an adult, in order to encourage the great game of golf?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am delighted to hear what my noble friend says.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, in view of the new Secretary of State's wide remit for culture etc., whereby he will encourage young people and give great opportunities for young people to participate, can the Minister say whether the Secretary of State will look into the possibility of ensuring that there is definite provision? That follows the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, about Troon, where young people were able to see the activities.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that young people should have opportunities to participate, even as spectators, in the sports?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, he is not the Minister for culture etc., he is the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that access for young people is particularly important. Of course it is true that the Wimbledon championships do not receive any public funding. They contribute £30 million a year to the Lawn Tennis Association from the activities. But I remind the noble Baroness that the Lottery Sports Fund has already contributed £25 million for 340 projects, many of which are directed towards young people.

We propose, with the world class project which commences at the beginning of next year, to provide revenue support for training for young players as well as the organisers of the sports. In the years from 1986 to 1996, £5 million was made available from the Sports Council, matched by funding from the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the Lawn Tennis Association for the indoor tennis initiative which provides courts particularly in inner-city areas. That is directed strongly towards young people. So things are being done, although it is never enough.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who come from the inner cities are pleased at the announcement of government funding for projects within inner cities for training the young? It is obvious that the people who sponsor sport only sponsor it at the top end on the basis of a handsome return. Those of us interested in sport are glad to see the Government moving in this direction.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. The Lawn Tennis Association is less susceptible to persuasion than most sporting authorities because of its financial independence. But I have indicated the way in which matching funding can be used profitably to widen access.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, reverting to the remark from the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, does the Minister agree with me that perhaps hereditary Peers have a certain standing in that they must have been the first people to play real tennis?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I thought that real tennis was a royal game rather than a game of the nobility.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, over the past two months we have been introduced to "real Sundays", "real People's Sundays", a people's lottery, introduced by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and, a few weeks before, "people's diplomacy", introduced by the Foreign Secretary in his mission statement.

Can the Minister give us a definition of the word "people" in these different contexts? What new popular magic is there that unites Sundays, the lottery and foreign affairs?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I repudiated the word "real" as being a quotation from the Secretary of State, but I do not think that I can repudiate the word "people". We are all people, aren't we?

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

Is it not a fact—

A noble Lord

Order! Please speak from the Government Bench.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

All right, I do not mind being a Bishop if the Bishops do not object, after all, they are some of the real people. Is it not a fact that corporate hospitality takes out of circulation a large number of the best seats at Wimbledon which remain unoccupied because the people on whose behalf they have been reserved prefer to continue in the hospitality tent rather than to watch the game? Meanwhile, the real people are those who care so much for the tennis that they are prepared to queue in the rain, often in the vain hope of getting a seat. Could we therefore have more "People's Days" which gave the viewers such an opportunity? If we cannot have "People's Sundays", can we have a "People's Weekday" now and then so that the people who play at Wimbledon can see that there are people watching them who really care?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, any of us who saw the Henman match on the Sunday and the Rusedski match on the following Thursday will agree that at the Sunday match the stands seemed to be full, whereas for the Rusedski match they were less than half full. That confirms the valid point which my noble friend Lady Castle made. In fact, 50 per cent. of the seats in the Centre Court go to public ballot whereas 25 per cent. are for debenture holders and corporate hospitality and it is that which is the major cause of empty stands during important matches. That is why we are keen to secure wider access and to have an extension of the days available for those who queue for their seats, as my noble friend said.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, be kind enough to reprimand his noble friend Lord Ewing, behind him, for saying that hereditary Peers are not real people? Does he agree that hereditary Peers are real people and that it would be quite wrong to consider that it is only the Life Peers who are real people, when in fact they are the ones who are not the real people?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I not only agree that hereditary Peers are real people but I am prepared to go further and say that perhaps their ancestors were real people as well.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, if a person is not a real person, what is he? Can the noble Lord suggest a definition?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we are enjoyably moving away from Wimbledon. I believe that the noble Lady has come to the point about hereditary Peers when she asks: if a hereditary Peer is not a person, what is he? With honourable and distinguished exceptions such as the noble Lady, the problem with the hereditary Peerage is that it is so overwhelmingly male.

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