HL Deb 10 January 2000 vol 608 cc400-2

2.57 p.m.

Lord McNally

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they intend to publish their strategy for sport.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government have been giving careful consideration to their strategy to improve sport in this country. We expect to publish in the near future, after consultation with key stakeholders in the strategy.

Lord McNally

My Lords, did the Minister read in the Daily Mail of 6th January that out of 103 applications to sell school playing fields, 101 had been granted by the Government? That is a catastrophic betrayal of pre-election pledges by the Government. What confidence does that figure give that the so-called strategy for sport, requiring government resources and will to implement it, will deal with social exclusion and social deprivation, areas where sport has a unique opportunity to play a role?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord and the Daily Mail choose their statistics very selectively. The truth of the matter is that in the first year of this Government, only in 13 cases were there losses of playing field sites against the advice of the statutory consultees, Sport England. In the past 12 months there have been only six such cases. The loss of playing fields, except when justified, has dramatically reduced and gives us confidence that our sports strategy will cover issues of social exclusion to which the noble Lord rightly refers.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, can my noble friend say what progress has been made in finding a suitable athletics arena in London for world and European outdoor championships? Is he aware that there is very great public support for the decision taken by the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport to remove athletics from the new Wembley stadium and to seek repayment of part of the lottery grant from the Football Association and Wembley National Stadium Limited?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments about the Secretary of State's conclusion on Wembley. He will know that the Rugby Football Union has proposed to the Government that Twickenham should be used for major international athletic events. We are very receptive to that idea and are looking into all the issues in the hope that it may be a good solution for separate but still first-class provision both for athletics and for football.

Lord Addington

My Lords, can the Minister give the House some guidance about school sports in particular? Will the time given in the national curriculum for school sports allow for the amount of travel faced by many inner city school pupils in getting to playing fields? I am sure the noble Lord will agree that if the school timetable provides for three hours of sport but pupils spend one-and-a-half hours traveling—leaving aside getting changed—there is no proper sports provision at all.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I can assure him that when the sports strategy appears it will give great prominence to the need for, adequate provision for physical education, including competitive team sports, in our schools. It is not within the legal power of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to set a fixed period for any subject within the national curriculum, but the issue raised by the noble Lord of travelling to sports fields is an important one. It is an aspiration—an agreed aspiration—that there will be two hours of sporting activity all our schools.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in order to give further emphasis to the favourable response of my noble friend to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, would the Government be prepared to consider suspending as of now all further disposals of school sports fields and also laying it clown that in future any assent given to a proposal to dispose of a sports ground should be signed and approved by a senior Minister of the Crown?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think it would be appropriate to ban every change of use for playing fields. For example, some are attached to schools which no longer exist and some are in areas where there is, as there certainly is not in all parts of the country, an excess of playing field provision. However, the thrust behind my noble friend's question is quite right. Perhaps I may point out that because Sport England is a statutory consultee it is necessary for local authorities to pay attention to the need for sporting facilities. The proceeds from any disposal of playing fields must go to education and to sporting provision. The Secretary of St ate now has the power, whenever it is necessary, to call in applications which affect playing fields. But I do not think that a blanket ban would be appropriate.

Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge

My Lords, will the Minister press with in government for more positive help for our four major ball game sports—rugby, tennis, football and cricket. During a constructive debate in your Lordships' House several months ago there was widespread agreement that, looking ahead, we would not be in a position to compete internationally in those four sports. It is a shattering state of affairs that our sports are on the floor. Can the Minister assure us that the Government really will take the problem seriously?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I can certainly give the noble Lord that assurance. The pursuit of excellence is one of the criteria that will govern the final production of our sports strategy. But it must in turn depend, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, on sports provision in schools and on the availability of sporting facilities and opportunities throughout life, even for those who cannot aspire to sporting excellence. The four major sports to which the noble Lord referred have been consulted and are being consulted in the preparation of the sports strategy.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, will my noble friend, who knows my interest in Rugby League as the chairman of Warrington Rugby League Club, ensure that super-Rugby League clubs receive the same educational grants as premier league and first division football clubs?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, will the Government bear in mind in their strategy that sport in this country is carried on the shoulders of community amateur sports clubs? Is the Minister aware that they currently have no tax exemptions? They are not charities and they receive only discretionary rating relief. When the Government produce their strategy, will they contemplate giving them tax exemptions comparable to those available to charities?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we are very well aware of the problem to which the noble Lord refers. We are discussing it with the Treasury and with the Home Office. However, even if we were to grant 100 per cent relief, as happens in Scotland, the difficulty is in deciding what is a worthy community sports organisation of the kind to which he refers and not just a very rich golf club or one that is very exclusive. We require some definition of what is worthy and we have to retain some responsibility for local authorities, which know the sports clubs concerned, to make a decision on that point.

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