I welcome the opportunity to open this debate on sport for all. In doing so, I extend a particular welcome to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr Nicholls) and congratulate him on his new responsibilities.
Sport is a subject that provokes strong feeling in all parts of the House, and I know that today's debate will be lively and far-ranging. I and my hon. Friend the Minister for sport welcome all ideas that support the Government's aim of providing sporting excellence at all levels while increasing sporting opportunities for the many, not just the few. On 21 May, my hon. Friend announced that the Government will take the lead in extending opportunities for participation in sport through a national strategy for sport, which will embrace all sections of the community, regardless of where they live or what their social background, age or ability might be. I want to say more about that today.
Sport for all is a well-known phrase that is applied to a range of initiatives and concepts internationally. I shall define what it is to mean in the Government's policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) laid the foundations in "Labour's Sporting Nation". My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has attended every sport debate in the House to date. I know that he is disappointed not to be able to be here today because of a long-standing business engagement.
Sport for all used to be the subtitle for the work of the sports councils. The previous Government abandoned that. We want to put it back at the heart of sport policy. We want to ensure that no one is excluded from sporting opportunity in this country. Some say that we have to choose between aiming for sporting excellence and aiming for sport for all, but the two concepts are complementary and reinforce each other. They are not opposites. The extension of a broad base of mass participation in sport is essential if excellence is to be achieved and elite athletes are to have opportunities in international competitions.
We believe that the concept of sport for all should be wide-ranging, ensuring sporting enjoyment and opportunity for the public at large and focusing on the need to develop sporting talent and invest in the future by supporting sport at grass-roots level.
Sport for all is an ambition that we pursue for the benefit that it can bring in national pride and the inspiration that success, particularly at an international level, can provide. We have all enthused during recent weeks at the success of our national football and cricket teams. The marvellous achievements last weekend of the British Lions and of the British athletes competing in the European cup were enjoyed not only by those who played, or saw the action, but by those who later read or heard about the triumphs of our heroes and heroines.
At the local level, sports opportunities and success create a sense of community. Young people, in particular, gain confidence and self-discipline and are introduced to good habits that set patterns for a lifetime. Children who are introduced to sport at an early age and enjoy it are likely to continue to participate throughout their adult life. It is therefore important that young people in particular are given the opportunity to participate in as many activities as possible—in school time, as part of extra-curricular activities or through school or youth club links.
Team and competitive games have many welcome attributes, but we should not be restrictive or prescriptive about what children and young people learn and play. The development of informal sport and recreation is every bit as important as the development of team sport. That is why useful and healthy pursuits such as rambling, angling, wall and mountain climbing and recreational cycling, which offer immense enjoyment and personal reward, should be encouraged. It is one reason why the Government are committed to introducing in due course a measure to ensure better access as of right to open country, mountain and moorland for the ordinary people of this country. The "Keep Out" notices that litter the roadside across the forest of Bowland, for example, should become a thing of the past.
I endorse much of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of sport for all. Is he giving a Government commitment to oppose the concept of private property throughout the country?
No, of course not. I am giving a Government commitment to the concept of a right to roam on open country, mountain and moorland where no damage is caused to conservation or agricultural interests and where it is coupled with a responsibility of care for the countryside. We set out that sensible approach clearly in our manifesto. We look forward to carrying it out in due course.
As a densely populated nation, we should take the opportunity to enjoy our countryside and water areas, which are especially precious. It is therefore extremely important that the sports councils continue to work with other agencies such as the Countryside Commission, to ensure that outdoor recreation and sport are managed according to the principles of sustainable development. It is equally important that measures for environmental protection, enhancement and management should include the needs of recreation provision. No one knows better the importance of clean and unpolluted water than anglers.
There are two key considerations. The first is encouraging good health and healthy habits for all people. The second is building civic and community values that can contribute to social cohesion and regeneration. Sport for all has a role to play in both objectives.
That is best illustrated by research undertaken on national fitness, which found that 48 per cent. of men and 40 per cent. of women were overweight. Among 16 to 24-year-olds—those in the prime of their life—70 per cent. of men and 91 per cent. of women were below activity levels for a fit and healthy life.
Participation in sport provides not only a health benefit to the individual, but an economic benefit to society in reduced health expenditure and increased productivity. Those figures on levels of inactivity and unfitness should give us serious pause for thought.
Further research suggests that youth crime accounts for approximately 45 per cent. of crimes resulting in a conviction or formal caution. A recent evaluation of a sports counselling programme in West Yorkshire concluded that it had reduced the participants' propensity to take part in crime, with a resulting benefit to society and cost saving for the public purse. For some, it had been a real turning point in their life.
The concept of sport for all will govern and permeate all that the Government do for sport, as well as being the badge for specific policies by which we shall seek to widen opportunity and access. Of course, we must not ignore our responsibility and desire to achieve excellence. We want to ensure that talented individuals at every level have the structure and support necessary to realise their talent to the full. We announced last month that we are committed to the development of a British academy of sport. My hon. Friend the Minister for sport has visited all three shortlisted sites and we are now examining the bids in the light of those visits. We shall make a further announcement on how we propose to proceed in due course.
We shall also be seeking to ensure a co-ordinated approach among the sports councils, to help the achievement of excellence and the development of sport and physical recreation at local and national level, avoiding unnecessary duplication, overlap and waste.
As part of our new approach to sport, we have announced that we intend to look carefully at changes to the way in which the current sports council structures are working, to ensure that they operate more effectively in the best interests of sport. Various views have already reached me on that subject. I am sure that others will follow. I shall listen to them all and to the opinions of Ministers with responsibilities for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before reaching a conclusion.
The principles of providing wider opportunity and access should not be restricted to those who wish to participate, but must also be extended to those who wish to watch. We have a great tradition in the organisation and running of successful major international sporting events, whether they are annual events such as the lawn tennis championships at Wimbledon or the British Open golf championship, or events such as Euro 96, where we excel when the opportunity arises. Such events help to raise the nation's international profile as well as bringing awareness and support of the sport concerned. They also provide a major boost to the tourism and hospitality industries.
As the House is aware, one of the Government's first commitments has been to provide the strongest possible support to the Football Association's bid for the 2006 World cup. The active encouragement and importance that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attaches to that are greatly appreciated.
As I have said, the concept of sport for all should be wide-ranging. Therefore, while I recognise the argument that if the pyramid is wide at the bottom, it will be higher at the top, that is not the primary aim of our approach. Any benefits derived in the development of sporting excellence will be complementary to those of widening access and opportunity, which is a worthy purpose in itself. An approach aimed solely at meeting the needs of the elite would fail to recognise the benefits and pleasure that participation in sport and physical recreation bring to large numbers of the population, of all ages and abilities.
More than half the population participate in some form of sport or active recreation at least once a month. The trend of increasing numbers of people participating is continuing but, despite that encouraging statistic, the quality of the activity and the experience needs to be improved. There also remain underlying issues in relation to particular groups within society that need to be addressed.
Dependent on the sport, participation rates are higher among men—at 73 per cent. on average—than among women, at 57 per cent. There is also higher participation by professional workers, at 79 per cent., compared with unskilled workers, at 46 per cent.
I therefore wish to look at what causes individuals to feel alienated, self-conscious, unrewarded or disinterested in sport—where such feelings may prevail, particularly among certain ethnic or religious groups—and at available research into initiatives to help widen access and encourage participation. I am particularly keen to ensure that the special problems that prevent those with disabilities from participating in their sporting interests or watching their favourite star performers are properly addressed—and not only at the elite sporting level.
Available research suggests that merely addressing negative attitudes is unlikely in itself to increase participation. Positive role models and policies that give real encouragement to all, no matter who or what they are, are essential.
We wish to look at those issues further and at the valuable work already being undertaken by the English Sports Council and others. Obstacles to participation apply, for example, in large conurbations and cities, where access to open spaces, playing fields or facilities of the right size or type may be limited. Equally, small village communities and those living in rural areas may suffer difficulties over transport or opening hours.
We want to ensure that every community has access to, or available, as wide a range of facilities as possible, and that the opportunities to use them exist for everybody, particularly for young people. The sports council lottery board, together with local authorities, must surely bear that in mind.
We must not underestimate the importance of sport in the social and personal development of young people, and we must recognise its role in making them feel part of their communities. We shall be looking at ways of building on the work already being done in that respect. Sports initiatives must be sufficiently flexible and imaginative to reduce the drop-out rate from involvement in sport among promising youngsters. That can also help to address the problems of crime among young people, which is often closely linked with social and sporting deprived areas.
On safety and the safety of sporting environments, I am pleased to say that the Football Trust recently benefited from a £55 million funding package, to enable it to continue its vital programme of ground safety and improvement work. That will assist clubs at all levels and will provide safer accommodation for hundreds of thousands of fans across the country. I am grateful to the Football Association and the Premier League for agreeing to match the lottery contribution pound for pound. It is a valuable example of larger football clubs setting out to help smaller ones.
In creating a welcoming atmosphere for people to watch and play sport, we must work with others to stamp out racism. Racism has no place in sport, and we intend to do all we can to stamp it out. Our proposed task force for football will pay particular attention to the issue of racism in football, and I shall invite the Campaign for Racial Equality to participate in the work of that task force. We are examining options for introducing legislative measures to increase the penalties for racist abuse at football matches and for making it an offence for individuals to chant racist abuse.
In the wider context, we must bring down the barriers and end the discrimination that prevent equal access to sport for all and which often result from antiquated rules, regulations and ideology. Fortunately, we are not starting from square one and a firm infrastructure is already in place. Local authority provision, in particular through leisure services and education departments, has always been at the heart of sport for all, in terms of providing facilities for people of all ages and abilities by way of fitness and sports centres, swimming pools, bowling greens and the maintenance of parks and open spaces. Local authorities also supply the personnel to facilitate and promote sport throughout the community.
We are conscious of the crucial role of local authority sports development officers, in working with local schools and clubs to expand opportunities, and we are keen to encourage them. We wish to work in partnership with the local authorities, governing bodies of sport and sporting agencies, to produce an integrated, planned approach to sports provision.
The Government have made it clear from the outset that local decision making should be less constrained by central Government, and more accountable to local people. As part of the process, local authorities will be encouraged to develop and publish leisure and cultural strategies to improve planning and policy making, and to ensure that provision is relevant to local needs. Many local authorities already produce such strategies, but we aim to encourage other authorities to follow the example of the best. We wish to work closely with local government in taking that forward.
The previous Administration broke the formal links between the English Sports Council and local authorities, by disbanding the regional councils for sport and recreation. We are looking at how regional links can best be re-established, so that we can fulfil our commitment to working in partnership with local authorities, governing bodies, the private sector and other agencies to improve sporting opportunities.
We are determined to rebuild the relationships that were once so strong. The role of local government and of local sports organisations must be given credit and challenged to perform at higher levels and supported where possible. I have no doubt that it will be challenging for them. They will have their work cut out to keep up with us and to deliver what the people need from sport, from the people's lottery, and from sport for all.
A further measure to encourage sport in schools and a healthier life style for the nation is to ensure that playing fields that schools and their local communities need are not sold for redevelopment in the future. More than 500 school playing fields were sold off under the previous Government's regime. As the basic facility providers, local authorities need carefully to assess future demand from pupil numbers and the needs of the wider communities before declaring land as surplus to requirements. Together with our ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment, we have already taken action to stop the unnecessary disposal of school playing fields. We are also considering urgently a wide range of options to ensure that all school pupils and communities have access in the future to proper sports facilities.
The national lottery has contributed to the widespread renewal of the country's cultural and sporting infrastructure. Under the Government's new proposals for the lottery, especially in terms of developing a strategic direction for the deployment of lottery funds, that can be enhanced. To date, the lottery has provided capital funding of more than £630 million to some 3,200 sports award recipients in the United Kingdom as a whole, with some £540 million awarded by the English Sports Council to date. Every county in England has benefited, and soon every town in England will be able to say that it is better off thanks to the lottery sports fund.
Recently, emphasis has been placed on reducing the requirements on schools and areas of deprivation to match funding, and on providing up to 90 per cent. funding from the lottery for specific areas. I very much welcome that new flexibility to narrow the matching funding requirements, especially for small-scale community schemes where it is inevitably difficult to raise private sector funds.
The rules and conditions applied to all lottery sports grants before a scheme is approved, in terms of access without discrimination, special efforts to set up women's and junior sections of clubs, and the general concept of community benefit, are providing greater sporting access and opportunities for all. I am encouraged to hear that the ability to obtain lottery funding has prompted a number of clubs to re-examine their rules and practices to ensure that they are equitable. I hope that the same message might even be received by the Marylebone cricket club.
In addition to capital funding, the first lottery revenue sports grants made under the "World Class" performance programme have been announced. I look forward to the announcement of more awards under that initiative, which will develop excellence at all levels and improve our nation's sporting performance.
We believe that the lottery can do even better, which is why we shall publish a White Paper next month setting out our plans for legislation on the lottery, to ensure that in sport, as elsewhere, there is better strategy and more co-ordination among distributors, and that the money goes where it is needed.
In delivering our objectives, we shall work closely with the sports councils. I have been encouraged to hear that advisory groups of the English Sports Council on race, gender and on people with disabilities are already established to assist the delivery of sport. We shall invite them to propose specific initiatives, which the council can take forward to tackle problems and widen opportunity. We shall also look at how we can build on the Department of Health's programmes, which, informed by medical and psychological opinion, have tended to focus on exercise rather than sport and physical recreation, and on wider issues of public health.
Clearly, an initiative such as sport for all will tie in closely with public health. It is an established fact that people who are physically inactive are twice as likely to get heart coronary disease and three times as likely to have a stroke as people who are active. It is, therefore, in everyone's interest to influence people's knowledge, attitude and behaviour in relation to physical activity. That focus will also link closely with the proposals that will be set out in the national lottery White Paper for funding health and education initiatives, including the development of healthy living centres and out-of-school-hours activities, both of which have strong sports dimensions.
During the run-up to the election, I was interested to visit an imaginative scheme in Tamworth in the midlands, where local GPs can prescribe for their patients not just drug therapies but opportunities to take exercise in the local sports centre, with close co-operation between the medical services and the local authority that runs the centre.
As I said, sport is an essential part of youth development. It is important that all schools provide good-quality, balanced physical education and sports opportunities. Achieving a lifelong habit of sport for fitness and pleasure depends on exposure from an early age to skilled, sympathetic physical education and sports training on safe, well-designed equipment and facilities. A number of initiatives are already under way to encourage that, including the English Sports Council, Youth Sport Trust and local education authority joint initiatives under the TOP programmes. More generally, we wish to continue to promote sport in schools and provide facilities, trained teachers and coaches.
Another initiative, sportsmark, has been developed to recognise schools with especially good provision for physical education and sport. We hope to announce next week the secondary schools that have been successful in achieving a sportsmark or sportsmark gold award. We shall launch a similar scheme for primary schools in the autumn.
I also acknowledge the benefits brought by the community sports leaders award scheme, run through the British Sports Trust, a charity established by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which receives considerable financial support from the English Sports Council and Hanson plc. Since its launch in 1981, well in excess of 100,000 people have received community sports leadership training to help them develop the communication skills, organisational ability and confidence to lead others in a variety of recreational activities—qualities that benefit society as a whole. Therefore, although a lot is already happening, we could do much more.
I am discussing with the sports councils our ideas and objectives for delivering the wider concept of sport for all. I shall also take the opportunity to discuss how our ideas and objectives link with the objectives and work of the British Olympic Association, in terms of sports associated with the Olympic movement, and of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which brings many of the sports and physical recreation organisations in this country together. As part of that consultation process, I want to tap the widest possible range of opinion and expertise. We shall hold a conference on sporting access and opportunity at the end of this summer. The Minister for sport and I also wish to continue the visits and meetings that we are already undertaking, at both grass-roots and international level, to ensure that we obtain a broad spectrum of opinion. My aim is for that consultation process to culminate in the announcement of an overall programme of work and other initiatives towards the end of the year.
I hope that today's debate will help in the process of pushing forward the sport for all theme, to ensure that we regenerate sporting activity. I hope that it will help us all to think about how to contribute to a policy of sport for all, so that we can be even more responsive to the sports and recreational needs of local people. The essential vision is clearly in place—that of extending opportunities to participate in sport to all sections of the community, providing excellence at all levels and improving the nation's sporting performance.
That can be achieved only by working in partnership towards those goals. Government, the sports councils, local authorities, governing bodies, the private sector and other interested agencies must all work together for the future of sport and in sport's best interests.
During my seven weeks in office, I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of those involved in sport, from the grass roots through to the highest level, and at both regional and national level. We need to ensure that the enthusiasm of everyone at all levels of sport is harnessed together, to achieve the benefits and success that we all want to see.
I believe that the agenda that I have set out today will, with the support of the House and everyone associated with sport, enable that to be richly and satisfactorily achieved.
I apologise to the House in advance because I shall be unable to stay for the winding-up speeches at the end of the debate. I am due to travel to Hong Kong for the handover process, and the time at which the Government's charter plane leaves requires me to depart from the House before the final speeches.
In view of the recent raids on his portfolio, I congratulate the Secretary of State for National Heritage on appearing at the Dispatch Box. It is a delight to see him, rather than the Minister without Portfolio, here today. But considering the difficulties that the Minister without Portfolio is getting into on the matters that he has raided from the Department, he probably does not want to get too much more into his hands. He might become a Minister with a portfolio, which would be even more dangerous.
In the House, sport has always been dealt with on a broadly bipartisan basis, and I assure the Secretary of State that that will be the approach that my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and I will pursue while we are in opposition.
I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) who, apart from having been some years ago a distinguished Minister dealing with sport, has shadowed the subject for the Labour party for many years and has high credibility in the sporting world. He is held in high regard by Conservative Members who take an interest in such matters, and I share his disappointment that he cannot be here today. The hon. Gentleman may be disappointed that he cannot be here on the Front Bench, but the fact that he cannot speak today even from the Back Benches is a disappointment to everybody.
I slightly regret the fact that the Secretary of State made no serious reference to what was done by the previous Government for sport. The furthest he felt able to go was to say that it was advantageous that the new Government would not have to start from square one. As a tribute to the efforts put into promoting sport by the previous Government, that was pretty thin.
I think that it would be widely accepted that no Government, and especially no Prime Minister, has ever given sport such a high priority as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). No Prime Minister has ever put sport so high on his personal list of priorities, devoted so much time and effort to it, or insisted on the Government's putting in place a programme so radical and far-ranging. It would be nice to hear some tribute to that.
The result of my right hon. Friend's tenure of 10 Downing street is that sport is much higher on the political agenda—not the party political agenda, but the agenda for any Government—and politicians now have to take it seriously. I am delighted to hear that, following on in that spirit, the Secretary of State is taking sport seriously, and I hope that that will continue.
The programme put in place by the Conservative Government was far-ranging and highly committed. A great deal was done. That could not have happened without the personal commitment of a series of Secretaries of State for National Heritage. I refer in particular to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), who was in the Chamber earlier but has to be elsewhere for the time being. He hopes to come back and speak later.
I end my series of tributes with a reference to my friend Iain Sproat, who, as Minister for sport, put a huge effort into raising the profile of sport and extending the commitment to its promotion. It is a sadness to me that we have never managed to coincide in the House of Commons. When he lost his seat, I won; when I lost, he won another; when he lost again, I won again. Sadly, we have never been colleagues here together, but I hope that he will return and we shall at last be reunited.
Iain Sproat was a distinguished Minister for sport and was highly regarded in all the sporting bodies because he took the subject seriously and was not prepared to take no for an answer when there was an objective to be achieved. The fact bears repetition that he could do that only because, as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon put sport high up the list. I hope that the current Prime Minister, in the midst of all his rushing around and all his other responsibilities, will not allow that to lapse.
In political terms, sport is not always the sexiest of subjects, and for all the splendid energy that the Secretary of State may bring to it, in order to keep it high on the list the Prime Minister will have to put something into it. The past five years have shown how effective that can be, and I hope that it will continue.
One could make a very short speech about sport for all. It is like motherhood and apple pie, in that we are all in favour of it. The question is what one does to achieve it. The Secretary of State set out a number of arrangements, many of which, as he did not feel able to say, but as I shall say on his behalf, had already been put in place by the previous Administration. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman will not try to overset those arrangements.
The approach has to be made on three levels, the first of which is the grass roots, especially in schools but also in local sporting clubs. Secondly, what has to be and can be done to create winners in sport? Thirdly, what can be done for high-level sport, especially the sports that many people watch?
Spectator sport matters. I know that the debate is principally about participation in sport, but if sport were not accessible and people could not watch it and admire their sporting heroes, they would not be so motivated to take part. It is important to see the three levels as part of a continuum—a whole which cannot be separated.
On the first level, a radical and far-reaching programme was introduced by the previous Government, first set out in the White Paper "Raising the Game". I have here the first annual report on progress, which makes good reading and adds up to a significant programme for the years ahead. Much of that was already in place, and much had been achieved, but there is much more to be achieved. No one suggested for a second that everything could be set up in the first two years.
There is a continuing programme, which involves working closely with schools, local authorities and sporting bodies to encourage more people to take up sport. As the White Paper made clear, particular emphasis is put on opportunities for young people both in and out of school. School is important in this process. Most of us, I suspect, will have played some kind of competitive sport—some of us more competitively and more successfully than others. I was probably in the latter category.
The previous Government had to take the matter seriously because of the years and decades of vilification of the whole idea of competitive sport in schools. It was seen by some, wrongly, to be bad for youngsters to engage in competitive sport. I hope that the Government will join us in saying that that trendy dogma was incorrect. It would be particularly nice to see the Minister for sport here, nodding his head wisely and saying that those dogmas are out of date and unsatisfactory. Competitive sport is good for youngsters. That does not mean that they must be trained to be aggressive, or that that aggression should be transferred into all other areas. I have a lot of youngsters in my household and they are naturally aggressive. Sport is a good way of channelling their aggression and competitiveness in an organised and disciplined framework.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that competitive sport is good for youngsters. Does he agree that informal recreation of an uncompetitive nature can also be good for youngsters, and that it is whatever is best and most appropriate for each youngster that matters? Does he further agree that no one should be dragooned into a particular sporting activity that might not be appropriate for that person?
I have no problem with that—I am not dogmatic on the matter. Competitive sport is attractive to many youngsters, even uncompetitive and unaggressive types like me. Competitive sport was not available in many parts of the country for many years, and it was drummed out of the education service by many local education authorities and governing bodies. That was regrettable. I am delighted that we are now back on track with a bipartisan approach and that everyone agrees that access to competitive sport is a good thing.
The White Paper "Raising the Game" set out a 38-point programme to put sport at the centre of school life; to bring good sporting facilities within the reach of every child in every school by 2000—we are on track to achieve that—and to restore the nation's playing fields. I do not dissent from what the Secretary of State said about the many schools and local education authorities that dismantled that heritage. It is important and, once lost, it is not easy to get back. The White Paper set out a clear programme to preserve playing fields "where necessary", as the Secretary of State said. That is a proper qualification and we are all agreed on it.
The White Paper programme included measures to ensure that opportunities for sport after school were available in colleges and universities, and much of that has been put in place. Secondary schools have been able to apply for a sportsmark, and we look forward to those awards. Since last year, the Office for Standards in Education has had the responsibility for inspecting and reporting on games offered as part of the formal PE curriculum. It was important that PE and competitive games became part of the national curriculum, and inspectors will report on extra-curricular sporting provision made by schools. All this helps to raise the profile and to increase the focus by governing bodies, teachers and parents on this area. It is nice to see that get under way.
Other initiatives, such as the pilot coaching weeks for teachers and trainees, have been set in place. I hope that that will develop into a nationwide programme under the new regime in the current year. Schools can claim up to 80 per cent. of the cost of new facilities from the lottery sports fund for projects linked with their communities and sports clubs. Many of us have been troubled over the years by the duplication of facilities between schools and local clubs, and measures which encourage them to work together are welcome. Not all sporting facilities are used all the time and schools and clubs often want to use facilities at different times. All that makes very good sense. It was set out in the White Paper, and I hope that it will continue to be put in place.
We must say a word about the lottery, which has provided the single biggest financial stimulus to the world of sport. Huge amounts have been provided and, in the first couple of years up to October 1996, the national lottery raised nearly £366 million for more than 2,000 sporting projects. That is a major step forward, and no one would argue that, without the lottery being created and without sport being made one of the lottery's five good causes to which proceeds should be directed, that financial support would have been given. It is not just the money from the lottery that matters, but the extra money that the availability of lottery money stimulates.
Other initiatives have been introduced, such as the challenge fund to promote links between schools and clubs, which was established by the Sports Council. One could mention also sportsmatch, the business sponsorship investment scheme for sport and physical recreation, which was launched some five years ago. By last year, it had attracted nearly £30 million in sponsorship, which was matched pound for pound by the previous Government. All those projects are helping to build up a momentum for supporting sport which is highly desirable.
The Foundation for Sport and the Arts—established more or less voluntarily in August 1991—was stimulated by an initiative by the then Government, and has generated large amounts of money. One could point to ways in which some of the extra money might not have been used perfectly, and no doubt people will want to do that from time to time, but my point is that the importance attached to sport has increased dramatically in recent years, and it would be nice if the Government—if only briefly—recognised the commitment, imagination and creativity brought to that process by their predecessors. All of us want the process to be continuous, with as little disruption and point scoring as possible.
Much more is being done, and we are all aware of the programme to create specialist sports colleges and the effect that that will have on clubs. The grass roots are being much better nourished and are now producing sprouts and shoots—or whatever it is grass roots produce.
On the second level—that of training winners and investing in the future sporting heroes of the country—good progress has been made. The national junior sports programme is important, as is the creation of centres of excellence around the country. The most symbolic thing will be the creation of the British academy of sport, and it would be good to hear that the location of the academy will be announced soon. We would like to be reassured that that location will be decided purely on the basis of the right place to create the academy, and not because it makes sense for political reasons.
I give the right hon. Gentleman the absolute and categorical assurance that he seeks on that.
We will know how much reliance we can place on that, when we know the result. We all look forward to an announcement very soon. [Interruption.] I do not want to over-excite Labour Members and arouse their competitive spirit, but we know that three options are available and we hope that the decision will be taken purely on the basis of what is the right place—the place that will provide the best access, not the best stimulus to an area that is important to the Labour party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I merely point that out to remind Ministers that that is what we are looking for. I do not think that there is anything offensive in that.
I am glad that we have finally got to that point, following the right hon. Gentleman's rather ungracious response to the assurance that I gave. Of course, I can clearly tell the House that the decision will be taken on the merits of the case alone. No partisan political criteria whatsoever will enter into it.
We await the result with interest and I hope that it will happen soon so that we can all finally celebrate the beginning of this great project, which was very much the personal inspiration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon and of Lain Sproat, the then Minister for sport.
On the third aspect, high-level sports, it is important to have proper places for important games to take place. Everyone welcomes the decision to go ahead with the new national stadium at Wembley—large amounts of lottery money are involved—and the new stadium in Manchester. That is good and it is investing in the future of British sporting success.
The Secretary of State pointed to the recent successes in a number of sports, which are welcome to us all. British talent has done well so far at Wimbledon; it would be nice if the Government could arrange better weather so that there could be some play. The right hon. Gentleman did not quite claim the credit for all those sporting successes for the Government. It is good to see that success. We all look to see it continuing and we will be the first to blame the Government if that good record begins to come to an end.
What more can be done? On the Government's approach to dealing with the sporting world, it is important that people who give their time freely to sports bodies, putting in huge personal commitment to make them work and to be ambassadors of British sport, are treated reasonably. I think that the Minister for sport probably regrets his unfortunate remarks about Lord MacLaurin, who has a terrific record of support for sporting enterprise and activity in this country. It was a pity that he resigned in that way so soon after the hon. Gentleman made those remarks.
It was six of one and half a dozen of the other, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to go for a score draw on that one. Frankly, Lord MacLaurin should not have said those things about the Labour party before the election. If one wants to hold a non-political position, to suggest that the election of a Labour Government would mean the end of civilisation as we know it is probably not a shrewd career move. Lord MacLaurin and I have now established the friendliest and warmest of relationships. We both understand each other fully and will be working very closely together in his speciality area, which is cricket.
If Lord MacLaurin understands the hon. Gentleman, he is very much to be congratulated. That is a significant move forward.
It is unfortunate that the Minister for sport reiterated almost word for word the remarks that caused the upset by saying that it was not a shrewd career move for Lord MacLaurin to express political views. How are people to take that? Are they to assume that, if they freely and voluntarily take on heavy responsibilities to promote and be an ambassador for British sport, they are to become politically mute, never to express an opinion because if they do, the Minister for sport will say, "Not a good career move, chum; I'm afraid you haven't got long in that job"? At the end of that episode, the hon. Gentleman said that he hoped to synchronise his mouth and his brain. I hope that that will happen. He must ensure that he does not antagonise serious people who give a lot of time and effort voluntarily because they think that that is right and they believe in the sporting future of their country.
I am trying to draw a line under that episode. There are times when people express strong views and then they move on to another relationship and that is exactly what Lord MacLaurin and I have done. It is not a question of people having political views. In effect, Lord MacLaurin was saying—the right hon. Gentleman is almost requiring me to open this up again, but if he wants me to do so I will, as I do not regret anything that I said—that the election of a Labour Government would be a great tragedy for this country. Honestly, if one wants to work with that party in government, that is taking political views too far. I told Lord MacLaurin that to his face and I think that he understands that. He and I speak frankly and I prefer to carry on in that mode.
I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman does not regret his remarks. He is a grown-up and he is able to conduct his relationship with Lord MacLaurin in whatever way he thinks appropriate. My concern is the message that that sends to a much wider group of people who give their time freely, who think that that matters and who do not want to be told by the Minister for sport that, if they voluntarily accept highly responsible positions in our sporting institutions, they may never express a political opinion again.
It would be nice if the Minister for sport would put the matter to rest, not by opening it up again but by accepting that what he said was wrong and sent an unfortunate message to many people who do not treat sport as a political matter. It would be nice if he learned that, if he wants to continue to get people of that calibre actively involved, he has to be a little more diplomatic.
The announcement by the Secretary of State for Health that he had decided that there would be a ban on tobacco companies sponsoring sport caused great concern in many parts of the sporting world. In this debate, I do not want to get into all the health issues involved and I do not want to get on to the subject of a ban on tobacco advertising. For the moment, I accept that the Labour party made a clear commitment to do that and that it can claim that it has some sort of mandate to do so. There is an argument to be had on the subject and we will have that argument at the appropriate time.
There was no commitment, however, to ban the sponsorship of sport by tobacco companies. The announcement came out of the blue. It was announced not by a Minister who has anything to do with sport, but by the Secretary of State for Health, apparently off the cuff or as a last-minute insert into a speech. It is proper for that decision to be debated here, because it matters—it will make a good deal of difference to the amount of money that will be available to support some important British sporting activities.
The voluntary agreement that comes up for renewal in 1998, I believe, has worked well. It has been capable of being amended over the years to respond to specific concerns that have been raised, and it is tightly drawn and places considerable constraints on what the tobacco companies can do. Some people may be uncomfortable with such sponsorship, but it provides real money for real sporting activities that percolates down into the sports in an important way.
For a ban to be announced in an apparently offhand way, with no consideration of how the sponsorship could be replaced, was unfortunate. I hope that the Minister will say a little more to lay the concerns of sporting bodies somewhat to rest. For example, what is the evidence that the sponsorship at current levels can be replaced at the drop of a hat, and how do the Government expect to prevent international events sponsored by tobacco companies from being broadcast here by satellite broadcasters such as BSkyB? Those are serious questions, and I hope to have a full response from the Minister.
It would be wrong to conclude the debate on sport for all without mentioning a range of outdoor countryside activities that have a high level of participation and involve a wide social mix. The Secretary of State talked about opening access to the countryside. It is somewhat paradoxical that he proposes to force landowners to open their land to apparently unrestricted access for ramblers, while some of his hon. Friends propose to ban traditional country sports—field sports—that landowners support and in which many people participate.
The right hon. Gentleman wants to know the figures. He did not mention angling, a traditional country sport in which 3.3 million people participate.
Is the Minister saying that it is not a sport? Of course it is a sport: it is a leisure activity, and people take part in it competitively, for heaven's sake.
My right hon. Friend did not mention volleyball, either.
I am not criticising the Secretary of State for not mentioning angling; I am simply saying that it is ironical that, at a time when the Government are talking about maximising participation in sports, a number of Government Members are proposing to ban a traditional sport in which many people take part.
I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman cannot have been paying full attention, because I did indeed mention angling, and in extremely supportive terms. We believe strongly that angling is a sport that should be supported and not condemned; it is enjoyed by millions of people in this country, and long may that continue.
It is good to hear the Secretary of State amplifying his comments in that way. We all look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), a keen angler, justifying in the debates on his private Member's Bill his continuing support for that sport compared with his attitude toward other country sports, in which apparently the animals' feelings matter rather more.
Field sports are traditional sports with a high level of participation. Last year, for example, more than 700,000 people took part in shooting game and wildfowl, and more than 200,000 people hunted or followed hounds. Those are not, as many Labour Members seem to believe, sports for toffs; they are engaged in by a wide range of people, who feel offended and may not want to take part in more conventional sports.
For a Government who purport to believe in access to sport for all to come along and lend their support—although we are not quite sure whether they are indeed supporting it—to a Bill that will remove people's right to take part in certain sports is ironic. People will sense an authoritarian approach developing, as if we were being told, "Sport's all right as long as I approve of it, but if I don't, you can't take part in it." That is not the way in which such matters should be pursued in the House. There are many unanswered questions.
I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister to their jobs. We intend to continue to approach sport on a bipartisan basis, but we will ask questions when necessary and hold the Government to their commitment to introduce sensible measures and to support and continue the radical and creative measures introduced by the previous Government. We look forward to hearing the Minister.
I welcome the Ministers and shadow Ministers to their new positions. I hope that we shall have not only a bipartisan but a tripartisan approach to sport. I am delighted to succeed my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) as Liberal Democrat sports spokesman, but I cannot and do not pretend to be a sportsman in his class. New Members may not be aware that he held for seven years the Scottish 100 m record of 10.2 seconds on a cinder track and represented Britain at the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo. By contrast, I bowl slow left arm and hit the ball occasionally with some ferocity but uncontrolled trajectory.
I thank the Secretary of State for his reply yesterday to my question on millennium projects; it has caused some concern to the shadow Secretary of State, because it was answered both by the Secretary of State and by the Minister without Portfolio. I was delighted to get those replies, because I have attempted to table questions to the Minister without Portfolio but they have been bounced by the Table Office on the ground that they are outside his responsibilities.
As a sponsor of the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, I can assure the shadow Secretary of State that it contains no provisions to ban angling. There are few people who chase fish with dogs, because fish do not leave any scent in the water.
I share the enthusiasm for sport of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife, and I want to concentrate on three issues. The first concerns the purpose of sport: what should be the aims of sport policy? I agree with a great deal of what the Secretary of State said on that.
The second issue is how we are to achieve those aims. Again, I agree with much of what the Secretary of State intends to put in place, following on from what the previous Government did. We hope that the reviews will bear fruit. The third issue concerns some ways in which we can achieve the aims, perhaps through fiscal measures.
There are two distinct but complementary aspects of sport. The first is to encourage people all over Britain to take up a sport of their choice and improve their health and fitness—we know about the costs of unfitness—and their quality of life, and the second is the pursuit of excellence, so that British sportsmen and sportswomen can compete and win on the international stage.
The number of top sports performers we produce depends to a large extent on the size of the pool—the number who take up a sport in the first place. There has been some concern in recent years that Britain has not been as successful as in the past at producing top performers. That is not because our performers have been worse but because other countries have invested more and overtaken us. When we consider the likes of Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell, the unique Steve Redgrave and Roger Black, it may sound churlish to suggest that we are not producing top-class performers. However, the comparative lack of success at winning medals last year in Atlanta suggests that all is not well.
Fortunately, since the Secretary of State and the Minister for sport took office a few weeks ago, the corner has been turned. Our footballers have won the Tournoi de France, our cricketers are one up in the Ashes series, thanks to the rain, and the British Lions are rampant in South Africa. Linford Christie led our athletes to victory yet again in the European cup last weekend. If that was his final performance in a British vest, we should thank him for all the pleasure that he has given in his long, distinguished, successful career. If Colin Montgomerie had managed to hole that putt on the 17th in the US Open, the Minister could have reflected on a couple of months of a job well done. Sport is important, and the success of British sportsmen and sportswomen affects the morale of the nation. For many people, it is their most important leisure activity, especially for people in retirement.
I have a little story that ought to go on record. Last Wednesday, the Conservative party was in turmoil deciding whom to vote in as its new leader. It was also the last appearance of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) at Prime Minister's questions, unless the Tories pick him as their next leader after this one. Some wonderful tributes were paid to him by the new Prime Minister and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). I am told that later, in the Corridor, my right hon. Friend met the former Prime Minister, who thanked him profusely for his kind words. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife was also there and said, "Well John, what are you hoping for tomorrow?" The former Prime Minister thought for a moment and said, "I do hope England win the toss." Perhaps he had his priorities right all along.
Sport has a significant role in raising the quality of life for all citizens. It allows individuals to set their own goals, whether swimming a first width or competing for Olympic medals. There are still significant barriers, in the main financial, deterring people from participating in sport. In the debate on sport in June last year, I mentioned one of my constituents, Leon Taylor. It may be worth giving an update on his progress. He had just won the British men's highboard diving championships. He is now 19 but, when he became champion, he was still at school and it was his great ambition to take part in the Olympic games. As he was relatively young, he was told last year that, to qualify for Olympic selection, he needed to take part in competitions in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Little or no funding was available to get him to those competitions. If he had not had the good fortune to have dedicated parents who, while not rich, were prepared to go without many things such as family holidays, friends who were prepared to dig into their pockets to cough up towards expenses, and one or two local companies and trusts, he would not have been able to go to those competitions, where he competed very well.
Fortunately Leon went and, the day after our debate, he was chosen for the British team in Atlanta. That shows the power of our debates. He made the semi-finals in Atlanta shortly after taking his A-levels. Thanks to the generosity of many companies and individuals, and the support of the Gloucestershire Echo, enough money was raised to send Leon's parents and his sister Nadine to watch him perform.
Leon is seeking to qualify for the next Olympic games in Sydney but he has to train mostly in Sheffield because we have no 10 m board in Cheltenham. A lottery grant for that would not go amiss. I hope that the Secretary of State takes note. Earlier this year, Leon made significant strides. He came third in the Europa cup competition, beating the Olympic silver medallist. Next Monday, he is off to Rome for a pre-competition to qualify for the European championships in Seville in August. He hopes to go on to the World cup in Mexico in September. However, even for one who has already been to the Olympics, funding is still a problem. Barclaycard Team 2000 has generously granted him £2,500 a year for the next four years. Elite funding has been mentioned but nothing has yet been forthcoming. I hope that the Minister for sport will discuss elite funding, who will qualify and how much each person may receive.
All those worries put pressure on potential world-beaters such as Leon Taylor that they could well do without. They should be concentrating on achieving excellence in their sport. Such worries also put huge pressure on families. Leon has been lucky and I am sure that hon. Members wish him good luck. We shall follow his progress with interest. For every person like Leon, there are hundreds of young people whose dreams are dashed each year because of the financial barriers put in their way.
Did the Minister see the article by the eminent journalist Ian Burrell in The Independent on 9 June? Under the heading,
Britain's amateurs lose out to glamour sports",
Mr. Burrell points out that funding tends to go to the sports that receive the greatest television coverage. Many sports that attract a lot of people are struggling. The list includes weightlifting, wrestling, volleyball—which was mentioned earlier—handball, basketball, modern pentathlon, triathlon, judo, curling, bobsleigh and speed-skating. I should like to hear from the Minister, perhaps not today, what he intends to do to try to get some money into those sports.
Nigel Hook, technical services director of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which is the national association for the governing bodies of sport and recreation, said:
It will require a major feat from the new minister of sport to sort out this mess. With the previous administration the focus was sharply on the elite sports. The consequence was that the Cinderella sports have been left to sink or swim.
I want to deal with two other issues. The national lottery is a gravy train for the Treasury. My hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and I have served
diligently on the Finance Bill Committee for the past three years. He tabled an amendment for a review of the 12 per cent. tax that the Treasury takes from every £1 ticket sale. Two weeks ago, I attended the opening of a wonderful new pavilion for the village cricket team I played for more than 30 years ago at Overbury in Worcestershire. It appears that I was dropped for 30 years running, but I was thrilled to be asked to play on Friday. Unfortunately, the game was washed out, although perhaps that was a good thing for the team, which would probably have lost.
About a quarter of the money for the pavilion came from a national lottery grant. It was pointed out to me, however, that the club had to pay 17.5 per cent. VAT on the building work. Not only does the Treasury get its 12 per cent. of all ticket sales from the lottery, which many people think is too much; it gets another whack when lottery grants are invested in buildings. I wonder how many sports projects never get off the ground because of VAT, which more than doubled during the 18 years of the last Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) is sitting next to me. He is part of our Treasury team and was the Liberal Democrats' economics adviser when I first joined the House. I do not suggest for one moment the abolition of VAT on buildings for sport because he would probably kill me. but we need to consider how to ease the burden.
The second issue that the Government should review is rates for sports clubs. Local authorities have discretionary power to grant rate relief to sports clubs. Non-profit distributing sports clubs pay the uniform business rate on their premises, subject to that discretionary power. A survey carried out by the Central Council of Physical Recreation in 1996 established that, although many local authorities are very co-operative, and despite encouragement by central Government, who provide 75 per cent. of relief from the national non-domestic rate, a hard core still refuse to give any relief, and others give a bare minimum, or grant it only subject to unreasonable conditions. The survey calculated that the current cost of relief to central Government was approximately £14 million—hardly macro-economic. Relief from the tax enables clubs to play a stronger role in local authority youth sport development. The CCPR believes that mandatory rate relief would be fairer to all sports clubs and contribute to the achievement of the Government's aims. I ask the Minister to look into that.
Many people who would make superb coaches cannot take up coaching for one reason or another. There is often little or no finance or opportunity for them to continue their career when their playing career comes to an end. Hon. Members will be aware of my lifelong affliction as a supporter not only of Cheltenham Town football club but of Swindon Town football club. A few years ago, Swindon had a striker called Steve White, known to the fans as Chalky. He always gave 100 per cent., whatever the situation, whatever the conditions. He was and still is a model professional. He was transferred first to Hereford and then to Cardiff, where I think he remains. He must now be past the age of 35—I am probably being generous to him. He would make a superb coach. He has played at the top flight. He played a handful of matches in the one season that Swindon spent in the premiership, when Chelsea rather unsportingly won both matches that we played against it.
Steve White is someone for whom fitness and dedication is the key and he is an example to young people. Every town and every community needs a handful of Chalky Whites to encourage young people to develop the skills to become good club competitors and to strive to reach a higher level. We have already heard that the saving in social costs would be enormous if we could attract more young people into sport. At the recent election, youth crime was high on the agenda of voters' concerns. Young people who get into trouble cost the nation a fortune. Decent sports facilities and proper coaching are a sure-fire way to save a proportion of that fortune. The previous Government introduced the concept of spend to save and investing in sport is a way of doing so.
It would be remiss of me not to repeat my question of last year. I do not understand one decision of the England cricket selectors. As they sit down this weekend to pick the team for the Old Trafford test, I hope that they will remember that catches win matches, and we saw lots of them go down at the last test. I was brought up to believe that the first person one picks for the team is the wicket keeper. So why do the selectors fail to pick the world's best wicket keeper, Jack Russell of Gloucestershire? They dropped him before. He came back in the second test in South Africa to break the world record for dismissals, with 11 dismissals. He scored a century for England. Yet he has been dropped again. No wonder there are some interesting comments in his recently published autobiography—which I have already bought, so I am not angling for a free copy. I trust that, before the summer is out, Jack Russell will be back where he belongs, behind the stumps and contributing to the winning of the Ashes.
The Minister for sport has a wonderful new job. He was probably surprised to get it, but I am delighted that he has. He has a wonderful opportunity to put sport even higher on the agenda than it is already. I wish him well in his task of involving more people in sport and striving for excellence.
I shall try to be brief because many hon. Members want to speak, and I shall not respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones). I intended to congratulate the Tory Front-Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), on his return to the House after five years, but after listening to his speech I think that if he had been playing in a football match he would have been substituted by the manager half way through and sent off to the Back Benches. However, he has now left the Chamber so I shall begin by issuing a genuine vote of thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks).
My hon. Friend started off in some controversy in the newspapers, but within two weeks of taking office he delivered something that the whole of football had wanted from the previous Government for at least two years. I thank him on behalf of the Football Trust for what he announced literally two weeks after the Queen's Speech. He said that a total of £55 million would be available for essential work at football grounds at all levels throughout England, and that the Football Trust would receive £35 million—£5 million a year for the next four years from the Premier League and £5 million a year for the next three years from the English Sports Council—and £2.5 million over the next four years from the English Sports Council and the Football Association for non-Taylor ground redevelopment work.
I do not want to get too technical, but people are probably aware that after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989—I will not go into it because there is to be a statement on Monday—the Taylor report said that football grounds had to become all-seater. It said that football grounds were dangerous and in a terrible state. The House agreed. Unfortunately, the Conservative Government did not agree to put any money towards the necessary work. Not only that, but they punished the football pools, which were paying towards ground improvements, by increasing the tax on the pools from 40 to 45 per cent. They generously reduced it back to 40 per cent. in order to make available a bit of cash for football ground improvements. They then allowed it gradually to dwindle to 35 per cent., even though the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), the Member of Parliament representing Nottingham Forest, happened to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. The best that he could do was to reduce the tax to about 27 per cent. over the years.
Then along came the lottery. What was the tax on the lottery? It was 12 per cent. Was it any wonder that people started betting on the lottery and stopped betting on the football pools? The income available for improving football grounds went down and down and ground improvements sank into disaster, even though they had created many jobs since 1990. Tarmac in my constituency made all the concrete steps for the Anfield ground in Liverpool and for West Ham's ground. Practically the only building taking place in towns in the north of England was at new football stands. Girder work was rapidly put through for Euro 96. The money came from the pools, but the lottery knocked the pools sideways.
We begged the Tory Government to put something in place of the pools money, but they did nothing. My hon. Friend the Minister, despite abuse from the Opposition, immediately announced massive help funded by the lottery, the Premier League and others to keep the valuable work going and maintain the Football Trust. The whole sport is grateful to him.
If my hon. Friend would like to become a lot more popular, he might go down to Wimbledon this afternoon and announce some money to put a roof over the courts. The tournament is run by the Wimbledon whingers. Year after year, they moan and groan about the weather. With all the profits that they have made, it is not as if they could not put a glass roof over the courts. They maintain the tradition of making people queue all night. If people do not get in, it is hard lines. There was eight minutes of play the other day and people did not get their money back.
In professional football, when matches were cancelled because of snow, under-floor heating was put in. When they were cancelled because of fog, floodlights were put in. Some people market their game and go for sponsorship. That is why the Premier League is successful. Others in cricket and tennis, I am sorry to say, wring their hands and moan about the weather. Perhaps my hon. Friend might like to suggest such a measure to the tennis people in Wimbledon and get some lottery money put towards it.
With £670 million over four years from Sky, people might ask why football needs help to develop grounds, but it is not premier league clubs that are asking for help. It is smaller clubs such as Halifax, which went out of business because it could not survive the pressure. Only four Conservative Members now represent a constituency which includes a professional football club in the football league or premier league. That may be the trend and the Conservative party may not be too bothered about football, but the little clubs are struggling and they drastically need the money that my hon. Friend the Minister has given to them.
The future for football, with the Sky cash rolling in, is phenomenal. So are the wages that the clubs have to pay. I meant to declare my interest at the beginning of my speech. I am a director of Sheffield Wednesday football club and the chairman of the all-party football committee of the House, so I have a close knowledge of the costs of running a football club.
It is quite common for the top stars of the game to ask for £500,000 a year, which they are paid even if they get injured. They get paid £10,000 a week, not £10,000 a game. Given the crowds that they attract, however, that is rather like paying Pavarotti or some other international opera star to appear. When one thinks about the cash that such players can bring in from television, the select few who are good enough can command those wages and fees. It is a precarious business, however, because a player paid that much could break his leg next week and never be able to play again, as happens to many professionals.
I have heard many hon. Members complain that players are paid too much and that the tickets for a game are too expensive. They should remember that when British players got low wages, all our best players played in Italy. Trevor Francis, Liam Brady. Kevin Keegan and Gazza went abroad to play. Now that players are getting big money, the foreign players are coming here and our youngsters are learning from them. Those wages have created a quality improvement in the game.
I appreciate that people often say that they cannot afford a dish to watch football on Sky. I must say that when a match on Sky is shown at my local pub, people cannot get in. In the north of England the beer is a pound a pint until the first goal. The match is often followed by karaoke or perhaps even a stripper, so it is a big night out. When local clubs are on television their gates often drop by 10,000.
Sky broadcasts are available to the poorer members of the community—indeed, games other than those on Sky are also seen, and I know that the Premier League is worried about that. When I was in a taxi the other week the driver said, "That was a great game at Hillsborough on Saturday against Liverpool." I asked him whether he had gone; he said that he had watched it on television. I said that it was not on television, except in Scandinavia, where their teams do not play in January. He told me that he watched it half a mile up the road at the pub. One of the lads went in, used his card, turned the aerial, jiggled it about and tuned it in. They all watched the game for free at the pub. The poor are very ingenious and there are very few top level-goals that are not shown on terrestrial television. Football is seen by the hard-up supporters, even if we do have to pay fantastic amounts of money to our top players.
My hon. Friend the Minister for sport has already said that his season ticket for Chelsea cost £480.
My hon. Friend could get one for Sheffield Wednesday for £280. We have a system whereby kids can get into the ground for as little as £3. We must invest in the future. If we let children in at rock bottom prices, they will get bitten by the bug and the clubs will get their money back 100 times over. I very much regret the fact that some of the top clubs have said that they cannot find room to let children in at low prices.
Despite the cost of going to games and the broadcasting of games on Sky, attendances are up. Grounds are now 89 per cent. full. In fact, one cannot get in without a season ticket at Newcastle or Manchester United because their games are always booked up in advance. The marketing of the game has been phenomenal and has been a marvellous combination of private enterprise, self-control and self-regulation. The Football Association has done a wonderful job in stamping out hooliganism, and players who give the game a bad reputation are disciplined immediately—Cantona was immediately sentenced to a six-month ban.
We should also give credit where it is due to the all-party football committee, which has more than 100 members from the Back Benches and the Lords. It, too, has helped to improve the game and such partnership has been superb. I hope that the Football Association and the Premier League can extend that partnership by offering coaching to young people, which is badly needed. I regret that, years ago, many teachers opted out of taking school football on a Saturday morning or in the evenings after school. I know that, at the time, teachers had a row with the Government about pay. They said that their contracts did not cover refereeing games and that they would work only their contract hours, but we all learnt about sport at school and afterwards, when we kicked a tanner ball on the streets in the evening. Those days have gone. Now, schools have to rely on the enthusiasm of parents, but many are enthusiastic only while their own kids are playing. We must revive the sport at school.
In a couple of weeks I will meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment with other members of the football community to see how we can encourage football at school. We have many, many ex-professionals in all sports who cannot play their game any longer because they are too old, but they are still only about 35 or 40. They would love to have a job teaching kids in school. I suggested that to high-level representatives of the Premier League, who have expressed a certain interest in that proposal. They have said that they would not mind putting millions of pounds into that.
The Professional Footballers Association—the players' union—has said such a scheme would be a godsend to ex-players looking for jobs. Imagine that there were a couple of ex-pros in each town. They could go to one school on a Monday afternoon and visit another on Tuesday morning and give a couple of hours of coaching. They would be revered by the kids, who would see them as gods. Their names would be remembered and their dads would tell them what great players they had been. Those kids would listen far more to those coaches than they would to dear old Mr. Chips, who might watch them kick a ball about when he had a spare hour.
I know that, as always with education, any such scheme would run into some bureaucracy. I am sure that local education committees would say that such a scheme would need to be overseen by a secretary, that it would have to be recorded on the minutes and so on. That is the one thing that the people in football are scared of. They do not want to be bogged down in the bureaucracy of local government, where everything has to be approved by a committee. If a school does not want a coach to talk to its kids, fine, it does not have to have one. It would be entirely voluntary. The people in football are willing to pay for such a scheme if schools would only say that they would co-operate.
I am pretty certain that those who have played tennis or who have competed in swimming, who have now given up their sport and miss it tremendously, would jump at the chance to receive a small payment or regular wage for coaching kids. Teachers have too much on their plates already. Indeed, schools do not have the money to employ a sports master. Many sports have money and I am sure that if coaching was offered to schools many of them would accept it. It is just a matter of bringing the strings together. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is trying to introduce such partnerships and I hope that they will go ahead.
Three weeks before the election I went to our stadium at Hillsborough with the Prime Minister. A lot of people thought that it was a stunt when he talked about somewhere where children could go to do their homework. Many kids today want to study because they know that that is the only way they can make progress. I lived in a terrible slum when I was growing up. I will not bore the House with that, but there was never anywhere for me to do my homework. We all lived in one room with the television and the radio on. I could not keep warm if I went anywhere else. Many kids live in similar conditions, but people do not appreciate their difficulties. Football grounds are an ideal place where those kids could do their homework because they have huge halls that are not used during the week. Kids would love to be associated with those grounds and those in the sport would be happy to provide those facilities.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment can get such schemes off the ground. It would be great to establish partnerships between the big cathedrals of sport at the highest level of the game and those at the lowest level, the people on the street.
It is highly appropriate that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should be in the Chair for this debate on sport for all given your work in the past with the rugby union group in the House.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) to the Opposition Front Bench and my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who is our shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage. As he explained earlier, he has had to leave the Chamber for the Hong Kong handover celebrations.
As the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said, the new Minister for sport had a controversial start. Although we may disagree on a number of issues, I am sure that we all agree that one of the most important aspects of sport for all is sport for the disabled. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, who does sterling work as chairman of the all-party football committee, of which I have been proud to be a member throughout my time in the House.
We all recognise that many disabled people are not able to participate in sports such as football and that enormously valuable work is being done by Disabled Sport England and many other organisations. Disabled Sport England—formerly the British Sports Association for the Disabled—has published a superb leaflet called "Sport for All". It is tremendously important to those of us who have been involved in fundraising for disabled sportspeople that the subject is covered in debates such as this. I hope that the Minister for sport will concentrate on some of the important issues relating to the funding that disabled sportspeople need.
I have worked with some of the disabled fencers who have been involved in several of the recent Paralympics. They have stressed to me that, at one of our national sports centres, pending the creation of the new British academy of sport—Crystal palace—there is totally inadequate access for disabled sportspeople. I urge the Minister for sport to look in particular at facilities for the disabled when the site is chosen for the British academy of sport. I know he shares my concern.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for speaking on that part of sport for all with which I am personally involved and to which I am strongly committed. I give him a total assurance that the British academy of sport will include the best sporting facilities for our Paralympians, who achieve wonderful things for this country—for example, they received an enormous number of gold medals at the Atlanta Paralympics.
I am grateful for that assurance—I hoped and expected that the Minister would be able to give it. I am sure that all those involved in sport for the disabled will welcome that.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that valuable support has been given to disabled sport, especially by companies such as British Telecom, which has pumped a vast amount of funding into the field. Those of us who have worked with British Telecom and those of its staff who have been involved in its disabled sports programme know how valuable it is. A large number of companies are needed to support disabled sport. The Minister will also agree with the tribute paid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham to the former Minister for sport, our friend Iain Sproat who, sadly, is no longer in the House. He also was deeply involved in ensuring that there were facilities for disabled sportspeople—not only Paralympians but disabled sportspeople at every level.
The Minister will be aware that, in the recent debates on firearms legislation, I and other hon. Members have drawn attention to the sadness felt by those involved in the British Paraplegic Shooting Association that they have been unable to persuade the new Government to make exceptions for paraplegic shooters. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government may be persuaded by some of the arguments advanced in another place that exceptions should be made for those who are paraplegic or in other ways disabled and unable to take part in any sport other than pistol shooting. I hope that further consideration will be given to that issue.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) and the Secretary of State have referred to the important work done by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, which regularly publishes excellent documents and which has produced a helpful set of documents relating to sport for all. The council stresses that the general household survey estimates that about 29 million adults—almost 60 per cent. of the entire population—regularly take part in sport or some form of physical recreation. Even more people watch sport and I share the delight of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw that some 31 million people were attracted through the turnstiles to watch football last season. The figures continue to rise, which is a welcome contrast to the falling attendances at football matches during the 1970s and 1980s.
Sport also produces wealth and, in conjunction with tourism and leisure, is an important industry in this country and one in which Britain excels. Sport directly produces employment for nearly half a million people and sport and leisure account for some £10 billion in consumer expenditure, generating £3.5 billion for the Treasury, which was another point touched on by the hon. Member for Cheltenham.
It is important to look at the importance of sport for young people. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw about the fact that so much sport disappeared from schools when teachers declined to supervise children participating in sport after school or in school hours. I am delighted that, despite the fact that the politically correct notion of getting rid of competitive sport in schools was at its height when the new Minister for sport was involved in running the Greater London council, more mature considerations are now prevalent on the Labour Benches.
Labour Members have come to share our view that it was quite wrong to allow that sort of political correctness to creep into schools. We now have a bipartisan attitude to the importance of competitive sport in schools and some of the socialist nostrums of the past have been cast away. This is yet another example of the triumph of Conservative ideas, which have now informed new Labour. Our views have always been consistent: throughout the period in which Labour local authorities were supporting left-wing teachers in banning competitive sport in schools, Conservative Members said that competitive sport mattered. At long last, the new Labour Government have accepted that we were right and that many of their colleagues in local government and many left-wing teachers were wrong.
There are still, I regret to say, some politically correct attitudes to be seen in the new Labour Government. We saw some of that in the exchanges between the new Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham in their opening speeches today.
At this stage, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must apologise for the fact that I am to be denied the pleasure of listening to the winding-up speeches as I have a constituency surgery to attend. However, I look forward to reading Hansard and discovering how the Minister for sport tackles some of these issues. Ministers and Labour Back Benchers should be aware that many of us will continue to oppose their proposals for a right to roam; and we will continue to oppose their belief that one can have rights without responsibilities.
Finally, although we may share many views about sport. we also believe that the Government are quite wrong to dismiss, in the offhand manner displayed by the Secretary of State for Health, the tobacco companies' support for sport. For the Minister for sport's benefit, I shall quote remarks on that subject by some of our leading sports administrators. Ken Schofield, the executive director of the Professional Golfers Association European Tour, said:
The PGA European Tour believes in individual freedom of choice. With that background, clearly we would want the outstanding support over many years, of many various British sports—including tournament golf—by the tobacco industry to continue.
John Spencer of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association pointed out that
The major contributing factor in the phenomenal growth of professional snooker during the last 19 years is sponsorship and the most valued sponsors are those who have been able to demonstrate a long term commitment to our game.
Malcolm Burdett of the National Federation of Anglers—representing a sport of which the new Government have confirmed they are strongly in favour, so they might pay attention to this statement—said:
The sport finds it difficult to achieve sponsorship from other sources. The reason is the same as it is for all the so-called minority sports—they seldom manage to achieve proper TV coverage.
Finally, David Frame, the chief executive of the British Ice Hockey Association, said:
Minor sports are having great difficulty attracting sponsorship and it is difficult to perceive British ice hockey continuing in its current format without the support of Benson and Hedges. This sponsorship is enabling us to enhance the development of the sport.
As a non-smoker, I may share the health concerns expressed by some Labour Members, but we have to recognise that it is not appropriate to dismiss out of hand a large source of funding for sport. I may disagree with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw about some of the effects resulting from one satellite television company trying to reduce the number of our national sporting occasions available on television, but I recognise the importance of the funding that that provides. Similarly, whatever the health arguments may be, we should have a genuine and separate debate on whether it is wise for the Government to dismiss a very substantial amount of funding for sport without any guarantee that other sources of funding are available.
When the battle starts about country sports and our different views about what constitutes a sport, Labour Members must recognise the accuracy of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham said about the very many people from all walks of life and all levels of income who support a traditional part of our countryside. Let Labour Members be under no illusion: many of us will fight to retain people's freedom of choice to participate in all the sports that they have loved for generations, and we shall continue to debate that matter. I hope that some Labour Members will be able to support us in what is supposed to be a free vote on the rights of people in the countryside to follow the sports that they love.
I shall be brief because others wish to speak, but I want to close as I began: by concentrating on the importance of disabled sport. I wish to pay tribute to some of the key achievements of disabled sport in 1996–97. The creation of the lottery has been a tremendous help. Never let it be forgotten that the lottery was introduced by the previous Government, and has provided the most important increase in sports funding in our lifetimes.
An official of the Sports Council told me, "In 17 years in this job I have been desperately seeking funding, but since the lottery has come in I have been able to provide funding. Through the lottery funds I have provided more in a year than in all the previous 16 years." I welcome the facilities that have been provided for sport, especially disabled sport, by means of the lottery created by the previous Conservative Government.
During 1996 and 1997, Disabled Sport England was able to initiate, organise and secure commercial sponsorship for the first UK-wide athletics championships for all disability groups, an event which also attracted entries from five overseas countries. Disabled Sport England prepared a new four-year swimming development plan—in which I am especially involved—and secured direct sponsorship of no less than £938,000 for the four-year period. It developed comprehensive event management guidelines to help governing bodies, local authorities and other organisations to manage events for and including disabled people.
Disabled Sport England successfully managed a programme of 14 national championships, including a total sponsorship requirement in excess of £300,000. It initiated and co-ordinated the development of a national junior sports programme for disabled people, which has been subscribed to by all the national disability sports organisations. Finally, it successfully co-ordinated the London wheelchair marathon, increasing entries and sponsorship on previous years.
A fantastic amount of sport for the disabled is being supported and there are tremendous opportunities for sport for all—able-bodied and disabled. I hope that we shall maintain a bipartisan belief in sport and the importance of sport while remaining of the view that on some issues we must avoid the Orwellian newspeak that still creeps into the new Government's rhetoric.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am delighted that you are in the Chair this morning, because you are one of the few Members who has attended and participated in most of our sporting debates, and I know that your words of wisdom, especially on professional rugby, were listened to attentively by hon. Members.
I congratulate the Front-Bench national heritage team on their appointment and on securing this debate on sport so early in the Session. I also congratulate the Opposition Front-Bench team. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) is not in the Chamber today, because he is another regular attender, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones). It is true that there is cross-party consensus on many sports issues, which is to the good of sport.
I especially congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) on his appointment as Minister for sport. We all know the tremendous energy, enthusiasm and commitment that he showed as chairman of the arts and sports committee of the Greater London council, and that experience and the attributes that he brings to his post will enormously benefit sport.
I give my hon. Friend the Minister a word of advice. He should remember that there is more than Chelsea football team in this country and there is more than the premier league. I know that in the past he stood up strongly for football supporters, and I hope that in his new role he continues to do so.
I fear that the new Minister inherits from the previous Government a legacy of inaction and delayed decisions. That is not to say that there were not a lot of good intentions, and I believe that specifically the previous Minister for sport and the previous Prime Minister had good intentions, but as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, good intentions and well-meaning words do not produce results; only actions matter. I hope that the new Minister will dither less and do more than previous holders of his job.
The Minister has also inherited a not especially well-regarded bureaucracy of sport in the UK. I am someone who at least thinks that I know quite a lot about the structure of sport in the UK, but I admit that the exact details of administration are very unclear, even to me. I am not sure about the exact rules of the five sports councils, each of which is the responsibility of a different Secretary of State. I welcome the Secretary of State's mention of the need for clarification.
I do not want many more months of review and consultation, because in the past five years we have had review after review after review on the structure of sport, and it is time to take decisions and sort things out. If we are serious about a sport for all policy—I believe that the Government are committed to sport for all—it is crucial that there is co-ordination among all the Departments when policy impinges on education and employment, health and the Home Office.
If we are serious about sport for all, we need to be very serious indeed about the grass roots of sport, and ensure that resources are getting to where they are needed and where they can be used. Those two things are not always the same.
Let us consider where the best practice is—where keen, dedicated people are already doing great work with young people, but could do so much more with slightly more help and resources. So often, under the present system of allocation of Sports Council grants via the national lottery, that does not happen. We seem continually to want to reinvent the wheel, and it is worth remembering that, since 1972, the Sports Council has received more than £900 million in grant aid from the Government, more than £500 million of which has been spent on administration. Of course, administration is necessary, and of course much of that goes to staff and so on, but we must sometimes question the huge amount that seems to be spent on bureaucracy; I know that the Minister for sport will want to consider that.
There is so much talent in this country, especially in our inner cities. In my borough of Lambeth, for many years, sport was the first thing to be cut when cuts were made, because it had no statutory rights. For the past six years, volunteers have kept alive Lambeth's entry to the London youth games—now known as the London Heathrow youth games, because when sponsors are putting money in, we should give them a mention.
The council had no sports development work until the Lambeth Independent Sports Association was set up, chaired by Caroline Clark. The volunteers did that work because they had a concern for young people and wanted them to be able to enjoy the fun and development that sport can offer. I am pleased that, at last, Lambeth is backing the Lambeth Independent Sports Association with a small amount of finance and recognition but, like other parts of inner cities, Lambeth is terribly lacking in facilities. There are several good cricket teams, but no Lambeth ground.
As an elected member of Surrey County cricket club, I must say that Surrey is doing its part. It has opened up its facilities in the winter to Tony Moodie, who is one of the people who coaches in the parks during the summer. Many young black people play cricket in the summer, but in the winter they had nowhere else to go. We badly need a small amount of money to help create a home for Lambeth community cricket on Clapham common. Grand Sports Council plans are not necessary to get that going. People already have the commitment to get it going. Something needs to happen.
I am afraid that when dedicated local volunteers try to get something done, they are often dispirited by the huge bureaucracy that they have to deal with. If the Minister really is to make a difference, he should find the people who can get things done and not waste time on huge amounts of bureaucracy and structures that one sometimes has the impression are set up to keep people in jobs.
Despite those setbacks in Lambeth, we have been listening to people at the grass roots, because they know what is happening. A small girls school in my constituency has beaten all other English school teams at cross country, yet there is no running track at the school or in Lambeth. That achievement is partly due to the extra time and commitment of the school's dedicated physical education teacher.
The Brixton Top Cats basketball team, coached by the marvellous Jimmy Rogers, produce gold medals for Lambeth at the boys junior national championship. They cannot compete in the national league, as their home facility has no licence for charging for sporting events. Lambeth trampoliners compete at national level. Their judge is one of the nation's best, yet they, too, have no Lambeth home.
Caroline Clark wrote to me recently, and she wanted me to pass on her comments to the Minister. It is easier to pass them on in public than in private, so I shall quote her letter:
We know that Tony Banks has a special concern for the loss of playing fields to both schools and communities. We hope that in his plans for reassessing and developing sporting opportunities he can closely consider the issues around partnership work and on accessing facilities for both school and community use. Sometimes the community has a better way of building basic blocks for development than those ways imposed by experts at the Town Hall. We hope he will consider the views, knowledge and skills of people like us when he develops his strategy. Can you urge on him our concerns?
Well, Caroline, I am urging on him your concerns today.
When we debate sport, the importance of school sport and what is going on in schools is nearly always mentioned. I hope that the Minister will work closely with his hon. Friends in the Department for Education and Employment. We must increase the number and improve the quality of physical education teachers. Some trainee teachers have as little as 10 hours' physical education training, and that must be increased. Teachers are sometimes helped by volunteers. The Central Council of Physical Recreation is concerned about the section of the Police Act 1997 that will require volunteers to pay for monitoring, to find out whether they have a criminal background. That is sad, and could be changed quickly. Some of the problems facing volunteers require practical solutions.
I urge the Minister to read the report of the Adjournment debate that I secured last year on swimming and schools. The national curriculum requires schools to get children up to a basic level and then swimming is stopped, because it is not seen as an important event in its own right. Once that narrow requirement of the national curriculum is satisfied, that is it and there is no more swimming for many. That is sad. The cost of access to swimming pools and the cost of transport should also be examined.
We must support inter-school competition. Competition within schools is important, but schools are not competing with each other as much as they used to. We must give the English School Sports Association more support. It does a terrific job and should be applauded, rewarded, supported and valued. It achieves so much on so little. Just think what more could be done with a little extra help.
I supported the lottery from day one, and I think that Camelot has done a wonderful job. It is not Camelot's fault that the House required it to undertake its work in a particular way. If more hon. Members who were against the lottery had spent more time arguing about how it was to be implemented rather than against the principle, we might have had a lottery that provided more money for good causes. I do not think that Camelot has done anything wrong in the past few weeks: it has simply carried out the task that it was given by Parliament, and it should not be criticised for that.
I heard this morning that a particular individual is likely to make a huge fortune out of the millennium project at Greenwich. I hope that the Minister for sport accepts that that may not be the best way to proceed with the project. I say that to show that hon. Members can say what they think, and are not necessarily bound by party policy on such issues.
If we are serious about sport for all, we must get back to grass roots. That does not mean that I do not support a British academy of sport. I want that decision to be taken as quickly as possible. I know a lot about the three bids. I have talked to people and I have seen the sites, so I could make my decision now, but I will not do so. I shall not try to influence the decision, but we must make it soon. It will not be popular with two sites, whatever we do. We should stop faffing around and get on with it.
A national academy is fine, but if we neglect the base, there is no point having one. If there are no youngsters coming through and getting that first opportunity at school or in a sports club, a national academy will be only for the people who have the talent and the money: we want people with talent and no money to get through as well.
May we also have a decision soon on the national stadium? The decision has been taken for Wembley, but we shall have to wait until September to get approval for lottery funding. If the decision has been taken and lottery funding has been set aside, why cannot the project start straight away? A new Wembley is crucial if we are to have a chance of hosting the World cup. If we get the World cup in 2006, let us ensure that the whole of the United Kingdom has a share in it. It may be an English bid for technical reasons, but let us ensure that matches are played in Scotland, at Windsor Park in Northern Ireland and in Cardiff. People in the whole of the United Kingdom should be able to feel that it is their World cup, even if it is officially England's. There is no reason why we cannot do that: two countries will host the next but one World cup.
Is the Minister committed to keeping athletics at Crystal palace, which is vital not only to London but to the whole of the south of England?
We read a lot about sleaze in Parliament, but we are facing up to that. The Department of National Heritage, aided and abetted by some of the powers that be in football, was wilful in its avoidance of any interest in the bribery and corruption scandal in our national game. The Revenue and VAT officials recovered more than £12 million in their actions for tax fraud against professional football at club, official and player level. I pay tribute to the tax officials, whose work has been commendable.
However, after all these years—it is almost four years—we still have not had a final report from the Premier League inquiry into the various allegations of bungs. I am sure that it will be a whitewash, but I hope that the Minister for sport will not let the Premier League off the hook. I maintain that football cannot police itself. There is a need for a compliance unit, which was the subject of my ten-minute Bill a couple of years ago. The buck has to stop with the Minister for sport, and I have every confidence that he will ensure that the Premier League inquiry is published, even if it sweeps the matter under the carpet.
I welcome the new broom at the Football Association. I particularly welcome the appointment of Glenn Hoddle, the work that Howard Wilkinson is doing with young football trainees and the way in which he is approaching the training of footballers. I hope that he will get support from schools and local authorities for his plans.
I shall make just two final points, because I know that many new Members wish to speak. It is a positive sign that so many new Members are present; there are usually far fewer Members here for such debates, so it is nice to see some new faces.
The Minister needs to tread carefully on the question of sponsorship by tobacco companies. I have always been anti-smoking; I hate smoking and would like it if no one smoked, but recognise that smoking is still within the law and that the Chancellor takes an enormous amount of money from tobacco companies. If we are to stop sports sponsorship by tobacco companies, the Minister's job has to be to replace that money one way or another so that the minority sports, especially those such as angling which do not have television coverage, do not lose out.
I do not accept the notion that someone who watches a car racing at about 150 mph at the British grand prix in the colours of a particular cigarette company will suddenly decide that he must go and buy a packet of cigarettes. Youngsters are not turned on to smoking by the fact that tobacco money goes into sport; they are much more likely to be turned on to smoking by watching "Eastenders". If we go down that slippery road, the next thing will be alcohol sponsorship of sports. I think that alcohol is even more dangerous than cigarettes, so we have to be careful. I know that the Minister will consider the matter, because it is the Minister's job to ensure that sport does not suffer.
I appeal to the Secretary of State and the whole Department not to spend a great deal of money working out whether to change the Department's name. They should not worry about the name, which is irrelevant. We have all got used to the title "The Department of National Heritage", and the Department should not waste money and time changing headed notepaper and so on just for the sake of it. That is not important; what is important is what the Department does.
The key test of the Government's success in sport will be the quantity and quality of participation in sport. It will be whether youngsters with talent get help at the appropriate time in their career and whether they have the opportunity to participate in any sport they wish and to do so at the highest level they can. That is the key test of whether the Government are successful in our sports manifesto.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) on their appointment to the Opposition Front Bench and wish them much success and a run of good form in their time in their new capacity. I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks); as a new Member, I very much look forward to witnessing his renowned quickness of wit.
Sport is central to the British way of life. Although we probably have more of a tendency to watch than to participate, just over half the adult population plays some form of sport once a month. We all know that that frequency of playing sport is not likely to benefit our overall condition. It is also a fact that women are less likely to play sport than men.
I approach the debate from the perspective of the fitness that sport can confer. "The Health of the Nation" initiative, set up under the previous Government, set a goal of reducing obesity among women by one third by the year 2005 and by 25 per cent. among men. The third progress report of that initiative, which was published in July last year, showed that no significant step had been achieved towards either of those targets. Another finding of the progress report was also worrying, in that the proportion of children aged 11 to 15 who smoke has risen by 50 per cent. since 1988.
The promotion of sport among young people is vital if the health of the nation is to be improved. The Sports Council currently allocates £4 million per annum to various sporting initiatives involving young people. However, there is patently more success in encouraging sports uptake among young men than among young women.
In 1993, a shoe company undertook some research, which showed that three out of five teenage girls played no sport at all outside school. For young women, the only sporting activities being undertaken twice a week are cycling, walking, keep fit and weight training. Further research shows that 66 per cent. of girls dislike the kind of sport on offer in schools and particularly object to competitive sports where there are winners and losers. It is different for boys: only 38 per cent. said that they disliked sports with a competitive element, which shows a different approach to sport and exercise among men and women.
Another marked contrast is that only 30 per cent. of 14 to 16-year-old girls undertook sport to be with their friends, which compares with 52 per cent. of boys. That shows that the social aspect of sport is less important for women, although that may have something to do with the type of sport on offer.
Sport for young women does not enjoy a good image. In the modern idiom, we would say that it is not cool for a young woman to do sport. I urge the Minister to think of ways to change that. Let us consider media coverage of women's sport. Of all the television sports coverage in this country, only 6 per cent. is devoted to women's sport, and the figure for newspaper coverage is only 13 per cent.
To take up the point made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), it is no good being glib about sponsorship. Commercial sponsors are not interested in sport if there is very little media coverage, which is what women's sports suffer from. Commercial sponsors are reluctant to back women's sports because they do not get the television and newspaper coverage that they need.
It is therefore no wonder that even committed teenage sportswomen could name only one famous British sportswoman. I am sure that we could all name her, too—Sally Gunnell—but what about our other athletes such as Kelly Holmes and Tessa Sanderson? In addition, it is really only athletes and tennis stars who have become household names in women's sports.
Is it not a fact that many young women go in for aerobics and classes or even dance in nightclubs, and that they provide their main forms of exercise? That is why women do not go out on to a muddy football field.
I am coming to that very point in relation to the national curriculum's contribution to sport.
The problem is that young women often lack a well-publicised role model. Perhaps the Minister for sport and the Department for Education and Employment could look at ways in which the profiles of successful sportswomen could be raised in education, so that young women have a wider range of role models.
The image of women's sport is not helped by the way in which it is reported. The back page of The Mirror on 25 June—I am not sure how many hon. Members had the chance to look at it—had what can only be described as an uncompromising photograph of the world-class tennis player Monica Seles in action, with disparaging remarks about her weight gain. Young women need positive role models, not the running down of the sporting achievements of stars.
The previous Government launched a number of initiatives to promote sport for young people, one of which was the introduction of two hours of physical education into the national curriculum. I am glad that the Heart of England school at Balsall Common in my constituency has shown how that time can be used creatively, taking account of the attitudes towards sport of young men and women that I mentioned earlier. Girls and boys can choose a sport from a range of options. They have an opportunity to try those sports and then pursue them in more depth. The sports teachers also use that time for modules about anatomy and physiology, so that young people learn about the way in which exercise can keep them in good shape. The school recognises that young people need a positive experience of sport. Forcing teenagers into strange and unmodish sports kit to do a sport that they would never choose can be detrimental. The school has proved that embracing the times with aerobics and dance classes can be fun and beneficial.
I think nostalgically of my time at school, where sporting attainment was held in equal esteem with academic achievement. The dedication of teachers who gave up their Saturdays to promote our school teams left a great impression on me.
I was encouraged to hear the hon. Member for Bassetlaw suggest that we could do more to promote the use of sports facilities out of school hours. Even if that is not supervised by professional teachers, it could be done by ex-professionals. Fathers often put in time at weekends to run sports coaching these days. More often than not, that is for boys' sports. What can be done to encourage mums to show up on a Saturday and give a good example to young women, by giving up their free time to encourage them in their sport? The teaching profession could also be encouraged to reconsider such a contribution on a Saturday morning. Such dedication from a mentor who gives up their free time to encourage a child to pursue a sport in depth has a wider lesson for life than just the pursuit of a sport. That willingness to make a sacrifice rests with us when we think back to the time when we were encouraged at school.
I am greatly concerned about the future funding of sport if national lottery funds are diverted into mainstream public policy areas such as health and education. The lottery has made a real difference to sport. The Secretary of State said today that the number of national lottery awards to sport has risen to more than 3,000 and that £540 million of lottery money is going to sport. That dwarfs the Government's £50 million of dedicated core funding for sport in the past year. Small clubs and groups all over the country have benefited from improvements to their sports facilities—the refurbishment of a sports pavilion, the purchase of a new set of goalposts or the installation of a ramp to make facilities accessible to the disabled. Taking away the profit motive from running the lottery may sound "cute", as the Financial Times said,
but the victims will very likely be the good causes the lottery is purportedly set up to serve.
It is decision time for the new Labour Government. We need to know where the academy of sport and the national stadium will be. The uncertainty does not serve the industry. How will the Government prevent the dilution of sports funding from the national lottery? When will their election pledge of a youth sports unit be fulfilled? How will they shift a generation of potential couch potatoes into regular exercise and invest for the health of the nation in the next millennium?
I have no financial interest in the issue about which I am going to speak. I shall explain later why I want to speak about a subject that is not close to my constituency.
A direct loss of at least £7.5 million, a £50,000 fine, personnel assembled at a cost of £20 million looking for new jobs and at least 30,000 local people in uproar—what crime could have led to those consequences? Is it fraud, corruption or deceit? No. Those penalties are the known effects of what prosecuting counsel conceded was an
honest error of judgment made in good faith.
Where in the world would an honest error of judgment made in good faith be punished so harshly? Could it be a central African dictatorship, a banana republic in Latin America or a totalitarian dictatorship in eastern Europe? No. The punishment was imposed not far from here at 17 Lancaster gate in Bayswater on 14 January this year by the Football Association and Premier League. Why was such a penalty imposed? It was imposed because Middlesbrough football club committed an honest error of judgment made in good faith and postponed its league fixture with Blackburn Rovers.
Whatever the facts may be, and they have now been broadcast and published widely, a number of specific questions have been raised by the club chairman, Steve Gibson, the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough, the national press and Members of Parliament, yet no answers have been forthcoming from the Premier League.
The most telling example is as follows. When seeking advice before the postponement, the club was told that it could not postpone the game "without just cause". However, within three weeks, the same officers of the Premier League advised with great clarity the Premier League commission that heard the charge against Middlesbrough. They told the commission that Middlesbrough had not acted with just cause. Are we to believe that, had Middlesbrough been told with such clarity that postponing the game would lead to a three-point deduction, it would have recklessly gone ahead with that action?
The Premier League has been asked to answer many such questions. It has responded with equally implausible answers, but has not yet committed them to paper. The Premier League and the Football Association preside over a business with an annual income of more than £200 million. Whether that money is raised directly through the turnstiles or from television, ultimately it all comes from ordinary football supporters, who have a right to expect the administrators of the game to act in a proper manner.
The Premier League and the Football Association govern themselves with no appeal beyond their confines. They rely on the provision that the result of any appeal to a Football Association board against a Premier League commission decision shall be final and binding. That denies any external body the opportunity to review the internal decisions made by those organisations.
At a time when organisations that occupy privileged positions are under the greatest pressure to demonstrate their open governance by allowing outsiders to review their decisions, football is still slamming the door on such a process. I should like to ask why.
We should also remind ourselves of the circumstances surrounding the allegations made against Tottenham Hotspur relating to the payment of financial incentives. Tottenham admitted making improper and illegal payments and had six points deducted. However, by some means, the club's advisers secured a review of the FA decision that upheld those penalties. The external tribunal established to consider the appeal ruled that football had imposed too harsh a sanction on Tottenham and the club was handed back its points.
Middlesbrough lost three points for what the FA acknowledged was an
honest error of judgment made in good faith.
How on earth can that be compared with the view that points had been unfairly deducted from Tottenham when the club had acted illegally? Against the background of the Tottenham precedent, should not football afford Middlesbrough the same opportunity to have its case reviewed by the same body—if not, why not? Why will the Premier League not answer the questions that have been put to it? Many of those questions were not addressed by the Premier League commission or the FA board of appeal. Do they have something to hide?
I ask the new chief executive of the Premier League, Mr. Peter Lever QC, and the chairman, Sir John Quinton, to offer voluntarily to answer in full all the questions raised by the press, the people of Teesside and Members of Parliament. If, when those questions are answered fully and honestly, it is obvious that Middlesbrough should be afforded the same opportunities as Tottenham, the FA should submit its answers to an external body that would review all the facts surrounding events on and after 20 December 1996.
I said at the start of my speech that I have no financial interest in the issue, and that is correct. However, for more than 45 years, my life has been affected by the ups and downs of the team that on Teesside we all know as "the Boro".
I was involved with the club in a part-time capacity for 18 years assessing future opponents' tactics and I was honoured to learn a great deal about the game from Jack Charlton, Harold Shepherdson, Malcolm Allison and many others.
I have been very fortunate; I have lived a varied, sometimes difficult, life, but it has always been fascinating and interesting. I have been lucky enough—at least until 1992 when I was elected to Parliament—to have a proper job all my life. It must be remembered that in areas like Teesside and other areas where heavy industries are experiencing a dreadful demise, many people live their lives through the football teams that they support. Their self-esteem is often drawn from their local team's success.
Although Steve Gibson, the chairman of Middlesbrough, is a hero to the people of Teesside, we must not regard this issue as a battle between well-paid lawyers and football administrators. We must remember that we are not involved in some academic discourse about the value and merits of the importation of foreign stars. To many people, this issue does not involve just their income or jobs but is their main interest in life, and they deserve much better from Lancaster gate and from all of us here today.
I welcome today's debate. It is vital that everyone has access to quality sporting facilities at affordable prices. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has said that that will be a priority for the new Government.
The benefits of sport in terms of health, outlook and just pure enjoyment are immeasurable and are important for our whole society, irrespective of other concerns that we may have about sport in our country today, such as how many gold medals Britain wins at the Olympics. As a new member of the House of Commons gymnasium, I intend soon to reap those benefits and to begin practising what I am preaching today. I only hope that my intention makes its way past the less healthy temptations that this place has to offer.
I wish briefly to bring to the Minister's attention an issue that poses a significant danger to sports in Britain. It is highlighted by a recent judicial ruling in Kingston Crown court, which threatens sports clubs throughout the country and which could be about to affect local sports clubs in the constituencies of all hon. Members. Put simply, it is a loophole in the law that enables landlords of sports clubs to demolish the club and plough up the sports fields, even though they may have been refused planning permission to construct other buildings on the land.
The Minister will be aware of that problem, as I gave his office notice that I would raise the issue. My interest in the matter stems from the case of Thames Ditton lawn tennis club, founded in 1882, which is one of the oldest lawn tennis clubs in the world. That famous tennis club is situated in the constituency of the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) and is used by many of my constituents as it lies close to the boundary of the Kingston and Surbiton constituency. Indeed, many of its leading lights are my constituents. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton has taken a close interest in this issue and has worked hard to resolve the unfortunate circumstances in which the tennis club finds itself. Although he cannot be present at this debate, he wishes to continue pursuing the case.
Like so many local sports clubs, Thames Ditton lawn tennis club is thriving. It has 473 members, including 141 juniors. It provides opportunities for everyone to enjoy tennis at an affordable price. It has free coaching sessions for juniors and intermediates. The facilities include six tournament grass courts and four tournament-sized hard courts, with a clubhouse and associated facilities. It is exactly the sort of community club that provides sport for all and is the backbone of sporting life in our country. The problems that it faces have national ramifications, as is recognised by a wide variety of bodies, including the English Sports Council and the Lawn Tennis Association. The club's plight has received national media cover in The Daily Telegraph, from the word processor of Donald Trelford, and in that excellent magazine "Tennis Today".
I shall give a few details of the case, to illustrate the extraordinary course of events that has led the tennis club to face the prospect of demolition. In essence, it is a dispute between the club and the trustees who act for the owner and landlord. When the lease came up for renewal, the trust was unwilling either to renew it or to sell the freehold to the club's members. Instead, it and its beneficiary were keen to plough up the tennis courts and develop the land for luxury housing.
At first, the trust was thwarted. Elmbridge council turned down planning applications for housing on the site twice, because of the potential loss of leisure facilities to the community, and that decision was strongly backed by
the whole local community. Indeed, the Government's planning inspector refused an appeal by the owner on the ground that the proposal
would cause harm by the loss of recreational space".
One would have thought that that would be an end of the matter, and that the trust would give in and renew the lease or sell the land. It did indeed offer the land for sale, but the trustees said that during the dispute it had increased in value from £425,000 to £1.5 million. I think that they were a little surprised when the club was prepared to consider that price, having been assured by the Sports Council that it could qualify for national lottery money. Not to be outdone, however, the trustees came back with another wheeze. They proposed to demolish the whole club and leave the site derelict for years, then apply again for planning permission for housing, having turned the site into a local eyesore.
The issue ended in Kingston Crown court, where Judge Bishop ruled in favour of the trustees and the owner, arguing that in law the grass courts could, technically, be demolished. Unless the subsequent appeal by the tennis club is won, or the Government act quickly, the tennis club will be destroyed.
I invite all hon. Members to consider which sporting facilities in their constituencies could be threatened in similar circumstances. We should remember that the Victorians and Edwardians established many sporting clubs throughout the country at the turn of the century, and those leases are now coming up for renewal.
Perhaps other landlords or trusts would behave less avariciously—but can we afford to rely on that? With the property market booming, it would be unwise to do so. I am told that Judge Bishop's ruling is already being cited by developers as giving the green light for building on recreational spaces elsewhere in London and the rest of the country.
It is difficult to estimate the scale of the problem, but common sense suggests that it will be widespread and could prove catastrophic for the sporting life of our country. I ask Ministers to examine the problem of Thames Ditton lawn tennis club as a matter of urgency, because it has national significance.
I believe that potential solutions are available. I am told by legal specialists that options could include amendments to either the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 or the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. Ministers here today would, of course, have to consult colleagues before taking action, but I urge them to do so without delay.
Ministers could set up an interdepartmental study group to find out how the problem could be tackled as soon as possible. Perhaps a requirement to obtain prior planning permission could be imposed on landlords who wish to demolish or reconstruct a building connected with sport or other recreational pursuits.
The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides that planning permission is not required to demolish
any building other than a dwellinghouse or a building adjoining a dwellinghouse".
It is for that reason that the demolition of the Thames Ditton clubhouse and the ploughing up of its land can proceed without the need for prior approval. One solution would be to amend legislation to cover land used for sports and/or built sports facilities. I am sure that
Ministers and officials can propose more suitable solutions, and I recognise that they must proceed with some caution.
There are genuine concerns about the need to protect the property rights of landlords, so any legal change must be considered carefully, but I urge Ministers not to use the issue of property rights to avoid dealing with this case, as their predecessors did. I do not believe that the Thames Ditton case—and others which may follow if this is used as a legal precedent—is really a question of property rights; rather, it is a case of an unscrupulous and greedy landlord, deliberately and openly in court saying that he intends to flout the spirit of the rulings of a planning authority. There is a big difference between the legitimate concerns of landlords and the exploitation of legal loopholes for property speculation.
Sport for all means that we have to protect the facilities in our constituencies to allow people to participate in sport. I urge the Minister to light up the lives of many tennis fans and players during this Wimbledon fortnight by announcing positive action by the Government to save this club and, by doing so, to save many sporting facilities across the country. The Minister has a warm following among fans of all sports and I am sure that, if the animals that will benefit from saving open spaces could speak in human tongue, they would also voice their affection for him. This case offers him a chance to match our expectations of him, and I hope that he will seize it with his usual flair.
I hope that the House will allow me to express my appreciation at being called to make my maiden speech in this debate.
My constituency is situated in east London, as is betrayed by my classic cockney accent. The River Thames forms its southern boundary, and it is bounded by Shadwell in the west and north Woolwich in the east. It is surrounded by the constituencies of East Ham, West Ham—of which more later—and Bethnal Green and Bow. Poplar and Canning Town is the new creation of the boundary commission and, for the first time in history, a parliamentary constituency crosses the age-old boundary between Middlesex and Essex, by covering an area separated by the River Lea.
My immediate predecessors were Mildred Gordon and Nigel Spearing, who had more than 30 years of parliamentary service between them. They had distinctly different styles, but were acknowledged as assiduous representatives of their constituents and doughty fighters for the causes they held dear. I will do well to become as highly regarded as a parliamentary performer and to be thought of by my constituents with as much affection as they were. They were also sources of great assistance to me in preparation for the general election, and I thank them for that.
Other predecessors include Keir Hardie, George Lansbury, Elwyn Jones, Ian Mikardo and Clement Attlee, to name a few, and the constituency has a history of industrial and community activity which reads like a history of the Labour movement, stretching back beyond the great dock strike of 1889. The area was heavily bombed during the blitz, and more recently—following the closure of the docks in London—we saw the arrival of the London Docklands development corporation, which heralded a new era. It must be said that the LDDC was not wholly welcomed, because of its non-elected basis, and even today it arouses an element of frustration and anger, but it is appropriate to say that it has laid the foundations for the future, and many people who have worked for the LDDC have been driven by the highest motives. Their achievements are certainly visible.
With all respect to my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent other London constituencies, east London in general—and Poplar and Canning Town in particular—holds the key to the future of London. The elected councillors and officers of the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham are working hard to ensure that. Voluntary and community groups across the constituency, backed by our well-known local newspapers the Newham Recorder and the East London Advertiser, are also doing all they can to participate.
In Poplar and Canning Town, we have many famous organisations and buildings, including Billingsgate fish market with its 1,000-year history—it relocated to the Isle of Dogs in 1982—and Canary Wharf, with the tower at 1 Canada square being the symbol of the brave new London. Around half of what was Fleet street now works there. A more imaginative home for the strategic authority for London and the new mayor would be hard to find outside docklands, or indeed, Canary Wharf.
In east London, we will have the Stratford international rail link and the Jubilee line extension, and we already have the bus and tube networks, the docklands light railway and the City airport—in essence, the basic transport infrastructure to support the regeneration that is so needed. As I am sure the House knows, Poplar and Canning Town also has levels of poverty, overcrowding and unemployment as serious as those anywhere in the United Kingdom.
East London, which is the gateway to Europe, needs the investment promised by the new Labour Government. The business community and the City are ready to respond and, indeed, have been investing. Labour swept to power throughout east London and in acknowledging the multifarious talents of my many successful colleagues, I must pay tribute to the professional and voluntary staff of the Greater London Labour party under the guidance of Mr. Terry Ashton.
In my previous occupation as a firefighter, mostly at Battersea fire station, a certain level of physical and mental fitness was necessary. The sporting opportunities afforded to firefighters by the London fire brigade contributed to maintaining that fitness and building the team spirit that are so important in that profession. I am glad to say that, since entering Parliament, I have managed to continue the link between sport and work by being selected for the parliamentarians football team—as was my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen)—which played the press lobby on Wednesday. Some people consider the term "left wing" an anachronism in new Labour, so perhaps our manager for the match, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), selected me for that position on the field because I was formerly a lay official of the Fire Brigades Union.
While on the subject of football, I feel that I should declare an interest, in that I am a West Ham season ticket holder. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) feels that he is not receiving value for money—I can sympathise, given the price that he says he is paying for his season ticket—I point out that the provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 are always available to people in Sheffield.
West Ham United football club is an institution of which we are rightly proud in east London. I hasten to add, for clarification and so as not to cause an unfortunate association for the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage—my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), whose appointment as Minister for sport was so warmly welcomed—that Upton park, the Boleyn ground, which is the home of West Ham football club, is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms) and not West Ham.
The concept of sport for all is about everyone having access to the physical, social and psychological benefits of sport. It is about whether the Government's involvement in sport encourages not merely competitiveness but community, and not merely elitism but social engagement. It is also about whether Government or lottery funds go to the disabled, the elderly and the isolated, or only to the elite band of prospective medal winners. Millions of people are included under the banner "Sport for All".
As for the proposed academy of sport, the former Member for Harwich, Mr. Sproat, favoured an academy that would have been a centre of excellence on Australian lines. I shall not comment on the present test series. I know that I would not pass the Tebbit cricket test, as I have to confess that I do not always support an English win—a number of charities have been the occasional beneficiaries of Scottish defeats.
Previously, some people appeared to be working to inhibit the Sports Council in influencing the development and management of the proposed British academy. In May last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) challenged the previous Government on their proposals for the academy, saying:
It was another sad indication of the government's failure to listen, when last year it announced it wanted to see a single large Academy of Sport—despite the fact that this is not what British sport wants.
He went on to say:
I believe Government must provide a framework for sporting excellence which is open to all.
He favoured a single headquarters with an enhanced regional network, encouraging grass-roots participation.
General practitioners, social services and counsellors in the field of psychiatry should all be involved in referring people to local gyms, dance classes and other recreational facilities so that each and every one of us can enjoy the benefits of exercise. There are interpersonal and recreational benefits from participation in sport, as well as genuine mental and physical benefits.
In the true spirit of sport, participation in and following of sport as a fan or supporter can help to transcend differences of race, gender, class and physical ability, and can afford enjoyment, hope and a sense of achievement and help to develop a sense of responsibility, perseverance and fair play. We are beginning to build a society based on those values, and sport for all can be a building block of that society.
I congratulate the new hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick). I had to note down the name of his constituency, as I was not sure about it. I have driven through it, but next time I shall certainly stop, having found out the delights of the area and especially that Billingsgate market is in it; I have never been there and I should like to see it.
As a Member of Parliament who has returned to the House after a five-year absence, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate. The Member who kept the seat warm for me, Mr. Matthew Banks, did a remarkable job. He was a good constituency Member and was active on the Transport Select Committee; he also had an interest in the middle east. He often spoke on those matters and, although I am glad that I am here in his stead, I appreciate all that he did for Southport.
As I said in my original maiden speech, quite some years ago, Southport is a town of 100,000 people. Within that 100,000, there are many sportspeople—men, women and children. We have eight golf clubs, and one would think from that that Southport was a rather select place to live. Well, it is: it is a seaside resort. The eight golf clubs have a great tradition of encouraging junior members who, although rarely spoken of, have played a part in promoting English golf; some have gone on to international standard, as other juniors have in swimming and athletics. Southport has a place in any debate on sport.
Southport has a tradition of football, and I have the honour—I think—of holding one of the original Southport football club share certificates, which is due for a museum. The club is in the Vauxhall league and climbing slowly; by a great deal of effort from members and supporters, as well as from grant systems, it has been able to build a new sports ground after a disastrous fire some years ago. The club is also looking to youngsters and trying to form a partnership with a nearby school, using its facilities for training.
I remain a member of the leisure services committee of Sefton council, which includes Southport. As a councillor for the past 30 years, I have been able to see the frustration of councillors and officers who have tried and failed and left the council—we have people in leisure services at the moment who are doing remarkable work with the resources that are available—because the funding is not there. It is all very well talking about sport for all, producing glossy brochures and having a strategy, but most leisure services committees already have strategies. Our council had a strategy for some time, which it has renewed but cannot carry out because funding is not provided under the standard spending assessment.
Leisure might be described as a Cinderella service in terms of local authority funding. Social services, education and many other aspects take precedence. A directive to councils may be necessary to ensure that a certain proportion of funding is set aside for leisure services. That is the only way that we shall get even the grass cut. Some authorities are so strapped for cash that they cut the grass much less often. Education departments are struggling to put their sports fields in order, rather than sell them. It is all right having sport for all, but from where will the resources come?
Consultation with the sports councils has been mentioned. I was a member of the North West Council for Sport and Recreation and I am now a member of Sefton's sports council. There has been great debate and dissension in those councils because of their rearrangement by the previous Government. As a member, I do not think that they work. I hope that, after consultations, that strategy will be directed, if not towards another reorganisation, towards a method of getting younger members who are really interested in sport involved in the sports councils. Education must be considered more often in that context. It may be that this is now said of me, but I have found over the years that the sports councils have many elderly members. We need fresh ideas. The disabled sections of sport are encouraging many of their junior members, such as those who have been through the Olympics, to become part of the sports councils. They have a different view from that of the older generation on the councils.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said that she thought that Camelot was doing a good job. I agree. Before, during and after the general election campaign there was a lot of controversy and we all jumped on to the bandwagon of shouting about fat cats and their salaries. The amount that Camelot gives away—gives away because it has to under the regulations—shows that it is doing an exceedingly good job. Not counting the big money projects, in any constituency, anyone who attended a sports council meeting would see how many sports grants were being made through the sports councils because of Camelot's decisions. I hope that its contract will be renewed in 2001. Perhaps Virgin or another company is waiting in the wings, but so far Camelot has done a very good job, if we put aside the salary business.
Many aspects of sport could be discussed. Athletes often have the limelight. That can be good because it makes for good television, good sport and even good radio. The athletics world has quite a position to hold but, outside that, there are struggling athletics clubs. I am president of the Southport and Waterloo athletic club which has been working for 15 years to try to get a running track. Bakatrak is the trusteeship that was formed to bring in funding, but we are still £150,000 short of providing what is needed in that part of Merseyside. Those efforts will continue. The club has raised a fair amount of money, but the membership comes and goes. As the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said, parents take an interest while their young people are interested, but we need to hold their interest.
Mention was made of the coaching side. Coaches can be held only if they have a true interest. We should try to keep coaches in many organisations, especially in athletics. That can be done only by encouragement, through achieving long-life ambitions such as that to provide a running track. Again, a local authority contribution is needed and standard spending assessments must be re-examined.
We recently started the Merseyside youth games. I had quite a deal to do with them as a local councillor working through leisure services. More than 1,000 youngsters from all regions of Merseyside take part. They have a great day. They think of the games as their Olympics. They have a parade at the beginning and at the end. Everyone works not to win but to take part. We have controversy only about boxing at the moment. The young people enjoy the games and that is what sport is all about.
If we can preserve events such as the Merseyside youth games, encourage them and let sponsorship be forthcoming from private organisations as it is for the Manchester games, there is a future for this country, but we have to look to the funding. I have received 22 brochures on sport for all, and one was even called "Sport for All", but they have all gathered dust. I want to see action and the action lies in providing the resources for sport.
I am thrilled to be here this morning. I am thrilled to be making my maiden speech. I am thrilled to be making it on sport. That is probably enough about being thrilled. I am one of the 80 or so unlikely lads and lasses who won on 1 May and I am still shaking from that success. As there are so many of us, we have formed a Back-Bench committee called the unlikely lads and lasses and we are proud to announce that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) is to be our president.
My constituency is a brand new constituency, so I guess I am brand new Labour. My constituency is Sittingbourne and Sheppey on the north Kent coast. Sheppey has Anglo-Saxon origins. Hon. Members can probably work out that Sheppey is the long form for sheep. It was joined to the island—or to the United Kingdom, I should say—only in the 19th century. We have for ever had a problem about the bridge connecting the island to the mainland. It is no real surprise that we have the highest number of home births in the United Kingdom, for people in the Isle of Sheppey fear the mainland.
When I went to the island after I had won, I was thrilled to see an 8 ft sign as I crossed the bridge saying, "Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Sheppey—a Tory-Free zone". The islanders have their own sense of humour. When we were campaigning for a new bridge, for which we shall continue to campaign, we had to come up to London to see the then shadow Transport Minister. Unfortunately, she was relieved of her duties the day before we were due to see her earlier this year. I had to ring all the Sheppey industry people and chamber of commerce people to say, "I am so sorry, but unfortunately the lady we were due to see is no longer there. She has been removed to overseas development." The reply was, "Great, why don't we go to see her?" That is the island mentality. I must do more to bring its people more to the mainland. The new bridge will help.
We have had three different Members of Parliament since the war. In 1945, much like in 1997, there was a shock when the Labour man, Percy Wells, won. Percy was a truly great constituency Member. He finished up as parliamentary private secretary to Aneurin Bevan. One of his great brags—sadly he is no longer with us—was that no matter how many late sittings there were, he always made it home to Sittingbourne. Alas, I have failed to do so and I am already in his debt.
When Percy gave over the seat in 1964, it was won by Terry Boston, who retained it until 1970. He now resides in another place. Terry was Minister of Power between 1966 and 1968 and Minister of Transport between 1968 and 1969. 1 am counting on his support.
For the past 27 years, the former seat of Faversham was represented by Sir Roger Moate. Sir Roger won eight consecutive elections, which is going it, and I guess that we would all be pretty pleased if we could do that. Barring the 1997 election, he increased his majority, which is a tribute to his work in the constituency. He was made a Companion of Honour in Norway and I know that he is a great skier. He certainly misses the House.
I am overwhelmed to be able to make my maiden speech on sport, because it has been an important part of my life since the age of eight and it is something that I do nearly every day. I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the various Front-Bench spokesmen to the debate. It would be helpful if there were some spokeswomen, but we look forward to that. I especially welcome the Secretary of State. I made a mistake during the election campaign, because when I wrote to him as shadow Secretary of State for Health about a private finance initiative about which I needed some help, I put in that letter, "PS: we miss you at shadow heritage." I am really thrilled that he has now returned to that Department because his work as shadow spokesman was outstanding. I am sure that he will continue in the same vein.
I am also thrilled at the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) as Minister for sport. I hope that he will be more Charlie Cook than Chopper Harris. I am sad that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) is not present because he did sterling work as a shadow spokesman on sport, and he has helped me in the past.
As I have already said, sport plays a critical part in my life. One of my proudest moments came when I formed the Women's Sports Foundation in my offices in 1984. I paid for its next three meetings and three lunches. Given that the membership went from 10 to 40, that was some expense on my pocket. I was not too pleased when, having suggested the formation of the group and set up some of the early finance, I was told at the third meeting, "Excuse me, but you're a man and we can't have you here."
The Women's Sports Foundation has gone from strength to strength and it now has full-time officers and members. It has funding from the Sports Council and I am thrilled to see it prospering, although there is still much to be done.
Perhaps I am most proud of launching the Campaign for Fair Play in 1985, which was designed to stop the Lions tour to South Africa. That lobby group consisted of various sportsmen and sports writers, such as John Arlott, Frank Keating, Mike Brearley, Peter Roebuck and Vic Marks, and even players—I count myself in that category. We lobbied to prevent a tour to a country run, according to my book, by the most disgusting Government who have lived this century. I am thrilled that we will be playing South Africa at Twickenham in November and I hope that Nelson Mandela will be there.
If we look at the role of sport in society, we could say that we created it. The Brits like to think that they created sport, but so do the French. Curiously the World cup for football is named after a Frenchman, Jules Rimet, and the Olympics were formed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Although we like to think that we created sport, we are party to a larger sporting tradition and history.
My sadness is that when, in 1946, we formed the United Nations Educational, Scientifc and Cultural Organisation—UNESCO—it did not develop its work on sport. Now that Britain is to rejoin it on 1 July and the British flag is to fly again at Paris, I hope that we will be able to put pressure on UNESCO to develop its work in that respect.
We now need to rein in the international bodies that purport to represent sport. It is hard to find published financing for what the International Olympic Committee does and the same is true of FIFA. Incredibly, the International Amateur Athletics Federation moved from just behind Harrods to Monaco—another tax-free zone. Those three major sporting bodies are hardly accountable to anybody in the world except themselves and we must give renewed leadership to those three areas. In my own sport—rugby union—I am saddened to see that the chairman of the International Rugby Football Board is also chairman of the Welsh Rugby Football Union. I wonder whether he can have two caps and hold them both successfully. The administration of sport is relatively new in politics—it was not there in 1946 and it was relatively new in the 1970s and 1980s. We therefore have much to do.
I do not know what sport for all means. As a competitor and a father, I know that everybody has their own gold medal level and that is what we must aspire to and offer this country's citizens. I was interested to hear that Conservative Members believe that the academy of sport was a Conservative idea. If they look through the archive, they might be surprised to see my 1993 paper which set out the idea and how it could be achieved, and invited lain Sproat to visit the National Institute of Sport at Canberra. Because the subject is bipartisan, I am pleased to hear Opposition Members say that it will not be made too political.
The academy is needed, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to rethink one aspect. At present, the organisation of sport is shambolic. We have far too many national and regional heads of sports councils, coaching organisations and sports institutions. We need a single body—one gold medal centre. The academy of sport could be that centre; it could be the national and international centre to which people go as a one-stop shop. That is what I want my hon. Friend to tell me will happen in the near future.
I also want my hon. Friend to give renewed thought to a matter that has been missing from all the applications so far and which has not been discussed much in public—a virtual academy of sport. We have a fantastic sporting library at Birmingham university, but it is hard to get access to it. If we were able to put it on-line, everybody in the country could have immediate access to it. Several different plans relating to technology, such as putting schools on e-mail, are currently going through the House, so I hope my hon. Friend will look at how we could get all the national institutes of sport—Lilleshall, Plas-y-Brenin and all the rest—on-line and connected. The technology exists to allow everyone access to the centres of excellence.
It is curious that the Secretary of State said that many of us are fat and unfit, whatever age we are, and I confess that I probably fit into that category. When in 1914 my grandfather signed up to fight in the first world war, one in five at the age of 15 failed the fitness test. We do not seem to have got far in 80 years; that is an unhappy statistic. The Secretary of State should look at how the Chinese medical system works, because there may be lesson for us there. In China, people pay the doctor if they are well, but stop if they become unwell. It is a good system which works very well in China. We go on about creating new bureaucracies, talking about new change and claiming new vision, but sometimes a simple change like that can transform a nation.
On the Middlesbrough issue, it is appalling that there has not been an open court hearing to determine whether the team should have had three points deducted. Steve Gibson is one of the most ambitious chief executives in the country—I would use the word visionary if I did not overuse that word. Middlesbrough already runs homework clubs for its kids. The club already gets its old players back to coach kids. It is, I would say, a model premier league team—if only. The court case was almost a kangaroo affair. If the Premier League has nothing to hide, why does it not allow an independent inquiry? Hon. Members should push for it.
On tobacco sponsorship, let me say that, between the ages of 12 and 26 I was asthmatic—sometimes taken to hospital and sometimes taken to accident and emergency units to be kept in overnight. Both my parents smoked between 40 and 60 cigarettes a day. If it were not for the brilliance of Bart's hospital in London I would not be here, because its staff saved my life.
Tobacco sponsorship is a disgrace. It is disgusting. We should have no truck with it. The suggestion that there will be a shortage of money for sports sponsorship shows how unaware people are of the number of organisations that are queuing to sponsor sport. It is the sexiest thing on television, and they are queuing up to sponsor it.
The sooner we get rid of tobacco sponsorship, the better. Tobacco companies use it purely to promote brand awareness. Why do they want brand awareness? So that people will remember the brand when they enter a shop to buy the product. It is a shame that tobacco companies have been allowed to play so long in sport and I look forward to their abolition.
I want to ask the Secretary of State two related questions. In France, where sport is not run from schools, there is a different system, based on a connection between the school and the local authority sports centre. We are asking a physical education teacher to be a gold medal specialist in 18 to 20 sports. How can he do that? The answer is to connect schools to the local centre. [Interruption.] I am being thwarted here. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have much more that I should like—[Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I should sit down.
As I may at some point stray on to the issue of rugby league, I should perhaps declare an interest. I have 500 shares in Wakefield Trinity rugby league football club. I am also joint secretary of the all-party parliamentary rugby league group, although I shall not necessarily reflect its policy on a number of points that I intend to make.
I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speech this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) made an excellent speech and I am sure that he will do a first-class job for that constituency. I welcome back the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), whom I know from when he was previously a Member of the House; I know that he is greatly respected in his constituency. I visit Southport regularly to see a relative and I know how well thought of he is in that town.
It is a particular pleasure for me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt), who has just made a first-class maiden speech. I wish him well in his work in this place. I have known him for several years and I pay tribute to the honourable role that he played as a supporter of rugby union in bringing about a modicum of decency on several issues in that sport. I shall mention one or two more points in that respect later. He was too modest to mention the fact that on one occasion he played for the England rugby union team. He would have real credibility if he played rugby league, but perhaps it is not too late for him.
I wish to make a couple of brief points about my new constituency, because the boundary commission kindly carved up my old one. It is an honour for me to represent several rural areas of Kirklees, near Huddersfield and Wakefield, where there is a great sporting tradition. They look north to Huddersfield—to Huddersfield Town, to Huddersfield Giants rugby league club, and to the great McAlpine stadium, a perfect example of municipal enterprise. I commend Kirklees council for that initiative.
Also in my constituency is Emley association football club, a great non-league football club with a great cup-fighting tradition; Emley Moor rugby league club; and numerous village cricket teams—including Lascelles Hall—with a great cricketing tradition.
While I am mentioning cricket, I should say that I hope that the new Government will pay attention to the decision to relocate Yorkshire county cricket club from Headingley in Leeds to my constituency of Wakefield, outside the metropolitan boundary of Leeds. That has been a very popular decision throughout Yorkshire. The decision has been made against the background of a quite vicious campaign by the regional media based in Leeds for county cricket to remain at Headingley. I have a personal affinity with the Headingley ground, but I understand the logic of the decision made by Yorkshire county cricket club, and I support it.
Investment in an area such as Wakefield has been devastated as a consequence of the previous Government's policies—20,000 jobs were lost in the mining industry. The economic importance of an investment of this nature must not be overlooked. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister understands the clear connection between sport and the economy in Wakefield.
Another key development in my constituency is of great relevance to the debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey knows. Wakefield rugby union football club and Wakefield Trinity rugby league football club have decided jointly to develop a new ground that they will share. Bearing in mind the battle that we have had in the House over many years to end the appalling relationship between rugby union and rugby league, it is commendable that such an initiative has been taken in Wakefield. I wish that venture well, and I will actively support it.
I want to praise Wakefield rugby union football club in particular for its courage in going along with this decision against the opinions of some in the higher echelons of rugby union. I hope that Wakefield rugby union does well next season under the director of coaching, Jim Kilfoyle, whose brother is my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle).
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) in his new position as Minister for sport, but I am concerned that in my area he is perceived as a London-based soccer man who knows little about some of the activities north of Watford. I hope that he will come north, because I know that he takes his brief seriously and listens to what people say. I make a plea that, when he sits in the stand at Stamford Bridge watching his favourite team and sees some of the misbehaviour that there has been over the years at soccer grounds, he thinks about the impact that that has had on other sports. Rugby league and a number of other sports have been shafted as a direct consequence of the problems at soccer grounds. We have had to deal with the consequences of problems that were not of our making.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister understands my bitterness about the cost to sports such as rugby league of attempting to implement legislation that has resulted from the problems of association football. I do not object to implementing that legislation, but although the £55 million going to soccer is welcome, I hope that a few crumbs from the table may go to those sports that have had to pick up the tab for hooliganism and thuggery in soccer grounds. I object to the arrangement with the police that spectators will not move at half time from one end of the ground to the other. That was common practice in rugby league grounds, and it always happened without any trouble whatsoever. That arrangement has been required by the police on the basis of soccer's problems, not rugby league's.
I also object strongly that my home team of Wakefield Trinity has had to change from playing on Sunday afternoons to playing on Saturday evenings to accommodate policing difficulties at Elland road. Such consequences of the difficulties in soccer anger many people involved in rugby league. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that point as it is meant: it is not a criticism of him, and we hope that he will respond to it.
There is an urgent need for sports other than soccer to be given help with ground improvements. The previous Government's sports ground initiative through the Foundation for Sport and the Arts offered some assistance, but it has nowhere near dealt with the problems that clubs have faced. Wakefield Trinity had to demolish its main stand and resources were not available from any source through the new funding arrangements to replace it.
With the all-party parliamentary rugby league group, I have campaigned for many years to rid the game of tobacco sponsorship. Our finest occasion—the Challenge cup final at Wembley, which I hope the Minister will attend next year—is currently sponsored by Silk Cut. I think that that reflects badly on a fine sport which offers a great spectacle and which is played by brilliant sportsmen and, indeed, women. I wholeheartedly back the Government's action in moving away from tobacco sponsorship, but I make a special plea for rugby league.
As a Member of Parliament for about 10 years who is in London for at least part of the week, I am aware that rugby league is perceived by many people down here as a northern, working-class sport, perhaps because of its honourable origins in that it took the honest road towards payments in 1895 rather than use under-the-counter arrangements as happened in rugby union. We have been honest about payments—working-class people were compensated for loss of earnings when they played. It took rugby union 100 years to come around to our way of thinking, but it got there eventually.
Having said that, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to re-examine the issue of tobacco sponsorship of sports such as rugby league. I hope that he understands the particular difficulties facing rugby league in replacing existing tobacco sponsorship with money from, for example, the financial sector when the image portrayed of the game by some newspapers is grossly inaccurate. A little while ago, Michael Herd said in the Evening Standard that rugby league was perceived as being
played by ape-like creatures, watched by gloomy men in cloth caps".
If that is the image of our sport that reaches people in the City, the Minister will probably understand that there may be some difficulty attracting sponsorship from other sectors.
The Minister has attended debates on discrimination against rugby league players, so he will know that the prejudice against rugby league is deeply ingrained. It affects the way in which the sport can look to the future and bring on board sponsorship from credible companies other than tobacco companies.
The prejudice manifests itself within the education system. I failed my 11-plus. Had I passed it, I would have played rugby union, but because I failed it I played rugby league. One of the nice things about failing was that I ended up playing rugby league. I reached the age of 19 and discovered that I could not play rugby union because I played rugby league and, as far as I am aware, I am still banned from rugby union. It has not caused me any great distress, but it has added to the chips that I carry on both shoulders and perhaps lessens my enjoyment and appreciation of the achievements of the British Lions—although I note that it is the ex-rugby league players who have been delivering the tries, and all credit to them.
Another problem was that of the ban in the armed forces. The only reason rugby union, rather than rugby league, spread across the world was that the British forces took it with them. Of course, until two years ago, the forces banned the game of rugby league. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's predecessor, Iain Sproat, for his efforts to remove the ban and deal with discrimination.
There are many other issues that I should like to mention, but I am aware that other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall briefly mention the involvement of Mr. Murdoch and BSkyB in the sport and the way the super league has come about. I am on record in the House as being opposed to the way the game has gone, effectively in the ownership of the Murdoch organisation. I am concerned about the impact on the game in Australia, where the code has been split between two organisations, and on the development of the game worldwide. I am unhappy about the move to playing in the summer and the use of terms such as Blue Sox added to the names of famous clubs such as Halifax. I recall telling the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that his team, which he has supported for nearly 60 years, was going to be called Blue Sox. We had to carry him out of the Strangers' Bar in a state of distress and he has not yet recovered.
I am also concerned about the impact of such changes on clubs outside the super league—those in the first and second divisions which have been allowed to wither on the vine. According to the official figures, the super league has increased attendances by about 25 per cent., but that is not reflected in the first and second divisions. I am also very concerned about the continuing dialogue on mergers involving such great clubs as Featherstone Rovers, Wakefield Trinity and Castleford.
I want to end on two positive points. I have mentioned some negative aspects because rugby league is going through one of those phases that happens occasionally in any sport when the game faces problems. Some of those problems can be dealt with by the game, such as the need to merge the governing bodies of the amateur and professional game. I desperately hope that that will happen, particularly in view of the bad results that British clubs have had in the world club championship matches against Australian sides.
I am pleased about the development of the game in the armed forces and in universities and colleges, as well as the women's game of rugby league. People do not normally associate rugby league with women, but it is a family sport. I am delighted to see so many women playing and enjoying the game.
Thanks to the new southern conference, places such as Kingston, which is represented in the House today, now have rugby league sides. Most hon. Members here today will have an amateur rugby league side in or near to their constituency. I want to praise the British Amateur Rugby League Association for the quality of the amateur game.
I wish my hon. Friend the Minister well in his work. I hope that he has listened to what I have said. If there is one sport that needs the concept of sport for all applied to it in broader terms, that sport is rugby league. The old school tie system and the old farts of sport have damaged our interests. I look to the new Labour Government to address the issue and to give rugby league a new deal.
I congratulate my hon. Friends who have made maiden speeches this morning. I rise to give my maiden speech with a great sense of awe and some nervousness. All of us new Members are conscious that we are taking part in procedures that are rooted deep in the centuries of British history. On another occasion I may say what I think about some of the ways in which we carry out our business in this House, but today I shall follow normal practice by being brief and uncontroversial.
I start by paying tribute to my immediate predecessor, Tristan Garel-Jones. He stood down at the recent election, having served as the Member for Watford for the entire 18 years of Conservative government. Whenever I met him, I found him an amusing and convivial adversary who always did his best for his constituents. Without straying across the boundaries of controversy, I am bound to say that his commitment to the European ideal would not sit happily with the new Conservative leadership. Had he remained in Parliament, Mr. Garel-Jones would have been like one of the lost boys in "Peter Pan" who fell out of the perambulator when the nurses were looking the other way. If nobody claimed them in seven days, they were sent to never never land. Wisely, Tristan has opted for Spain rather than the never never land occupied by the Conservative party. I wish him well in his retirement and hope that he sends me a postcard from time to time.
Tristan Garel-Jones's immediate predecessor was Sir Raphael Tuck, the longest-serving Labour Member for Watford so far. He was a much loved figure in the town. I am often reminded by my older constituents that his example gives me a lot to live up to. Sadly, Sir Raphael is no longer alive, but a distinguished earlier Member for Watford, John Freeman, is still with us. He won the seat in the 1945 Labour landslide, when he stood in uniform as Major Freeman, having signed up as a private in the Coldstream Guards in 1940. He served as a Minister in the Attlee Government and resigned with Harold Wilson over health service charges in 1951. After leaving Parliament in 1955, John Freeman became a broadcaster, journalist, business man, academic and diplomat, serving as editor of the New Statesman, high commissioner in India and ambassador in Washington.
Watford is a town of immense diversity. It contains areas of well above average affluence, but there are three wards in the borough that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' index of local conditions defines as having relatively high levels of deprivation. It is a town rich in culture, history and life. When people think of Watford, they tend to mention paper, brewing and Watford Junction station. Occasionally, a few also mention our football club. Brewing has largely disappeared, except for a few pubs that brew their own beer, but paper is still an important industry in the town. The first printing company set up its presses in Watford in 1834. Since then, it has been the home of many famous—and some infamous—printing companies. Sun Printers and Odhams were there in the past and today 4 million copies of The Mirror and The Independent roll off the presses every night in Watford.
While everyone has heard of Watford Junction, not many realise that there are a further six railway stations in my constituency, served by a variety of train operators. My constituents will certainly be watching eagle-eyed to ensure that the firm line taken by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on putting passengers' interests first, insisting on tighter regulations and ensuring delivery of new investment is sustained.
Watford has another high-profile company—the national lottery operator, Camelot. Some 300 local people are employed there, and it is my duty to do the best for them. Judging by the experience of recent weeks, there will be difficult times ahead as the Government rightly press ahead with their plans to appoint a not-for-profit operator. For the sake of my constituents, I hope that Camelot rises to the challenge and shows that it is capable of running a people's lottery instead of one where the shareholders and directors are the principal beneficiaries.
In addition to the national lottery, national heritage embraces arts and sport, which are well represented in Watford. Leavesden studios—with Elstree nearby—are fast making the area Britain's Hollywood. They are the fastest growing film studios in the country. The site, which was once occupied by an aircraft factory, has unlimited potential, and there are hopes for a theme park and film-related developments.
The sports side of the heritage portfolio is represented by Watford football club, which is always a leading player in the provision of community-based facilities in the town and is now about to share its ground with Saracens rugby club. Despite the club missing promotion from the second division last season, hopes are high again with the return of Elton John as the club's owner and with Graham Taylor as manager. Can the glory days of the mid-1980s be recreated when, in 1984, Watford came so close to winning the FA cup? We certainly hope so.
Already, the new Government have given league football a marvellous shot in the arm with the recent announcement by my hon. Friend the Minister for sport of a £55 million cash injection for the Football Trust, which is doing so much to transform Britain's football grounds. I cannot comment on my hon. Friend's knowledge of activities north of Watford, but I am aware that he was Labour candidate for Watford in 1979 and I look forward to welcoming him to Vicarage Road next season. The trust has provided £3 million for rebuilding three sides of the ground and I shall be seeking substantial help, to enable the fourth and final side to be reconstructed.
The late Bill Shankly said that football was not a matter of life or death—it was more important than that. One does not have to agree completely with that view in recognising that sport plays a vital part in the lives of millions of British people—whether they are active participants, spectators or followers at home who listen avidly each week for news of how their football, rugby or cricket club has got on.
Swimming, hockey, basketball and tennis are also available to my constituents, and the borough council has a good record in supporting a variety of sport and leisure activities and in encouraging residents to participate in them. A recent agreement with the West Hefts golf club has opened up access to local people keen to take up golf. The renowned Woodside stadium is also in Watford. Since its opening in 1953, its popularity has grown steadily and its regular meetings now attract up to 300 top athletes. Woodside is a stadium for record breakers. No fewer than four world records have been broken there and five British standards have been achieved in recent weeks.
For young people, the community benefits of sport are enormous, and the more our new Government can do to encourage participation among the young, the better will be our chances of tackling the social evils of rootlessness, drug dependence and despair. Sport offers alternatives to those evils, which lead to crime and other anti-social activities. I urge the Government to continue to attach the highest priority to developing sports policies that benefit everyone.
I wish to use this debate to bring to the attention of the House the largest sporting event to take place in the United Kingdom this year. First, however, I shall follow the tradition of saying a few nice words about my predecessor, Peter Griffiths. He was elected in 1964 for Smethwick; Harold Wilson made a statement about his character being tainted. He left Parliament and returned in 1979, having beaten Frank Judd. He always acted in a proper manner in the constituency and never turned down a constituent who went to him for advice. I hope that he has a long and well-deserved rest ahead of him. He was annoyed to be cut off in the prime of his political career, which is a bit strange at his age. He did nothing wrong towards us and I wish him well.
I come to this House after 26 years in local government, having sat on both Portsmouth city council and Portsmouth county council, but I still find this first 10 minutes of my speaking career daunting, albeit free of attack from the Opposition. I congratulate hon. Members on both Front Benches on their sartorial elegance this morning. Many of us are keeping our fingers crossed that the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), will retain his job for as long as he wants it, especially given the forthcoming major sporting event.
I shall not give a Cook's tour of Portsmouth—if hon. Members do not know Portsmouth now, they never will—because the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) did so in his maiden speech a while ago. Instead, I shall reflect on the thousands of people who made Portsmouth great. Portsmouth has a naval history and is a premier port, but the thousands of people who built the ships are never given credit. Thousands were press-ganged into working on the ships, and those who died in conflict are never mentioned, while admirals such as Nelson are always acclaimed.
I also wish to mention the many thousands who work on the naval base, which is now to be privatized—a final nail in the coffin of the bad reputation of a sleazy dockyard town. Portsmouth has now changed completely. This week, the privatisation of the Fleet Maintenance Repair Organisation, which was initially the Portsmouth dockyard, was announced. Portsmouth's image may change further in the future, as it has over the past few years.
Throughout my career in local government, I sat on leisure or recreation committees, and I met many Ministers. I am sure that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), came to Portsmouth. I seem to remember him swinging from the end of a rope at one stage, because physically he was able to participate more than most. The highlight of my career as chairman of a leisure committee was when we rearranged the tour de France leg for Great Britain and the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and I were in Trafalgar square trying to straddle a bicycle. It was hilarious, given the size of us both. It was funnier than one can imagine.
On 12 July, we start a week of sports for the Special Olympics UK. The special Olympics are not the Paralympics or the transplant games; they are the Olympic games for people with learning difficulties—technically, people with a mental disability. They are held every year, and the national games take place every five years.
This year Portsmouth is hosting the games, with the assistance of the Special Olympics UK organisation, and they will encompass 2,100 athletes and another 4,500 carers, with voluntary assistants, officials, referees and all the other people who are needed.
The special Olympics will be a huge event lasting a whole week. The difficulties involved in transporting all those people from their hotels to the events—not only to participate in them but to socialize—and back again, are enormous. We know what happened in Atlanta, where all the huge power of the United States of America could not cope with the transport problems. But we are sure—at least we hope—that Portsmouth will be able to manage.
There is a first-class team in Portsmouth, run by the city council with SOUK. It is doing a fantastic job, with people working late, sometimes until midnight, to get the games off the ground. I hope that as many people as possible will be able to be part of the audience.
I thank the Minister for sport, who despite his heavy schedule has agreed to come and open the games. That is very special, and I know that he has put himself out to some extent to be there, because he feels so passionately about those games. On behalf of the city council and everybody who cares for the athletes, I thank him very much.
The athletes participate in the games in a way that is so emotional that one cannot believe it until one sees it. They feel the need to win, but if they cannot win, they want to be seen to be brave in the attempt. The feeling of camaraderie and help comes across so well, and when people win, they win for the whole team. It is magnificent.
The games are run in the style of the Olympic games. The rules are the same, with no unfairness and no favours. I hope that the event will be a magnificent success. There are always problems with funding, and I hope that the Minister for sport, my hon. Friend—no, I mean my right hon. Friend—the Member for West Ham—
I hope that there is some sympathy there which can be squeezed for more cash—but that is only a hope; I am not putting any pressure on.
To end my short maiden speech, I can say that I now realise that I want to be a Member of Parliament. I only ever wanted to represent the people of Portsmouth in Parliament, but now I am here, I want to be a proper Member of Parliament. My maiden speech is the first step, and I am glad that I have made it.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) and for Watford (Ms Ward), who have just made their maiden speeches. One of them has obviously had long experience in local government, while the other is rather younger than me. Indeed, she is one of the youngest Members of the House. Both my hon. Friends made excellent contributions, and I am sure that we shall hear from them again often.
As a Member representing part of the city of Liverpool, I could not speak in a debate about sport today without saying how much the city is looking forward to hearing what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has to say on Monday about the Hillsborough disaster. We all look forward to his statement with great interest and hope.
I commend the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), who has popped out of the Chamber briefly, for what she said about women's participation in sport. She gave us several statistics showing that women's sport at all levels and all ages is taken less seriously than men's. It is supported less well in terms of facilities, sponsorship and coverage in our national media, including television.
As a result, women participate less in sport. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister for sport to keep that fact in mind whenever he is considering how to make sport for all a reality. We cannot have sport for all when women's sport is seen as second-class or a poor relation. I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden on bringing the statistics to the attention of the House.
I recently visited an excellent exhibition about the Ashes at Australia house in the Strand. I noticed that despite the fact that women also play test matches and have had their own Ashes series for a long time, there was only one mention of that at the very end of the exhibition. That is a start, and we must bear it in mind that women's sport is just as important as that of our male counterparts.
I wish to refer to something that many may not consider to be a sport, but which I wish to argue is. It is a game played by old and young, and boys and girls. It is open to those who are able-bodied and those with disabilities, and allows them to compete equally against each other. We recently realised that it can be played by machines against humans with some success. It can even be played as an individual sport or as a team game; in a friendly way or in deadly serious competition. At its best, it promotes concentration, self-esteem and self-confidence among those who play it. It is played by 4 million people in this country, 15,000 of whom play competitively. It is the sport of chess.
I have played chess from the age of eight, but I now play in a rather more laid-back way than I used to. I no longer compete, but I spent 10 to 12 years of my youth competing seriously. Britain does not list chess as a sport, although 26 European nations do. The result is that there is very little access to funding for chess. Last year, the amount of state support for chess and chess development was only £49,000. That is despite the fact that Britain is recognised as the best chess-playing nation in the world outside the nations of the former Soviet Union. We have a proud record as a chess-playing nation.
I ask the Minister to consider seriously taking up the work begun by Mr. Sproat, and promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), on chess being re-categorised as a sport. In many European countries that are not as succesful as Britain, much more state support is provided. Greece, for example, spends £337,000 a year, as opposed to our £49,000. It is a game that allows those with disabilities, the old and young, the fit and unfit to compete against each other equally. If that is not a definition of sport for all, I do not know what is, and I should like the Minister to consider re-categorising chess as a sport in this country.
I congratulate the hon. Members who made such excellent maiden speeches this morning. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for curtailing the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt), who was in danger of exceeding what I think is my record for the longest maiden speech in this Parliament. Thank you for your indulgence towards me on that occasion a few days ago.
I congratulate the new ministerial team on their appointments, and I particularly commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for giving us some good ideas in his opening remarks. I do not want to continue the impression that sport is dominated by soccer, but I must refer to the football club in my constituency.
Bury, North is fortunate enough to be the home of Bury football club, this year's second division champions and a team that has now achieved promotion in two successive seasons. I have invited the Minister for sport to venture north of Watford to attend an early fixture in the new season. He will be welcome at Gigg Lane as Bury takes on the giants of the first division.
Our club generates tremendous loyalty locally—it survives on modest means and has good community links. I hope that the new Front-Bench team will consider the role of small clubs in strengthening sport for all locally and in opening up opportunities. Our football club in Bury is a good example, but much more could be done.
Reference was made to the relationship between sport and the local economy. A lot more might be done to encourage football clubs to get interested in the possibilities of the windfall tax as a means of reducing youth unemployment. One of the most striking things about football in this country is that some of its most passionate adherents are the disillusioned, disaffected and alienated young men who are the victims of long-term unemployment. Their loyalty and support for their football clubs could be turned to good effect, if we can find ways to get them involved as employees of those clubs. The windfall tax opens up many interesting opportunities.
Smaller clubs face great problems as they go into the higher divisions. I was pleased to hear of the new money that will be available for ground improvements. I must draw attention to the problems that small clubs with small grounds face when they suddenly attract much larger crowds to their fixtures. Perhaps the new Front-Bench team could give that special consideration.
In any discussion about extending opportunities for sport, as we have heard from many contributors to the debate, the role of schools is crucial. In my constituency, some of the most attractive and extensive sporting facilities are in the possession of one school—a fee-paying school. It is a very good fee-paying school but, by definition, its resources are not available to the majority of my constituents. As fee-paying schools still receive considerable public subsidy—in spite of the phasing out of the assisted places scheme, there are the benefits of charitable status and exemption from value added tax—and some public money is going in, some public good should come out. As part of the post-assisted places scheme settlement between the state and the private sector in education, some consideration should be given to the way in which private schools' sporting facilities could be made more widely available.
Earlier, we discussed the damage that has been caused by selling off so many playing fields over the years. I welcomed the statement on 11 June by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on that subject. Another issue is the capacity of small schools, operating under a rigid local management of schools system, to make their facilities fully available to the community economically. That point needs to be flagged up. We need some liaison between the Departments of National Heritage and for Education and Employment to assist small schools to make their facilities more widely available.
On the role of teachers in encouraging sport and making sporting opportunities available outside school hours, if we are to restore the involvement of teachers outside school hours, we need to offer some encouragement and support to teachers. If the chief inspector of schools continues to create the impression that most teachers are incompetent and should be sacked, it is not the most subtle way to encourage teachers to get involved in extra-curricular activities.
I make a special plea for the Department of National Heritage to consider ways of encouraging more older people to be involved in sport. The only reference to older people in the debate has been to getting rid of the old farts involved in rugby league and the older members of the various sports councils. We must reconsider the ways in which older people can be involved, actively as participants, in sport.
To clarify, I was speaking about the elderly people on the sports councils, who are all keen sportspeople. I do not want to get rid of them. I want to introduce new people. I think that the hon. Gentleman's interpretation is wrong.
I take that point completely, but we should consider the opportunities that could be made available to older people. One of the striking things about people in their 70s and 80s is the enormous discrepancy in their levels of activity and mental agility. There is no question but that physical activity is related to longevity and good health. I make a special plea for more encouragement for older people.
In my constituency, the most rapidly growing sport is line dancing among the over-65s—perhaps that is the first reference to line dancing in the House. Perhaps we should redefine the nature of sport, when aerobics is considered a sport and line dancing is not. Perhaps the new ministerial team could consider encouraging sports such as bowls and cycling for older people.
One of the most staggering statistics to emerge in the debate was that relating to participation in sport by adults from professional and low-skill backgrounds. The enormous discrepancy between middle-class and working-class participation cannot be ignored.
The issue is related to the economy and the nature of the labour market, because it is indisputable that, if people's lives are dominated by the struggle to eke out a living, by the move from one short-term, part-time, temporary, low-paid job to another, they will not have the energy, inclination and motivation or the money to enjoy fully the benefits of participation in sport.
We need to reconsider the concept of the flexible labour market, because as long as we have an enormous pool of low-paid, part-time workers, they will be excluded from the opportunities that sport can bring, and our policy of sport for all will be deficient.
If there is an apparent paradox between our concern to provide sport for all and the concern of some of us to ban certain sports, the point must be made that a crucial element in sport is that all the participants have an equal chance of survival, if not of success. Hunting with hounds does not give an equal chance of success or survival to all the participants.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about allowing as many people as possible to participate in sport. I have participated in sport for more than 40 years, and I have had great pleasure from it, although, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick), I am now too old, clapped out and slow for even the House of Commons football team.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about rights of access to open country, about the academy, about widening access and about involving people from ethnic minority communities. It is true that a lot has been done in the past few years, especially in football, to get rid of some of the racism. The campaign that was run by the Commission for Racial Equality, the Professional Footballers Association and many clubs has had some positive effects.
That is true of smaller clubs, as well as the big ones. My local club, Leyton Orient, was very much involved in the campaign, and produced a play with a local theatre group that went nationally to schools to explain to children from 12 to 15 what was going on and what they could do to stand up against it.
I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said about the contribution of smaller clubs. I noted that he did not mention Swinton rugby league club, which shares the Bury ground. If he is going to Bury, perhaps he should watch Swinton as well. Rugby league has spread south of Watford, and civilisation has been brought here with the Broncos playing professionally in London.
Before leaving small clubs and the involvement of ethnic minority groups, I must add that we should not be complacent. There are still no, or very few, Asian professional footballers. Asian leagues play to quite a high standard, but there are definite barriers of access.
There has been some pleading of special cases in the debate, so I will not be shy about joining in. Anyone asked what is the most popular spectator sport would answer correctly that it is football, but how many people, in the House or outside, know immediately that the second most popular spectator sport is greyhound racing? As Walthamstow is the country's premier dog track, it would be expected that I should take an interest. Greyhound racing is not a minority occupation. Last year, it involved 4 million people, including 50,000 dog owners and 10,000 employees, some of whom are very skilled: trainers, kennel hands, groundsmen and the like.
Greyhound racing has had an image of seediness, but tracks such as Walthamstow and Wimbledon show that it is not so seedy any more. There has been an unfortunate association with sports such as coursing. Most people who support greyhound racing want nothing to do with such activities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North mentioned so-called country sports. The way that the Opposition spokesman talked about the popularity of sports that involve killing things made me think that he was about to remind us that it was not so long ago that public hangings were a popular spectator sport and suggest that we bring them back. Dog racing has had an unjustified seedy image. It works closely now with animal welfare organisations.
However, greyhound racing faces problems, some of which result from the anomalous way in which it is treated. I was interested that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) mentioned the recognition of chess as a sport, because greyhound racing is recognised as one in some ways. People who go to watch it think that they are going to a sport. The press certainly thinks that it is a sport: it is covered in the sports pages. It is represented on the major spectator sports panel of the Central Council of Physical Recreation. It is subject to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975. In all those ways, greyhound racing has recognition as a sport, but because it is not recognised as one by the Sports Council, there are problems. It gets no access to lottery funds. Although its tracks have to do exactly the same things as football and rugby grounds in respect of spectator safety, the sport gets no help. I know that this is not directly a Department of National Heritage problem, but it is an anomaly. I hope that Ministers will discuss it with their colleagues in other Departments.
I guess that, because of the gambling associated with greyhound racing, it has always been regarded as a Home Office responsibility. It is far from the only sport that involves gambling. If the national lottery is not gambling, I do not know what it is. That is directly a National Heritage Department matter. There are also anomalies in the way in which the sport gets its income. There is a compulsory levy on bookmakers to pay money to horse racing, but in greyhound racing it is voluntary. One can guess the result: out of 2,000 bookmakers, 200 pay the levy, while the rest pocket it. That is neutral to the Treasury, but because the levy is voluntary, the sport does not get the money.
I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister for sport well in their new posts. I hope that they will look at sport in the widest sense, a point that was made by many hon. Members who raised different issues and activities. I hope that we will think about sport for all in the broadest sense of getting as many people as possible to participate, and to watch sport at all levels and in all sorts of different ways.
I add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), on his appointment as Minister for sport. I am not sure whether he remembers, but this is not the first occasion on which he and I have met across the Dispatch Boxes. I well remember some of our most enjoyable exchanges when the Dock Work Bill was being considered in Standing Committee. In one extraordinary debate, he seemed to think that I and some of my hon. Friends were responsible for a collective attack on an Anglican bishop and other related activities. He also gave us an insight into why he thought that it would be good to be a Minister. I have not been able to trace one of his most enjoyable remarks, but if he and I can extend our careers long enough, I should be able to bring it to the House on a subsequent occasion. It was about his desire to drive around in a ministerial Montego.
Although I have not been able to find that reference, on another occasion the hon. Gentleman said:
I have never served on a Committee with the Secretary of State,"—
my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—
so I am looking forward to this one, so that I can study in closer detail the way in which he works and pick up a few tips that will be useful one day when I am a Secretary of State. I suspect that that will not be for a considerable time, not because I do not believe that we shall have a Labour Government after the next election"—
this was in 1989—
but because I do not believe that my case for preferment will be pushed to its logical conclusion."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 27 April 1989; c. 119.]
I for one am delighted that, if it has not yet been pushed to its logical conclusion, it is well under way.
The debate has been remarkable for the lack of rancour and the degree of consensus that has been achieved—that will possibly still be so even at the end of my remarks—and for the quality of the speeches. No fewer than 16 speeches have been made from the Back Benches, of which no fewer than five were maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) cannot be described as only slightly maiden, so he comes as a retread. I shall say a word about that in a moment. We really have been fortunate today in the quality of the maiden speeches.
The first maiden speech was by the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick). He told us that, for him, sport for all was about involving the whole community, not simply the elite. He spoke passionately and eloquently about the concept of fairness for all. He referred to some of his illustrious predecessors, some of whom we have known in the House. It was a speech of great passion and eloquence and both he and his constituents can be pleased with that speech. I certainly look forward, as I am sure other hon. Members do, to hearing further speeches from him. He was especially generous—this applied to all the maiden speakers—to his Tory predecessor. Still smarting somewhat from the last election, we take well and gratefully receive those remarks.
The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) told us about his long involvement with sport. I, too, was unable to bring my maiden speech to the crisp conclusion that I had in mind, such are the disciplines of the House, but his was a remarkable performance, in which he can take great pride. I know how he feels about the inventing of ideas. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will remember that he invented the policy of selling off council houses, but ultimately it is those who put these things into operation who claim the credit.
For a lawyer, the hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward) made a particularly good speech. I can get away with remarks like that because I, too, am a lawyer. She spoke with commendable brevity and great wit. She said that Tristan Garel-Jones had gone back to Spain. I have to say that some of us suspected that he had never left it. She was generous in her remarks about him. She reminded us properly of the devastation that drugs can cause to young lives and the role that sport can play in rescuing young people from that fate. I am sure that we shall be hearing other speeches from her.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) seemed to regret that, on this occasion, he was not able to get stuck into the Opposition. Well, we are all here and there will be other occasions when the hon. Gentleman will be able to do so. I welcome the generosity of his remarks about Peter Griffiths, who was particularly interested in the role of disabled people in sport. That is a matter to which I shall return in the substance of my remarks.
I also enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle). My task has been made slightly easier by the fact that her sister is now on the Front Bench, so I know that the hon. Lady must be the other twin. I have no doubt that, in due course, I shall be faced with the confusion of having both hon. Ladies on the Front Bench and then, obviously, my task will be made slightly harder.
The hon. Lady made a fair point about chess as a sport. That responsibility will not fall to me, but I can see the problems in deciding whether it could be a sport. To an extent, time is with her, however, because if I recall the position—I stand to be corrected if I am wrong—the International Olympic Committee has now designated chess as a sport of the mind. The same could be said of bridge. If my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) had been able to be with us, he, too, would have expressed that hope about bridge. Obviously, one wonders about the degree of athleticism in chess other than running to give a press conference if one succeeds. It was well worth hearing the hon. Lady raise that worthwhile point.
The concept of sport for all is an interesting one, which has been around for some little while. It first emerged in a Council of Europe declaration in 1966. At that time, the English Sports Council felt that it had played a significant part in the adoption of that slogan. Because politicians especially use language in the way in which they want to use it, the meaning of that slogan has changed over the years. There was a time when that concept of sport for all was so wide and all-embracing that it almost became a health slogan. The idea of elitism in sport and ensuring that those with a soaring talent can soar disappeared to an extent. The fashion has now changed, and changed for the better.
Sport for all is now about excellence at all levels. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey said that all of us have a gold medal standard within us. In some of us it is lower than in others, but the hon. Gentleman properly summed up that one's personal excellence is a goal worth achieving. If the concept of sport for all means excellence at the highest levels, participation and access for women, the disabled and ethnic minorities, that is the right way in which to use that slogan.
On a subject like sport, we can be relatively uncontroversial. Members of the public who look at our debates and who tolerate us tearing the guts out of each other on most occasions do not expect such rampant controversy in a debate on sport. Let me pick up on something that the Secretary of State said. Although I accept that sport for all is a wide concept, I do not believe that it can encompass trespass for all. There is a debate to be had in the House about the right to roam and access to the countryside. That is a debate for another day because there are some tough issues to talk about.
The issue of hunting also raised its profile slightly in today's debate. The last thing I want to do on my first outing at the Dispatch Box is to fall out totally with the Minister for sport. To be fair to him, I know that he is keen on foxes, but I do not know quite what he has against fish. The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) argued that at least in sport the quarry should have a chance of survival. That is a fair point, but if I could be presumptuous enough to speak for fish, I doubt that they would see it that way. There is a debate to be had about that on another occasion and I am not sure that one on sport for all could include it.
If it is possible to achieve a reasonable consensus in the House about sport, it is necessary to say that development is something of a continuum. The Government will inevitably face the same problems as those that confronted the previous Government. They will never have enough money to do everything that they will reasonably want to do. Let us look at the figures for the mainstream funding for sport from the Department of National Heritage. It is projected to fall from £55 million, as at 1993–94, to £45 million in 1998–99. That is a 22 per cent. cut. If that were the end of the story, it would be an appalling one, and, far from being uncontroversial, people would be lynched about it.
However, there is rather more to say than that and we should look at some of the achievements of the not too distant past. For example, there is the work of the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, which was established in August 1991 as a result of a reduction in the pools levy duty in 1990. In all, around £245 million or £250 million has been contributed toward up to 17,000 sports-related projects. Scarcely a week goes by in my constituency or in the west country without my hearing of an individual enterprise that has been funded in that way.
We heard today that in excess of half a billion pounds has been contributed via the national lottery to sporting endeavour. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said that she thought Camelot was absolutely super, which is not a positive career development move, but makes the point that Camelot has done a pretty good job. There is no doubt that the national lottery makes it possible for massive sums of money to go to sport.
I accept entirely that the hon. Lady said that.
When one looks at the structures and opportunities for funding that were introduced by the last Government, at the contribution made by the publication "Raising the Game" and at the vast range of initiatives that would have culminated in the establishment of a British academy of sport, one can see that the last Government—especially the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major)—had a commitment to sport and therefore the ability to push the sporting agenda forward that is so far unique. I want to hear more from the Minister for sport about the present position on the British academy of sport. When it is established, it will be the most significant contribution to sporting excellence that the country has ever seen.
The marvellous thing about the academy is that it will be building on sure foundations. We have only to look at recent achievements to see that: British athletes winning the European cup for the first time since 1989; the success of our cricket team in the first Cornhill test; and the victory of our football team in the Tournoi de France. With a bit of luck, we might today see the success of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski at Wimbledon. All that shows that our ability to perform well in sporting contests is not a series of isolated incidents, but real achievements on which it will be possible to build.
Several hon. Members also made the point that, if that effort is to succeed, it will have to start in schools, whether we are talking about the champions of the future or those who will find that, in their own modest way, recreational sport plays a part in their lives. I do not want to get too involved in the point that, once upon a time, competitive sport was frowned on in some quarters. Blessed is the sinner that repenteth—no one has stood in the House today and said that competitive sport should disappear. I accept that the agenda has now moved on.
When considering the opportunities for promoting sport in schools, we can point to many things that mark a significant way forward. For example, Ofsted has identified best practice in the teaching of physical education and sport in schools. Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools now reports annually to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment about the state of sport and physical education in schools. For the academic year 1996–97, schools must record in their governors' annual report that they meet the sporting aims and achievements. All that, and much more, shows that there is a recognition and an acceptance of the fact that schools have an absolutely vital role to play.
Given his encyclopaedic knowledge of those matters, there was no way that I would have risked crossing swords with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) during his speech. He referred to the fact that it would be a good idea if the skills of retired sportsmen and women could be used in schools, where they could make a valuable contribution. That is probably a different way of stating the concept of sporting ambassadors. As I recall, the sporting ambassadors scheme was set up under the chairmanship of Sir Colin Cowdrey and I assume that, unless I have missed it, in the not too distant future there will be a development of that. The concept is good and to some extent it is on the stocks.
More could be done regarding schools. The Central Council of Physical Recreation has called for a minimum of two hours' physical education to be incorporated into the national curriculum and has made other suggestions. It says that the Government should
consider ways of recompensing teachers for the time they spend on extra-curricular activities such as new resources for those activities; time-off in lieu to fulfil their commitments; including time spent on extra-curricular sport in teachers' professional development records; financial allowances; guaranteed out-of-pocket expenses
and—an issue which the hon. Member for Vauxhall reminded us of—exempting volunteers from payment for criminal checks which have to be carried out.
It would be unreasonable—and therefore unlike me—to say, "The Government have been in post for the past six weeks; what have they done?" However, initiatives are up and running that have resonance on both sides of the House, and it should be possible to further them constructively.
Another benefit that has resulted from the initiatives that are already under way and the publication of "Raising the Game" is an increasing awareness that some sports that may have been regarded as elitist need not be seen in that light. Tennis has long been regarded as a middle-class sport, yet it is not. The record of, for example, some American tennis players at Wimbledon shows that there is a great deal more to tennis.
I welcome the fact that the Lawn Tennis Association is undertaking to ensure that at least a million children receive tennis coaching over five years, with an additional 100,000 hours of high-quality teaching a year by 2000—all on local authority courts. We are starting to see the possibility that a sport that has been regarded as a middle-class sport will assume a far greater resonance than that.
The subject of disabled people in sport was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and then mentioned by several other hon. Members. I come to my new brief relatively fresh, but I stand in awe of the achievements of some of our disabled sportsmen. Simon Jackson and Noel Thatcher were recently given MBEs for their remarkable accomplishments. Small wonder, therefore, that when a former Member for Bury, North, Alistair Burt, came back from the Paralympics as Minister for the Disabled, he said:
It is not the disabilities that make them special: it is that they are damned good at
the sports they do. In many ways, that statement sums things up.
It should be possible to bring disabled people far more into mainstream sports. I can foresee difficulties that would be apparent to Members on both sides of the House, but I bear it in mind that it has been said that at least the Olympics should contain two particular wheelchair events—the 800 m for women and the 1500 m for men. That may sound unusual, but the force of the argument is clear, and there are ways in which we can bring that to pass. The skill involved in propelling a wheelchair is the same quality of skill as that involved in riding a race cycle or in rowing a boat. Considerable skill and effort are required to perform in the latter two disciplines. I doubt that anyone would be capable of pushing a wheelchair faster than Chris Hallam or John Harris.
Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), spoke about the need to ensure that young women, too, have far greater access to sport. As the father of two extremely sporty daughters, I understand that to the hilt. However, role models are important, which is why it is so important that the process starts early: if it does not start in school, no role models are available. Those who are interested in equestrian sports can look to people such as Mary Thompson and Clarissa Bleekman, who are of the highest calibre, but perhaps there are not enough such role models. That will strike a resonance with anyone who is married to a sportswoman or who has children. We should hear much more about that aspect.
Whatever the political disagreements we may have from time to time, the Minister and I are, in our different ways, responsible for an uncontroversial brief. I uncontroversially offer him an idea. There may come a time when he would like to see some real football being played, and someone may invite him to Old Trafford. If he is invited up there, I would be more than happy to go with him. I could try to convince him of the good reasons for going north of Watford on the way up the motorway in his ministerial Montego.
I congratulate hon. Members who have participated in the debate. I have only 20 minutes, which is a long time for a speech, but it is not long in which to reply to 16 speeches from Back-Bench Members and Opposition spokesmen. Hon. Members will have seen me taking copious notes on each speech and I assure them that, even if I cannot respond now, they will receive full replies to all their points.
As has been said, this has been a great summer of British sporting achievement—so far, I hasten to add. I am certainly not attempting to take any credit for that. First, it is not justified, because I have not done any of it. Secondly, sporting events are often likely to go pear-shaped, and when that happens I do not want people knocking on my door blaming me for what has gone wrong.
It is true that there is a feel-good factor in sport at the moment, as Linford Christie said after that wonderful achievement in the European championships. That gets straight through to our sportsmen and sportswomen, and it comes back to us, because we take pride in their achievements, whether they are able-bodied or have other abilities. The feel-good factor that politicians are looking for is more likely to come from what we see on the sporting field than from the movement of interest rates. If we are to take pride in the achievements of our sportsmen and sportswomen, we must do far more to contribute to their effort. We must provide resources and ensure that, when they win medals for Britain, we can say that Britain has done something to help them win.
I welcome the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) to his position. It is true that there is much all-party agreement in this area. That makes it rather interesting, because it means that we can cut through much of the yah-boo stuff and get down to the nitty gritty, but it is wrong to say that this area is not controversial: it is fraught with controversy. More people get involved in arguments and fights in pubs and other places about sporting issues than they do about anything else, so there is plenty of controversy, but there is common purpose in the House to ensure that we get the issues right, one of which is sport for all. When I speak as Minister for sport, I am speaking not only on the Government's behalf, but on behalf of the Opposition parties. If we stand together, we shall achieve far more.
My role is to serve as the long-stop, for those who are cricketers, or as the sweeper, for those interested in soccer. I see myself as perhaps the Ruud Gullit of the Government team although, as hon. Members will probably notice, I am considerably shorter, I am not black and I do not have dreadlocks.
I am in an interesting position because, in many ways, this is my first speech as a Minister. What am I saying; of course it is my first speech as a Minister, and I am as nervous as many of my colleagues who made their excellent maiden speeches today.
I have attended many debates on sport—debates that have often consisted mainly of a long speech from the Minister of the day saying how fantastic everything was. This country has much to be proud of in terms of sporting achievements, but there is so much more that we can and, indeed, must do to realise our full potential.
Only yesterday I was at a meeting of the UK Sports Council listening to complaints from elite athletes about the failure of the structures to deliver the service necessary for our achieving athletes. That message has run through many of today's speeches—structures are important in service delivery.
The shadow Secretary of State—the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude)—made his speech and has now fled the country. That is a shame because I want to put on record the fact that he paid an incredibly moving tribute at the funeral of Matthew Harding, the vice-chairman of Chelsea football club, because they had been friends since their school days.
The shadow Secretary of State mentioned among other things the issue of the British academy of sport, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Teignbridge, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the hon. Members for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick) and for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt). He asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether there would be an open decision, and that assurance was given. I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman was so reluctant to accept that assurance.
No one is trying to delay the decision, but it is a difficult one and we have to get it right. We cannot take the wrong decision and repent at leisure. My criticism of the previous Government is that they got it back to front. They should not have simply said that they needed a national academy of sport; they should have set out their vision of what the academy should do and then asked bidders to come forward with plans along those lines. What they did was to say that they wanted a British academy and asked what it should be. As a result, the 26 applications were very disparate.
We are down to three options, but the Department has not decided to reopen the matter because we would only lose momentum and have to start all over again. We have accepted the shortlist of three—Upper Heyford, Sheffield and the central consortium based around Loughborough, Nottingham and Lilleshall. I hope that we shall have a decision in August or September at the latest.
The academy must be for elite athletes. It has to be able to provide them with absolute access to sporting facilities; nor is to be a spectator unit. It has to provide the finest sports medicine and science available. There has to be, if not a centralised, certainly the largest collection of sports we can get together because of the interaction that that brings and the cross-fertilisation of ideas.
Personally, I feel that the academy should concentrate primarily on Olympic and Paralympic events and on the minority sports with world championships. I hope that that deals with how we do something about the sports events not covered extensively on television but in which we can achieve much at the national and international level.
The decision is not being delayed. It is a tough decision and, whichever way we jump, we shall upset more people than we satisfy. That is certainly true in terms of the location, but I think that our decision will be satisfactory to the premier athletes and to sport in general. We should not be accused of concentrating only on the elite. We might do so specifically in this case, but the academy will represent the pinnacle of the pyramid. It will be the apex and we want to extend the base as far as possible because, unless the base is broad, the pinnacle will be very limited.
The finest athletes—the exceptions—will always make it through, even if no facilities are provided, but think of all the talent that is wasted in this country because people are not given opportunities in schools or communities. Think of all the extra Linford Christies, Tessa Sandersons and Steve Crams we could get through to the highest level. That is why it is such a crime for our resources to be so wasted, particularly in our inner-city areas.
The right hon. Member for Horsham and others mentioned my support for angling. The Labour party has produced an anglers charter. I am a former piscatorial participant.
A piscatorial participant. I do not wish to sound immodest, but I was known in my day as a piscatorial artist-one of the finest. I shall shortly meet representatives of coarse, game and sea fishing. I do not put fishing in the same category as hunting with hounds for a variety of obvious reasons. Anyone who tries to lump them together is deluding themselves and attempting to delude the country. They will not be allowed to do that. The Government support angling. On another occasion, when there is more time, I shall expand on my views on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) made some kind comments about the Football Trust. He suggested that the Wimbledon tennis courts should be covered. Some of the national newspapers have suggested that that might be a good use for the millennium dome. That is not a matter for me to comment on.
My hon. Friend talked about how the price of season tickets might restrict the building of the football crowds of the future. That is a good point, which the football task force will investigate. We shall make an announcement about the composition of the task force shortly. He also mentioned the use of ex-professional footballers to coach football in schools. That is an excellent idea. I was coached by Jimmy Hill when I was at school, which is probably why I can talk a better game than I can play these days. I am seeing Howard Wilkinson on Monday about his proposals for the restructuring of youth coaching. I shall be able to raise some of the points that have been made during the debate.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath talked about sport for the disabled, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson). They made some excellent points. I am taking a particular interest in disabled sports events. Since I have been a Minister, I have been to see disabled rugby and opened the world blind sailing championships. I should point out to the hon. Member for Teignbridge that that sport is trying to achieve more integration so that those with disabilities can compete on equal terms in the mainstream sport.
I have also been to the British retinitis pigmentosa awards and the London Community Cricket Association coaching session for disabled people. I opened the British disabled water skiing facilities at Heron lake. Seeing someone on one leg going over a water skiing jump is pretty formidable. It is not the sort of thing that I would do even if I had as many legs as a centipede.
I have been to the fundraising event for the special Olympics organised by Sainsbury' s. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North will be pleased to know that I shall be going to open the special Olympics in Portsmouth. I am very sympathetic to the case that he and others have made for additional resources to fund the special Olympics next month. I think that I can be helpful and hopeful in saying that the English Sports Council, with which I discussed the issue yesterday, will be able to do something. We shall examine the issue carefully.
I take great pride in the achievements of our Paralympians. When I hear people say that we did not do particularly well at the Atlanta Olympics, I ask which Atlanta Olympics they are talking about. At the Paralympics, in which 60 other countries were involved, Great Britain came fourth in the world medals table. We won 39 gold medals, 42 silver medals and 41 bronze medals—a total of 122. Where was the coverage? It really annoys me that these days I can get coverage for breaking wind as I walk down the road, but I cannot get coverage for the excellent international achievements of our sportsmen and women. I direct that criticism specifically at the media. We need more coverage of those excellent achievements. It is not patronising; our athletes with other abilities are achieving at the highest possible level.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, who has a distinguished sporting background, asked for decisions. I have already mentioned the British academy of sport, the future of the Sports Council, the structure of the national sports councils in consultation with other countries, sport for all and the national stadium. They are all important matters, many of which we have inherited from the previous Administration. I pay tribute to the efforts of the former Prime Minister, lain Sproat and others. That brings me back to my original point that sport does not divide the House; I hope that it will continue to unite us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall asked about Crystal palace. As yet, no decision has been taken. She knows my personal affiliation to Crystal palace, given that the Greater London council used to run it. We shall be taking that decision as soon as possible.
On the matter of the World cup 2006, I hope that everyone will wear the badge that I am wearing. I am chairing the strategy committee. We are serious about Britain hosting the World cup 2006. We shall not do it by unfair methods, but on the basis of the facilities that we can offer the world. I know that we shall have the support of the Opposition on that.
The hon. Member for Meriden, in an excellent speech, mentioned something else about which I feel strongly-the role of women in sport. It is a shame that I do not have time to develop that theme as so many good points have been made. The hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey mentioned Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic games. Discrimination against women in sport starts with something that he said. He defined the modern Olympic games as
the solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism with internationalism as a base, loyalty as a means, art for its setting and female applause as reward".
In modern parlance, he would be described as a complete turnip. The Olympic charter still contains the following statement:
No discrimination in the Olympic Games is allowed against any country or person on the grounds of race, religion or politics".
The omission of the word "gender" implies that sex discrimination is still permitted, and indeed it occurs within the Olympic games. That is something we have to address.
I now move on to my hon. Friends who made maiden speeches. I have known my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town, who is a West Ham supporter and a Fire Brigades Union member of some distinction, for many years. I ask him not to claim that Keir Hardie was one of his predecessors. Indeed, most of the constituency of the illustrious founder of our party is in my constituency. My hon. Friend represents only a little bit of the south part of it. If anybody is claiming to be Keir Hardie' s vicar on earth, it will be me and not my hon. Friend. However, he made some good points about the east end of London.
I greatly appreciated the original speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingboume and Sheppey. He also has international prowess as a rugby player and I should like him to play an active part in the formulation of Government policy. He is noted in the book and will be called upon to give us the benefit of his expertise. I share his dislike of bureaucracy because I want to be spared the hordes of old buffers in blazers and caps who purport to run so many of our sports.
I should inform my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) that I do venture north of Watford. In fact, my family comes from north of Watford. However, I do not know a great deal about rugby league and I am looking to him to help me up the steep learning curve that I am on at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Ms Ward) said in her maiden speech that she was reminded by her older constituents of Raphael Tuck, a guy I knew extremely well. Almost all her constituents are older than her, so that comes as no surprise. However, she spoke with an assurance that was almost intimidating. She said that I stood as a candidate for Watford in 1979. I know for a fact that she did not vote for me on that occasion because, unfortunately, she was only seven years old. That sort of stuff is fairly scary. I am glad to see that Elton John and Graham Taylor are reunited at Watford. I should be honoured to accompany my hon. Friend to Vicarage Road because they were there in 1979. I hope that those two together bring her more luck than they did me.
I am sympathetic to the idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) about including chess as a sport. Why not? The definition of a sport is fascinating, but we must leave that debate for another day.