Sport (Foot and Mouth)

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 26 March 2001.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 2:30, 26 March 2001

What representations he has received regarding the cancellation of sporting fixtures to take account of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of National Heritage) (Sport)

I have received representations from the British Equestrian Federation, and there have been a small number of inquiries from individuals regarding ice hockey, water sports and netball.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

There has been great debate in the press about whether sporting events should be cancelled. It has also been suggested that Buckingham palace has become involved, although that is mere speculation. Does the Minister agree, in the light of her background, that the overriding priority in this terrible crisis must be eradication of the disease, and that caution should therefore be applied when any danger is associated with a sporting event? Will the Government produce guidelines to assist the organisers of sporting events, whatever form they take, to ensure that they do not threaten to spread the disease?

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of National Heritage) (Sport)

I agree that the first priority must be to eradicate the disease, but I think that it is important to get the balance right on sporting fixtures. Guidelines are widely available. The governing bodies of sport are ultimately responsible for their own sport, and have dealt responsibly with the outbreak and taken their own decisions. The British Equestrian Federation, which deals with a range of horse sports--its responsibilities include pony trekking and other aspects of equestrian sport--has been especially affected by the outbreak and has taken very responsible decisions. We must leave those involved to make the best judgments for themselves. I do not believe that any event that has so far gone ahead should have been cancelled.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton Labour, Glasgow Cathcart

Although some Labour Members--especially me--might wish that the recent game between England and Scotland at Twickenham had been cancelled, the fact is that the cancellation of major rugby internationals is a damaging blow not only to the sporting industry, but to the tourism industry, as such events are major money-spinners. Will my hon. Friend have urgent talks with the various rugby unions to ensure that the games now proceed as planned?

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of National Heritage) (Sport)

As my hon. Friend knows, only games involving the Irish team have been postponed and new dates have been suggested for them. The England- Scotland game took place as it would usually have done. It was a good result and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was present to see England win. I commiserate with my hon. Friend on that result, but I believe that all governing bodies are dealing with the problem in a very responsible manner.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

If the countryside is open for business as the Secretary of State insists, why were the Badmington horse trials cancelled, why is the Windsor horse show about to be cancelled, and why was the countryside march, which the Minister supports, cancelled?

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of National Heritage) (Sport)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman well knows that the organisers believed that it was appropriate to cancel those events. That does not mean that events cannot take place in other parts of the countryside, where there are no cases of foot and mouth and which are far from infected areas. We must strike a balance. Does the hon. Gentleman want the Government to cancel all sporting events? That is clearly nonsense, and he knows it.