HC Deb 04 May 2000 vol 349 cc113-56WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

2.30 pm
The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey)

I am pleased to see so many hon. Members here on this Thursday afternoon to discuss our document "A Sporting Future for All". If I were being charitable, I would say that it was because they all cared deeply about sport and not because they wanted to avoid campaigning on the doorstep. Some of us are unable to do that today. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in what I hope will be an informative debate in which we can all feel free to intervene on each other and put our points of view across.

I want to take this opportunity to lay out some of the details and overall thinking behind "A Sporting Future for All", which was published on 5 April. To sum up the strategy, it attempts to give a lead in creating a more co-ordinated approach to improving sporting opportunities for all sections of the community and the country's performance in international competitions.

Those goals are inevitably connected, and we cannot differentiate between them or play one off against the other. It is worth attempting to increase participation in sport for its own sake. It is good for our health, it helps to build communities and it offers enjoyment and recreation. It also helps to increase the pool of talent from which we hope to draw our potential world and Olympic champions. Doing well in international competitions is also important in itself, as well as being wonderful for the individual athletes who participate and win. It helps sport generally, stimulates interest and involvement at the grass roots and encourages people to get involved. We all know what happens when we have done well in a football, tennis or athletics tournament. There is a lot of publicity, and our success helps to reinvigorate the sport at grass roots level.

The strategy has four main strands, and I shall deal first with what is happening in our schools, which is fundamental to the future of sport. The most important thing is that we have a clear commitment to improve sports provision in schools. It is almost too obvious to say—but it needs to be repeated—that we must get people young if we want them to develop a sporting habit and an interest in lifelong participation in sport. Over the years, all of us have been to blame for what has happened in that regard. The action that has been taken in our schools to win the interest of children—in particular, primary school children—and to get them to take part in sport has not been good enough.

I go round the country and see school after school at primary and secondary level doing wonderful things with sports and physical education. Some very good things are happening, and it is important that we do not forget that when we examine the overall situation. Evidence is emerging from our specialist sports colleges that behaviour and academic performance improve where better sports and physical education are on offer. In too many schools, however, sport has been allowed to decline. We encounter run-down facilities, pressure on school time, insufficiently trained physical education teachers, declining levels of inter-school competition, and poor overall strategic management of school sport. Schools are the bedrock of sport, and those problems cannot be allowed to continue.

As the Minister for Sport, I can make all sorts of pronouncements, and so can my Department, but unless the Department for Education and Employment is fully signed up, we shall not make the changes. Our document is special and unique, because for the first time we have produced a sports strategy that has dual ownership with the schools education sector. There is a strong commitment to the strategy from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The Department is committed to all aspects of the policy relating to schools and education. That is a big step forward. We can have all the aspirations in the world to change things in schools, but we need the Department for Education and Employment to work with us, so I am delighted that we have its full support. That is why I was anxious soon after I was appointed to work with my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards to secure the appointment of Sue Campbell of the Youth Sport Trust to act as an adviser across Departments on physical education and school sport. That has been an extremely useful appointment, because officials who at times did not talk to each other or work together now do so, up to ministerial level.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

I detected that my hon. Friend was about to leave the subject of school sport. Can she say something about the concept of school sports co-ordinators? Having been a member of the Standing Committee that considered the recent National Lottery (Amendment) Bill, which created the New Opportunities Fund, I feel that they will form an important new link between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Employment.

Kate Hoey

My hon. Friend is right. I shall mention the school sports co-ordinators.

Underpinning "A Sporting Future for All" is the need to offer a range of high-quality sporting opportunities to school-age children within and outside the school day, and to ensure that there are pathways to help them sustain their involvement beyond school age. We have identified aspects of school sports and physical education that need attention and have provided some resources to develop solutions. Our measures include the £150 million of new Government money to match lottery grants to help improve facilities in primary schools, many of which, despite being keen to help children undertake physical education activities, do not have the physical space or adequate facilities. The money will be used for primary schools, but we shall also ensure that schools that receive money for improving facilities will be open to community use after school and in the evenings. We want schools to become the heart of their communities. This is already the case in many areas, but in too many more it has not happened, for all sorts of reasons.

We are committed to having 110 specialist sports colleges in place by 2003, and we are well on the way to meeting that target. These centres of sports excellence provide specialist teaching in addition to the usual curriculum to secure much better opportunities. Sports colleges are not intended to work in isolation. They should work with primary and secondary schools in their area and with the whole community, acting as a beacon of sporting excellence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) mentioned the announcement last year of £60 million of lottery funds for school sports co-ordinators. We are well on the way to ensuring that, from next September, co-ordinators will work with families of schools to give children more opportunities to participate in school sports activities. We announced last week the areas to which the first school sports co-ordinators will be sent. They will be based in areas with an excellence in cities initiative or in an education action or sports action zone, and in areas where there is a sports college. By September, 120 secondary schools and nearly 600 primary schools will be involved, because they will work with the families of primary and secondary school children and the sports college to help to raise the standard of physical education. It will not be a matter of putting a school sports co-ordinator into one school and then hoping that he or she will make improvements. There must be a partnership with the sports development officers in the local authority and with sports' governing bodies which may already have good development officers for cricket and rugby in the area.

"Joined up" is a dreadful phrase, but it is one that we often use, and it means that we will not act in isolation. When hon. Members see how the measures will work in their constituencies, everyone will clamour for them. We are keen for the plan to be rolled out and extended throughout the country.

We have focused, first, on communities with the greatest need, stressing the importance of sport and physical education in after-school activities. Some £160 million from the New Opportunities Fund and £80 million from the Department for Education and Employment standards fund will go to help to support out-of-school learning, which includes sport. Sport is not isolated.

School sport is crucial. I pay tribute to the role of physical education teachers who have pioneered many good initiatives over the years and at times struggled for excellence in spite of difficulties. We are working closely with the national organisations for physical education and I hope that those teachers feel that for the first time there is a policy document that recognises the importance of their role in sport.

The second strand of the strategy concerns lifelong participation. We need to ensure that young people who take up sport at school have a good experience and continue to participate when they leave. There is evidence that participation falls off in the post-school years. Links must be established and maintained with schools and other providers, such as local authorities, voluntary and commercial clubs, and professional clubs, to help people move into adult provision. We shall take steps to remove obstacles that, for one reason or another, prevent people from making the most of their abilities. Sports' governing bodies, local authorities and the funding organisations know that social inclusion must be at the heart of what they do because sport is one of the best ways of breaking down barriers in our society. It must be used to its full potential.

Sport, as we know from many studies, really can make a difference to young people, helping them to turn away from crime, truancy and drug addiction. Sport is a vehicle that can deliver so many Government policies. It is important to spend money at the right time, because it can save money in the long term.

We have a lot to be proud of in how we participate in and run sport. Anyone who knows and cares about sport gets fed up with it always being knocked, when in fact many good things are happening. More than 1.5 million people voluntarily give up their time to help young people take part in sporting activities; they get involved in evening clubs and do things just for the love of it. Self-help in sport is important.

Inequalities remain, however. More men than women participate and social class is a real issue. The rate of participation of some ethnic minority groups is still well below the national average and older people, who can benefit most from mild physical activity, participate far less than any other group.

Sports development officers are crucial to keep people involved. It is a growing phenomenon that local authorities are employing people whose job is to develop sport and work closely with others. However, we heard many times during our consultation period about the lack of good quality training for development officers. I am pleased that the National Association of Sports Development Officers has been set up and we are determined to support such groups.

We recognise the importance of a wide provision of facilities accessible to all members of the community. One of our dilemmas over the next few years is what to do about the fabric of many buildings under local authority provision. We have asked the English Sports Council to conduct an audit to show what facilities are available in which areas. Some local authorities persevered over many years of cuts and managed to protect their buildings, but in some authorities sport was the first facility to be chopped and it failed to secure further investment. The need for a massive improvement will become apparent and will have to be taken into account for implementation.

Over the next 10 years between £1.5 billion and £2 billion will be spent on community sport, particularly in areas identified in the audit as requiring more support. It is worth repeating that we would have had a different debate six years ago when not nearly so much money was available for investment in sport. People are aware that huge sums have come from the lottery. We should remember where we were six years ago and be determined to spend the money in the best way possible in pursuit of a strategy—avoiding ad hoc spending, which can depend on how good a governing body or local authority is. There must be an overall plan as to how best to spend the money in the interests of the whole country.

Playing fields are an important issue, about which many people are concerned. Despite some of the headlines and reported figures, we are delivering our manifesto commitment on playing fields. The average rate of disposal of school playing fields has dropped from 40 to three per month. If sales have been allowed to proceed, it is because they will be offset by the provision of better facilities. There will always be an argument, of course, about what constitutes better facilities. In most cases, the sales are justified if better community sports facilities and open space of some sort are available at the end of the process. We cannot say simply that nothing must ever be sold off. Even the National Playing Fields Association accepts that a diktat never to sell anything is unrealistic. We need a proper mechanism to allow proper consideration of the options and to establish whether better facilities will result at the end of the process.

As a result of our strategy, a monitoring unit will regularly examine what is happening, establish what has gone wrong and make suggestions for improvement. We also wish to establish an on-going advisory committee with the active involvement of the NPFA, which has led the way over many years in campaigning to protect playing fields and to raise awareness of the issue. If I have not always agreed with Elsa Davies, I fully commend her for her single-handed commitment to this important issue, which she has not allowed us to forget.

I wish to flag up the important role of local amateur sports clubs throughout the country. We wish them to link more effectively with schools and to establish networks to provide good junior teams, coaching and so forth to cater for every level of ability. It is important for such clubs to be open and welcoming to all. Governing bodies have a responsibility to ensure that they take the lead on that. Under the terms of Exchequer and lottery awards, they must adhere to agreed equal opportunities policies.

We are also trying to encourage governing bodies—particularly in top level professional sport—to do much more and put some of their income from the sale of broadcasting rights through to the grass roots. We will make an announcement soon about the Football Foundation and the 5 per cent. that will come from the premier league and the Football Association. Football can afford to put more money down to the grass roots, and we must ensure that it does.

Other sports have also received money. Cricket has already put substantial amounts of money down to the grass roots, and tennis is doing the same. We want to ensure that that happens at all professional clubs, because if they want the game at the top level to develop, they must ensure that they support the grass roots.

Everyone recognises the undoubted direct link between international sporting success and wider participation at home. If more people are involved at the bottom, more people will have opportunities to reach the top. However, we cannot continue to rely on that happening by chance, as has been the case for far too much of our sporting excellence, with someone seeing a talented person in the right place, picking them up, helping them, coaching them and supporting them. No clear pathway has existed to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to go from the bottom levels of competition to the top.

We want all sports bodies to adopt a more strategic approach to the delivery of sporting programmes. Governing bodies must actively encourage clubs and their coaches to work in schools and the communities, as many are doing. Those bodies need to build on existing best practice. We all know from what is happening in our own areas that there is a lot of good practice and that many people are beavering away in our constituencies doing excellent work. They never seem to be thanked by anybody or receive any lottery money. No one ever seems to say, "You're doing a great job. With just a little extra money, what more could you do?"

I am determined that we should move away from the idea that everything always has to be new—new initiatives always coming along and new people coming in and telling others what to do. That is not the role of the Sports Council; it exists to set an overall strategic view and ensure that funding is accountable. We have to co-operate with those who are already doing the work, often with no reward.

The third strand is talent development. Talented players do not emerge automatically. If people are to progress, they must receive the right coaching and support at every stage. Obviously, schools and clubs are the first step. We are asking everybody in sport to pay particular attention to ensuring that they have talent development systems that pick up and nurture able competitors.

Many of our competitor countries have systems that are very different from ours. Many are based on a much stronger local club structure. In France, very little goes on in schools and all the sport happen in clubs. I do not think that we can adopt that system, and I would not want to, because our schools do an extremely good job. They have done things differently, but I think that we can help our clubs to develop. Clubs should be at the centre of a network of feeder clubs. That is already happening in swimming. In Leeds, the Amateur Swimming Association has organised a sophisticated swimming club system that ensures that young swimmers have a clear way of moving forward and are not isolated from the beginning.

Rugby union has done great work on feeder clubs, offering opportunities for youngsters to get involved for the first time and giving them a clear idea of where they should go next. We need to encourage more of our governing bodies and sports to develop the idea of hub and satellite clubs, and we will work closely with governing bodies and local authorities to develop a comprehensive system of satellite clubs.

The fourth and final strand to the strategy is improvement of the support that we give to our top-performing athletes. The UK Sports Institute and world-class programmes will make a huge difference. Already, the support that can be given to our top athletes has changed, and we hope that we will see some effects of that at the Olympics, although these things take time. A development and support system does not appear overnight, and it may not happen in time for this year's Olympics, although I hope that we will make improvements on Atlanta.

Because of its nationwide network of high performance facilities and support services, the UK Sports Institute will have a major impact on the development of excellence in this country among both those already achieving success at the highest sporting levels and those aspiring to follow in the footsteps of their idols. The UKSI will provide our top performers with access to the highest quality sports science, sports medicine, coaching and athlete education and career programmes.

In England, plans for seven of the 10 regions were announced last October, and up to £120 million of lottery funds will be invested between now and 2001 in the English Institute of Sport. Good progress is under way in Bath, Loughborough and Manchester, and detailed designs are in preparation with the aim of starting work this autumn, if not before. Good progress is also being made in the network centres developed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We are meeting all the UK sports councils to find out how to ensure that the services and the buildings are delivered as quickly as possible, in accordance with all the normal accountability criteria. If we do not move quickly, we could miss out. For whatever reasons, the process has already taken too long. Everybody accepts that. There is no point going back and blaming anybody or anything. Although we have taken far too long to reach our current position, we will now begin to see a real change. Each institute must apply to the lottery for bits of the overall cake, and I am considering ways of ensuring that the mechanisms for such applications are made as easy as possible, taking the normal accountability procedures into account. We do not want another layer of bureaucracy, and I am afraid that, at the moment, the process is full of bureaucracy that does not improve accountability or serve any purpose. It needs to be examined and changed, and I am pleased that the English Sports Council and the sports councils are keen to tackle that.

The UKSI is more than just bricks and mortar. We must make every endeavour to establish support services as soon as possible, even if the facilities are not in place. The athlete career and education programme, known as ACE, is up and running, and providing selected athletes with personal development courses to meet individual needs in financial planning, media training and nutritional advice. Thirty accredited facilitators have been appointed, and about 250 athletes from more than 20 sports have undergone a personal assessment. A high-performance coaching programme has also been introduced to provide sport and coach-specific personalised programmes ranging from information technology skills to specific training sessions.

Other support programmes are being developed to provide access to sports technology and expertise, data information systems and analysis, sports medicine and sports science, and medical insurance. We are a long way from the days when I was involved in sport. Now, athletes need to be very good not only at what they do, but at understanding the jargon and how to use systems to perform better.

We expect everything to be fully operational by summer 2002, and I am pleased that we have set that deadline. To deliver the aspirations of individual sports and athletes, all the parties must have a common aim and the will to work closely together to ensure that decisions are reached speedily, efficiently and effectively and are geared to the athletes and the coaches, not the organisations. We have talked about the UKSI concept for so long that we are now ready for action.

In striving for sporting excellence and progress we must also ensure that we create the right environment for all competitors to achieve success on their own merits and hard work. Everyone who cares about sport knows that drug abuse in sport is just plain cheating. We are strongly committed to measures to eliminate such abuse. We spend over £1 million a year on ensuring the quality of the UK's drug testing programme, and this country was the first worldwide to achieve ISO 9002 accreditation for its testing system. We have also been working closely with our international partners in the fight against drug misuse in sport, and we played an important role in the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency last November.

The recent spate of positive tests, especially for the banned steroid nandrolone, has called into question our commitment to stamping out drug misuse in this country and dealing with the culprits effectively. That must be seen in the context of the more than 5,000 tests carried out in the UK, 1.5 per cent. of which produced a reported finding and not all of those proved to be positive. However, we must not be complacent. While this taint of drugs remains, it is bad for the development of sport, particularly for youngsters.

Mr. Caplin

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. The concern is about how the international athletics community deals with the whole issue of nandrolone. A number of cases are outstanding and the Olympic games are coming up. Some of the athletes who have been caught with nandrolone, rightly or wrongly, could be competing in Sydney. Has she had an opportunity not only to consider that, but to tell our international partners that we need to deal with the issue of nandrolone as a matter of urgency?

Kate Hoey

My hon. Friend is right that nandrolone is causing huge concern at the moment. UK Athletics, more than any other body, is concerned about the situation. There is a problem, and I do not think that the governing body of the sport should be involved at all levels with testing, with decisions about guilt and with the setting of penalties. We must find a way of making that process independent from the governing body of the sport. There is a logical reason for that: as everyone knows, the British Athletics Federation went bankrupt over the Diane Modahl case. Clearly, sport itself must contribute something to the establishment of an independent process, but the Government may also have to find ways of ensuring that we have an independent system—not for testing, as we already have that, but for dealing with athletes after they have been tested. I am working closely with Dave Moorcroft on that problem, as UK Athletics is very concerned about it. It affects the whole of sport.

The organisers in Sydney are particularly keen that it should be a drug-free Olympics and are doing all that they can. The problem, if we are honest, is that individuals will always find ways of getting round the system. The more that technology and science find ways to test, the more people will try to get round them. For those of us who have been around in sport for a long time, that is one of the unhappiest aspects of the way that sport is going. It is so depressing for everyone involved. I remain determined to ensure that the UK's systems and procedures, while retaining the respect of competitors, continue to have the support of the public, who must be sure that the results are genuine and fair.

In implementing "A Sporting Future for All", I am conscious that we are asking a great deal of many people involved in sport. That is right, because Governments do not run sport. We cannot—indeed, we would not want to—decide who goes to the Olympic games or determine the best way to develop a particular sport. We must always remember that sports have experts. Nevertheless, the Government must develop strategies, set minimum standards and assume an overall leadership role in sport.

We have placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of our governing bodies for sport. In return for their commitment to delivering greater participation, better talent development and the best support for our top competitors, they will have greater financial autonomy. That is what governing bodies want, especially those that can handle large amounts of money and satisfy us that they can honour all the commitments for which we have asked. Once governing bodies can show that they manage and plan robustly and that their management systems operate satisfactorily, they will receive more control over the funding that their sport receives. We are empowering the key stakeholders in sport to ensure its long-term, sustainable development. The theme of sustainability runs through the document. Although the word is not mentioned, it is a key to it. We do not want one-day wonders of instant, knee-jerk success—although that is usually nice, because it produces good headlines. We want measures that will last and will genuinely make a difference. Part of the document's importance is that it will be judged not next year or even in three years' time, but in 10 years' time on how much it has genuinely made a difference.

We shall ensure that the document does not simply sit on a shelf like so many other documents that successive parties have produced. We have created a strategy implementation group, the first meeting of which will be on 24 May. The people invited to serve on that group have been invited as individuals rather than as representatives of a particular group or organisation. Their backgrounds draw on all spheres of sporting life and achievement. Collectively, the group's experience will form a great spectrum of sporting knowledge and practice, focusing particularly on education in the community and excellence. The group will propose the measures necessary to make the strategy work, and in the autumn, we shall make further announcements. It is a genuine opportunity for follow-through. We are not merely using warm words. It is easy to use warm words about sport—as, indeed, Governments do—but, as I continually remind my colleagues, we must provide the resources and cross-departmental support that sport is beginning to receive.

We are pleased with the welcome that the document has received from all sections of the country. It is a document that people sit down and read, as it will relate to their aspect of their particular sport or expertise. I thank all the people who contributed to it. I am especially enthused when I travel around the country to discover the passion that people have for sport. We have achieved a great deal, and absolutely nothing can be blamed on individuals. We must put all available resources into harnessing all current developments and ensure that they form part of a partnership with a clear strategy for the way forward. The Government's role in that is to lead key players in delivering sporting opportunity and excellence. We shall work in partnership with schools and other education institutions, local government, sports councils and national governing bodies for sport.

There is much to look forward to. With the help of world-class events funding, we have done well to bring major sporting events to our country. We relish the thought of the indoor and outdoor world athletics championships. The Commonwealth games come to Manchester in 2002, and the rugby league world cup will be staged in the autumn. Last year, we held the cricket and rugby union world cups.

We look forward to receiving soon a report of the British Olympic Association's preparation, discussions and thinking on the feasibility of hosting the Olympic games. It is not possible merely to wake up in the morning and decide to host them; it is a huge undertaking, and there is no point in our ever thinking of trying to do so unless everyone gives the attempt total support. That support would have to go beyond mere words.

I send my best wishes to all our athletes going to Sydney. The BOA is an extremely professionally run organisation, which has done a terrific job to ensure that we have a sophisticated, highly trained and organised group going there. The camp that it has set up on the west coast has given many of our young athletes the opportunity of warm-weather training. We hope to be successful in the Olympic games but, whatever the outcome, it will be an opportunity to sell sport to our young people.

I have given a comprehensive report about the document; I appreciate that it has been slightly long. I look forward to hearing hon. Members' responses, and hope that we can work together across party to ensure that sport in our country thrives and that everyone has the opportunity to participate.

3.11 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

How often have we heard leading players say how fortunate they are to earn their living playing sport and doing what they enjoy best? Notwithstanding other attractions today, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to do what many of us most enjoy doing, which is talking about sport. I see that some hon. Members with whom I have enjoyed talking about sport over the years are present.

I mean no disrespect, but I would have preferred an annual debate about sport to be held on the Floor of the House. Also, we should have avoided holding our debate on an election day. I see some nods of agreement; I apportion no blame to anyone present.

We take a steer from the shadow Culture Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), and the Prime Minister. Both began forewords to recently published documents with the words "Sport matters". We can all agree with that. Sport is vital to the physical health of the nation. It is a huge, multi-billion pound industry. At its best, sport is exciting, passionate and hugely enjoyable. It can help to improve our quality of life. As the Minister said, the massive and invaluable contribution made to sport by volunteers is testament to its huge popularity.

Mr. Caplin

The hon. Gentleman has confused me. I can clearly see the foreword by the Prime Minister that starts with the words "Sport matters", but he mentioned another document with a foreword by an inconsequential Conservative Front Bencher. Is it in the Library for hon. Members to see?

Mr. Greenway

On 31 January, more than two months before the Government published their document, the Conservative party published a blue paper. It was circulated to every sporting body in the country. Its objectives were greatly acclaimed and many of its ideas—surprise, surprise—turned up in the Government's document. I did not intend to be quite so partisan, but the hon. Gentleman has goaded me into it.

Sport is important for many reasons. It has health-related benefits. It teaches people to win and lose with equanimity. It can improve cognitive skills such as literacy and numeracy; anyone watching the final couple of frames of the world snooker championships would almost need a calculator to work out, from the points left on the table, who was about to win. It can also help reduce the level of crime by channelling aggression and can play an important role in dismantling social and ethnic barriers. It can help to protect and enhance environments and play a part in stimulating the economic regeneration of local communities. Local sport and leisure facilities are an important source of employment and can provide a healthy social focal point for the community. Only yesterday, I received a briefing note that stated that 14 per cent. of adults work out in a gym—speaking of which, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is the honorary president of the Fitness Industry Association. For all those reasons, sport matters.

In our aspirations for sport and the importance that we accord it, there is considerable common ground between the Government and the Opposition. The Minister and I do not just share a keen interest in the fortunes of Arsenal football club; we also have a shared interest in the future of sport at every level. Nevertheless, politics being what it is, there are clear differences of view between us, some of which I shall detail later. The Minister said that we have much to be proud of. I agree. We are glad that much of what the Government are doing and plan to do takes forward the Conservative Government's policy initiatives, particularly those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I have consulted sporting bodies around the country over the past three months and have found high regard for what my right hon. Friend did. He took a personal interest in sport and his achievements included the publication of the White Paper on sport, "Raising the Game", the creation of the Sports Council and the implementation of important projects such as the UK Sports Institute and a national network of centres of sporting excellence to coach and nurture potential world champion sports men and women.

The Minister referred to Bath University, which I recently visited, as she had a short time earlier. Anyone interested in seeing a centre of excellence based at one of our regional universities should visit Bath University and witness best practice in operation. Jed Roddy, whose concept the whole project was, has achieved tremendous things and set a target of five medals at the Sydney Olympics for his team. We wish them all every success.

Although we are pleased with the Government's commitment to continuing our policy of establishing a UK Sports Institute—I very much welcome what the Minister said this afternoon—and the fact that the institute should be fully operational by 2002, I have to tease her a little by telling her that people in Yorkshire are not best pleased with the Government's U-turn on their original promise to site the institute in Sheffield.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

While the hon. Gentleman is making a regional tour of Britain, will he acknowledge the great contribution of Loughborough to the UK Sports Institute? The people in Loughborough are grateful that Sheffield was not chosen as the headquarters. More importantly, the original concept that we inherited in 1997 was of a single hub. Will the hon. Gentleman also acknowledge that regional centres are much more important?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody)

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that interventions must be brief.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning Loughborough, because it was there that the Conservative party held an extremely successful "Listening to Britain" meeting, which informed our new policy. One cannot name all the relevant places, but the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that what is happening in Loughborough is as commendable as what is happening in Bath. I hope to pay the people in Loughborough a visit soon; it is convenient, because I can call in on the way down from Yorkshire.

There is no doubt that policy initiatives develop as they go along. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there must be regional centres, and the number and sitting of them is something that the UKSI has been working on. The Secretary of State should be a little careful, however; he eulogised over the choice of Sheffield and then, a year or two later, said that things had gone completely wrong there. It is not the first time that he has done something like that. People are given encouragement and then their hopes are dashed. I stress the point that people in Sheffield are extremely disappointed by that change of view.

We are pleased that the Government have acknowledged in their document the importance of the national lottery, which has proved an invaluable resource for sport. Some time next week, Sport England will reach the total of £1 billion of support given to sporting centres. That money has supported 3,000 projects, and we should congratulate Sport England on that tremendous achievement. I was grateful to the Minister for her acknowledgement that the lottery has transformed the landscape of sporting provision.

Vital though the lottery has been, however, we should not overlook the important contributions made by other funding arrangements such as the sports match scheme, which was started in 1992. Its contribution of more than £3 million a year is now subsumed in Sport England's grant and aid. The Foundation for Sport and the Arts was particularly important before the lottery was established. The Football Trust, in common with that foundation, relied heavily on Treasury support through rebates of betting tax and on support from the pools. I know from my work on the all-party football group that there was huge cross-party support for those rebates.

Like the Minister, we look forward to the launch of the Football Foundation, which will give people at the top of the football pile—especially the very rich premier league—the opportunity to invest directly in the grass roots of sport through the 5 per cent. contribution. I hope that football will not be the only beneficiary, because many of the facilities can be used by other sports. Together with significant help from business and broadcasters through sponsorship, that new money has transformed the United Kingdom's sporting infrastructure, to the benefit of spectators and participants of all levels of ability.

It is impossible to see how the Government's objectives could be realised without the support of the lottery. The Minister has acknowledged the extent to which lottery funding will be the mainstay of the Government's programme. However, we should ask whether the resource of the lottery fund will prove sufficient to match the spending priorities that the Government has set out as well as all the other commitments that it has to meet. The Government has not acknowledged in their sports strategy that sport now gets a smaller slice of the lottery cake than before; the creation of the new opportunities fund has resulted in a significant reduction in its share. The lottery has been raided to pay for health, education and environment projects. I remind the Minister that, when in opposition, the Labour party said that such things should always be paid for out of core Treasury expenditure. In effect, the sports lottery fund will be reduced by £50 million of current lottery ticket sales. The Central Council of Physical Recreation has called for sport's original one fifth of lottery funding to be reinstated at the end of this year, when the millennium fund expires. The Government has chosen to divert millennium fund receipts to the new opportunities fund. As a result, the new opportunities fund will attract one third of all lottery receipts. The Government has obviously made up their mind. The key issue is the use of that one third, and the extent to which the arm's length principle will be maintained.

Mr. Caplin

As I said to my hon. Friend the Minister, the new opportunities fund can be used in relation to projects such as school sports co-ordinators. One cannot pigeonhole each of the categories of the lottery, which extend across government. Perhaps the Tories should get used to that.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. On the issue of school sports co-ordinators, the blue paper responses suggest that they should be PE teachers.

Kate Hoey

Yes, they will be.

Mr. Greenway

I am told that they will be. It is no disrespect to the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), as he was not then a Member of Parliament, but I can remember the debates when the lottery was established, and the idea that lottery money should be used to fund the salaries of teachers was totally alien to Labour Members at the time. If NOF is to be used in ways that enhance and improve sport facilities, that is all to the good. If we are to retain an arm's length principle, however, to what extent can Ministers guarantee that NOF will always deliver, and that it will not use the money in other ways? The same degree of control cannot be exercised over NOF as over the Department's budget.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

The hon. Gentleman has so far mentioned every funding stream available to sport apart from central Government expenditure. Is that because of embarrassment? In the last two years of the previous Conservative Government, the budget for sport declined by 6.7 per cent. and 6.5 per cent.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman has a cheek to introduce an argument about funding. It has just been pointed out that in the last three or four years of the previous Conservative Government, who introduced the lottery, sport was made one of the main beneficiaries. You may recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that originally, there were to be only four good causes, and sport was to receive a quarter of the money. Under the Labour Government, it is receiving a sixth. The Conservative party, especially on the basis of recent years, should not have to take any lessons from the Labour party in terms of its commitment to funding sport. Sport England's budget is in excess of £40 million a year—

Mr. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway

No. We have a great deal to discuss. If the hon. Gentleman wants to have a row about resources, I suggest that he reads the Government's document, which acknowledges that £1 billion of lottery money has been made available to fund 3,000 projects.

The Minister has told us that the Government's strategy will provide £150 million for 300 centres in primary schools. I am not saying that such initiatives are not worthwhile; they are, and we support them. However, those hon. Members who are getting excited about sport funding must acknowledge, as the Minister has, that the lottery has effected a transformation. We are debating the extent to which lottery money can be used to support new initiatives in schools and sports clubs throughout the country, to give every child a sporting chance. That is what the strategy is supposed to be about.

The document says that NOF has already committed £125 million to its green spaces initiative—among other things, for playing fields. However, despite wanting to take decisions at arm's length, NOF's consultative paper, published last September, stated that purchasing land was not a priority. That must be cleared up.

The Government say that the space for sport and the arts initiative will provide up to £150 million—£75 million each from the Exchequer and the lottery—to primary schools to provide new multi-purpose sport and arts facilities for children in the wider community. Will the Minister explain how that initiative is to work? How will it be paid for? From which lottery source will the £75 million be drawn? The Government say that Sport England is said to have agreed to ring-fence 20 per cent. of lottery funds for youth sport, the bulk of which is to be spent in schools. Is that 20 per cent. the £75 million, or is it a separate amount? The sports lottery fund receives £250 million a year, and 20 per cent. of that is only £50 million.

The document commits NOF to providing £160 million to support out-of-school-hours learning, with special emphasis on sport and physical education. That is on top of the £125 million for open spaces. I know that that money probably covers more than one year, but collectively it is more than NOF receives now. Will the Minister explain, if necessary in writing, how those sums add up and whether the funding bodies have signalled their agreement? More important, what assessment has been made of how Sport England and NOF are to respond to other funding requests? I do not suggest that the money is being targeted at anything other than worthy causes, but we are concerned that the sums should add up and that expectations are not raised that cannot be fulfilled.

The Minister mentioned the need to reinvest in fabric. I agree with her that a great many sporting facilities, particularly those run by local authorities, are in desperate need of refurbishment, but lottery funding has never been made available. All those factors add to the demands made on the lottery.

We have considerable sympathy with the need to streamline the structure of sport governance and to improve accountability. The document refers to the possibility of sports bodies being made more accountable to lottery players. Will decisions for lottery spending be delegated to sport governing bodies and away from Sport England? If so, those governing bodies will have the difficult responsibility of declining entirely worthy applications, because so much of the sports lottery fund will be pre-committed.

We must also bear in mind the fact that the sports lottery fund will have to meet its commitment on the cost of the Commonwealth games in Manchester, and will probably have to make a contribution to the costs of the proposed new stadium at Pickett's Lock for the world athletics championships.

I repeat that our generous support for investments in facilities in schools and local clubs will provide sporting opportunities for young people. A new sports pavilion was recently opened at Malton in my constituency. That initiative was instigated by the Fitzwilliam sports association. The proposal was twice turned down, but we kept at it and on the third occasion we received the money. It is a £200,000 sports lottery fund project. Boys and girls will now be sure of the best facilities when they play cricket, hockey and soccer. The pavilion is next to the rugby union ground, which has also been the target of a big sports lottery project. Youngsters of all levels and ages can play in the teams, which are often their only opportunity to engage in competitive team sport, as so many of them go to schools with few pupils.

We believe that all of that is important, and we greatly welcome the Government's acknowledgment that the level of provision of sport in schools is unacceptable. I apportion no blame to the Minister. However, the position has unquestionably deteriorated during the past three years. The curriculum has become too prescriptive, the effects of which have been confirmed by Sport England and in a number of surveys, including the Adidas report. Last August, the sport and physical education network, which is based at Leeds Metropolitan university, published a survey showing that more than half a million hours of physical education had been lost in primary schools alone in the previous six years. The survey showed that the decline had featured especially in the three or four years prior to its publication, as cuts had been made to make time for literacy and numeracy work.

That approach must change and I entirely endorse the Minister's remarks in that respect. What schools do should be rather less prescribed. If they had greater freedom in the management of pupil time, there would be a significant increase in the amount of sport played within and between them. We agree with the Minister that school sports co-ordinators have a role to play in achieving that. I am looking forward to seeing what can be achieved, especially in a huge rural area that has many small primary schools but not enough kids of the right age group for one even to think of forming teams that can play inter-school soccer or cricket. The target of 600 co-ordinators is ambitious, but we share that objective.

We note the Government's commitment to the creation of 110 specialist sports colleges by 2003. That was initially another Conservative policy initiative and it is not without controversy. We want more specialist schools, and not just for sport, although sports schools are especially important. We believe that that is a good idea, but that schools and colleges should themselves determine whether to specialise and the manner in which they should do so. More important, the existence of specialist sports colleges must not be used as an excuse for neglecting sport in mainstream schools. It is a cause for concern that the strategy document is very brief on mainstream secondary schools. For that reason, we are concerned that the title "A Sporting Future for All" conveys an aspiration that may not be matched for every child.

Mr. Reed

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the use of school sports co-ordinators and specialist sports colleges achieves the aims about which he is speaking? Burleigh college, in my constituency, has shown that the two go together.

Mr. Greenway

I thought that I had encouraged the thought that the aims can be achieved in such a manner. I am merely saying that the strategy document places huge emphasis on primary schools. It is right to do so, in many respects. I think that it was Trevor Brooking who, when Sport England published its recent survey on the decline in physical education and sport in schools, commented on how important it was to focus properly on the five to eight-year-olds, as that is the age range when one can achieve most with a child. I agree with all that, but I am concerned that there is still a gap in provision in the secondary school sector. There has been rather too much emphasis against competitive team games for the 14 to 16-year-old age group, although one understands the reasons why.

The Minister mentioned the vexed issue of the sale of school playing fields. From my personal experience as a county councillor and a school governor, I know that school land can sometimes be sold without damaging sports provision. A few years ago, in one school in my constituency, land sales paid for significant capital expenditure on school buildings without detriment to sporting provision. However, there is no doubt from the communications received by hon. Members that many sporting bodies remain concerned that school playing fields and sports pitches continue to be sold. I listened to the Minister's remarks on the subject, and appreciate that she has acknowledged in Culture, Media and Sport questions in the House that such sales have continued. One cannot say that the policy is being delivered and acknowledge that sales are continuing because the policy was to stop all sales.

Kate Hoey

The policy is very clear: it is to stop the compulsory sale of playing fields, which is very different, as the hon. Gentleman would recognise if he is fair.

Mr. Greenway

I note the Minister's clarification. I am about to be extremely fair because I want to make two important points that were set out in our blue paper and also included in the Government's strategy.

We called for an audit of all playing fields and sports facilities in order to create a national database. I am astounded that that has not been done before. It is completely illogical to try to determine what is required in various parts of the country without knowing what already exists. I subscribe to the theory that more affluent areas have been able to get sports lottery projects up and running, whereas more run-down and deprived areas, which do not have the business acumen or the support from local communities, have been unable to provide matching funding. We desperately need a database. Only then can we have any idea whether the sale of land will damage sporting provision. We also called for planning policy guidance to be strengthened—another proposal in the strategy. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that more work needs to be done.

While highlighting areas of agreement, I want to mention two other important issues, neither of which was touched on by the Minister, but on which we have made recommendations that were also mentioned in the document. The first is the need for a cross-departmental forum for sport. The Minister said that it was important for the Department for Education and Employment and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to work together. However, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions also has an extremely important role to play. We must have more joined-up government, not just between Departments but between national and local government, if we are to have the desired impact.

The other area of agreement is the hope to improve sporting opportunities for ethnic minorities and to tackle exclusion in all respects. That is also mentioned in the strategy document.

I want to mention one or two issues on which we believe the Government should have said more. The first relates to voluntary clubs. The Minister paid tribute more than once to the work of volunteers. Certainly, in the three months or so since I have had this job, I have been impressed by the scale of voluntary action, without which a great deal of sporting opportunity would not exist. However, several issues relating to finance require some fresh thinking, and I have no doubt that we in the Conservative party and the Minister will have to argue with the shadow Treasury team and Treasury Ministers to get some sense across.

Many clubs are not registered charities. As a consequence, they lose out on VAT exemption and discretionary rate relief. I received a delegation to my surgery from the York district sports council, which emphasised the considerable concerns of several long-established sports clubs in the York area that originally benefited from the financial support of a major employer, such as Rowntree, the railways and the civil service, which no longer provide that support. They are now facing substantial rates bills because of the revaluation of their facilities. Many of those revaluations result from improvements that were funded by the lottery. I have agreed to investigate the matter in the York area, and I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to receive a report of my findings. In congratulating ourselves on funding capital projects, we must also be aware of revenue implications. Discretionary rate relief is often the only revenue support that many clubs receive from their local authority.

The document mentions the need to attract national and international events to the UK. I hope that people will realise that my comments on Wembley stadium and the plans for Pickett's Lock are intended to be constructive and positive. It saddens me that the Wembley stadium project has become the subject of ridicule. A story on it appears in the national press every week. I was astounded by the Minister's written replies to me this week. She confirmed that Ministers have known for two years that Brent council would insist on £30 million capital infrastructure investment, and that those matters have been discussed in the Wembley task force that was established by the Culture Secretary and which has departmental representation. The Minister, however, confirmed that there has been no cross-departmental discussion at ministerial level.

I raised my concerns from the Back Benches during Culture, Media and Sport questions before I became the shadow Minister for Sport. I was told that I would be unnecessarily alarmist if I suggested that Wembley might not get the go-ahead or be ready for planned events. Sadly, that is how the situation is starting to look. Only last July, the Secretary of State said that Wembley would be the centrepiece of the Government's campaign to attract the world's premier sporting events to this country, and that he and the Prime Minister had taken every opportunity to associate them with England's world cup bid. I applaud them for that, but it is reasonable to expect them to intervene and, as Ken Bates said to me a week or two ago, to bang some heads together to resolve the infrastructure issues.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hove has left the Chamber because he was part of a delegation that recently met the leader of Brent council, Paul Daisley, and its chief environmental officer. They were entirely happy with the design of the stadium. There was nothing wrong with it. We are all in favour of England's world cup bid, and I have been grateful for the Culture Secretary's comments at recent events on my support for it. However, the bid would be greatly assisted if consent were granted, even if it were subject to a condition on infrastructure. Having won the right to stage the 2006 world cup, there would not be a huge problem in persuading the private sector to invest in the Wembley area through partnership schemes. That would help to ensure that Brent council puts in place what is necessary for the local community. I hope that anyone who reads our debate would agree that common sense should prevail, even at this late hour. It would be catastrophic if the project were turned down and there was a year or more of appeal and argument.

Wembley has also been something of a shambles in relation to athletics. Last July, the Secretary of State endorsed the new stadium as a suitable venue for international athletics. However, in December he told the House that he was concerned about the viability of the proposed solution. The speed with which the Labour-dominated Select Committee criticised the Minister's decision only served to highlight the mismanagement. The design for Wembley remains unaltered and it will be capable of hosting athletics should the need arise. As the Minister hinted, the Culture Secretary has endorsed the Pickett's Lock site at Enfield as the preferred venue for the world athletics championship. I note from written answers that the Secretary of State's commitment to the International Amateur Athletics Federation is simply for London to provide a suitable venue.

I was at Pickett's Lock on the morning on which the IAAF decision was made in Paris. I can understand why Sport England and the Lea Valley regional park authority offered Pickett's Lock as a suitable venue. However, no one should be under any illusion—a formidable programme of work must be achieved if the 2005 championships are to take place on the site. There is an existing sports centre with an indoor bowling club for the elderly—5,000 people play there regularly. There is no provision for them to go anywhere else. Improvements to transport infrastructure are possible. A railway station right outside the front door and a motorway link can be built. However, we all know how long such projects take to plan and to bring to fruition. We need an accommodation block for at least 3,000 athletes. There are no plans or costings and, we would argue, no money.

Another important question is whether Pickett's Lock would be suitable as a venue at which London could host the Olympic Games, perhaps in 2012. Like the Minister, we are looking forward to considering the British Olympic Association's feasibility study later in the year. I would like the Minister to tell us what the Government's response would be if the BOA found against Pickett's Lock. A problem that I can envisage concerns accommodation. I understand that one would need up to 10 times the number of beds for an Olympic games as for a world athletics championship.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

My constituents have already identified an excellent spot for the accommodation venue. It is currently RAF Northolt, which generates 13,000 flights, all of which are very irritating to them. The site would be much better used for housing.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before we have too many publicity advances, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) might continue.

Mr. Greenway

Middlesex university would be interested in building accommodation for about 3,000 people at a site at Pickett's Lock about a mile from the existing sports stadium. That would be enough for the world athletics championships but nowhere near enough for an Olympic games.

For the avoidance of doubt, I confirm for the Minister that, on the day on which I visited Pickett's Lock, I issued a press statement endorsing the selection of the site. I emphasised the challenging programme of work needed to accomplish the promise made. The more one examines the issues, the more challenging that programme becomes. What has happened concerning Wembley does not inspire confidence, not only in we politicians but in others outside Parliament, especially in the media, who are only too keen to take advantage if things start to go awry.

Whether in bidding for the football world cup in 2006, the world athletics championships and the Olympic games or ensuring the success of the Commonwealth games in Manchester in two years' time, the Conservative party will give the Government and the sports bodies concerned every possible support. However-I hope that the Minister will take the comment in the spirit in which it is offered-we have a duty as the official Opposition to ask the questions that must be addressed to ensure that the Government play their full part in fulfilling the aspiration that they have so readily endorsed.

On the whole, the document is welcome, not least because it acknowledges the parlous state of sport in schools and the need to reverse the decline in participation by young people in competitive team sports. It might be argued that three years was a long time to wait for the Government's first major policy initiative on sport. My greatest criticism is that, during those three years, the Government's education policies have undermined sports provision through an over-prescriptive curriculum. We shall reverse the decline in school sports only when that over-prescriptive approach is abandoned. Further, the decline will be reversed only when every child, and not only those thought to be gifted, is allowed the chance to take part in a range of sports with sufficient frequency and encouragement. In that way, their talents might develop, if only to allow them to see sport as an important part of their future life. In that respect, I share the Minister's aspiration.

3.54 pm
Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

To continue the final few comments of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and to maintain the united sport front, the Liberal Democrats broadly welcome "A Sporting Future for All". To emphasise the point, I say that sport really matters.

The Government deserves a gold medal for all their hype on the issue. However, the reality is that our young children—at least 75 per cent. of them, according to the Government—are being cheated when it comes to sport and physical recreation in schools. We welcome the general thrust and the strategy set out in "A Sporting Future for All", provided this is the first, and not the only, step. The promises will become just another broken pledge if there is not rapid progress toward implementation with further boosts to sport to follow.

Young people today are less fit than their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were. A study for Sport England, published earlier this year, confirmed that a generation of unfit children is emerging from our schools following the decline in PE lessons, which is the result of the drive to raise standards in literacy and mathematics. Worse, millions of youngsters spend far more time watching television or playing computer games than taking part in any form of exercise. A medical time bomb is ticking away under the nation.

Sport England's chairman, Trevor Brooking—the much respected former England footballer—has been quoted as saying that children leaving school now are technically the worst generation I have ever seen. He added: The fundamental problem is that children are not being taught the basic techniques of how to hold a bat or racquet, or how to kick a ball. Sport is not encouraged in schools; it is discouraged. The overemphasis on academic achievement at all costs—placing less importance on everything else, so that pupils can, it is hoped, achieve slightly higher pass marks, thus improving their school's place in the league tables for examination results—is damaging our young people. Their present and long-term health, their fulfilment in many other spheres and their quality of life are being harmed. Involvement in the uniformed movements and other youth groups and participation in the full range of the arts and sports are harmed by the unhealthy obsession with academic studies. The message going out to young people is that those who are less academically gifted are of less worth to society. That attitude must be changed. Life is made up of more than the classroom and spending long hours studying at home.

Schools are failing in the basic requirement—a Government target—that pupils should participate in a minimum of two hours of physical education a week. In a parliamentary answer on 7 March in column 576W, it was admitted that the two-hour minimum is not being achieved in three of four age groups and was only just achieved in the fourth age group. Those figures were based on inspections by the Office for Standards in Education in 1998. We fear that the situation has worsened rather than improved since then. At key stage 1—pupils aged five to seven—the average time spent on physical education was I hour 20 minutes a week. At key stage 2—ages seven to 11—it was 1 hour 35 minutes. At key stage 3—ages 11 to 14—the minimum two hours was achieved. At key stage 4—ages 14 to 16—it had fallen to just 1 hour 15 minutes. Those figures confirm my observation that the Government's education policies are forcing schools to relegate sport and recreation from the timetable. Would the Minister like to guess how many sports teachers will be awarded performance-related pay?

This Government, like previous Governments, do not rate sport highly. They seek to bask in the glory of sporting triumphs when they occur, but the reality is that, as a nation, we do not do anything like enough to encourage sport and physical recreation. I exempt the Minister for Sport from my criticisms. I have total confidence in her. I know that she would like to do more to give sport the priority and importance that it deserves. However, sport will be taken seriously only when it has a department of its own with its own—greater—resources, providing joined-up government across the various Departments. Education and Employment, Environment, Transport and the Regions, Health and the Home Office are four obvious ones. What role does the Minister feel that sport offers the social exclusion unit and vice versa?

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

The hon. Gentleman said that a ministry of sport should have more resources; would he care to put a figure on that?

Mr. Russell

That is a good question. The figure is not available, but the hon. Member for Ryedale provided a shopping list of various organisations whence that came. If we are to have joined-up government, we must work out the cost to the public purse of criminal damage, unhealthy children and so on. Such matters cannot be put into compartments. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) may want to do that, but joined-up government means more than just putting a price on something.

Today's debate is on probably the quietest parliamentary Thursday of the year, and in the training room of Westminster Hall instead of the main stadium of the House, which epitomises the Government's attitude to sport. "A Sporting Future for All" was launched on 5 April, not in the House, but in a publicity stunt in Haringey, with two Secretaries of State squabbling over who should take the credit. When reference to that discourtesy was made in the House, Madam Speaker deplored what had occurred, but neither the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport nor the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was present for the admonition. It fell to the Minister for Sport, who had been frozen out of the launch that morning, to take the rap and to apologise because the document had not been presented to the House first.

It had all been different a few hours earlier. On the morning of 5 April, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued a press release headed "Smith and Hoey launch a sporting future for all". It contained a two-paragraph quote from the Minister for Sport. That release was quickly pulled and a new one was issued jointly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Employment. The opening words stated: David Blunkett and Chris Smith today launched a radical boost in access to school sport. The name of the Minister for Sport had been removed from that second press release, as had her comments. Her words had been replaced with three paragraphs of quotes from the Secretary of State for Education. That sums up the Government's real attitude towards sport—even the Minister for Sport was sidelined when they launched their sports strategy.

"A Sporting Future for All" includes an introduction by the Prime Minister: For all of us who take up sport, a good start in the early years is important…It is in school where most of us get our first chance to try sport. It is here that children discover their talent and their potential. They need the chance to try a variety of sports to see which they enjoy most. They need high quality teaching of basic skills. I am sure that we all endorse those fine words from the Prime Minister, but what will the Secretary of State for Education and Employment do to make them reality? The evidence is that our schools, because of Government policies, are failing our children in sport and physical education. No amount of fine words and glossy pamphlets can hide that stark reality.

"A Sporting Future for All" includes a section headed "The Vision" and the chapter "Sport in Education" has my total support, but will the Government deliver what they state? The strategy statement, "Increasing Participation by Young People", states: Physical education and sport are a fundamental part of the education of all young people. No one would argue with that, or with the further comment that in too many schools physical education and sport have declined. But the policies of successive Governments have caused that; schools did not choose to bring that about.

The pledge of financial support for sport in schools is welcome, but it must be put in context because it is not a lot when spread across the country. Although 110 specialist sports colleges by 2003 is better than nothing, there are 3,560 state secondary schools in England; £150 million for primary schools is also better than nothing, but there are 18,234 such schools in England. The sum is less than one fifth of that spent on the millennium dome—talking of which, would the Minister care to comment on the proposal to the dome legacy competition that its long-term use should be as a sports dome featuring 50 sports, making it the largest concentration of sports ever assembled under one roof anywhere in the world? The £240 million support for schools to provide out-of-school-hours activities is also welcome, but the Minister knows that that is too little for the country as a whole. How many youngsters aged 14 and over will have time to make use of them when they are burdened with so much studying at home?

Perhaps the Minister will draw to the attention of all the Education Ministers paragraph 2.4 on page 8, which states: These plans will allow a new start for sport in schools. We know that excellent physical education and school sport are a key part of an effective school. Sporting achievement and academic standards go hand in hand. Furthermore, the opening sentence of paragraph 7.1 on page 29 states: Physical education is an essential part of a broad and balanced curriculum. If the Government are serious about wanting to reverse the decline of physical education and sport in schools, and improve the quality of provision for all young people, they must provide the resources to match the warm words. They must also let Education Ministers proclaim time and again that sporting achievements and academic standards go hand in hand. In that way, perhaps educationists at all levels will get the message. Up to now, I have concentrated on sport in schools, because unless we quickly reverse the trends of recent years, the future for UK sport will be even more bleak than it is.

Football has never had as much money as it has now. However, the English professional game is arguably worse off than ever before, and our long-term future on the international scene is threatened. Huge sums are concentrated among a few clubs, but instead of the money being used for the wider benefit of the sport at all levels, it is going into the grotesque salaries of a relatively small number of overrated, over-priced and overpaid professionals, who, with their parasite agents, are sucking vast sums of money out of the game.

The Government should be considering financial strategies to redistribute the wealth in football so that it benefits the many and not the few. I invite the Minister to discuss this matter with her Treasury colleagues. What I propose would not involve additional public expenditure. Grass-roots football—junior clubs and youth teams at all levels—would have their fortunes and facilities transformed by a redistribution of the money that is sloshing around the highest reaches of the professional game before being grabbed by a greedy minority.

The smaller professional and semi-professional clubs which do so much to promote football in all parts of the country would also benefit. To put this into perspective, Manchester United's annual wage bill is the equivalent of the cost of building several new stadiums for second and third division clubs—I declare an interest in relation to my home club, Colchester United—as well as those in the feeder leagues.

A few days ago, I received a letter from the chairman of Yeovil Town football club, which plays in the Football Conference, the feeder league to the Nationwide Football League. The total attendance at all Conference matches this season will be at a record level for the third year running. Many such small-town clubs have an active programme to develop their role and activities in the community. However, Conference clubs are ineligible for grant aid from the Football Association to run official football academies for young players in their towns, although assistance can be given to the bigger clubs. The Government must sort out such unfairness, as it is yet another example of how the football authorities allow the big clubs to dictate what happens in our main national sport.

Mr. Greenway

May I, as president of York City football club, bring some good news to the hon. Gentleman? A working party consisting of three third division chairmen has been set up, headed by the chairman of York City, Douglas Craig. It will examine how support for the Conference can be improved, and how more clubs in the Conference can be promoted to the Football League. One never knows—Yeovil Town might make it.

Mr. Russell

I am most grateful for that intervention. An increased number of clubs entering the Football League from the Conference would also mean an increase in the number going out. York City should be very wary of that.

Although the Minister has referred to some money from the premiership being distributed to lower levels, the amount is minute. It could be conscience money. It has, in a way, taken our eye off the ball, because 5 per cent. of premier division money is not a vast sum, when we think of all the money that is floating around.

If the strategies and recommendations of "A Sporting Future for All" are implemented, and provided that sufficient financial resources and quality coaching are made available, we can perhaps look forward to a better future for the nation's sport, not only in terms of national success, but at all levels. We should encourage participation by all, not just by those who have the potential to be the elite performers in their sport, and not just in the major sports, such as football, rugby, cricket, hockey, tennis, swimming, and athletics, but in the so-called minority sports.

The current British sabre champion is a young man from my constituency. The Minister may recall receiving earlier this year a letter from that young man's father. His story illustrates, on one hand, the aspirations set out in "A Sporting Future for All" and, on the other, the stark reality for our talented young people, who are cheated of the chance to realise their full potential. My constituent, Robin Knight, now aged 20, joined Colchester fencing club at the age of 11, after attending an introductory session at his school. His considerable talent was quickly recognised. Fencing is a minority sport in this country, but it is big in other parts of Europe. Last year, it cost Mr. Knight—or, more precisely, his parents—almost £10,000 to cover the cost of his equipment, training fees and travel and hotel costs for major events. For the world championships in Korea, he received £500 from the national sports organisation, of which £474 went to pay his air fare. He had to buy his track suit, for which the balance of £26 was inadequate.

The Government must provide more support, if the best of our young people are to succeed on the national stage. Had it not been for his parents, it is unlikely that Mr. Knight would have been able to compete for his country. If there were a proper level of support, his international prospects would be improved immensely. Incidentally, I would also welcome further support for our talented sportsmen and sportswomen from British industry. At the recent sabre international tournament in London, the Spanish team was sponsored by Wilkinson Sword Ltd. The same company has rejected a request that it sponsor Robin Knight, the British champion. That attitude is regrettable.

Support from large and small companies is appreciated, but it should be regarded as top-up, rather than core funding. I pay tribute to Lancaster garages, one of many sponsoring companies, which is helping the training of a gifted young athlete from my constituency, Sarah Claxton, who, many believe, has the potential to become an Olympic medallist in four years' time. The Minister should consider what help can be given to Miss Claxton and others. I would also welcome some comment from the Minister on the extraordinary fact that the British Olympic Association is one of only two national Olympic committees that do not receive public money. The Government should take measures to ensure that our sportsmen and sportswomen compete on a level playing field.

Nothing should take away from the importance of the voluntary contribution that so many people make to sport in this country. They are the backroom men and women, without whose dedication our sport would be even more impoverished. The Central Council of Physical Recreation described volunteers as the foundations of British sport". That is true, and one small way to recognise it would be for the Government to exempt volunteers from having to pay for the criminal record checks that will soon be introduced. I also endorse the CCPR's proposal that voluntary sports clubs should be eligible for mandatory rate relief. I have been told that the future of Brighton and Hove cricket club has been put in jeopardy because of a demand for £5,594 in business rates. It would not be too costly for the Government to grant rate relief to sports clubs throughout the country, but it would be more than repaid in what those clubs could do to promote sports, if they were no longer faced with a battle for survival.

The Minister will, I hope, be pleased to hear that my comments on the fiasco of the Wembley stadium development will be brief. She knows that when I got a question about it on to the Order Paper, it was mysteriously shunted off to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, even though it dealt with Wembley stadium and the Wembley task force. Methinks, in the light of what the hon. Member for Ryedale said, that there was a conspiracy of some sort to prevent it from being raised in the House. I am astonished at the Government's vandalism, allowing the demolition of arguably the most famous stadium in the world.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member is not suggesting that Ministers are adopting an unacceptable attitude, because that would not be correct.

Mr. Russell

If any offence was caused by my remarks, I withdraw them. The Minister and I have corresponded on and discussed these matters, and my comment was made in jest.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Unfortunately, Hansard has no way of indicating that a comment was made in jest. We might suggest that it introduce a suitable symbol, but I hate to think where such a precedent would end.

Mr. Russell

I am not suggesting anything untoward, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Returning to the demolition of Wembley stadium, I am astonished that the Government should be such vandals, allowing the demolition, as I said, of arguably the most famous stadium in the world. Historians will look back in amazement at the destruction of this important 20th-century building, which was the venue for England's most important sporting triumph—winning the football world cup in 1966—and the 1948 Olympic games. It is to be replaced by an ugly stadium in which only 40 major sporting events a year will be allowed, and which will still be served by a grossly inadequate road and rail system. What a waste of money. The total cost of the project approaches that of the dome. Perhaps some will think that the stadium is better value for money, but sports men and women in general may think that money would have been better spent on a different site, at a lower cost, leaving funds for other sports developments.

The Government rightly oppose in principle the sale of school playing fields, although reality has not matched the rhetoric. Of the scores of applications received, only a handful has been rejected. The Minister will agree that, on some occasions, the disposal of surplus space can generate income for all-weather pitches or sports halls, which constitute better overall neighbourhood sports provision. However, the sale of playing fields by companies and public bodies poses more of a threat.

In my constituency, the Royal London Mutual Insurance Society plans to sell its playing fields, which include four football pitches, for commercial development. The Government, through the Ministry of Defence and the national health service, also eagerly hope to sell sports fields. I hope that they will not operate double standards in respect of pitches that they own. Nor should planning guidelines relating to brown field and green field developments be ignored.

Overall, "A Sporting Future for All", which promises much, is to be welcomed. Delivery will be eagerly anticipated, and further progress and improvements sought. I know that the Minister wishes to achieve sport for all, and I wish her every success in her endeavours. In that regard, she can count on constructive support from Liberal Democrats.

Several hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should point out that a number of Members want to contribute to the debate. I am not seeking to restrain hon. Members, but they should bear in mind that a degree of discipline will enable those who wish to speak to do so before the afternoon is over.

4.18 pm
Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford)

I shall endeavour to be reasonably brief.

As one of a small but select band of hon. Members who recently participated in the London marathon, I feel qualified to contribute to this afternoon's debate. I am the fastest marathon runner among current hon. Members, but before I am accused of boasting, I should point out that I fall a long way short of the record holder, Matthew Parris, who was considerably faster. I should like to place on record my thanks to hon. Members for their generous sponsorship, which helped me to raise more than £2,500 for Mencap.

As you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall put a slight medical spin on the debate. A doctor might define sport as a way of making exercise purposeful and enjoyable, and which encourages people to keep it up. The nation's broom cupboards must be full of many thousands of exercise bikes and rowing machines, bought in good faith but abandoned due to inertia and boredom of a solitary activity. Therefore, one great advantage of sport is that it is often a communal activity. People may also feel that, if they do not turn up to play regularly, they are letting their colleagues down. That camaraderie is what makes sport different from routine exercise, which can be boring.

Why is exercise so important? Most people are preoccupied with living for as long as possible, and in that respect the evidence about exercise is stark. People who take regular exercise gain significantly, in terms of their chances of staying alive, over those who do not do so. The figures are astonishing. People who exercise commonly suffer only half the rate of heart disease and stroke that is suffered by those who exercise very little or not at all. People double their chances of dying early by not taking regular exercise—it is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, Britain does not fare well in the incidence of heart disease and stroke—we are very near the bottom of the European Union league table. In France, there are 36 deaths per 100,000 a year from circulatory disease among people under the age of 65. Britain has 70 deaths per 100,000 among people in the same age group. We have twice the rate of heart disease in France. Proof that exercise—of which sport is a major form—can improve matters should alone spur people to continue.

Unfortunately, some people are significantly more at risk than others. Women do not take part in sport as much as men, and are at greater risk of having a stroke. Thus, they not only find it more difficult to take part in sporting activities, but are more at risk from not doing so. It is a double whammy. People from south Asia have a significantly higher risk of heart disease than people from other ethnic groups.

Britain has a significant health problem, and sport is part of the solution. We therefore need a strategy to increase sporting participation among people in general, as well as targeting it at specific groups. "A Sporting Future for All" is important because it sets out such a strategy. However, there are significant barriers to achieving some of the document's aims—for example, the recommended level of activity.

A physician would say that 20 to 30 minutes of good quality exercise four or five times a week should keep the average person in reasonably good shape. The problem is that people's life styles often make that difficult to achieve. Working hours in Britain—48 hours a week on average—are among the longest in Europe. Balancing the competing demands of work, family and other activities deters many people from regularly taking part in sport. For the socially excluded, access is denied not only by lack of time, but by lack of opportunity. Sporting facilities can be financially and geographically well beyond their reach.

Good habits must be promoted early on in life; it is important to encourage people to take part in regular sport from the earliest possible age. That is why I am pleased that the Government have, to a large extent, focused their resources on primary schools. If primary school children begin to exercise regularly, it is much more likely that they will continue to do so throughout their lives. As the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) said, the current generation of children is far less fit than previous generations. That is partly due to the fact that some schools do not take sport sufficiently seriously. I am pleased that the document proposes a framework for remedying that.

Unfortunately, however, there is more to the matter. In today's society, children are far more likely, when they come in from school, to play on the computer or watch television than to socialise with their colleagues and friends or engage in sporting activities. My children regularly take part in sport, but I have to remind them to turn off the computer or television and go out to play football or go to the park with their bikes. It is a struggle, because society has a couch-potato mentality. When people get in from school or work, they tend to slouch in front of the television, and it is difficult to get them to take sport more seriously.

As a doctor, I assure hon. Members that sport improves not only physical but mental fitness. People who say to me in my medical capacity, "I feel far too tired to exercise", have got things the wrong way round. The more that one exercises, the less tired one feels. If, when I get home after a difficult day's debating in the House, I go for a 10-mile run, I return from it feeling absolutely marvellous. It gives me an enormous boost. [Laughter.] I do not know whether Hansard will pick up those nuances.

People talk about the endorphin rush, which involves natural morphine-like substances that everyone has in their brain—such substances are entirely legal and the police cannot touch people for using them. They give one precisely the same buzz—allegedly—as recreational drugs, but with far fewer health risks and no risk of being caught and prosecuted. Many scientific studies have documented the fact that mental well-being after a heavy bout of exercise is not to be sniffed at. [Laughter.] I use that word advisedly.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We should treat this subject with great seriousness.

Dr. Stoate

I do not wish to be flippant—this is a serious issue, and I do not want to give the impression that I do not take it extremely seriously.

Medically speaking, there is nothing better than regular exercise to keep one's body and mind in trim, and sport is an extremely good way of doing that. We have heard much this afternoon about the Government's approach, and I am pleased that the document sets out a detailed strategy. That will ensure that the Government play their part in helping schools and communities to develop sporting activities. The focus may largely be on primary schools, but in my constituency, Dart ford grammar school—a secondary school—is the host of the Beckett centre, which is a sporting facility that is open to the entire community. The school uses the facility during the day, and the community makes great use of it at evenings and weekends. There are many ways in which schools can participate to ensure that everyone makes the best use of such facilities.

The Government are to set up 110 specialist sports colleges by 2003. I am slightly disappointed that one school in my area was unable to become one. After an unfavourable report by the Office for Standards in Education, Dartford west boys' school intended to become a sports college, but the local education authority did not want to pursue that approach and chose instead to close the school. There was little that the Government could do, and, unfortunately, the school will close in due course. However, there are opportunities for schools elsewhere—the Government are committed to setting up a significant number of sports colleges, and they will have a significant impact.

Various local initiatives are being pursued in my constituency. For example, there are significant efforts to promote increased involvement in sport by women. I am the president of a cycling club in Dartford Team Darenth, which is trying to increase the number of girls and young women who cycle. Women have not taken up cycling as a sport to the same extent as men, but we are considering using trained women cycling instructors to help to encourage young women to do so, which should make a significant difference.

Another initiative seeks to encourage young disabled people in my constituency to get into sport. That should ensure that disabled people, whatever their disability, have the same opportunities as everyone else to take part in sport.

My overarching theme is that, however unfit people may feel—however unable they believe they are to take part in sport—there is always a sport that they could do. There is no such thing as someone who is maximally fit; it is always possible for people to become fitter. People who are supremely fit can get fitter, and those who are supremely unfit can always find ways to become fitter. People may feel that they are so unfit that it would be dangerous for them to exercise or take part in sport, but that is not right. With proper training and instruction, people can always become fitter, which will improve their quality of life.

I do not treat this debate flippantly; it is of an extremely important matter. Anything that encourages sport for all will be of great benefit to all, whatever their ability or background.

4.28 pm
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

I should like to make four brief and somewhat parochial points. I agree with much of what has been said, and I do not want to repeat points that have already been made. We appear to have reached a significant degree of agreement.

First, there is a perception that because rural areas are covered by greenfield or brownfield areas, local people have ready access to open areas for recreation and sport, but that is not so. Many such fields are commercial concerns. Young people in rural areas often do not have the access to playing fields that people assume. Even when relatively small and poor parish councils can get a few coppers together to buy a bit of ground, the bureaucracy and safety issues involved prove far too great a problem. I hope that, in moves to deal with playing fields and access for everyone, it will be recognised that rural areas sometimes need additional support because of the costs of providing playing fields.

Secondly, I think that we all agree that we have lost far too many playing fields. I hope that the Minister can find a means, through discussion with colleagues in other Departments, of establishing a direct presumption against development, because development causes some of the sales—although that is not to say that there will always be a case for such presumption. Local authorities sell their playing fields because that provides them with a contribution. Development can take place on them, so they acquire a development value. Participation in sport that could be retained is lost because land with development value is sold.

Thirdly, as regards voluntary clubs, I hope that the proposals will go right down to the grass roots. We have heard some big figures. The football club in my home town has nine teams; it gets sponsorship from local business for its shirts, and we are all enjoined to sponsor the match ball and everything else. However, the poor young people who go along have to provide £2.50 each week to pay the local authority to use the ground. Everyone else seems to be putting in, but parents with two children who want to go along have to find £5 a week—week in, week out—which is a lot. It is good to have rate relief on ground fees for sports clubs, but there should be some other sort of relief so that young people, in particular, can use playing fields without having to stump up out of their pocket money. That is grass roots stuff.

Fourthly, we all recognise the importance of school sport. The difficulty in rural areas—as those of us who have tried to promote after-school sport know—is that most children use transport, such as school buses. The bus goes at quarter-past or half-past 3, but anyone who wants to stay on after school will not be ready to leave until quarter to 5 or 5 o'clock, when the bus has gone. There is also the problem of parents coming for their children. The school where I was the chairman of the board of governors tried to devise a system whereby we had an early bus and a late bus. However, the cost of the service relative to our budget made it prohibitive, even though many children wanted to avail themselves of it.

There is a lurking problem in school sport; such problems sometimes build up because they have become excuses for doing nothing. The problem relates to safety. Schools are concerned about becoming the subject of litigation if a child breaks his leg or neck or suffers some other major injury. They therefore face the additional cost of providing safer equipment.

The other day, I discovered that providing cricket helmets for children to participate in the sport would cost £30 or £40 a child. Of course, if children do not have a helmet and have an accident, the school will be liable to significant litigation. That is a growing problem. Indeed, there are similar developments in other areas of society, where people are only too keen to pick up the telephone to ring the nearest solicitor who happens to advertise on the back of a bus to inquire whether the solicitor might be keen to pursue the case of someone who is injured.

A more nationally based policy is needed to enable schools to protect themselves, so that sport, which can be accidentally dangerous, can be continued as safely as possible but with a recognition that accidents can happen. There is no need for hugely expensive insurance premiums or massive budgets for possibly unnecessary safety equipment. Those are practical issues at the smaller, school end.

I hope that all the report's aims and objectives are achieved as quickly as possible. There are only a few hon. Members present, yet probably the one thing that most constituents talk about during the week is sport. They are not really interested in the euro, or other such things. They and their children talk about and watch sport. It is something in which both men and women and boys and girls participate and talk about far more often than we realise.

4.35 pm
Mr. Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston)

I am grateful not to have been called immediately after my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) because, after his frequent mention of heart attacks and the speed of his delivery, I was left exhausted, despite the fact that I far exceed his recommendations on weekly exercise. I congratulate my hon. Friend and his three colleagues who completed the London marathon more quickly than I dare dream about. I know that because they cost me at least four weeks' pocket money in sponsorship.

I did not intend to mention politics, even on this election day, but I was inspired by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell). I was reminded a couple of weeks ago about this issue because I was flattered to find that Brentford football club, Queen's Park Rangers and Wasps were competing for the development of the Feltham marina site adjacent to Feltham station in my constituency. A 35,000-seater football stadium and an ice rink are to be built there. I was reminded—not by a Liberal Democrat—that a long time ago the Liberal Democrats in Richmond demolished the ice rink. I am not saying that they let people down after promising to rebuild it, but 25 years is a long time. It looks as though we are to have another rink in Feltham. Perhaps the people who are still waiting for the Richmond rink to be rebuilt will travel to Feltham; the journey from Richmond takes only eight minutes. I apologise for the politics.

I spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport before the debate began and was delighted to be told that she would speak for half an hour, a much shorter time than she took when she was a Back Bencher speaking about sport. I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on her appointment—this is the first time since she became Minister for Sport that I have spoken in a sports debate—but on the sports strategy, of which I am proud, despite the criticisms which can be made, one of which I have pointed out and to which I will return in a while. We should pay tribute also to the late Denis Howell and to my hon. Friends the Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who have contributed greatly to the development of sports policy over the years.

"Sport for All"—with "A Sporting Future for All"—has included children, young people and older people, and those with disabilities. One thing that we do wrong is define sport too narrowly. I should like other pastimes to be brought into the arena of sport. We want to motivate everyone to become involved in activities that we may not now classify as sports but that can be developed as such if there is co-ordination among sporting bodies. In that way, we can widen the term "sport", instead of defining it too narrowly.

I apologise for repeating something that I mentioned in a previous sports debate. I was reminded of it by Trevor Brooking, who spoke at a meeting that I organised in Hounslow last week. He said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Marjorie Mowlam) had taken him to an area where sport was used as part of the ammunition to regenerate a town that had been brought completely to its knees. Buses could not go through it because of vandalism and threats of violence. I was brought up in that town, and I know it well. Sport plays quite a part there. Middlesbrough football club has a centre in the town, where Frank Spraggon and Jim Platt, two ex-internationals, give coaching.

Sport has helped to bring the town back to what it was when I was a kid; as a child and a young man I spent most of my spare time playing all kinds of sports, all provided by the local authority. In the summer, eight of us played tennis from 9 o'clock in the morning. We paid for half an hour, and, knowing that no one else would come and that we did not have much money, the park attendant let us play on for six hours. We then went and played bowls; if young people were allowed on a bowling green nowadays, people would have their hearts in their mouths, but in those days we looked after everything. That is what sport can do.

We must ensure that the links between schools and clubs are maintained. As hon. Members have said, sport gives young people a feeling of belonging and a sense of ownership. The fact that they are participating and have something of value in their lives does so much to promote that feeling of belonging. If we can get young people to be involved in sport, they can be helped to improve their performance. In my constituency, people play sport at all sorts of levels, from my level, for example, to that of Mohammed Farrah, a fantastically promising distance runner, now aged 16, who looks like being an Olympic champion in four years or so. It does not matter what level people are at—if they are proud of what they do and gain satisfaction from what they achieve, even if it is only self-satisfaction, it will deter them from taking recreational drugs, which often lead to their taking harder drugs and damage people's lives. Another incentive for encouraging people to take part in sport is that it promotes a healthier life style, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said. Think of the consequences for the national health service in the future if the population is healthier.

It is important to establish and strengthen the links between school sport, which we will improve in the next two or three years, and clubs; we must encourage young people to carry on participating in sport when they leave school. We must not lose those kids; I am not talking about compulsion—we do not want to force people to take part—but we do want to give them the opportunity to go on to clubs, and the sports co-ordinators will help them to do so.

My criticism of the strategy is that it makes only sparse reference to veterans' sport. The link between clubs and old-age pensioners needs to be continued; I have never entered for a marathon, but in the past two years I have started doing half-marathons, and managed to get to the end without stopping. That proves that sport can continue when people are older. There would be an even bigger improvement in the nation's health if we could encourage people to participate in sport later in life. My hon. Friend the Minister opened the veterans' world athletics championships at Gateshead last year and they were thrilled by what she said.

It is difficult for people to play sport, especially team sports, when they leave school. I broke the link and did not play active team sports for 20 or 25 years, until I came to this place in 1992 and, finding that it was so much like the public schools that I had read about at school, I started playing team games again. Let me put in a plug for the parliamentary football team which is playing a charity game next Monday at the Stadium of Light against the north-east press, including part of the old Sunderland cup-winning side of 1973. That shows that the ability to play sport can extend well into the advanced years.

Our parliamentary football team also played in an international tournament in Portugal last summer. To our credit, we came fourth, missing second place only on penalties. As one who called for the resignation of the previous England manager for not practising penalties, I must point out that we were beaten by the Italians in a penalty shoot-out. Italy scored eight consecutive penalties and we scored seven—twice as many as the England side has ever achieved. I therefore feel justified about my comments, as coach, when I criticised the previous England manager. If the present England manager would like to include any of our top players in his squad, he could bring us on 30 seconds from the end of a draw to take all the penalties.

Mr. Greenway

Name them.

Mr. Keen

I could name them, all right.

My hon. Friend the Minister spoke about veterans' athletics, which shows what can be achieved. These people competed in athletics at a high level to begin with, but greatly extended their competition years. I spent three or four days there and was most impressed with an Englishman who broke the world 200 m record for over 45-year-olds. I forget his exact time, but the professionals who organised the games at the Gateshead stadium were most impressed. The man was 47 and was asked about his lifetime's best. He was expected to say that he achieved a faster time 20 years earlier, but he said, "That was it." He ran his best ever race at the age of 47, which shows how people can carry on over the years and keep up a healthy life style.

As a member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which investigated the future of the Wembley stadium complex, I bet that, if we successfully bid for the 2012 Olympics, they will take place on a concrete platform in the present stadium, not at Pickett's Lock. The present Sports Minister may even be Prime Minister by then, but whoever is, he will rubber-stamp that decision.

Finally, I offer my best wishes to the British Olympic Association. I know all about the wonderful preparation that it made in Queensland for the Olympics. All the administrators and athletes, who will travel there from all over the world, should also be thanked.

4.48 pm
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

I should declare an interest as a supporter of Harrow borough football club, which is in the Ryman premier league. I am sponsoring its final home match of the season on Saturday. On each of the two occasions that I have sponsored the team in the past, they have scored five goals. They need one point to be sure of staying in the Ryman premier league. I hope that they will score five goals again on Saturday to ensure their survival.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. This has been an interesting and instructive debate, but seldom has so much free advertisement been offered to so many sporting venues.

Mr. Thomas

I am also a member of the London Welsh rugby football club whose recent application to join the Welsh-Scottish league will, I hope, be successful.

Sport is a crucial element of the social cement that binds our communities, as has already been said. As my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) and for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen) stressed in their contributions, it is also crucial to the physical and mental well-being of our citizens. The links between the lack of participation in sport and the greater propensity to commit crime or play truant are well known and well documented.

The economic significance of sport is also profound, from the bed and breakfast on the Pembrokeshire coast for the sea kayaking enthusiast to the multi-million pound enterprise that is Manchester United. That issue has been discussed somewhat less, although the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) touched on it. Ladbroke Racing Ltd. is based in my constituency and has started a new telephone-betting service within the past 12 months. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston talked about where the 2012 Olympic games might be, and I invite him to put some money down and take advantage of the service that my constituents provide through Ladbroke Racing Ltd.

As I understand it, consumers spend £12 billion on sport, and the industry directly provides 420,000 jobs. Clearly, the Department of Trade and Industry can also play a crucial role in a strategy for sport to foster the sports industry. I hope that the relationship that already exists, as I understand it, between the sports industry, the DTI and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will continue to grow.

I warmly welcome the excellent document "A Sporting Future for All", and my hon. Friend the Minister deserves considerable praise for producing it. The twin-track vision of increasing participation for all in sport and driving up success rates for British athletes is absolutely right. As hon. Members have said, particularly focused efforts need to be directed at continuing to increase the participation of women and ethnic minorities.

I also strongly support the moves to modernise the administration and support structures for sports, in particular for our Olympic medallists. It is worth highlighting the fact that we came ninth in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Five Olympic Games on, at Atlanta in 1996, we plummeted to 36th place. The decline in the colour of medals won has been even greater: we won one gold medal in 1996, compared with five at Barcelona four years earlier. We won 34 medals in all at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, 20 at Barcelona four years later and went down to 15 at Atlanta in 1996. The drive to raise the level of support that we offer to our most talented athletes is crucial.

Interest in sport begins in the main—although not exclusively—when we are young. Sport England's survey on young people and sport, which my hon. Friends have highlighted, offers a number of positive news stories. Both boys and girls are increasingly likely to play team sports. Between 1994 and 1999, the proportion of boys taking part frequently rose from 72 to 75 per cent. Among girls, the proportion went up from 34 to 42 per cent. The proportion of children taking part in after-school sport rose from 74 to 79 per cent. That shows that there have been some successes over the past five years in relation to sport in schools and among young people.

However, areas of concern remain, as my hon. Friends have said. I want to highlight the fact—again from the Sport England survey—that only 17 per cent. of primary schools have access to a multi-purpose sports hall. I understand that the figure for secondary schools is four times higher, although that in turn means that at least 30 per cent. of secondary schools are without access to a multi-purpose sports hall.

We should not be complacent about the quality of the multi-purpose halls that we have. Whitmore high school in my constituency has particular problems getting a range of children into the hall, because it is not big enough. In that context, the £150 million investment in the worst parts of school sports facilities that was announced when the document was released is enormously welcome, as is Sport England's commitment that 20 per cent. of lottery funds will be made available to youth sports.

As other hon. Members have said, the survey also highlighted the decline in the number of children receiving physical education each week in our schools. However, it is worth pointing out that the proportion spending more time on average in PE lessons has more than trebled: in 1994, 5 per cent. of pupils received between 30 and 59 minutes of PE a week, and that figure has now risen to 18 per cent. The story is not all doom and gloom. Falls in the amount of time spent in PE lessons were particularly pronounced in primary schools, which is of concern.

In a written answer on 9 March, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Red ditch (Jacqui Smith) stated: Ofsted's 1999 review of primary schools in England found that overall progress in PE is satisfactory or better in 97 per cent. of schools… We have set an aspiration that all schools should provide two hours of curricular or extra-curricular activities a week.—[Official Report, 9 March 2000: Vol. 345, c. 792W.] That is welcome, but we need to keep the matter under close review to see whether we are succeeding in increasing PE provision for children at primary school.

I would prefer the compulsory option, but the Government was right to focus on driving up levels of literacy and numeracy, to which the previous Government paid insufficient attention. I notice that Sport England give a kite mark to schools that have good access to sport. Perhaps Ofsted or Sport England should start to indicate those primary schools that do not give proper access to sport. Sport England has also highlighted the urgency of addressing the issues. It says that despite the attractions and advantages of PE and school sport, there is increasing evidence that many young people have worryingly low levels of fitness.

We need to get the amount of time spent on PE right. It is also crucial to get the PE training for teacher's right. As little as six hours training and professional development is on occasion devoted to physical education in initial teacher training and a substantial increase is needed. I should also like to suggest bursaries for those undertaking PE teacher training courses so that we can encourage the best applicants for PE education. We should do more to celebrate the successful, hard working and enthusiastic PE staff on whom we rely.

I remember Bob Longman from my own days at Hatch End high school in my constituency. He drove us to complete the cross-country circuits that he had devised around our school, which left me with a great love of running. He is still imparting that enthusiasm to many other young people at Hatch End high school. Perhaps we could encourage that further through the teachers' Oscars that Lord Puttnam has successfully developed.

We have done excellent work to prevent the compulsory sale of playing fields. The idea of the audit for sporting facilities is enormously welcome. Harrow council's audit highlighted the south Harrow area in my constituency as defective in sports provision, particularly football. When money is allocated from Sport England or from central Government expenditure, we should focus not just on boroughs with high levels of deprivation, but on areas that have pockets of deprivation. In particular, Harrow's athletics facility needs to be upgraded. I hope that Harrow athletics club, which uses the Bannister playing fields in Hatch End, will shortly receive funding for modernisation.

I hope that pressure will be put on the Rugby Football Union and UK Athletics, through meetings with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to ensure that the 5 per cent. revenue from television resources is allocated soon—if it has not been already—to grass-roots sport. In my constituency, that might help Pinner and Grammarians rugby club and Old Gaytonians rugby club to raise their aspirations further.

The hub and spoke model for developing voluntary club structures is excellent. Harrow Borough football club, which I mentioned earlier, is enthusiastically developing a support scheme with Ruislip Rangers, so that teams for five to 17-year-olds, leading to the adult team, can be based at Harrow Borough. Lottery sports funding for an artificial turf pitch would be particularly useful on that site, and would further that aim.

I throw out to my hon. Friend the Minister the suggestion that, in addition to an audit of sports facilities, there must also be an audit of the number of grass-roots coaching staff. Increased resources could be allocated to fund trained professionals to coach young people.

I want to highlight the problem facing canoeists in Britain. About 11,000 miles of upland river and tranquil lowland river would be navigable if access agreements were in place. Sadly, canoeists have agreements for just 2.8 per cent. of those rivers, so the challenge of canoeing on upland rivers, which are often fast and exciting, and can offer rough white-water conditions, is frequently denied.

There has not been a great deal of politics in the debate, but it was a shame that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) ducked his party's record on sport expenditure, which dropped in real terms in the last four budgets of the Tory Government. It was 3.2 per cent. in 1994–95, 1 per cent. in 1995–96, 6.7 per cent. in 1996–97 and 6.5 per cent. in 1997–98.

We should examine the tax relief and charitable status of voluntary clubs and whether there is anything else that we can do. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the idea that we should bring the Olympics to London, not only because of the passion that it would generate and the stimulus that it would give the country, but because of the economic impact that it would have on London.

The document that the Minister has produced is an excellent and welcome step, and I commend my additional points to her.

5.3 pm

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

It is a particular pleasure to participate in a sports debate, because although it can be noisy and rowdy, sport usually unites us across the Chamber. It is a bit of a shame that the debate has been held this afternoon, because I know that some hon. Members who regularly attend sports debates could not be here. I hope that we will have another opportunity to discuss the subject in the main Chamber.

I will declare an interest as an illustration—I do not want to bore everyone with localities. I am a member and a player at Birstall rugby football club, where I played on Sunday, and still play most weekends. Much of today's discussion has been about the links between schools and local clubs. With all due respect to Birstall rugby club, we are in the lowest of the lowest rugby leagues. I am also a member at Leicester Tigers, which will hopefully win the national league in the next two weekends. When we talk about a sport—in this case rugby—I understand the broad differences at its different levels. I pay £6 a week to play for my rugby club. I do not want to get out of paying that, but it just manages to cover the cost of our shirts and their washing throughout the season. Any money that filters down to a local club such as ours is important, because the link between the school and the club has broken down over the past 15 years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen) mentioned veterans. At 35, and with all due respect to those of that age, I have suddenly realised that I am eligible for veterans' rugby. Unfortunately, I am one of the younger players in the club, as there has been a 15-year break in rugby at the local school, so no youngsters are coming through. There is a danger that clubs like ours will fold. We are now down to one or two teams every Saturday, and the future looks bleak. There have been many amalgamations between local clubs because of a lack of players coming through.

The level of participation is crucial to developing a sporting future for all. The Lawn Tennis Association gave a clear example of that in a presentation three or four weeks ago, showing that 160,000 youngsters play competitive tennis on an average Saturday morning in France, but about 20,000 do so in the United Kingdom. Among the top 30 tennis players, the French have six or seven; we have two. It does not take a genius to work out that the two countries have similar populations. On a pro rata basis, we should surely have the same level of achievement as our French counterparts. The link with the participation levels at under-14 years and under-15 years is clear. We simply do not have enough young participants.

After a few years of playing rugby on a Saturday afternoon, I admit that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston, it has been a revelation to me to enter the House and find that I can take part in football, hockey, tennis, swimming and a variety of other sports. Some of us, including some hon. Members present, are members of the gymnasium. I apologise if the group of rather sporting Members of Parliament before you, Madam Deputy Speaker, is not representative of them all. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of sporting participation in the House, and at some of the past and present standards of one or two hon. Members.

We held a parliamentary rugby world cup in October, with New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, France, Ireland and ourselves participating. The visit of the new Japanese Prime Minister yesterday reminded us of how important that was. He was a try scorer in one of the Japanese team's games. He was not injured, unlike their Chief Whip in our game against them. I have great visions of him being carried off to the ambulance on a stretcher, mobile phone attached to his ear, dictating his press release. I am glad to say that he did not suffer too badly.

That tournament is an example of the links that can be made. We have played rugby regularly with the New Zealand Sports Minister. When it comes to sport, friendships cross the world. The tone of today's debate is indicative of the fact that the friendships from parliamentary sports teams are replicated by the way in which team mates work and interact in the House.

Loughborough is a prime example of how a sports strategy can be implemented. The university is famous for its sporting excellence, not only in the United Kingdom, but worldwide. I am delighted that it has been chosen as one of the hubs for the United Kingdom Sports Institute. I hope that the swimming pool, one of the star attractions of the £28 million-worth of work that will be done over the next two years, is started as quickly as possible. Also, a sports college will be located next to the university.

Loughborough is also home to the Youth Sport Trust, which, through the BT Tops programme, provides kits for primary schools and ensures that primary school teachers can teach basic team sports and games. Although participation has declined, I dread to think what it would have been without the Youth Sport Trust and the £7 million from Sport England, as well as money from organisations such as BT.

I shall briefly run through the points that hon. Members have made. Overall, the Government's strategy must be welcomed. It is not the usual glossy White Paper, with 50 or 60 words on the front, a bit in the background and a few pictures. I welcome the fact that it is a fairly wordy document, because it addresses the needs of the sports community rather than sports headline writers. It talks to people who participate in sport, run sport and know what it is all about. I pay tribute to Sue Campbell of the Youth Sport Trust. who used her wide experience and expertise, gained through her direct participation at all levels of sport, to ensure that the document speaks to the sports community. The Government's strategy is excellent because it brings all those strands together.

We need to ensure greater participation in primary schools. Teacher training is an element of that, but there has also to be a link at secondary school level between schools and local clubs. School sports co-ordinators must work closely with existing resources—most counties have a rugby development officer, a tennis development officer and so on—so that activities are better co-ordinated, using the local clubs base to bring on the most talented youngsters and give them greater access to participation. Various parts of the country experience difficulties in that regard. I have a semi-rural constituency and agree with the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) on the problems faced by rural areas, such as small primary schools. I know one school that does not have enough pupils in a class year to put together an 11-a-side football team. if every boy in a class year wanted to play, and even if girls participated, they would have a team of only nine players. The school has successfully encouraged cross-country running and pupils run regularly on Saturday mornings, but team sports are seriously lacking. Add to that the transport problems experienced in the countryside and such schools are excluded from participating in sport.

We need to co-ordinate existing facilities. The Minister is right that there are many examples of best practice and good practice. If I visit the campus of Loughbourough University on any Friday afternoon, I can bump into a couple of hundred world athletes of various kinds. I did not realise that for three weeks there had been a new world champion life-saver and that he is British—the assumption is that we do not have world champions in this country—and based at Loughborough university. I did not know that there were life-saving world championships until that individual came back with the gold medal. We are doing well in many areas and we need to ensure that we replicate the best practice across the country.

The fact that there is a great deal of money in sport holds it back. The arts lobby and others have done well in coming to the Government for money and get most of their sponsorship money from that source, but people assume that sport, particularly football, has money. Those of us who participate in games—at a very different level—recognise that although a great deal of money goes into football, it filters quickly into the pay packets of the top premiership players. Football generally does not have a lot of money; that is a different concept. We need to ensure two things. First, at least 5 per cent. of that revenue should go to the grass roots, although I hope that we shall push for a higher percentage. Secondly, losing the television rights to non-terrestrial television poses a danger for the long-term health of some of the sports that we are discussing.

I declare an interest in rugby. I do not have Sky television, so I am unable to watch England matches played at home. The audience figures are worrying, because the vast majority of people are not able to watch England playing at Twickenham. If we are trying to increase participation levels, youngsters need to be given the get up and go to participate by seeing their sporting heroes play. As everyone knows, it is almost impossible to get a tennis court when Wimbledon is on—one can get a tennis court in the local park during the rest of the year, but for those two weeks, when tennis can be seen on television, youngsters go out and participate. I would like the vast majority of sport to be available on terrestrial television so that we can encourage more youngsters to participate and see their heroes participating at every level—and seeing an England or UK team doing extremely well, because that encourages people to play.

Facilities are important and I am pleased that progress has been made on the sale of playing fields, which is a complex issue. In my village, Quorn, Canes Field is a classic example—a cricket field that is held by a charitable trust. The trust wishes to offer it to developers, who are offering a much bigger and nicer area just outside the village on which they will build a pavilion. To the trustees, that seems an attractive option. Unfortunately, it would remove a green space from the centre of the village and replace it with one outside the village, which is difficult to access. As a result, parents will have to use a car to take their children to kick a football around or play in the outfield, whereas at the moment, on any evening, especially when the weather is good, one can see children playing in a local and accessible field, which parents regard as safe. Although it is an attractive option on paper, I have fought against it, and have been supported by Sport England, local authorities and the local community. It is symptomatic of the difficult decisions that have to be made, although it falls outside the scope of the current regulations because it is not technically a school playing field, even though the trust is part of the school.

Coming from a very small local club, I know that tax concessions, rate relief and so on would make an enormous difference to the viability of such clubs, which are the lifeblood of future England teams, at whatever level and in whatever sport. Unless people are participating, and facilities are available locally, it will be a struggle to achieve the aims of this fine document. A little money or a small concession, such as rate relief, which would avoid difficulties between different local authorities, or at least make clear what would be incurred in a particular part of the country, would make an enormous difference. Lots of other things could be done, such as the elite performance programme, but I do not want to concentrate on those today. The focus of the document is entirely right—it should concentrate on increasing participation. We have the necessary expertise at Loughborough, Bath and Sheffield, but it can bear fruit only if we have enough people whose talent can be developed. If we have an ever-decreasing pool of talent in different sports, we will not win the number of medals that we once did. Competition is getting harder, because every other country is catching up.

I welcome the document, which is a comprehensive statement of what needs to be done. I wish that there were a couple of extra noughts on the figure of £75 million for the development of primary school facilities, but it is a good document that sets out a strategy for the future. If it can be delivered, it will leave a lasting legacy in this country, and a better future for our sport.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The Minister has permission to speak again.

5.17 pm
Kate Hoey

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall be as brief as possible. I hope that you have enjoyed the debate, which has been a great advertising campaign for various sports. It has been a most interesting way to spend the afternoon of election day. I welcome the contributions of all hon. Members. Of course the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) must argue, from an Opposition point of view, that the Government are not going far enough or not doing things in the right way. However, he and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), who speaks on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, accept that the Government's strategy is broadly right. That is important, and I welcome their praise for the document.

Hon. Members have made useful contributions to the debate. In my long speech, I did not and could not mention everything. I welcome the comments that have been made about amateur sports clubs, tax exemptions and rate relief, which need to be addressed. The hon. Member for Ryedale accepted that the previous Government found it difficult to move on that issue, too. The problem unites sport, and Lord Phillips has recently worked closely with the Central Council of Physical Recreation and other organisations to discover a way to make progress on it. I am keen to listen to what people are saying and find a way of taking the issue forward, because the role of amateur sports clubs is crucial. There are so many things that would not cost huge amounts of money but would make a real difference to those small clubs.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) both on his marathon run and on the way in which he brought his medical expertise to the debate. He talked about the importance of a healthy life style, picking up on what other hon. Members said about the way in which young people's life styles are changing. We cannot dictate to young people on that issue or change them overnight, but we should be aware of the fact that they have so many more choices than we had.

I am aware of the problems suffered by rural areas that were mentioned by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed). When we talk about deprivation, there is a tendency to assume that we are referring to the inner-city areas. Rural deprivation is different. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) mentioned the problems that pupils in small primary schools have in forming teams, but rural areas have other problems. The whole question of funding going to schools with the community use proviso is made more difficult if people have to travel a long way to take advantage of that community use, so we need to be flexible on that.

We will never completely take the risk out of sport and we would not want to, but the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall is right to refer to the problems raised by the growing litigation. That is a cost factor in sport that did not exist a few years ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) reminded us of the economic benefits of sport and the benefits of private sector involvement. Sport does not merely provide a recreational purpose—it provides jobs, too. He also mentioned canoeists, who are not mentioned in the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, and from whom I have received a number of letters on that score. Canoeing is not the only issue in that category; there are several other instances of sport in conflict with the use of land and water. For example, anglers have strong views about canoeists. People who go water-skiing and do motor sports on Lake Windermere have recently been outraged by the decision from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that the lake should not be used for those sports. Clearly, those dilemmas will always exist and the Government are not always best placed to sort them out. The sports world itself must sometimes take those difficult decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen) made a thoughtful speech in which he reminded us, in his own personal way, of how much sport can mean to young people and the difference it makes to their lives. He also talked about his great interest in sport for veterans. I was pleased to be at the veterans' championships, where there were some amazing performances. I found it an inspiration to see how those people had kept up their interest in sport.

I give the members of the all-party parliamentary football club my best wishes for their game at the Stadium of Light on Monday. They are lucky that the game is not on Tuesday, because they would not have been allowed to go.

Before I go on to the points made by the hon. Member for Ryedale, I will deal with the comments of the hon. Member for Colchester. I thank him for his support. Many of his comments show why we need the strategy. We need to bring people together. I broadly agree with everything that he said about the need for curriculum time to be guaranteed. However, the school day is increasingly no longer 9 to 3 or 3.30. What happens after school is—or should be, if the school is part of the community—part of the school day in the wider sense.

I discussed performance pay with the Office for Standards in Education and the Department for Education and Employment. Physical education teachers must be entitled to performance pay, because they do so much extra in addition to what is required. I shall not discuss whether I advocate a dedicated sports ministry, although I am often asked. An awful lot can be achieved under existing arrangements, and there is no point in spending months and years implementing different changes. Responsibility for sport has moved a great deal among Departments over the years, and we now need to deal with it.

Minority sports are crucial. It is a matter of debate whether to give a little money to all sports, to give more money to a few sports that are likely to win medals, or merely to allow the best people in the country to represent their country abroad, even if they will not win. Sport itself, along with the United Kingdom Sports Institute, must help decide the priorities in the debate about world-class performers. I shall re-examine the case of Robin Knight; I recall the question, but cannot remember my answer. However, I am sure that the hon. Member for Colchester has a copy of it.

The hon. Member for Ryedale made a huge number of points, and mentioned amateur sports clubs. I am pleased that we have his support and look forward to receiving the report from York. I shall not discuss Wembley, on which we have spent a great deal of time over the past six months. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Ryedale would expect the Secretary of State or me to be involved in the planning decision between the developer of Wembley national stadium and Brent council. We await the outcome of those discussions, which have been continuing for some time.

National lottery funding and the new opportunities fund are not being used for purposes for which lottery money should not be used. The new opportunities fund will be used to cover the extra expenses of', for example, sports equipment, coaching sessions and sports days, which would not be incurred without school sports co-ordinators. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Ryedale is suggesting that we pull the plug on healthy living centres and after-school work. I am keen for sport to receive its share of available resources by arguing its case.

The hon. Member for Ryedale mentioned Pickett's Lock. Much work remains to be done and I welcome his support. I shall keep him as well informed as possible. We shall keep a close watch on the matter. I am determined that it should not be subject to the procedural wrangling to which Wembley has been subject. I shall write to him with the details. The issue of the £75 million and the 20 per cent. threshold is complicated. Part of the role of the implementation group will be to raise such questions and ask for answers. The amount of money in the pot is limited and we must make it go as far as possible. I shall ensure that I write to hon. Members with the answers to any other questions that I have not formally answered.

I assure all hon. Members that no one was more delighted than me with the launch of the sports strategy. It was not put together overnight. It involved many people and much cross-departmental work, and sometimes felt like having a tooth pulled. However, now that it has been launched, the hard work to implement it begins. I look forward to working with all hon. Members present from all parties to implement the strategy and to give this country a sporting future of which we can all be proud.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Five o'clock.

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