Previous Section Home Page

Column 103

in the players but in the supporters and, most important, in setting standards and targets that will mean that England will be able to qualify for the next world cup.

The current problems lie not with the players or the standard of play but with those who are running the game and with the way in which it is being run. It is not being run in the interests of the players, and certainly not in the interests of supporters.

Sir Michael Grylls : The hon. Lady referred to free tickets. I dissociate myself from the general proposition that Members have free tickets. I have never sought a free ticket and I have never been offered one. Indeed, I do not want one.

Ms Hoey : I was not referring to the hon. Gentleman, to the hon. Member for Chingford or to the Minister when I talked about some people wanting free tickets. I feel that there is a cosiness, however, about the FA and the establishment generally that runs football in this country.

Mr. Duncan Smith : The problem lies with those who might want the odd free ticket--this is very much part of what I said earlier--and do not want to say something that might mean, whatever they are doing to run their end of football, that the FA might suddenly be breathing down their necks, saying that next time something comes up and it has the power to make a decision, it will decide against them. The problem extends right the way up to what the hon. Lady said about Spurs. It seems that those who are running the organisation see it as their personal sinecure. They seem to think that favours can be granted or not according to whatever is in their interests. It is an outrage and something must be done about it.

Ms Hoey : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is a cosy establishment complacency that is based on how things were run in the past. The FA is not representative of those who understand football. It has no representative from the Professional Footballers Association. There are very few representatives who have come from the professional game. There is a ridiculous system of ticket allocation. On FA cup day, those who have followed the two teams right the way through often find that they are unable to get tickets for the Cup Final because so many of the tickets go to others who have no direct interest in the two clubs.

Perhaps it is just as well that I did not realise that we would have so much time to debate these issues. With that knowledge, I would have prepared a 45-minute tirade against the FA. I shall, however, sound a warning to the Minister. I am worried about the European championships that England will be hosting in 1996. I am delighted that that is to happen, but I am genuinely worried whether the FA has the capacity to organise the championships in a way that will maximise the benefit to the United Kingdom, including the supporters and football generally.

I am concerned because the FA still refuses to listen. It always acts too late. It reacts only when things have already happened. It is important that the Minister keeps a close eye on how the FA is working towards the championships. I am not talking about problems that relate to hooliganism, for example. Surely we want to maximise

Column 104

a sporting festival for people in this country and others throughout the world. I have grave doubts about the FA's capacity to do that.

I hope that the Minister will pick up the particular case which this debate is all about, because it is quite wrong that the buck can be passed. The Office of Fair Trading says that the case has nothing to do with it. The Minister responsible for sport says that it has nothing to do with him and the FA continues to get away with basically being the judge and jury. I hope that this debate, short as it is, will give the Minister something to get his teeth into. I am sure that he will welcome doing that.

8.58 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend theMember for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) on his good fortune in securing this Adjournment debate and on the persistence with which he has followed this case ? He was in touch with my predecessor as Minister responsible for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), and he has spoken and written to me about it. His constituent should be glad, if for nothing else, for the hard work that my hon. Friend has put into this important case. I am also very glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Sir M. Grylls) who is, typically, also in his place. He and I have had discussions and exchanged correspondence over many months about a similar case affecting his constituent called Mr. Mickey Clarke. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his hard work on behalf of his constituent.

I am also glad to see the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) in the Chamber. I congratulate her on the astute way in which she broadened this debate, entirely of course within the proper boundaries. She used the fact that we happened to begin the debate rather earlier than expected to set out many interesting and wide-ranging propositions. I assure her that I will study what she has said extremely carefully.

I will answer in more detail in just a moment the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford about his constituent Mr. Aldridge. The hon. Member for Vauxhall said that she hoped that she had given me something to get my teeth into. She has certainly done that.

I have listened very carefully and with great interest to the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford for Mr. Aldridge and I entirely agree that Futbolito appears to be a well-intentioned scheme for participants of all ages and for a wide range of users such as qualified football coaches, teachers, local community sports developments officers and football clubs at all levels.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford will know that the concept of Futbolito originated from Colombia where football is played with a small ball on a pitch the size of a basketball court. I understand that Futbolito is already played in around 300 schools and by 19 professional clubs in this country and that it is the intention, as the scheme develops, to introduce local, county, national and, ultimately, international Futbolito championships.

My Department does not, of course, have any jurisdiction to intervene in the day-to-day affairs of properly constituted governing bodies of sport such as the Football Association. As my hon. Friend the Member for

Column 105

Chingford will be aware, the role of Government is to support and encourage the development of, and participation in, sport through appropriate policies and expenditure programmes. The Government do not, and should not, run sport.

From our previous correspondence and from correspondence with my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford will be aware that Mr. Aldridge's complaints about alleged anti-competitive practices by the FA have been fully investigated by the Director General of Fair Trading. In October 1992, following allegations that Futbolito demonstrations had been banned by the football authorities, the Office of Fair Trading made inquiries of the FA and the English Schools Football Association and the director general was satisfied that there had been no transgression of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976.

The director general also concluded in January 1993 that the FA's action had not breached the relevant competition legislation--the Fair Trading Act 1973 and the Competition Act 1980. Under the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Director General of Fair Trading has a duty to review commercial activities in the United Kingdom, identifying possible monopoly situations. Where criteria are met, he may at his discretion refer such situations to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission for investigation.

Under the Competition Act 1980, the director general may also investigate courses of conduct pursued by individual organisations that may be anti- competitive. I understand that he does not have powers to take up complaints on behalf of individuals ; nor can he make judgments on what is fair, unless they raise concerns for competition in the wider context of the market as a whole. The director general was not persuaded that Mr. Aldridge's case raised such concerns.

Hon. Members will know that four home country associations are responsible for football, each of which covers the school, amateur and professional aspects of the sport. The FA, formed in 1863 as the governing body of football in England, is responsible for an enormous range of activities at every level of the game. More than 43,000 clubs are affiliated and the FA has a crucial role in ensuring a healthy and successful base for the national game.

Over recent years, the FA has expanded its activities and stepped up its commitment to the development of young players and the need to invest in the future of the game. The FA's programme for excellence has led to the creation of centres of excellence attended by more than 8,500 students between the ages of nine and 14. The development of that programme has been possible only because of the Football Association's determination to establish a financially secure base for its work. More money is now available to be directed at the grassroots of

Column 106

the game, where the long-term future of the sport is being secured and underpinned by the Football Association in partnership with a range of other agencies.

More than 100,000 children are coached annually on courses approved by the Football Association and by qualified FA coaches. They participate in a range of schemes, including the soccer star scheme, which is a skills award scheme for boys and girls aged six to 16 ; the preliminary soccer star scheme, which is for children with disabilities and learning difficulties ; and in fun weeks, which are non-residential and residential holiday courses. The FA also runs mini-soccer, which brings me to the subject at the heart of the debate.

It is my understanding that the FA views its scheme, which was launched last year, as an extension of its existing coaching programmes. The aim is to provide a football introduction to boys and girls, with a view to developing a lasting interest in the sport. While developing the scheme, the Football Association has been assisted by a number of other sporting bodies that have recently developed specific schemes to attract the interest of the young. That includes the National Cricket Association, which initiated kwik cricket ; the Lawn Tennis Association, which was responsible for the introduction of short tennis ; and the Rugby Football Union, which was responsible for mini-rugby.

In partnership with Coca-Cola, as my hon. Friend mentioned, the FA has encouraged clubs, schools, sports centres and youth clubs to open up as licensed mini-soccer centres to create a nationwide network in which children can play safely under supervision. Mini-soccer is the only competitive form of football approved by the FA for under-nines, and it is the recommended game for all under-11s. I understand that the FA will not sanction any leagues, cups or tournaments ; it believes that, at those young ages, the game is a sufficient challenge in itself. The FA believes also that mini-soccer can provide a valuable curriculum resource for the games module of the physical education national curriculum for boys and girls in mixed teams.

The FA is also involved in a series of special projects to encourage participation by certain groups of young people. Those include girls-only coaching courses, a new "football challenge" Duke of Edinburgh award, which is aimed at inner-city areas, and a series of coaching courses for police officers working in areas of high deprivation.

I believe that the Football Association and Mr. Aldridge have the health of football and young people at heart. In common with all hon. Members, I very much hope that their efforts will bear fruit. Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Nine o'clock.

Written Answers Section

  Home Page