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Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I wish to make a brief contribution to the debate as I have the second motion on the Order Paper and I understand that I might be lucky enough to reach it today. I do not want to test the patience of Conservative Members who are still waiting to speak.
I offer some friendly advice to the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson). One should never criticise the absence of hon. Members from this place if one is going to do a bunk soon afterwards--the hon. Gentleman has gone already. It is a silly hon. Member who criticises others for not being present as it means that those here have a much better chance of speaking. The hon. Gentleman made a fairly foolish contribution.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) on choosing this subject for debate and on being lucky enough to have won the ballot. It is strange that so much business in this place is still based on the fortunes of the wheel or raffle ticket--the ballot box. I am sure that we could find more sensible ways of selecting our business. I am not complaining because I am speaking in this debate. Most of today's debate has been about tourism. I understand the points that Conservative Members have made about their
constituencies. Newham, North-West might not sound the ideal tourist location, but it has many tourist attractions to offer, not least the northern sewer outfall walk. That may not sound pretty, but I can assure Conservative Members that it is delightful. In a couple of weeks, in conjunction with Thames Water, we shall be opening a green trail across the borough which will provide an attractive addition to its recreational facilities.
I acknowledge the support that the Government have given in terms of funds for city challenge and the restoration of old and historic buildings in Newham. I also acknowledge the ministerial visits that have been made, when Ministers have clearly been impressed by the opportunities that east London has to offer for the promotion of tourism in London as a whole. When one talks about tourism in London, one often speaks as though it were concentrated around the tower, Tower Hamlets and Westminster. But there are many other parts of our great capital city where there are sights for tourists to visit and we want to encourage them to do just that.
I wish to raise two specific points as I have the opportunity of getting a reply from the Minister. We have talked about tourism and leisure--one of the important ingredients of which is hotels. I want to talk about the incipient hotel that is being constructed on the other side of the river at County hall. There are heritage responsibilities in respect of County hall and I want to ask the Minister some questions. I will not re-run the abolition battle, but it seems scandalous to me and to many Londoners that
Column 494County hall should have been designated a hotel to be run by a Japanese leisure group called the Shirayama group. The London School of Economics put in a bid and it would have been appropriate if that wonderful public building had been used by a great institution of learning, rather than being turned into the circus that is now being played out on the other side of the river.
I do not know whether the Minister has seen the large banner that has gone up on the roof of County hall. On the river elevation it says, "Ten years" and, I understand, on the other side says, "on top" ; it relates to Virgin Atlantic. One of the reasons why the GLC got up Mrs. Thatcher's nose so much was the banner that we put on the roof of County hall showing the unemployment figures for London. Incidentally, the number of unemployed people in London has continued to rise ever since the GLC was abolished-- the banner would show 500, 000 by now. It certainly upset the Government of the day, though, and many attempts were made to do something about it. I notice, however, that no Minister seems upset by the defacing of County hall by an enormous advertisement for Virgin Atlantic.
Some hon. Members have signed early-day motion 1382, which urges the planning authority to investigate whether planning permission has been granted for the site. I must tell them that planning permission was not granted. Instead of tabling an early-day motion, I approached the planning department of Lambeth borough council. It appears that Virgin Atlantic and the Shirayama group are in contravention of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992.
On the riverside elevation of County hall there is a banner advertising a "family fun place" and the name of a demolition contractor. That was not what planning permission was given for when Shirayama put in its original application. The advertisements contravene planning law. What does the Minister propose to do about enforcing planning regulations ? These advertisements affect Londoners--they offend our vision. They may not offend the Minister, but they certainly upset many Londoners and Opposition Members of Parliament.
This cowboy organisation, Shirayama, and its chairman, Mr. Toyota are making fools of us and of Londoners in general. It is sad that County hall is being taken away from Londoners and will no longer be the home of the sort of London-wide local government which the Opposition intend to set up again once we are back in office. It also worries me that the building might end up like Battersea power station. That, too, has become a disgrace. Tourists look at it and wonder what we have done to that wonderful building. There is some controversy about whether to restore it and what to use it for. The GLC wanted to turn it into an indoor athletics stadium, which London needs, but unfortunately we were abolished and were thus unable to complete the project. So along came another cowboy with big ideas and small pockets, wanting to open another Disneyworld. Now the roof is off the building and the structure is becoming dangerous. English Heritage is one of the Minister's areas of responsibility : it reports to him. I hope, therefore, that he will take a close interest in what is happening at Battersea power station. Sooner or later, someone will approach him or his colleague, the Secretary of State for the Environment, to say that it is now a dangerous structure which must be removed. Then someone will come along
Column 495and cream off the remains for another property development. I believe that the power station is now in the hands of a Hong Kong or Chinese group. That group will be able to claim that the structure is dangerous and then build whatever offices it wants on the site --and yet another important building will have been lost to Londoners. As the Minister knows, County hall has a grade II listed facade. The principal floor is also grade II listed and has a war memorial and many other valuable architectural features that relate to London's history and local government. I find it disgraceful that a Japanese cowboy company should be trying to circumvent planning permission, altering its original proposals for County hall by stealth.
I have with me a letter from Lambeth borough council to the lawyers of the Shirayama group. It arose out of a question that was tabled in the House ; the Department of the Environment has asked Lambeth borough council what is happening at County hall so as to be able to reply to that question. The letter says :
"The question has been prompted by a large banner fixed to the riverside elevation and reading family fun place'. There is also a further banner advertising a demolition contractor and three flags (the Union Jack, Japanese and Virgin Group) on the flag pole. At the recent South Bank Exhibition in the Royal Festival Hall, Shirayama displayed drawings showing two floors of commercial office floor space and a large virtual reality centre on the ground floor. Neither use falls within the terms of the Council's conditional permission for development of 25 March 1993. You will recall the various press items last November reporting Mr. Toyota as saying his proposals included a Disneyworld and a family funfair."
The letter continues by warning the solicitor :
"I appreciate that you may not be fully aware of your client's intentions, but given the above I would reiterate my request to you to remind Shirayama of the terms of the existing planning permission."
I want the Government to take action ; if they do not, County hall may become the same sort of decrepit and derelict shell as Battersea power station has become--and the responsibility will rest entirely with Ministers'. It is incumbent on the Government to act now. There is an old saying in politics : "Don't get mad, get even". I am doing both ; I am angry, but I am also determined to get even. If anything keeps me in politics it is my desire to live to see a Labour Government. I only hope I will not die before there is one--I assume that I will not die in the next two years. When the Labour Government come to power, I want them to stamp all over the people who have stamped on Londoners, including the Tory politicians, the quangos and the Shirayamas of this world. I am angry now, but I hope soon to be even.
The Minister is also responsible for football. The hon. Member for Swindon rightly said that it would be great to have a British team in the World cup. At least we can all cheer on the Irish--I hope that all hon. Members will be doing that tonight, when the Irish play Mexico, although damn me if I have not noticed that it coincides with my advice surgery. Perhaps my advice will have to be a little more abrupt than usual this evening. I hope that my constituents will sympathise, and I shall tell them why.
It would indeed be nice to have a United Kingdom team ; perhaps the Minister could promote that idea. We have so much talent in the United Kingdom that it seems a pity not to combine it in one football team. I know that that is a rather controversial point of view, but, given our failure to send a team to the World cup, perhaps we should think about it carefully.
Column 496Today I want to discuss cup final ticket allocations. I am still in mourning for the fact that my team, Chelsea, lost the cup final. If it had not been for some strutting little pedantic public schoolmaster purporting to be a referee and awarding that second penalty, the result would have been quite different. I want to take this opportunity to apologise publicly to all the people around me who were scandalised by my obscene language, in which I described the sort of things I would do to that referee if I ever bumped into him. I have cooled down since then and I apologise to all concerned for my rather picturesque language. I do feel a little ashamed of it now, but I was emotionally involved in the fact that my team had reached a cup final. It is no small thing to have victory snatched away by crass refereeing--that only added insult to injury.
To get to the cup final is one thing ; to get access to the final is another matter altogether. I was--again--scandalised by the way the Football Association allocated its tickets. I do not know all the details, but Chelsea ended up with 18,000 and Manchester United with 26,000, and about 30,000 tickets went to other people. To try to find out who the other people were, I co-operated with the BBC on a programme that is due to come out some time later next month and we bought some tickets. We bought one through an advertisement in the Evening Standard for which we paid £375. Stamped on the back of that ticket was the name of the county association, Sussex county football association. We paid another £250 to a tout outside Wembley who claimed that the ticket came from a Manchester United player. Those tickets have been sent to Mr. Kelly at the Football Association and I await his response because, clearly, there is a flourishing black market. It is outrageous that supporters who follow their teams cannot get in because others have been given tickets that they do not want and sell them on ; something should be done about it. Given the national significance of the cup final I hope that the Government will take some interest in that. I am waiting to hear exactly what will happen in relation to the questions that I have put to the Minister.
It is annoying to the many genuine supporters who are effectively barred from getting to the game because of the unavailability of tickets to the competing clubs that, along with the great majority of people in the place, who I am sure do some work, are hangers-on, freeloaders, royalty of no fixed abode and MPs who write in. I hope that the Minister will speak about that because it is becoming a scandal.
Football has many problems over issues such as under-cover payments and financial irregularities. I asked the Minister whether he would instigate an inquiry into the rules governing the financial arrangements of FA premier league clubs, but he just said no, he did not even offer. I can tell the Minister that many people outside are far more interested in what goes on in their football clubs than in what happens in this place. That might be their mistake, but it is a fact and we should address some of the felt needs of those people, especially in the context of the organisation of their football clubs because that is important to them.
I also asked the Minister whether he would make it his policy to set up an independent regulator of FA Premier League and Football League clubs in England, but, again, he refused and said that it was a matter for the football authorities. These matters are perhaps too important to be left to the ossified Football Association which still lives in
Column 497the 19th century in the way that it runs this great national game of ours. I hope that the Minister will show some interest in that. It was grossly unfair for the Football Association to move in on Tottenham Hotspur and ban it from the FA cup and deduct 12 points. That deduction probably means that Tottenham Hotspur will be relegated next year. I am all for getting wrongdoers and I am glad that the Inland Revenue is investigating Tottenham Hotspur and a number of other clubs, but it is wrong to penalise the fans. They were not responsible for those irregularities and it is most unfair on them that their club will probably be relegated next season and they will not have the opportunity to see it in the FA cup. The Minister should recognise that the Government should at least have an opinion on that unfairness, that infringement of natural justice. I hope that in his reply the Minister will give the House the benefit of such an opinion.
Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) on his excellent and wide-ranging speech. I agreed with practically all that he said, but I disagree with him on cable television, and I shall deal with that later. The House will know that my constituency has become a tourist centre for journalists, who visit it to describe events after they have happened. It has also become a tourist centre for socialist Members. I caution both sets of people not to be unwise by writing off my victory or that of Basildon just yet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon and I entered the House on the same day. We agree on many issues, but one matter certainly divides us-- football. My hon. Friend supports Swindon, and I support the team in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), which is West Ham. I much regret, but I do not fully regret, that we beat Swindon in both matches this year. I am sorry that my hon. Friend's team was relegated from the Premier league, and I hope that the House will join me in hoping that the team gains promotion to the Premier league next year.
I could not possibly not comment on the speech by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. It would be stretching the imagination to say that he and I could agree on anything, other than perhaps animal welfare. I did not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the GLC. I do not agree with what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said about football. But one thing on which I undoubtedly agree with him is his anger. He is angry about the Conservative party. I and many of my hon. Friends are very angry with the behaviour of socialism at the moment.
Of course, the hon. Gentleman is not in any sense guilty, because, if he had his way--he clearly articulates what he believes socialism stands for-- I am sure that the Labour party would clearly tell us what its policies were, and would have a leader articulate them. Under the motion on leisure, if Opposition Members believe that, over the next two years, Conservative Members will sit back and allow the general public somehow to swallow this designer socialism, they are very wrong, and they would be foolish to think that they can get away with the same plea as that used by the President of the United States, that it is time for a change.
Column 498Moving on to the motion before the House, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon that leisure
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. I understood that the hon. Gentleman was already referring to the motion before the House. The admission from him that he was not, is not something that the Chair welcomes.
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak) : Is it not the case that my hon. Friend was directly referring to the motion ? He was talking about socialism and socialism is so un-serious these days that it has become a leisure industry.
Mr. Amess : My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) is quite right to describe socialism as part of the leisure industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon was right when he said that leisure for some people is watching television. It may be eating or sleeping, or, for us politicians, it may be talking. I praise the leisure industry in the country, especially the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat), a fellow Essex Member. As the House knows, Essex is the finest county in the country. I do not believe that we are doing a good job of promoting ourselves at the moment. I blame the Opposition in particular for, at every opportunity, talking the country down, which is doing great damage, especially to leisure.
When one visits Disneyworld in Orlando or if one goes to the Epcot centre, all countries have a display for visitors and an enjoyable ride is provided on which visitors may go. Little countries, medium-sized countries and large countries all offer a good facility for people. Yet the British effort is ye olde pub and ye olde thatched cottage. We cannot even run to giving people a decent ride. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) were in their places earlier. It seems extraordinary that a wonderful ride-- although I have no desire to go on it myself--has been opened recently in Blackpool on which one can drop at practically 90 deg. If we can do that in Blackpool, why, for goodness' sake, cannot those people who promote this country abroad concentrate for once on doing that very thing ?
Mr. Tony Banks : I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's desire for a good ride ; many of his colleagues could no doubt give him some acute advice in that respect. But what has that got to do with the Opposition ? He started off, before he went on to the ride, by saying that the Opposition were failing to bolster British tourism and that they were talking the country down. I do not see the connection. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will enlighten me.
Mr. Amess : I have much to say about the Opposition talking the country down. I have no doubt that they would not agree with me that an issue such as the way in which our industry is displayed abroad is something on which we should concentrate. I shall explain precisely the sort of points that I am talking about.
Ms Mowlam indicated dissent .
Column 499believe that the Opposition have much to answer for. There are many ways in which, at no cost, we could talk the country up and direct our resources far better.
Ours is the finest country in the world, but the Opposition continually run it down, which affects the leisure industry. The Opposition keep telling people that the trains are better in France. They are not. The Opposition keep telling people that the streets are cleaner in Germany. They are not. The Opposition keep telling people that everyone in Japan works harder, but they do not--that is another lot of nonsense. Opposition Members are guilty of talking the country down, and that is damaging.
One of my hon. Friends said that Britain was the world's sixth greatest tourist attraction. Britain has had a huge influence on many countries, and I want it to be the world's No. 1 tourist attraction.
Ms Mowlam : Britain may be the world's sixth biggest attraction in terms of overseas visitors, whose numbers have increased in the past couple of years--but its percentage share of tourists has declined. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not talk down this country. We do not say that the trains are better in France, only that we want a channel tunnel link between the coast and London. We do not say that the streets are dirtier in Britain, only that local authorities should have the same rights as local authorities in Germany to make certain decisions. We do not say that the people of Japan work harder, only that British workers should enjoy the same health, safety and wage protection as Japanese workers.
Mr. Amess : I could not disagree more. I have never known a more irresponsible Opposition. They have no policy initiatives. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West castigated one of my colleagues for commenting on the lack of attendance at this debate. My hon. Friend was less than charitable. We know that Opposition Members are working hard in their constituencies. It is more likely that they are having a policy review to explain yet again where they stand on this issue. Much damage is done by Opposition Members criticising this country and destroying morale.
Whenever I get into a taxi, I ask the driver, "How's business ?" We always discuss tourism and leisure. It is interesting that claims that have no basis in fact are perpetuated and repeated, which is quite wrong.
I much wanted Britain to be chosen as the venue for the Olympic games in the year 2000. Opposition Members congratulated Manchester on its bid, and I share in that. It was a marvellous effort, and I congratulate also my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on he way that he argued his case. We clearly saw the depth of patriotism aroused at the last Olympic games in Barcelona. This is not a frivolous point. Every time that a Spanish competitor looked likely to win, the king and queen of Spain could be seen jumping up and down in their seats in encouragement.
Mr. Elletson : Does my hon. Friend agree that many taxi drivers in Manchester immensely appreciated the way in which the Prime Minister had argued his case ? Should we not continue to support Manchester, and ensure that it is the "Olympic bid" city next time as well ?
Mr. Amess : It might be at the back of my mind. But it is no good our waiting until 1996 or 2000 to decide on the venue for the games ; we must decide now, as a country, that we want to hold them here at the next opportunity.
We must be determined and talk the country up. It would be a wonderful boost if the next Olympic games took place here. I am disappointed that they will not take place here in the year 2000, but at least they will take place in one of our former colonies, and it is a great comfort that Her Majesty the Queen will be there to open the games.
Mr. Fabricant : I agree whole-heartedly that Manchester put in a very good bid, with enthusiasm. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the many reasons why Manchester was not selected--and why it gained so few votes--is that it is not recognised internationally as a capital city ? It is not a capital city, but, although Ankara is the capital of Turkey, Istanbul was recognised as the commercial capital. Sydney is the commercial capital of Australia, and Beijing is both the commercial and the constitutional capital of the People's Republic of China. I hate the idea of basing everything in the south-east, but if we are to bid for the Olympic games in 2004, as I hope that we will--and if we are to have a realistic chance of success--surely we shall have to base them in London.
Mr. Amess : My hon. Friend tempts me to speak against part of the United Kingdom, which I am not prepared to do. I want to make positive suggestions. I hope that my hon. Friends will not take offence, but I believe that London and Scotland have very strong cases. I hope that Manchester will hold the Commonwealth games--it has a strong case in that regard--but I think that London would be the ideal centre for the Olympics.
Earlier this week, I visited docklands with some of my hon. Friends. Here is another example of Opposition Members' talking the country down. Docklands could not be reproduced anywhere else in the world : it is a wonderful creation. Baroness Thatcher was entirely responsible for driving the docklands initiative.
Column 501All the houses there have now been sold or let, and Canary Wharf is 50 per cent. occupied. The Daily Mirror, The Independent , The Daily Telegraph , The Times , Sears and one of the big advertising companies are there. It is looking very good, and we should be proud. I come from the area, and know what a dump docklands used, sadly, to be ; I am certainly proud that the new infrastructure is of such high quality.
If we succeeded in our bid to hold the Olympic games in London, docklands would be an ideal centre because of its attractive use of water. Scotland would also be an attractive site. I sometimes get a bit fed up with Scottish Members--who seem to have a down on the rest of the United Kingdom --but Scotland is a beautiful region, although it rains a lot.
Mr. Fabricant : The Olympic games in the year 2000 will be held in the beautiful city of Sydney. Is my hon. Friend aware that the amount of rainfall in Sydney during the Australian winter is substantially higher than that in Manchester in summer ? I wonder whether the International Olympic Committee realises that the Olympic games will be held in Sydney during its winter.
Mr. Amess : I had not realised that. It is probably a bit late for the committee to reverse its decision, but I shall write immediately to my Australian friends and ask them to explain the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon discussed the national lottery. Conservative Members are guilty of allowing the Opposition to get away with murder on the issue. It was the Conservative party's idea to have a national lottery. The Johnny- come-latelies in the Opposition are adopting a lottery-praising attitude, but the Conservative Government were responsible for it, and it will be a great success.
Mr. Amess : I am aware of that. One reason why I spent a fair bit of time in that debate was that I wanted the national lottery headquarters to be located in my constituency of Basildon. I am delighted that Camelot has been awarded the national lottery franchise. I have already corresponded with it to find out how it intends to run it.
I have not given up hope that Basildon will be entitled to some of the work that will be generated. First Data Resources is a wonderful company in my constituency, although its headquarters is in Omaha, Nebraska. It produces credit cards and has the expertise necessary for the production of, and the machinery behind, a national lottery. The national lottery will produce £2 billion. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon discussed the ways in which the money could be spent. I do not want to go for the glamorous ways that have been mentioned. I am very involved with the National Association of Boys' Clubs in my constituency and proud to be the president of Basildon boys' club, Vange boys' club and other such organisations, which are run by wonderful people who give their time and turn out good citizens. It is an unglamorous form of leisure activity, but a valuable one.
Column 502It would be wrong if all the money from the national lottery were to find its way to high-profile leisure activities. I warn my hon. Friend the Minister that I shall seek to ensure that some of the resources from the lottery go to boys' clubs.
In his magnificent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon mentioned cable television, the one issue on which I disagreed with him. I am not an overly keen television fan. Most of us who have small children know that, by and large, they watch too much television. Turning it off continually does not stop them switching it on again when parents are out of the room. So much of what we see on television is rubbish.
That said, I was delighted when United Artists announced that it would locate its headquarters in my constituency, which could create about 800 jobs, an issue of concern to all hon. Members. However, I caution hon. Members whose constituencies do not have not cable. United Artists did not warn me--my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon has had a private word with me about cable--that every person's pavement would be dug up. That is all well and good if it is put back in good order, but not all pavements are grey or black. The modern style is sometimes to have a maroon pavement.
Mr. Fabricant : Is my hon. Friend also aware that, although some cable trenchers repair the pavements well, there can be serious damage to the roots of established trees ? After four or five years, the trees decay. There are now guidelines--sadly, far too few cable operators adhere to them --on how to lay a trench without damaging trees and roads.
Mr. Amess : My hon. Friend is on to a good point. When it all started, I thought that there would be isolated incidents. However, people's water mains have been broken by drilling that has not been done properly. Power cables have been spoilt and there have been terrible rows about the resurfacing.
Perhaps I did not listen carefully at the time, because I did not realise that there would be channelling outside everyone's house. We have just gone through two election campaigns--the local and the European. When I knocked on people's doors, I found that they wanted to talk not about the social chapter, but about their roads being dug up.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon that, as a Conservative, I believe in choice. Although I understand the benefits of cable, I believe that there is a serious duty on the contractors to repair the roads properly. If my constituency is anything to go by, the contractors have not discharged their obligations to the high level that I should have expected.
Yes, I will continue to support private enterprise, but I do not think that it is fair for many of my constituents to wake up in the morning and find that they cannot get out of their drive because a digger has been dumped. There are many such examples ; I am sad to say that they are not isolated examples.
Mr. Simon Coombs : My hon. Friend raises an important point. I can give him one or two pieces of consolation. My constituency went through this business 10 years ago ; it was one of the first to be substantially cabled. Many of the problems that my hon. Friend has
Column 503described so vividly were visited on us at that time. Experience usually teaches contractors how to avoid some of the mistakes. On behalf of his constituents, my hon. Friend must take up vigorously with the cable company concerned the problems that are being experienced. There is a difficulty in management. The cable companies themselves are anxious to get on with the business of providing a service, and the contractors, who are often brought from other parts of the country, do not have quite the right attitude some of the time, I am afraid to say.
The problems have been addressed in other areas. There is an excellent organisation, the Cable Television Association, to which my hon. Friend should address his complaints, so that they can then be referred to the local cable company, with a little pressure to ensure that things are done properly. The nice thing is that, although there is a blemish on the pavement, the value of properties increases when people realise that they have access to cable.
Mr. Amess : I am encouraged and reassured by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, and I shall take his advice. I do not mean my next remark unkindly ; I have been trying to sort out people's problems with cabling for more than four months. The matter has gone on for a lot longer than I would have hoped.
In a debate such as this one, it is wrong for us not to mention the disabled. In their competitive sports in my constituency, the disabled are not only the equals of able-bodied people, but excel themselves. I am proud that, in my constituency, we have a young fellow called Andrew Blake, who won a number of Olympic golds in the Paraplegic Olympics. We also have a wonderful lady, Betty Jefferies, who also achieved a great deal. I pay a warm tribute to all the disabled groups in my constituency.
I do not know whether the Department of National Heritage has pushed vigorously the benefits of Sport Aid. My hon. Friend the Minister probably does not entirely welcome my raising the matter now ; I do not know how much money is left. However, I thank him and his officials personally for the way in which my constituency has benefited from that money. I am delighted to say that Bowers United, a local football team, as a result of assistance from the Department of National Heritage, now has floodlights. As a result, the club will be in the FA cup this year for the first time in its history. It was always of a very high standard, but it was not eligible because it did not have floodlights. The grant of what I believe was £45,000 made available through Sports Aid has made many of my constituents very happy.
Of course, no constituency Member is always entirely satisfied. That is why I make no apology for my plea now for an organisation in my constituency which is intent on building the Essex international table tennis centre. I know that table tennis is not quite as popular as it was some years ago--I remember that Desmond Douglas was a champion, and one or two other people. It is the intention of a number of my constituents to build that centre of excellence in Basildon.
We have been told by the Foundation for Sport and the Arts that it is considering a grant application from the organisers for £150,000. The Eastern region sports council--headed by a wonderful footballer from West Ham, Trevor Brooking--will be supplying a further £100,000. But to make the project happen, we really are dependent on
Column 504the foundation advancing the money. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister if, through his Department, he would do everything that he possibly can to assist us with our application.
Moving on quickly, I take this opportunity to join the hon. Member Newham, North-West in his remarks on the world cup and football generally. It is terrible that we are watching a world cup with no England team involved. I am not going to talk about the previous manager, because I want to be positive about the way forward. Last November, I tried to introduce in this House a ten-minute rule Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North had a go yesterday with a Bill on the subject of identity cards. I support them, although my ten-minute rule Bill was for a voluntary scheme. I wanted to amend the Football Spectators Act 1989. We make a great mistake in the House if we think that hooliganism has gone away. I do not believe that it has. We must not forget the disgraceful scenes at Millwall a few weeks ago, when fans rioted after an eliminator. Never mind what the Europeans do in their countries. It is up to them through the European Community to put their own houses in order. We should lead the way in this country, and we must look at the passport situation very carefully.
Conservative-controlled Basildon district council runs wonderful sports and leisure facilities in my constituency. There is an example of a good council working with the private sector. There is the Eversley leisure centre which was opened in 87, the Markham Chase leisure centre opened in 1989, and the Pitsea welcome centre, which was opened in 1981. We have a number of wonderful swimming pools, and never let anyone forget the magnificent sportswomen and men in my constituency.
Fatima Whitbread lives just outside the constituency and supports all our local leisure activities. Basildon produced last year's winner of the London marathon--Eammon Martin. He is a wonderful example of all that is good in British sport today. He did not win this year, but he ran extremely well. He visited the House of Commons on Friday, and we were pleased to have him here with us.
There are marvellous golf courses in Basildon, and the Kingswood squash centre--the finest squash centre in Europe--which is run by the Guppy family. Another golf course that has just opened is called Stockbrook Manor, which very generously made me vice-president. All I have to do now is learn to play golf. It is a wonderful facility, and I know that many of my constituents will appreciate it.
A wonderful event took place yesterday in Pitsea hall park in Basildon, attended by 4,000 constituents, the Henry Bear teddy bears' picnic. That event may not, sadly, have been reported in the national newspapers today, because we know that they are not too interested in the good news. That picnic was a wonderful example of a group of organisations working together, in particular PPA, which recently held a tea party in the House, Home Start and the district council. The event was attended by mums and dads, who brought along their children aged between two and five. They all enjoyed the leisure facilities on offer.
I am particularly proud of what will happen in Basildon on Saturday and Sunday, when a huge rally of young people will be held. The event, known as Positive Youth, was the idea of Mr. Jackaman, of Kathleen Ferrier crescent, Basildon. He came along to my surgery two years ago and said, "David, I am fed up with all the bad publicity that
Column 505young people in this country get. I want to have a celebration over a weekend of all the marvellous activities in which they are involved."
We will have to wait to see whether that event makes the headlines in our national newspapers, but it is good news about young people. It will offer a range of activities including running, jumping and swimming. The Guides, the Brownies and the Red Cross will be there. I am delighted to note that MK Electrics is among the sponsors together with First Data Resources. We have now decided to twin Basildon with Omaha, Nebraska, because of First Data Resources. It has generously donated three prizes for three young people to visit Omaha for three weeks to learn about its leisure facilities.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon on allowing us to debate leisure activities. It is a tragedy that at the moment we are so adept at talking ourselves down rather than talking ourselves up. We have much to be proud of. This is a very great country. I hope that the entire nation will unite behind the efforts of our leisure industry to promote this country not only to our good citizens but to the rest of the world.
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak) : I could not possibly begin my speech without paying tribute to the wonderful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). Before today, I had not naturally thought of Basildon as the next venue for the Olympic games. The more I thought about it, however, the more evident that possibility became. My hon. Friend has run a marathon performance there for many years. Every hurdle he has met he has leapt across and he has shown that no hurdle is too high for him. He goes on vaulting to new heights every time he speaks on behalf of his constituents. One thing we know for certain is that, added to that list of formidable stadiums in Basildon will shortly by the Amess stadium, in honour of the man who has shown a level of energy, enthusiasm and commitment to his constituency that has been matched by few other hon. Members.