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Ms Quin : I am concluding my remarks, so I shall not give way again.

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Mr. Streeter : I want to ask a question that arises from the hon. Lady's remarks.

Ms Quin : No.

There has been a great deal of rhetoric from the Government over the past 15 years. It has been designed to try to appeal to people. The Government have sought to persuade them that they are committed to a better society. We all remember the previous Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, who even compared herself to St. Francis of Assisi when she assumed office. The present Prime Minister talked about a country at ease with itself. He has talked also about a classless society. Yet after 15 years we have a growing and alarming crisis of inequality in our country. If the Government are not prepared to convert their rhetoric--it is entirely unconvincing in the light of their record--into reality, they should resign and give way to a Government who will.

10.33 am

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) on bringing the motion before the House. I do not make a point of being in the Chamber on Fridays, but it struck me that she had tabled an interesting motion, and a brave one. I congratulate her on choosing the subject in the first place.

I do not entirely accept the hon. Lady's conclusion. I am sure that that will be a relief to her and no surprise. I am pleased that she has brought the subject before the House so that we can debate it. The logic that runs through the hon. Lady's remarks is that in some way inequality, which is avoidable, runs through our society and permeates it. She suggests that it is almost built into the very structure of society. I do not accept that analysis.

We have a Prime Minister who was brought up in circumstances of some poverty. He went to a grammar school, but did not go to university. My right hon. Friend is now the Prime Minister. Shortly, he will be joined, as it were, by a new Leader of the Opposition. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)--assuming that it is he--was public-school educated. Both men-- I say this in an unpartisan way--will be holding their offices because of their conspicuous talent. The fact that they came from different walks of life did not hold them back in our society and prevent them from fulfilling tasks that matched their abilities. The idea that inequality runs through the whole of British society in some avoidable and structured way is one that I cannot accept.

I completely part company with the hon. Lady when she says that she believes passionately and sincerely that if we could only bring about total economic equality, we would suddenly have paradise on earth. She referred repeatedly to the gap that exists between rich and poor. She made the classic error of saying that the Government have given tax handouts to the rich. I know of no tax handout from the Government to the rich since 1979.

The Government have certainly enabled the rich to keep more of their own money than hitherto. The idea that taxing the rich by levying 89 per cent. income tax on earned income and 98 per cent. on unearned income--in one inglorious year the Labour Government imposed a surcharge, which meant that on the top slice of income the rich paid 104 per cent. income tax--benefits the poor is potty.

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The hon. Lady does not have to take my word for that assertion. I am sure that she will not do so. I invite her to study the Inland Revenue's statistics, which show the proportion of the tax take that is contributed by the richest members of our society. The figures are straightforward. In 1979, the top 10 per cent. of rich people--the wealthiest 10 per cent.--paid about 35 per cent. of the total income tax take. This year, they will be paying about 45 per cent. There is no magic about that. If we tax people at punitive rates, they will avoid tax, go abroad or not work.

When I started my working life as a lawyers clerk, there were some barristers who I would seek to instruct, only to be told, "Mr. So-and-So is not available on Thursdays and Fridays." In my youthful naivety, I asked why that was. I was then told, "Mr. So-and-So does not work on Thursdays and Fridays because it is not worth his while to do so. He works only on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays." That is what happens when you overtax the rich. The result is that the rich contribute less to the total tax take.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Before the hon. Gentleman becomes completely carried away with the problems of what the super-rich do with their money, perhaps he will explain why in the past 15 years the number of homeless people has risen, why the poorest 10 per cent. of households are 14 per cent. worse off than they were in 1979 and why 3,000 people sleep on the streets of London every night because they have no homes to go to ?

Mr. Nicholls : As for the hon. Gentleman's last assertion, he well knows that it is not true. The rough sleepers initiative has cut dramatically the numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets of London.

Mr. Corbyn : That is because the Government stuffed them in hostels.

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman always phrases his remarks in such eloquent terms. I shall leave that point for the moment. I was dealing with the far more serious arguments that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East was advancing. She says that because the gap may have increased between rich and poor, that is a bad thing and something that bears down heavily on the poor. Some years ago, I was involved in a venture to ensure that a heart operation was carried out on a child from a third-world country. The father of the child was a naval commander in the navy of his country. He had an engineering degree. In terms of what that country had to offer, he was one of the rich people in it. In his country, the gap between that man's life style and the life style of those at the bottom of the heap was immeasurably greater than any gap in this country. The problem was that it was completely impossible to have a life-saving operation performed on his child in that country. He simply could not afford such an operation and there were no surgeons there capable of performing the operation anyway.

That man's child had to come to this country because, no matter how relatively poor one is in this country, there is a free national health service. It would have been complete nonsense to tell that man that the gap was in some way relevant to the welfare of his child. Poor people do not have to use the gap to pay for the things that they need in their lives ; they need money in

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their hands. What matters to the poor is not the difference between the rich and the poor, but how much money the poor have. However one considers the statistics, the position of the poor in this country, relative to their previous position, has never been better. That is because sufficient tax is generated within our economy to leave an incentive for the rich to earn and pay their tax and to generate enough tax to be spent on social benefits across a wide range of necessary items.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) tried to make her case by referring to inequalities in respect of a security guard earning £1.85 an hour. That is obviously a low wage. However, a great many people know from experience that low pay is better than no job. Many people who experience a period of low pay move on to better-paid work in the end.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East must face up to the fact that some people who earn low wages of the kind she referred to simply do not have the talents to offer to earn more. Let me give the hon. Lady what I hope she will feel is a perfectly fair example. Like all of us in the Chamber, the hon. Lady receives a Member's salary of £30,000 a year. Some people would say that that is not a great deal of money, but to the sort of people who come to my surgery and who go to the hon. Lady's surgery, £30,000 a year is a staggeringly large sum. The hon. Member for Gateshead, East could certainly do a job which paid £1.85 an hour. However, I am not automatically or axiomatically convinced that someone earning £1.85 an hour could do her job as well as she certainly does it. That may seem a harsh and unkind thing to say, but it is realistic.

That leads me to another point. The hon. Member for Gateshead, East referred to the earnings link for pensions. She talked very eloquently about how the Government have broken the earnings link with regard to old- age pensions. She seemed to be holding out to pensioners the prospect that a Labour Government would one day produce an earnings link. However, there used to be such a link. It was introduced by the previous Labour Government --and what happened ? In three of the four years in which the Labour Government had an opportunity to apply the link, they broke it.

When the Labour Government were criticised by their own Back Benchers for breaking that link, I recall that Lord Ennals, who was then Secretary of State for Social Security, was pinioned at the Dispatch Box for having failed to honour the legislation which his Government had introduced. He fell back on a statement which, even among us politicians, sounded lame in the extreme. He said, "My obligation in law is to consider the figures. My obligation in law is not to get it right." Honest politicians are led to that kind of subterfuge and double talk when, for the very best of reasons, they try to produce a structure which the country is simply unable to afford. That again is something which the hon. Member for Gateshead, East must face up to.

We live in a country where, under this Government at least, one recognises that inequalities will exist in the sense that talent is unequal. I think that I am right to say that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East has degrees from two universities. That is excellent and it says something about her academic attainments. I do not have degrees from a university. I did not go to a university. However, what

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unites us both is that we have been brought up and live in a society in which, irrespective of our talents, we can make the most of them.

We can all think of particularly hard cases--and that is hardly surprising in a population of 55 million--among our friends, relatives and the people who visit our surgeries. We can think of cases in respect of which life seems to have treated people very unfairly. If one comes from a stable home, of course one has a much better start in society than someone who does not come from a stable home. All those hard cases do not for a moment alter the fact that we live in a society of which we should be proud.

We live in a society in which, from the cradle to the grave, we have universal health care. We live in a society in which, whatever we may think about its standards from time to time, we have universal education. We live in a society in which the poorest members have benefits provided for them at a level which would be unthinkable for many of the richest people in other countries. It is about time that we faced up to those facts and admitted that one of the reasons for all that is that we do not pretend that the equalisation of people, with a range of diverse talents, is something that can be achieved or, if it could be achieved, would benefit the people in our society. One need only consider the situation that used to exist in the former Soviet bloc countries to understand what happens to the very poorest, the most inadequate and the least talented members of society when one tries to produce that kind of economic straitjacket. I do not accept the idea that inequality runs through the system in this country in a way that damages the poor and which could be prevented.

However, there is a sense in which there is inequality in our society. There is a paradox. The Government have been in power since 1979. They have done many things which people thought were inconceivable. It would have been remarkable if anyone had said in 1979 that the trade union movement could be confined to barracks and to those tasks it should perform instead of trying to take over the governance of this country, but that has happened. There has been an explosion of home ownership under this Government. Council house sales have taken off. For the first time in their lives, ordinary people have been given the ability to earn, to build up capital, to build up their own homes and have tax rates which give them an incentive to work and not to cheat. All that amounts to a remarkable transformation.

The Labour party's current pitch is no longer red in tooth and claw socialism. It is, "We are Toryer than thou." There can be no finer compliment for what the Government have achieved than the fact that the future leader of the Opposition is trying to convince everyone, to the terror of people like the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), whom I greatly value, that he is really a Tory at heart.

Mr. Corbyn : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Nicholls : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. There can be no finer tribute to the Government than that. The paradox is that, while all that has been happening on a national stage, the vice and cancer of political correctness has been beavering away. The inequality is that, in some peculiar way, the views, standards, decencies and common sense among the vast majority of people in

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this country, which are never articulated, but exist none the less, are being subverted by a tiny group of people who take unto themselves the right to set a political agenda without any reference to what people want.

That inequality runs through many strands of our national life. We can see it in the way in which language is used. We are no longer supposed to refer to chairmen. It probably says something about the incipient sexism of the left that it thinks that the title "chairman", which actually links women to humanity, should be replaced by addressing them as a piece of furniture.

Even if we move beyond the nonsense of non-sexist manhole covers and the fact that the Equal Opportunities Commission has been described as having its base in Personchester, we reach a stage where, in respect of language, the views and attitudes of the majority are thought to be inferior and have to be replaced.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East referred to discrimination against black people as another example of the inequalities in society. An advertisement, placed I think by Greenwich borough council, appeared recently in a newspaper. It read :

"Black Social Worker

Specialist in Adoption.

The Adoption Team is seeking qualified and experienced Black Social Worker to contribute to the good Adoptive Services offered by the Agency."

I toyed with the idea, but in the interests of good order did not do it, of reading that advert out and using the phrase "white social worker", and then saying that I saw nothing improper in that, simply so I could then bask in the howls of indignation from the Opposition Benches. However, on looking more closely, I realised my error and saw that the advert referred to "a black social worker".

If anybody dared to place a newspaper advertisement calling for a white social worker, there would be an outcry, and the Commission for Racial Equality, as quick as a flash, would create absolute mayhem. Of course, it does not matter because the advertisement was for a black social worker. Can hon. Members imagine the damage that is done when the host community see such advertisements ? What good does it do the ethnic minority to have fear inflamed among the host community ?

Mr. Corbyn : What host community ?

Mr. Nicholls : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. That inequality is far more dangerous than anything that we heard about from the hon. Lady.

Mr. Corbyn : The hon. Gentleman's remarks are becoming extremely offensive to a large number of people in this country.

[Interruption.] I am not bothered personally, I just think that the hon. Gentleman is offensive to many others. Perhaps he would care to reflect for a moment. He used the term "host community". A large number of black people were born in this country. They are second or third generation of their parents or grandparents who migrated to this country. They would find it offensive that the hon. Gentleman uses terms such as "host community".

The hon. Gentleman should understand that local authorities of all political persuasions advertise for black adoptive parents because of the problems of racism, the alienation of black families and black communities, and the feeling that black people, when talking about adoption or black children, would like to be able to talk to a black

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social worker. Is that really so wrong or so bad ? Should not we at least recognise the depth of racism and the alienation that exists among people in those communities ? The hon. Gentleman's arrogance seems to know no bounds.

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman is the genuine and uncleaned-up version of the unreconstructed left. All that he has to do on Monday is to read Hansard and substitute the word "white" for the word "black" and then wonder about the matter. Here we have the typical attitude of the left in trying to ban even the use of certain words. The hon. Gentleman criticised me for using the words "host community" because it might offend people of second and third generation. He must understand the damage that such an advertisement would cause in a country of perhaps 22nd-generation people, who know--and they are right--that if it said, "White social worker required", it would cause outrage. That is inequality, and it needs to be dealt with. Let us consider what has happened in other ways. For example, I refer to the legislation which first decriminalised homosexual acts between consenting adults in private, which was introduced for perfectly decent and tolerant reasons--that what adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms which does not cause damage or offence to anybody else should be no business of anyone else. That was the aspiration, but what has happened since ? We now live in a society in which even some Conservatives seem to be frightened of saying that a homosexual couple living together, be they male or female, are not in a normal, stable situation which is not in any shape or form comparable with a heterosexual marriage.

What sort of unequal society are we living in when a High Court judge can think it appropriate to grant custody to a lesbian couple who, although they represent themselves as a couple, both claim lone parent supplement ? How can that contribute to equality in society when the views of the minority are imposed on the majority ? I cannot think of a more unequal way of proceeding. It is very dangerous indeed.

For example, I now refer to the inequality that arises when what one might call minoritarianism is dumped on the country. What on earth is happening when 90 per cent. of people in this country who identify themselves as Christians--not card-carrying Christians ; not people who are on social terms with the Bishop of Birmingham, but people who regard themselves as Christians--suddenly find that Christianity is to be taught in schools only in conjunction with the teaching of a number of other faiths ? Yes, that is appropriate in certain areas, but why on earth have people in rural areas such as Teignbridge to be told that the faith which they have held dear and which their grandparents and forebears have held dear for hundreds of years are to be taught in the wilds of Devon, together with Buddhism, Sikhism and so on ?

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : I find the hon. Gentleman's line of argument rather interesting and extraordinary, but I want to make sure what he is saying. He referred to the judge who made the controversial decision on what he thought was the best interests of a certain child. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the

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interests of a minority should not be protected at law because they might be unacceptable or strange to the social customs of the majority ?

Mr. Nicholls : If any society which has any confidence in itself, and this society should have sufficient-- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might not agree with me, but I am sure that he will want to give me a hearing. A society should have sufficient confidence, in the way in which it rules and regulates its own affairs, to make certain judgments. This House exists to make certain judgments about the way in which we conduct ourselves. I will now answer the hon. Gentleman's question directly. I find it truly stunning that a lesbian couple should be treated as though they are running a unit which is equivalent to a heterosexual marriage. I find that deeply offensive, and the vast majority of people in this country would also regard it as bizarre. Not many people have this forum or my arrogance or confidence to make that point, but I have no doubt how people are thinking about that matter.

We need a number of things. We certainly need Ministers such as my hon. Friend the Minister who have the confidence to resist the siren move toward acceptance of ideas such as lesbian couples being completely normal. We need Ministers who, when working within the system, can make sure that they can resist the loving embrace of the civil service. We need hon. Members who realise that the standards of morality that they bring from their constituents, friends, relatives and supporters can be carried through into legislation. We need hon. Members who are prepared to articulate that interest.

We need police who have the confidence to believe that when they apprehend criminals those criminals will be treated properly. We must abhor the situation in which, years after the murder of PC Trevor Blakelock, when there were 200 witnesses to a murder that was committed by 12 people, the only people before the criminal courts in relation to that monstrous crime are the two policemen who investigated the original offence.

We need a society, a political system and a governing body with the confidence to say that we have been brought up in a fine, decent country which, even now, is probably the finest place in the world to live. We need the confidence to assert the standards of morality that enable us to savour that. That is the sort of equality that I look for, not the economic mishmash of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East.

10.56 am

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) : I am not quite sure of the protocol, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is to be a statement at 11 o'clock. Will I be able to resume my speech after that ?

Madam Deputy Speaker : Yes. The debate will be interrupted at 11 o'clock for the statement, but the hon. Gentleman will then have the right to continue his speech thereafter.

Mr. MacShane : We have had an extremely interesting debate so far. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) for the terms of her motion, and I look forward to hearing a Conservative Member address the issues that she has raised. I look forward also to hearing the Minister, one of the rare Ministers who knows of life from north of Watford to Oxford, inform and entertain us.

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I draw attention to page 4049 of today's Order Paper on which a motion stands in my name for debate in October. The subject of that motion is relevant to today's debate. Line 5 of the motion refers to a

"ballet of their non-managerial employees".

The correct word is "ballot". I am grateful to the Clerks for their help in wording the motion. Of course, ballots are dear to Opposition Members--they are the quintessence of democracy ; they allow everybody to be equal in an organisation or before the law. Of course, Conservative Members are practised in and at home with ballet. There is a considerable difference between the two words. I hope that before the motion comes before the House it can be reworded. I shall try to begin my speech by referring to the earnings dispersion league table in the report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on employment outlook published in June last year. That showed a considerable increase in earnings dispersion in the United Kingdom since 1979--a date chosen by the statisticians of the OECD, who were unaware of any events that might have taken place in 1979. The OECD report shows that whereas in the United Kingdom there has been a dramatic increase in

It being Eleven o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No.11 (Friday sittings).

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Sports Council

11 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like tomake a statement about the future of the Sports Council of Great Britain.

On 9 July last year, I told the House that we were suspending proposals to replace the Sports Council with separate United Kingdom and English bodies while we took a fresh look at structures for the future administration of British sport.

We have reaffirmed the conclusion of our 1991 policy review that the combination of Great Britain and England functions in the current Sports Council hinders their effective development. We, therefore, intend to set up two new bodies to be called, respectively, the United Kingdom Sports Council and the English Sports Council. England will thus be in the same position as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UKSC will consist of 10 members : an independent chairman, the chairmen of the four home country sports councils, one representative each of the British Olympic Association, of amateur non-Olympic sport, and of professional sport, and two independent members with strong sporting credentials, one from a professional and one from an amateur sporting background.

The UK Sports Council will be very different from what we rejected last year : different in its relationship to the home country councils, in its functions and in its size. On the international scene, it will represent the UK ; it will seek to increase greatly the influence of the UK in international sport ; and it will co-ordinate policy for bringing major international events to the UK. In national affairs, it will not have a supervisory remit, but it will oversee those areas where there is a need for UK-wide policy--for example, on doping control, sports science, sports medicine and coaching. Home country councils will, however, be responsible for the delivery of those policies.

We should like the UKSC, among its early tasks, to see whether it is sensible to identify possible further areas where sports policies may have application across the UK as a whole ; where there may currently be areas of unnecessary overlap and duplication ; and whether it may be sensible to administer, in consultation with the home country councils, grant programmes for bodies or policies that have a UK or GB remit. The Government also wish to see the establishment of an effective British confederation of

non-governmental sports interests. We shall invite the UKSC to consult the various interests and to bring forward proposals on the subject.

As to the national lottery, the home country councils will be responsible for distribution, but the UK body will offer expert advice on applications of UK importance under the directions that Ministers have issued, or will issue shortly, to their respective councils under section 26 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. A small permanent staff will provide a secretariat and lead policy working parties of home country representatives. Drawing in that way on the expertise of the home country councils, and resourcing them accordingly, I envisage a staff for the UKSC of about 20. That contrasts with the proposed staff of the abandoned UK Sports Commission of 180.

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I now turn to the new English body. The English Sports Council will have 15 members : an independent chairman, five ministerial appointees from the regions, three representatives from the membership of the Central Council of Physical Recreation to represent an Olympic, a non-Olympic and a professional sport, and six independent members.

The present Sports Council spreads itself too thinly and operates in a series of areas more appropriate to other agencies. The new English body will have a sharper focus, concentrating its resources on an increased programme of direct support to the governing bodies of sport, to help the grassroots, and on services in support of sporting excellence, including the national sports centres currently administered by the GB council.

There will be a substantial redeployment of resources away from bureaucracy, and away from programmes that do not reflect the new focus. In particular, the new body will withdraw from the promotion of mass participation, informal recreation and leisure pursuits and from health promotion. Those are laudable aims, but they are secondary to the pursuit of high standards of sporting achievement. In due course, those changes will allow us to give much greater help to our most important national sports. It will be for the new body to decide those sports, but I would expect it to concentrate, although not exclusively, on about two or three dozen.

In return for greater financial support, governing bodies will be required to prepare clear plans with specific targets for the development of their sports, from grassroots to the highest competitive levels. Those plans must include programmes for strong and effective links with schools and youth organisations, to make the most of the talent of young people. That will reinforce the Government's wider initiative to re-establish sport in schools, and lay the foundations for future sporting success. We shall also seek to ensure that the bodies make strenuous efforts to involve private finance in their funding plans.

Reform is also needed in English regional organisation. We want to see continuing working relationships at regional level between the Sports Council, local authorities and other agencies. But the present structural relationship between the Sports Council's regional offices and the regional councils for sport and recreation--RCSRs--gives rise to confusion over roles and responsibilities, and to concern on grounds of financial accountability, bureaucracy and duplication. The regional offices of the Sports Council should be more clearly identified with the implementation of national sports policy. It is also very important that there is a clear distinction between them and other regional organisations currently in membership of the RCSRs which may be applicants for national lottery funding. The present formal linkage with the RCSRs will, therefore, cease and Ministers will no longer make appointments to them. To secure the necessary regional dimension to the formulation and implementation of the policies of the English Sports Council, Ministers will appoint independent nominees in each region, as previously they appointed the RCSR nominees. Five of those ministerial nominees will be appointed in rotation to serve on the English Sports Council, thus strengthening the two-way flow of advice and understanding between the Sports Council nationally

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and in the regions. I am sure that local authorities will still wish to develop wider regional leisure strategies with other regional interests, and will, therefore, want to set up such future machinery to this end as they judge appropriate.

I shall appoint consultants to examine the entire range of the current Sports Council's functions in the light of the broad policy framework that I have set out today, and to make detailed recommendations for the structure and staffing of the new bodies. In reviewing functions, I shall ask consultants to identify those that should be discontinued and those that are suitable for market-testing or contracting-out. We will take a decision on the precise timing of implementation in the light of those recommendations, but I should expect that to take place during the next financial year. The costs of new arrangements will be met within present planned provision. The Secretary of State has today written to the chairman of the Sports Council inviting views on the proposals by 30 September. A copy of his letter has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I have also written to the British Olympic Association, the British Sports Forum, the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the local authority associations seeking their views.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde) : The Opposition breathe a sigh of relief that, at long last, a statement on the future of the Sports Council of Great Britain is being made. The sporting world has waited an almighty long time for it to be born ; its gestation period beats that of an African elephant, which is a mere 22 months. The sporting world has waited three years for the delivery. Nevertheless, the Opposition welcome what the Minister has stated today. We do not appreciate, as the House does not appreciate, that, once more, a statement on sport has been made on a Friday, interrupting an important debate, when many hon. Members from both sides of the House who care about sporting issues are on their way to, or in, their constituencies, oblivious of the fact that a statement is being made. I at once absolve the Minister of marginalising sport by both making the statement so late and making it on a Friday. It is more likely that his ministerial colleagues in the Treasury and the Cabinet Office are more culpable than he.

The Opposition start from the basic premise, and we are joined, I am sure, by the sporting world, that the time has come for a new sports structure. The present structure is ill-defined and in many ways confusing. Having said that, and before I refer to specific proposals, I think it right to compliment Sir Peter Yarranton and his staff at the Sports Council, who have undergone a difficult period and laboured in trying circumstances in the past three years. Morale must have been difficult to sustain.

The Opposition welcome the UK Sports Council. We have argued for one for many a long year. We may argue about its precise size, but we are certainly disappointed that the Minister chose to disregard the advice of the noble Lord Howell and myself that the Minister himself should chair the new council and give the necessary direction to that new body, not as a hands- on Minister but as a directional Minister who could ensure that the new council fulfilled the objectives set by him and by the House. What kind of chairman, in his absence, is the Minister after ? We hope that he intends to appoint someone of international reputation. Will he be a professional ? Will he be paid ?

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We are pleased that the composition of the English Sports Council will recognise the CCPR, Olympic and non-Olympic sports and, for the first time, professional sports. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on that matter. Perhaps he will also elaborate on his point about the Sports Council spreading itself too thinly. We are pleased that the regions' role will be strengthened in his proposals.

In view of the poor track record of the Government on their appointments to non-governmental bodies, will the Minister assure us today that his appointees will be appointed on their merit and not on their political affiliation ?

Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on the role in the United Kingdom Sports Council of the doping control unit, the National Coaching Foundation and sports science expertise, which come under the current Sports Council ? We should like to know how the Minister intends to avoid duplication in each of those matters, with home country sports councils running separate services.

Will the Minister state where the central policy unit will be housed ? We believe that it is an important unit. Is the Minister satisfied that the good work of the current Sports Council in preparing for the distribution of the lottery funds will not be disrupted by his statement today and that an effective mechanism for the distribution of funds to sport will be in place by the end of the year ? How many redundancies does the Minister envisage will result from his proposals ? Will they be voluntary ?

Does the Minister accept that his statement will be a great disappointment to those engaged in children's play ? They were looking to him in his statement today to reinstate the importance of children's play and to reverse the downgrading of it by his predecessor some time ago.

Finally, I hope that the Minister will extend his consultation period beyond 30 September. After all, we have waited three years for a definitive statement and we are already in the summer holiday period. That makes it difficult for the sporting world in a mere 83 days to have a meaningful dialogue with the Minister in that period. Finally, finally, Opposition Members welcome much of what was contained in the Minister's statement, but regret the missed opportunities that I have mentioned. I hope that, on reflection, the Minister will adjust his sights accordingly.

Mr. Sproat : First, I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for the general welcome that he gave to so much of what we propose in this fairly radical restructuring of the Sports Council. As he said, it really was needed. I am grateful for the all-party support that he has given. Of course, I share the hon. Gentleman's views about making the statement on a Friday. The fact of the matter is that, as I am sure all hon. Members will understand, at the end of the summer term, when so many statements have to be made, I had the choice of making an oral statement on a Friday or not at all. So I thought it better to have a Friday statement than none at all.

The hon. Gentleman said that a long time had been taken for a statement to be made. It is almost exactly a year since Friday 9 July last year, when I announced the abandonment of the old UK Sports Commission. It has taken a year because I have used the intervening time to go round every sports region to speak to every member of every sports region, as well as to meet in my office the

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British Olympic Association, the CCPR and so on. It has been a thorough review. I hope that we have used the time well.

I should like to say how very much I agree with the kind words spoken by the hon. Gentleman about Sir Peter Yarranton as chairman of the Great Britain Sports Council. He and his colleagues have done a marvellous job. I congratulate them on what they have achieved. The hon. Gentleman asked what kind of chairman of the new UK and English Sports Councils we shall be looking for. We will look with an open mind at everyone whose name is put forward. As for the pay, which the hon. Gentleman properly raised, it is our intention to pay the chairman, as Sir Peter and his deputy are paid. We are certainly looking for someone who has a high-quality name, who will be recognised nationally and will help to achieve what I want to see. I want this country to be influential again in international sport. The hon. Gentleman mentioned professional sport. He welcomed my putting professional sportsmen on both bodies. I believe that the time has come to do so. It is ludicrous, when professional sport is so dominant in Britain, that we do not have people on the boards who can specifically speak for professional sport. We have had one or two individuals before such as Trevor Booking, the chairman of the current eastern RCSR, but we want them on the bodies specifically to represent professional sport and the attitudes of those involved in it. That is an innovation which will be widely welcomed.

I believe that the Sports Council has spread itself too thinly in the past, partly because Parliament has laid too many different jobs on it. When one considers that the current spending of the Sports Council is about £50 million a year and that local government in England alone spends £1.25 billion, one can see that the Sports Council money is small by comparison. Therefore, it has to be concentrated.

The ministerial nominees will certainly not be appointed for political reasons. I have not the slightest idea how any of them votes. I have never asked them and I do not care. I want people who will drive forward the cause of sport in this country. The new UK Sports Council will examine sports medicine, sports science and coaching, because it is clearly important that they are co-ordinated across the United Kingdom and that there is no duplication. That will be a prime job of the new UK body.

The lottery will not be disrupted. The lottery part of the new GB Sports Council is already up and running. It will not be interrupted. It will continue into the English body.

The number of redundancies will not be known until the consultants have a look at the particular parts of the current GB Sports Council and what will be transferred to the new English Sports Council. I hope that it will be possible to make the redundancies voluntary. Children's play is but one element of the work of the current Sports Council. We will consider whether its continuing role in the Sports Council fits in with the more sharply focused view that I want the Sports Council to take. Certainly many people say that the role of children's play is not suitable for the Sports Council, but we will look at it carefully in the light of what I have announced today.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to extend the consultation period. It will go up to 30 September for formal consultation, but, thereafter, we shall have further consultation on the points that are made by various bodies with members of the Sports Council and others.

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Several hon. Members rose

Madam Speaker : Order. After those initial exchanges, I now look for brisk questions and for brisk answers from the Minister.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : My hon. Friend's statement is a welcome clarification of the situation. He will be aware of the uncertainty felt, not only by staff of the Sports Council but by many outside-- something which I am sure he has heard plenty about from Sir Peter Yarranton, to whom I also pay tribute. I am pleased by the leaner and fitter format that he has proposed, which is very welcome. I especially welcome what he said about the regional councils and regional sport

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