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Football Task Force

6. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): What assessment he has made of the proposals to deal with marketing by professional sports clubs and national teams advanced by the football task force. [119879]

The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey): With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am considering the football task force's report--both the majority and minority reports--on commercial issues, and I expect to announce the Government's response shortly.

Mr. Heath: I declare an interest as the father of a soccer-mad nine-year-old. Cannot something be done about national clubs and bodies that change football strips every year and cynically exploit youngsters through overpriced replica strips? Is not it time to stop that rip-off?

Kate Hoey: The hon. Gentleman is aware that the task force was much exercised about that issue, which is worrying for all parents and children. We hope that the football authorities and the clubs--especially premier league clubs--which are responsible for what can only be termed abuse, have learned from that. When we make our final decision, some of the task force's recommendations will help to ensure that such abuse cannot continue.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): I am sure that the Minister will join me, the House and my constituents in Rotherham in sending condolences to the family of Terry Coles, who lost his life so tragically at Rotherham this weekend. I was at the match, and what should have been a festival of football as both teams won promotion was overshadowed by a dreadful tragedy.

Perhaps the Minister would care to reflect on three points. First, we need a swift inquiry. I hope that she will ask the Home Office to press the Police Complaints Authority to get on with the job quickly. Police horses had to come on to the pitch as hooligans from both sides ran on to disrupt the match. I was glad that the police were there. Policemen and women in Rotherham serve the community well.

Secondly, will the Minister consider money in football, and ensure that some of it goes to poorer clubs at the bottom of the divisions to ensure that they can grant access to fans and thus prevent such a tragedy from happening again?

Thirdly, will the Minister consider setting up an independent commission so that tense matches, where trouble is expected, can be moved to a neutral venue? No amount of passion about football justifies the loss of a single human life.

Kate Hoey: I am sure that the House wishes to send condolences to Mr. Coles' family. It was a tragic incident. As my hon. Friend knows, the Police Complaints Authority is already investigating the events, and it would therefore not be right for me to make a statement on the matter at this stage.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): As someone who was born in Swansea and lived there for 33 years, I add my condolences to the family on their tragic loss.

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Not long ago, the Football Association of Wales held an international for which it deliberately reduced the price of admission to encourage more families to attend. It was a tremendous success; the mood was markedly buoyant and there was little trouble. Could the Minister encourage the Football Association to reconsider its pricing policy to encourage more families to visit football stadiums throughout the country?

Kate Hoey: The hon. Gentleman is right that the more we get young people, children and families into football grounds, the more it changes the atmosphere. Although I now refer to a different sport, I was impressed by the behaviour and the general family feel when I attended the rugby league final at Murrayfield recently. Football could learn from that example.

Cricket

7. Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): What steps he is taking to promote the competitiveness of English cricket in international competitions. [119880]

The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey): Although I am not personally responsible for the results of the England cricket team, I am keen to promote its international competitiveness. I want to encourage more youngsters to play cricket and to have the opportunity to reach the top in sport. I am working closely with the England and Wales Cricket Board to ensure that that takes place.

Mr. Clappison: Does the Minister agree that it is in the interests of the competitiveness and integrity of English cricket and that in the rest of the world for those involved in the game at every level to support Lord MacLaurin's efforts to get to the bottom of the various allegations of match fixing? Moreover, is not that in the interests of the cricket-supporting public, who pay good money to go to matches, and all the decent, honest cricketers who have done nothing to deserve having the finger of suspicion pointed at them?

Kate Hoey: The hon. Gentleman is right. Clearly, anyone who cares about cricket and plays it or who is involved with any sport, cannot fail to be deeply concerned at the suggestions of match fixing in cricket. I welcome Lord MacLaurin's initiative to bring together the executive board of the International Cricket Council, which met recently on 2 and 3 May, and the recommendations that it has made. It is absolutely crucial to the future of cricket to ensure that the public have confidence in the results of future matches. I hope that the measures that the council and we in this country are taking, and will continue to take, will mean that people can be confident about those results.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that if we have a great Lancashire team, we have a great England cricket team. We should emphasise that there are many clubs in villages and towns throughout Lancashire and some great cricketing leagues. What help and financial support can be given to ensure that the youngsters at those cricket clubs are successful?

Kate Hoey: The board is well aware that, if it does not ensure that more youngsters become involved at an

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early age, it is much more unlikely that we shall have talented cricketers playing at the top or for talented and competitive English teams. The board is providing more support and has ensured that some of the money that it received from the sale of television rights has filtered down to exactly the level to which my hon. Friend refers. We want that to be encouraged. Of course money is needed at the top so that our most talented cricketers can achieve world-class performance and we need a cricket academy--the board is working on that--but we must ensure that the money at the top reaches down to where is it really needed--the grass roots.

Arts Organisations

8. Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): If he will ensure that arts organisations benefiting from public funds make unsold tickets available for use by schools. [119881]

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth): We are introducing a requirement that every arts organisation in receipt of public funds should have an access policy for young people that includes an element of free or concessionary tickets.

Mr. McCabe: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I welcome the increase in funding for the West Midland Arts Board from £6 million last year to nearly £11 million this year. Surely that increase and the new three-year funding deal can only make it easier for theatres and other arts organisations to extend access to all sections of the community. Will he consider requiring publicly funded organisations to make available unsold tickets to schools and youth groups?

Mr. Howarth: I welcome what my hon. Friend says. Having met members of West Midland Arts Board on several occasions, I know how committed it is to ensuring that public funding should carry with it the right to better public access for the many, not just the few. On his specific recommendation, we would stop short of compulsion, but we certainly encourage arts and other supportive organisations to ensure that no tickets are wasted and that such opportunities are taken up.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Does the Minister accept that enlightened arts organisations would regard making available concessionary and free tickets as a sensible contribution not only to educational development, but to the building of their future audiences? Does he recognise that the possibilities for making such a move extend beyond publicly funded companies and bodies? Will he invite the regional arts consortiums, which he has been instrumental in establishing, to ask the education authorities and arts bodies in their areas to introduce schemes and to approach the individuals who could make a difference?

Mr. Howarth: I appreciate the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's question. Some admirable arts organisations already use imaginative means to ensure better access to the arts, especially for young people. We have ring-fenced £5 million for the Arts Council to use as a new audiences fund to pilot initiatives, and those that show particular promise will be the beginning of a further process.

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The Sheffield theatre's "pay what you can" scheme is a marvellous example, and I pay tribute to Lord and Lady Hamlyn for their imaginative and remarkable generosity in enabling people who have never had the opportunity to go to the theatre to do so.

The regional cultural consortia to which the right hon. Gentleman referred have this task in their sights, and in any case we are specifying it in the funding agreements that we are negotiating with arts organisations in receipt of public funds.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I support the general principle of what the Minister has said, but does he accept that allowing access to young people can sometimes be difficult for small theatres? I have in mind the Hill Ridware theatre, just north of Lichfield. It is a successful theatre, but has only 60 to 70 seats in a converted church. The Minister may be aware that it recently applied for a grant, but was refused because it could not allow access to young children under the specialist arrangements that he has spoken about. Could he advise the arts bodies and lottery councils concerned not to apply the rules in a fixed way, and to take account of size and of the practicality of such arrangements in a small theatre?

Mr. Howarth: I do not know all the circumstances of the theatre in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but the Arts Council and the regional arts boards that distribute money on behalf of the taxpayer need to adopt suitable, sensitive and flexible approaches to particular theatres.


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