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Mr. Simon Hughes: The Secretary of State is clearly carrying the House with him on that point. Has he, however, reflected on the fact that countries such as Australia and France have been so successful over the past 20 years because they have made significant and continued public and private investment in sport--investment much greater than ours? Our position in the Olympic medals table encouraged us greatly, but if our success is compared with that of other countries on the basis of population and wealth, we appear halfway down that table, not near the top. Will he engage with his colleagues to enable the Government and the country to make the real investment--not just the 7 million quid--to begin the sustained development programme that he, the Minister for Sport and the country want to be established?

Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman's basic point is absolutely right. Three elements are necessary to achieving success in international sporting league tables: investment, broad participation in sport from an early age and individuals with real talent. Our approach is all about ensuring that those three elements can come together, which is precisely why we are substantially increasing the investment in sport across the board. The Exchequer money that goes to Sport England and UK Sport has been doubled, the new opportunities fund is providing £750 million for sport in schools and there is £130 million for the space for sport and the arts scheme. The targeted money for the national governing bodies of sport, which is part of that investment, shows our commitment.

I set this challenge for our governing bodies: if they reach out to all sections of the community, find and nurture talent wherever it exists and fulfil the country's

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potential in their sports, they will have our full support as well as direct and guaranteed funding to realise that support.

Improving coaching provision is a particular concern for governing bodies. There is much more work to be done to develop the pathway from the grass-roots to elite competition. To do that, we must be more effective at developing coaching skills. I followed with interest the reports about the appointment of the new England football coach. I said all along that the key test was not nationality, but getting the best person for the job. The Football Association has acquired a world-class coach in Sven-Goran Eriksson, and we wish him every success.

Football is not the only sport to have appointed an overseas coach. The recent success of our cricket team has been achieved under an overseas coach, Duncan Fletcher; our rowers in Sydney were coached by a German expert; and even the Welsh rugby team is coached by a New Zealander. Many other sports have brought in performance directors from overseas. However, towards the end of our top performers' playing careers, we have not encouraged them to become top coaches. There is clear evidence that we need to devote more resources and more imagination to developing top-class coaches. I am encouraged that one of Mr. Eriksson's responsibilities will be to bring on our leading young football coaches.

It is time to create a step change in the way in which coaches are recruited, trained and deployed. If we are to raise standards at the top of sport and provide quality opportunities for youngsters, we need to invest in coaches and their education. It is time to professionalise the structure and give coaches the recognition and support that they need to succeed because they are at the heart of sports development at every level.

The Government have never run sport in this country, and neither should they. However, we are well aware that policies at every level can have an impact on sport. Recently, there has been particular concern about the European Commission's challenge to the football transfer system. The Government believe that that system has benefits for the game as a whole, as it is important to the finances of smaller clubs and provides essential incentives to the development of young players. Of course, conditions of employment in football must comply with community and national law. However, it is essential that the law can be applied in a way that recognises the special characteristics of sport, and the original Monti proposals did not do that. The present transfer system is not perfect, but at least it recognises the investment that the club makes in the development of players.

We have been in close touch with our partner Governments across Europe on this issue, and I was encouraged to see that FIFA and UEFA both submitted proposals to the European Commission by its 31 October deadline. I hope that football will be able to unite in constructive discussions with the Commission to end the present uncertainty surrounding the transfer system.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of transfer fees and the European Commission, can he offer the House any

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assurance about what the Government will be doing to stop the Commission proposals, which could ruin a great part of our national game?

Mr. Smith: The hon. Lady is behind the Government in that respect. We have already made strong representations directly to the Commission and to our fellow sports Ministers across Europe. Indeed, the Minister for Sport met with her fellow sports Ministers on Monday. We are in close touch with the football authorities in this country to ensure that we achieve the best possible outcome on this issue.

Everything that I have described adds up to a comprehensive and substantial programme of support for sport. I have set out today the way in which the Government are providing a range of new initiatives amounting to almost £1 billion which, taken together, will help to improve sports facilities and services and the provision of sport in primary and secondary schools. They will also provide the sports bodies themselves with new challenges to ensure that they deliver a more effective service to the athletes whom they support and the public at large.

No one can deliver overnight results in sport. I have presented a continuing commitment to support sport in the UK in its efforts to restore our position as one of the world's leading sporting nations. As I said, the Government do not want to run sport, but we are ambitious for sport and we can help by providing proper funding and getting the basics right in schools, which is what we have pledged to do.

10.34 am

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): I welcome this opportunity to hold a debate on sport. I hope that one day it will be possible to hold a debate on sport with slightly more notice so that more of our colleagues are able to attend. I very much regret that owing to a long-standing meeting with head teachers in my constituency--at which, no doubt, sport will be discussed, as it always is at such meetings--I shall have to leave before the end of the debate. The Secretary of State was so generous in giving way that I shall probably be late. I should also declare an interest, as I am a member of the marketing committee of the MCC.

There is wholehearted agreement on both sides of the House about the importance of sport to individuals, communities and the nation. Sport brings enormous pleasure to millions of people, whether as spectators or participants, and brings enormous benefits to society. Impressions of the current state of sport in this country are inevitably coloured by the performance of our elite sports men and women. It was a great joy to witness their success at the Olympic and Paralympic games. As the Secretary of State pointed out, this summer, Britain enjoyed its most successful Olympics since 1920, and took home 11 gold, 10 silver and seven bronze medals. Our Paralympians followed that with a wonderful haul of 41 gold, 43 silver and 47 bronze medals, beating the total achieved in Atlanta in 1996. I have not met anyone who was unmoved by the achievements in Sydney. However often we saw Steve Redgrave winning his fifth gold, Jason Queally surprising even himself in the cycling, the triumph and modesty of Denise Lewis or Tammy Grey-Thompson going for gold, we were reminded again

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of the power of sport to inspire, uplift and make us proud: and that was just seeing it on the telly--there were no Government-funded trips to Sydney for me.

Incidentally, I am delighted that the BBC won recognition from the International Olympic Committee for its excellent coverage of events in Sydney. I join the Secretary of State in congratulating all involved--including sports bodies, the British Olympic Association, the British Paralympics Association and all those who took part, whether or not they achieved gold--on that wonderful event. I look forward to Britain hosting a successful Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002.

I hope and believe that sport will play an increasingly important role in the life of the nation, and I shall now consider the proper role of government in that. Some people question the need for a sports policy at all and believe that the Government have no business involving themselves in sport. I firmly reject the tendency of politicians, from the Prime Minister downwards, to intervene in operational decisions that are the proper business of governing bodies and managers. However, the social, health, economic and educational issues involved in sport amount to a very significant public interest indeed.

Sport can foster community spirit and a feeling of national identity in the best sense. It can offer a sense of personal accomplishment, teach people how to win and lose with equanimity and even improve cognitive skills, such as literacy and numeracy. It can also help to channel natural aggression, thereby helping to reduce crime. Sport makes a significant contribution to the economy. Reporting one of those statistics that are so disliked by the Treasury, Sport England said that for every £1 of central and local government support received, sport gives back £5 to the Exchequer.

We welcomed the Government's sports strategy when it was published last May, as it was a step in the right direction and built on initiatives that were launched under the previous Government. No debate on sport would be complete without reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) who, as Prime Minister, took an enthusiastic and informed interest in sport and demonstrated a commitment to raising the game. Most notably, he established the national lottery and had the vision to ensure that sport was a beneficiary of that powerhouse of additional funding. Since its inception, well over £1 billion has flowed into sport, funding more than 3,000 worthwhile projects.

The present Government's approach to lottery funding is, at best, confused. They set up the new opportunities fund as a sixth good cause, the effect of which was to direct lottery funds away from sport. It is a fact that lottery funding for Sport England, even after adjustments for the diversion of funds to UK Sport, has fallen by more than £80 million since 1997-98 and is set to fall again in the current year. The Government's commitment to extra core spending in future must be seen against that background.

The Secretary of State has consistently refused to recognise that the new opportunities fund has had an impact on sports funding, but as a direct result of the Government's treatment of the lottery, elite athletes who were preparing to take part in the Sydney Olympics received letters from their governing bodies warning them that future funding would be cut. That did not make for good headlines. The Minister for Sport then announced

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that there would be no reduction in funding. Obviously, that is welcome, and the Secretary of State today provided further details on how that will be achieved. Presumably, the funding will continue to come from the lottery. However, that raises questions for the lottery distributors. They are concerned that the commitment to maintain high levels of funding at the high-performance end of sport may mean that they have to reduce their spending on other projects. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

The Government, not content with tampering with the overall funds that are available to Sport England, are also increasingly taking a hand in how the money is spent. The Secretary of State was at pains to say that he does not want to run sport, but the truth is that more and more funds are being ring-fenced for specific projects. Although those projects may be thoroughly worth while, the question inevitably arises of whether Sport England is to be trusted as an independent lottery distributor or to be constantly second-guessed by a Government who think that they know best.

Then there is the pledge, initially made by the Prime Minister, to direct £750 million over the next three years towards school and community sports projects. If those resources are properly used, I have no doubt that they will be very welcome. It is important, however, to recognise the concerns of local authorities about the revenue implications of such a major capital investment. I hope that the Minister will also comment on that.

Funding is to come from the new opportunities fund, and we learned today that it is also to be managed by the fund. The Government have, in effect, created another distributor of lottery funds for sport, adding to an already complex situation. Public funding for sport in Britain is now channelled through a growing multitude of separate bodies and initiatives, many with overlapping responsibilities. There is Sport England, with its core Exchequer funding, and the Sport England lottery fund, with its nine regional bodies which are also involved in lottery bids. There are separate funding operations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is UK Sport and, now, the new opportunities fund. There is also space for sport and the arts, Sportsmatch, the green spaces initiative and, in the public funding arena, local authorities, which spend nearly £1 billion a year on sport in England and Wales. Whatever else the arrangement may be, it is messy and confused. There is significant scope for rationalisation if we are to ensure that the maximum funds available for sport actually find their way into sport.

I regret to say that confusion and mess are in danger of becoming the defining characteristics of the Government's actions on sport. Let us consider the redevelopment of Wembley stadium, which the Secretary of State mentioned. We support the redevelopment of Wembley. We believe that the country needs a new national stadium. However marvellous the old stadium has been, and however much of an icon it is across the world, we need to redevelop it because we need a world-class national stadium.

However, many people in the sporting world are still trying to work out how a design, which the Secretary of State described as stunning, could have been rejected by the Government within just a few months. Be that as it may, athletics have been kicked out of Wembley, and with

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them dreams of constructing a national stadium for athletics. In November last year, the Yorkshire Post reported the Minister for Sport as saying:

Those were her words--I see that she is smiling and nodding--and many people would agree with that view, but within a few weeks of the design being launched, the right of people to expect that their £120 million of lottery cash would build a national stadium was removed when the Secretary of State axed the plan.

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