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Kate Hoey: I should point out that the £20 million was not for the Olympic games, but for land for a warm-up stadium for the world athletics championships.

Miss Kirkbride: I understood that the world athletics championships would not be as expensive as that. The bodies concerned would have been happy to accept improved sporting facilities at a local school, which would have cost much less than the £20 million set aside for the Olympics. That would also have had the advantage of improving the school facilities. Concern remains about whether £40 million currently exists to build Pickett's Lock.

The Olympic games would not be held in the UK for some years to come, but bodies that distribute money for sport are concerned about how much is being paid out in any financial year. Pickett's Lock would have to be built before 2005 if the Olympic games were to be held there,

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and we would wish it to be built by 2004. Yet budgets are under pressure today for the building of a new athletics stadium. Sport England is concerned about that because it wants to spend more money in all our constituencies. Incidentally, I congratulate Sport England on helping to build two excellent facilities in my constituency. There are wonderful facilities at Haybridge high school for the community in Hagley, and we have a new bowling complex that many of my pensioners could not do without.

I fear that Sport England and other bodies responsible for distributing lottery money may not be able to continue to provide such facilities because of the pressures put on budgets by the international athletics stadium. Questions remain about whether enough events can take place at the stadium to ensure that it is viable. If the new stadium is used heavily, that will have an impact on the income of other national stadiums.

The Department should ask itself some difficult questions. There is much concern in the sporting world about whether the correct decisions have been taken. It may be too late to go back on them, but I think that the Department has a case to answer. It will have to reassure the sporting public that it has made the right decisions and that other sporting programmes will not be denuded.

I was pleased that the Secretary of State referred to the European Commission's intentions on the issue of transfer fees, which will have a great impact on our sporting activity in the short term. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer the questions that arise. I was delighted to hear what the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) said about his local football club and what it is doing in schools in his constituency by providing opportunities for youngsters, especially from deprived backgrounds, given the nature of the school that he described. The club is giving them an opportunity to learn to play football and, in their wildest dreams, to play for Spurs.

The Commission's proposals could threaten precisely that activity. Denuding football clubs of money to find talent in the local community--they will no longer have money from transfer fees--could cause a huge problem. I think that the UK has the biggest league in Europe, or one of the biggest. We have more professional football clubs than most other European countries. The role of many clubs is talent spotting. They have been doing what we would like other sports to do, which is to go into the community to find talented youngsters who will play for them in the longer term.

We all benefit from that approach, including the individuals who are spotted, the clubs and the fans. God help us, one day the English football team might benefit from it. Sadly, that has not happened yet. The European Commission is threatening to destroy the way that we have run our national game. Its proposals would reduce the opportunities for our young people to play for a big sporting club and to earn a huge sum of money, which most of us in this place can only dream of. There is the opportunity as well to play for England.

The Secretary of State said that he welcomed football's interest in what the Commission is doing. However, I am concerned that the Government's response in trying to stop the proposals being implemented seems to be lacking. The situation is extremely serious. That the Commission is even contemplating implementing its proposals seems to be an own goal.

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I do not understand how the Commission makes a parallel with the wider labour market. If someone has a particular talent and is employed by a company as its chief executive, he will normally be employed on a contract. If he walks away from the company or is employed by another company, it is normally necessary for him to be bought out. His talents, contacts or customers, for example, are bought by the company that offers the contract. That company has an expectation that if the contract is broken, it will receive some recompense. At that level, the company, for example, is paying for a particular skill, whatever it may be. There is a well-used contractual obligation, which I think should apply equally in football. I do not accept the Commission's assertion that football's arrangements should be different, but I am afraid that the Government, fearing that they will lose the argument, will not fight strenuously enough for British football and will fail to emphasise the problems that will be caused in British football if the Commission's views prevail.

Although I hope that the Minister for Sport will be able to provide reassurance, I fear that the bottom line is that she cannot prevent the implementation of the Commission's proposal. I do not know whether the Commission derives its right to interfere in the game from social chapter arrangements or from previous agreements in Europe, but its action is extremely unwelcome. The only people who will benefit from the proposals are football players--but only those who are lucky enough to be established in the game already and who are, therefore, marketable commodities.

It is hard to emphasise too strongly how great the problems will be. Britain will lose its smaller clubs; they will be forced to become amateur clubs, because if they cannot find and sell on young talent to richer clubs, they will have no financial bottom. They will be unable to continue their proactive role in the community and probably be unable to continue playing at their current level in the league. They will no longer be able to take older players from the larger clubs, which enables the players to slow down in the sport and creates spaces for younger players to move up.

In short, our base of footballing talent will shrink. Clubs at the top of the league, who will continue to derive lots of money from the big gates they command among fans who will continue to pay in the hope of seeing their team win on Saturday afternoon, will go out into the international market and buy their players abroad instead of looking for talent in smaller British clubs. That will do our young footballing talent no service, and it will make finding those precious players who can play for our national team even harder, because there will be fewer players who can be picked.

I hope that I have persuaded the Minister for Sport that the Opposition will support her efforts to fight alongside the football authorities against the European Commission. The Commission must see sense. The hon. Lady might be tempted to accuse the Conservatives of Europe-bashing at every possible opportunity, but the Commission's proposal beggars belief. If the Government want an opportunity to prove that they are willing to stand up to Europe and that they are not as federally minded as we often claim, they have an opportunity to do so and to do our national game a great service. I wish the Minister well in those negotiations.

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12.13 pm

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your appointment.

Because I have not had an opportunity to do so since his election to Parliament, I take this opportunity also to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). I knew his predecessor well for many years. He might not know that Bernie Grant was a cricketer--I believe a fast bowler--in Guyana before he came to Britain to spread his customary sweetness and light in his adopted country.

I echo the comment of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) that it is a shame that the Chamber is so empty today, on a one-line Whip on a Friday. However, I have a suggestion: perhaps the next time they have an Opposition day, the Liberal Democrats will consider making sport the subject of debate, rather than some of the other subjects that they have recently chosen.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and other speakers have mentioned Britain's achievements in the Olympic and Paralympic games. I am sure that I am not the only Member of Parliament present who stayed up late at night, or rose early in the morning, to watch some of our sporting triumphs. The events acted as a sort of beacon: my two elder children, aged five and four, watched excerpts and continue to this day to ask me when the Olympics are going to start again. They think it is going to be next week or next month. I keep telling them that the next Olympics will be in four years, but they do not seem to be able to grasp that concept.

Another enormous achievement is that of Lennox Lewis, who has become Britain's first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons, who lost the title in 1899.

Although I have lived in the south-east since I was 18, I originally come from Yorkshire, which has a strong sporting tradition, especially in cricket. Since 1945, Yorkshire has provided more international cricketers than any other county--I believe that that is still the case. Cricket is a fiercely contested sport in Yorkshire. The area where I grew up was part of the Bradford league, which is one of the most professionalised and fiercely competitive leagues in the country.

I know that you will be interested, Madam Deputy Speaker, in how fiercely contested cricket games are in the Bradford league, so I shall give a few examples. Many years ago, before I was born, a game took place which has gone into folklore in Yorkshire. It was a game between Saltaire and Windhill. On the last ball, the team batting needed six to win. It was the last wicket. As often happens, the batsman hit the ball to the boundary. The ball was caught on the boundary with one hand, by a man standing right on the boundary rope. The umpires had to adjudge whether his hand had been over the boundary rope or inside the boundary rope. The decision would obviously change the result of the game. The umpires ruled that the batsman was caught--that the ball was caught inside the boundary rope--and Saltaire therefore won. The umpires needed police protection when they left the pavilion that evening. That shows just how fiercely contested some of the games are.

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At that time, many of the cricketers in Yorkshire, Lancashire, the midlands and other parts of the country were drawn from the old heavily industrialised areas. That has declined over the past 40 or more years. In the inter-war and post-war years, the great fast bowlers in particular tended to come from mining areas, or at least heavily industrialised areas.

Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, who were the spearhead of the England attack in the 1930s, were both miners and worked in the pits long after their cricketing careers were over. They were the spearhead during the Bodyline tour of Australia and brought back the Ashes for the first time since before the first world war. However, they were denigrated by the British establishment, which shows how class-ridden the British cricketing establishment was then--and, I suspect, still is to this day. The two bowlers who won the series for us got into a bit of hot water for being so successful and beating a team that was thought to be invincible. They were turned on by their own people back in England. Harold Larwood never played for England again after the Bodyline tour.

There were other great players--Bill Copson, for instance. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is a great fan of Copson, the Derbyshire strike bowler, who was a former miner. F. S. Trueman, the great Yorkshire and England fast bowler, was also a miner. When the Tories closed the pits, the steelworks and the shipyards, that basis of sport was lost. It may not have been deliberate, but I tend to think that it was. I believe that such things are deliberate when the Tories do them. When they politically attacked the mining areas and destroyed the heavy industries, there was no longer that great social and industrial base to provide players for the England cricket team.

In Wales, rugby has declined in a way that would have been unthinkable 25 years ago. One can chart that decline and see that it corresponds closely to the decline of the pits. The pit teams used to be the source of players for Wales, and until comparatively recently, the Welsh rugby team was still drawing players from the pit valleys and villages. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)--I keep wanting to say "the hon. Member for the chicken run"--insisted that the decline of England in sport was due to left-wing activists. That is moving into the realm of fantasy. Let us consider another example, boxing, which has not been discussed. All the big public schools have abandoned boxing as a sport. If we believed the hon. Gentleman, one would start to believe that wild-eyed Trots from the lunatic fringe had infiltrated all the public schools and forced them to abandon rugby. Actually, it is a matter of fashion.


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