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12.34 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): As vice-chairman of the all-party sports committee, may I say that it is a pleasure to contribute to the debate.

I start, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a non-partisan note: I welcome the fact that I am speaking while you, as a great supporter of sport throughout your life, are in the Chair. However, I regret that the chairman of the all-party sports committee, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), is unavoidably absent. I know that all Members--not only those present in the Chamber today--recognise the important part that the hon. Gentleman's chairmanship has played in the work of the committee. The Minister for Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) will agree that the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished former shadow spokesman on sport for his party, is normally vocal in his support for sport of all kinds. I know that the hon. Gentleman would particularly welcome the comments on boxing made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer).

I shall speak about several different sports and one or two constituency issues, and shall also make a couple of points about policy. May I start in a non-partisan spirit by saying how much I welcome the Minister's support for Sportsmatch? She and I were privileged to be at Wimbledon as the parliamentary guests of Sportsmatch and the Lawn Tennis Association Trust only two weeks ago, when she presented Sportsmatch awards. She is well aware that all of us in different political parties who have supported Sportsmatch over the years greatly welcome the fact that the Government have reconfirmed their commitment to and expanded their support for it. For hon. Members who are not aware of it, let me explain that the scheme encourages business sponsorship by a match funding scheme. I was involved in Sportsmatch when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to a previous

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Secretary of State in what was then the Department of National Heritage and have always thought that the scheme is very valuable. It has received consistent support since its launch under the previous Government and has also been supported by the present Government. I greatly welcome what the Minister said on the happy occasion to which I referred.

I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and to that of Nigel Hook, who always provides splendid briefings for Members of Parliament for debates on sporting issues. I should also like to pay tribute to Sport England, the team led by its chief executive Derek Casey and Trevor Brooking, and all the people who work for it, including Caroline Weber and Ian Wilton, whose work is greatly valued by Members of Parliament who take an interest in sporting matters. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who is shadow Secretary of State, was right to pay tribute to the contributions of Sport England. I shall refer later to the work that it has done in my constituency.

Despite our political differences, I greatly welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch on swimming and cricket. We may disagree on points of cricketing history from time to time, but I enjoyed playing cricket for the Lords and Commons XI with the hon. Gentleman's late father, a distinguished parliamentarian whom we all miss greatly. It is a great pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman continuing in the family tradition of supporting sport, in the Chamber and more generally. Having done a great deal of competitive swimming myself and having played a lot of cricket, I was delighted to hear what the hon. Gentleman said about those sports. He may be interested to learn that I know the Saltaire cricket club, as my parents lived in Saltaire when my father taught at Bradford university, and I have also played at Windhill against many Bradford league clubs. I was especially delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman's story about those two clubs.

Hon. Members have paid tribute to the work of the Youth Sport Trust. The work of people like Duncan Goodhew, himself a successful British Olympian, is extremely valuable. As other hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that the contribution made by volunteers throughout sport is vital. It is important not to decry the work of the governing bodies. There is a temptation to say that too many old-fashioned ideas are held by those who wear blazers and sit on committees. We often forget that those people were successful sports men and women when young; that they give freely of their own time; and that many of them spend a lot of their own money contributing to the work of committees. I am sure that the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale will recognise in their winding-up speeches that the administrators are unsung heroes who are often forgotten or decried.

In a speech lasting just over an hour, the Secretary of State began by talking about the way in which some parts of the British press put British sports men and women on a pedestal one day, only to enjoy knocking them down the next. Commentators within and outside the House have often said that we probably have the best broadsheet press and the worst tabloid press in the world, and it is fair to distinguish between them, even if both ends of the spectrum are sometimes under the same ownership. People often unfairly lambast the press as a whole without recognising that most of our broadsheet papers write far

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more balanced comment on sport. Only the tabloids tend to go in for the ludicrous business of putting people on a pedestal only to knock them down.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale would agree that it is sad when people who are not sports reporters are sent out to track down sports men and women so that they can attack them for activities that have nothing to do with their sporting prowess. I see the Minister nodding. I greatly regret that practice, and believe that we would have a far better coverage of sport in this country if we could stop it. I hope that people in the various official bodies that supervise the media will pay attention to the problem.

Experienced sports commentators have a much more balanced approach. I pay tribute to columnists in papers such as The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Independent on Sunday. Sometimes a person who has been a distinguished editor of a paper writes a column for another paper. For example, Donald Trelford often has some interesting comments to make on sport. I should also mention Paul Fox, who writes extremely well on sports coverage by the media, especially by broadcasters. I always enjoy reading those columns, as I am sure all hon. Members do.

As many hon. Members have said, it is sad that so few hon. Members are present. That is partly because so little notice was given of the debate. Many of my friends in the all-party sports committee, including such active supporters as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), would have been here had enough notice been given. Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade the Leader of the House to give us more warning of a sport debate next time.

To be here myself, I had to rearrange a visit to Ravenscote school in my constituency. Fortunately, I have been able to rearrange it for next Monday morning. I am delighted to say that that school is one of many in my constituency with a strong sporting tradition. The president of the Amateur Rowing Association told me at the Sportsmatch reception that she has worked closely with the headmaster and the governing body of Ravenscote school.

As for other schools in my constituency, I want to pay tribute in particular to the work of Mr. Bob Linnell, the headmaster of Ash Manor school. I am sure that the Minister, with her interest in sport and her sporting career before becoming a Member of Parliament, will be pleased to join me in welcoming the fact that Ash Manor school has had a very successful ladies cricket team. The school had problems before Mr. Linnell became headmaster, which was before my time in the House. During the past few years, supported by a good set of governors and a strong parents association, that school has been transformed and parents are now travelling large distances to ensure that their children can go to it. The school's sporting success is but one feature of what is now a very successful school.

I am very fortunate in that every secondary school in my constituency has a good reputation and all are committed to sport. I am well aware that that is not the case in every constituency. I am lucky that the primary schools and infant schools are also good and many of them are interested in sport. However, I am sure that the

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Minister would agree that we need to do more. The briefings that Sport England and the Central Council of Physical Recreation provided to hon. Members for this debate stress that there is not enough physical education in schools, especially for secondary school pupils--and there is certainly not enough swimming coaching. The hon. Member for Hornchurch and I share an interest in competitive swimming. There is a problem because, as an Ofsted report only four days ago pointed out, one in five pupils cannot swim 25 metres by the time they reach secondary school, and there is a direct correlation between the time available for swimming tuition and achievement--or lack of it, as the case may be. I am sure the Minister will want to remedy that problem, but important points have been made about the need for DFEE Ministers and civil servants--I stress "civil servants"--to buy into the importance of sport in schools. I heard the Minister say earlier that she would be appearing on platforms with her ministerial colleagues, but I fear that the mindset among many civil servants is that sport is not important.

As we have all said today, there are two crucial factors. First, there is clear evidence that those who participate in sport do better academically. Secondly, more people care about sport than care about politics. We should recognise that when it comes to political priorities, and we should make the case whenever we have an opportunity to do so. As Sport England has said, we need more people playing sport, more places in which they can play sport, and more medals as a result of higher standards of performance.

The creation of an additional good cause, the new opportunities fund, has reduced Sport England's annual lottery income by about £90 million since the Government came to power. Let me echo the tributes paid earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), and to all that he did for sport through both his personal commitment and his policies during his time as Prime Minister. I think that in the fulness of time, when the history of the last 25 years comes to be examined, we shall see that John Major's creation of the national lottery was one of the most significant features not only of sporting life--which it undoubtedly was--

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