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Mr. Greenway: Yes, in many ways I do. We need to know where assets are that could be used for the greater good. Partly because of reductions in lottery funding, Sport England has less money, more of which is pre-committed, and is telling local government not to ask for money for capital projects until strategic reviews, covering all available clubs and facilities, have been done.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch rightly said that many businesses, firms and industries used to provide sports club facilities, but that is no longer so. In the greater York area, substantial support was once provided by several businesses, some of which no longer exist. The old civil service sports club playing fields are in a desperate state. The club is short of money, and is being carried on almost as a private club. We need to know where facilities are so that we can best use the money available.
As well as trying to ensure opportunity for all, which implies having facilities everywhere from Bournemouth to Bolsover and from Ryedale to Rye, we must note the difficulties that new facilities entail for revenue funding to keep them in good enough condition to support sporting activity. There are huge revenue implications for every major sporting capital project. That is a problem for local authorities, which increasingly find it difficult to support and maintain existing facilities, let alone new ones. York has a huge headache over the future of its swimming baths, and is not the only local authority with a problem. The hon. Member for Hornchurch and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath also referred to problems with swimming pools.
At Sport England's meeting on Monday, a governor from St. Aloysius school in north London--Islington and Hornsey--raised a problem with the school's playing field. I hope soon to visit the school, and I see the hon. Member for Tottenham nodding in recognition of that. The school has a tremendous record of success in soccer. In the last academic year, it did the treble, winning the district cup, the county cup and the all-England schoolboys cup, played at Molineux. Among its former pupils currently playing in the Football League are Joe Cole, Gary Breen and Danny Granville, and 20 more lads have signed with professional clubs. Because the local authority does not have enough money, the school's changing rooms, which are used by just under 1,000 boys a week, have deteriorated so far that they have been condemned. Even worse, the school may lose use of its playing field. Every effort to win financial support has fallen on deaf ears.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch referred to sports clubs in the context of funding and sports facilities. Those clubs are feeling not only neglected but unwanted. It is entirely understandable that the Prime Minister wanted to make a high-profile announcement that £750 million more would be provided for sport in schools. However, the clubs are feeling left out. Many of them cannot obtain money from the lottery for capital projects for the reasons that we have gone into.
It is vital that we encourage and foster a partnership approach and energise all volunteers, and the Secretary of State said that he wants to do that. Sports clubs can often provide a better opportunity for coaching and competitive team sport for many youngsters than can schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) referred especially to coaching.
As we see this policy progressed, I hope that we shall see a partnership approach between schools, clubs and local authorities so as to get the very best out of the money that is being made available, and to ensure that we have a comprehensive coverage of sporting opportunity for children and local communities throughout the country.
Several hon. Members have referred to the school curriculum, into which I do not want to go in any detail except to say that once again, in many parts of the country, children are playing team games competitively much more through clubs than through schools. I hope that school sports co-ordinators will embrace the opportunities that clubs provide.
If a child is one of 50 or 60 pupils at a tiny rural school on the North Yorkshire moors, he will not be able to play soccer for that school, let alone play in a team of one age. However, many children play at local sports clubs where, thanks to lottery money, we have seen significant improvements in many facilities. Through the co-ordinators, there is a great chance to ensure that all the children who should have a chance have that chance. It does not matter whether it is a school or a club. What matters is that children have the opportunity to play. Unless we expose every youngster to opportunity, we shall not find the new young talent which, when properly coached by a qualified and experienced person, can enable us to enjoy more international success for either Great Britain or England, depending on the stage, in the years to come.
We need also to encourage more business sponsorship of sport. Business in Sport and Leisure is well placed to achieve that. Sportsmatch has been mentioned as a successful initiative. There is also the sponsorship of events. I am slightly surprised that it has not been mentioned, but there is still the vexed problem of replacing tobacco sponsorship in a number of sports. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) referred to darts. I think that there are only three more years in which to save the sport. Thus far no alternative sponsor has been identified to provide anything like the support that it now receives and enjoys from Imperial Tobacco. We need to keep that in mind.
We welcome the Secretary of State's update on progress with the sports institute. Once identified, youngsters of real potential will gain a great deal from the facilities that are being established throughout the country through the English Institute for Sport. The initiative was much delayed, and that is to be regretted, but we welcome the progress that has been made. It is a vital part of the vision of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon of the sporting life of our country in future. Like the Minister for Sport, we welcome the development of the Football Foundation. It is extremely important that the grass-roots facilities that the foundation has helped to finance have multi-sports use.
Although it has been said that the number of schemes and sources of finance is confusing, I believe that Sport England should be the lead body. Several speakers have mentioned playing fields. Now that it is going through the audit of facilities and playing fields, Sport England is best placed to decide and advise on whether a playing field can be sold off, or ought to be retained. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire gave two examples. I remember discussing the issue with the Minister for Sport in a Westminster Hall debate, and I have been the governor of a school that decided to sell. If a school can create a new gym or library while retaining lord knows how many acres of pitches, selling makes sense; however, in many other cases, what is sold off is the birthright of sporting opportunity. Sport England must be given a bigger say in determining whether sale makes sense.
Several speakers have mentioned Wembley and Pickett's Lock, and I have an observation to make in connection with Wembley. I do not think that the high cost of the project has been touched on today. We want the new stadium to be the best in the world and we have every opportunity to make it so. Notwithstanding the arguments about athletics, the high cost of new Wembley is giving rise to great concern among supporters about ticket prices. I am sure that the Minister for Sport agrees that the cost of the project, much of which is associated with development unconnected with the actual pitch, must not be reflected unfairly in excessive seat prices.
Fans in London will carefully watch the development at Arsenal, which, like me, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport will be eager to see. To have 68,000 at Old Trafford on a Saturday, but only 30,000 at Highbury, is like competing with one arm tied behind one's back--the competition is not entirely fair, given the sums of money available in football these days. If Arsenal can build a stadium that seats 60,000 for £200 million and keep ticket prices reasonable, fans will want to know why they face the possibility of having to pay two or three times as much at Wembley.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove who, understandably, has gone to attend to domestic duties, asked whether Pickett's Lock would be viable. I visited Pickett's Lock on the day the announcement in Paris was made, and I saw the excitement among those who wanted the development to take place. I said that the timetable--to get the facility in place by 2004--was extremely challenging and that it might not be possible to adhere to it. That was April; now, in November, we are about to embark on another feasibility study. I understand the need for detail, but we need a formal, definite decision that the project will go ahead.
There are to be no athletics at Wembley, which clears the field, so to speak. Athletics is out. One assumes that £20 million will be paid back soon, and that once it has been paid, athletics could take place at Wembley only if a commercial rate were negotiated. That is unlikely, as I do not believe that the relevant bodies could afford it.
Urgent progress on Pickett's Lock is needed. Other centres will be affected--Gateshead, Sheffield, Birmingham and possibly Crystal Palace--but if the Government are committed to an athletics stadium based in north London, we support that, and we want to see some action.
On the subject of international sporting events, there is still in the background the issue of an Olympic bid. The Secretary of State would no doubt agree that any Olympic bid would not be credible if the world athletics championships that we have promised to host in London in 2005 were anything other than a rip-roaring success. I believe that the Commonwealth games will be a great success, and that proportionately, Manchester will be every bit as successful as Sydney.
Several hon. Members referred to the charitable status of sports clubs. From our exchanges and interventions, we all made it clear where we stand. The hon. Member for Hornchurch said that many sports clubs that used to have the support of business or industry no longer do so. That should concentrate the minds of those who run the clubs as to whether they are getting support. They do not get revenue help, but it is not easy to find a way through the problem of charitable status. I hope that that will be possible. The Opposition are committed to free access to criminal record checks for the volunteers who do such sterling work in many of those clubs.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire rightly introduced into our debate the future of sport and the horse. Although I shall not comment on the equestrian aspect, I agree that we must ensure that the VAT issue is successfully resolved. I was one of the three officers of the all-party racing and bloodstock committee who persuaded the previous Government to allow the VAT derogation, if that is the correct word. That is again under threat. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State is aware of that.
We must ensure that the vast horse racing and training industry, which is extremely important in my constituency, continues to enjoy support. It was good to see the Minister at the point-to-point dinner recently, and the charming photographs in the press. I know that her visit was warmly welcomed.
On a matter which, although it is not part of the right hon. Gentleman's brief, but part of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's, nevertheless relates entirely to the Government's support for sport, we welcome the
On the football transfer system, the right hon. Gentleman and I exchanged views during parliamentary questions on Monday, from which it is clear that there is some agreement between us. The matter is vital to clubs and their supporters. I was in Brussels two weeks ago today, trying to discover the EC view. I know that some of the hon. Members who raised the matter have had to leave, but they will doubtless read Hansard. As I understand the position, the Commission wants to ensure that if another football player--there are several cases pending in Belgium--challenges the legality of the existing system, the transfer system will have been amended in such a way that the Commission could support it in any court case. If that is what the Commission is trying to achieve, its approach is wholly desirable. However, the threat of the 31 October deadline, about which most clubs did not know until the middle of August, gave football the impression that the sword of Damocles would descend and that the idea would be scrapped. It does not matter whether that is true; it was perceived to be the case.
We should try to gain some EC support for a reform that would help to resist any court challenge. However, it must not be at the expense of football's having to agree to a system that would wreak havoc on soccer as we know it. I hope that we can find a compromise, and that the crucial elements about which the Secretary of State and I agreed on Monday are included in any arrangement that commands the support of football and the agreement of the Commission.
I shall refer briefly to a rather different sport, which no one else has mentioned, although we have referred to the floods. The sport is angling, which more than 3 million people in this country enjoy and is worth approximately £3.5 billion to the rural economy. I commend to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport the early-day motion on the coarse fishing close season that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) has tabled. As shadow Minister for Sport, I cannot sign it.
The salmon and freshwater fisheries review group recommended the removal of the close season, which runs from mid-March to mid-June, on rivers and streams. I am told that the recommendation has met with considerable opposition from Britain's 3 million anglers. I have been lobbied about it, and a recent opinion poll showed 80 per cent. support for retaining the current arrangements. Today's debate affords a good opportunity to highlight the importance of the issue. The fishing industry believes that it is underfunded by the Environment Agency. I appreciate, however, that that body currently has its work cut out with the recent flooding.
The debate has shown that there are some differences between the parties. We are worried about the Government's treatment of the lottery, however well intentioned. We believe that an arm's-length approach and additionality are important principles, which are being undermined. The Secretary of State knows that we are less than impressed by the Government's handling of the
We pride ourselves on being a sporting nation, but we cannot take pride in the current state of sport in schools or the community, and especially not in the facilities that many young people have to use to play sport. The programme of action to put that right began in 1995 and it must be seen through to a proper conclusion. The Opposition are as committed to that as anyone else.