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6.46 pm

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): It appears to be my role to have three minutes at the end of every debate in which to try to summarise the 20 minutes-worth of notes that I have prepared, but I should like to endorse everything that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) has said so passionately at the end of his contribution. I have lots of notes and wanted to talk about the decisions and some of the things in the Select Committee report, but we have heard lots of that rehearsed in this debate, and in the couple of minutes that I have available, I want to return to what my hon. Friend has just said—we as a nation have to decide how serious we are about sport.

I have been very lucky since being elected; not only have I been able to spectate at some of the world's great stadiums, but I have been able to play in some of them because of the parliamentary football and rugby teams that we run. Those of us who have been in the changing rooms at Wembley know that they are a disaster and that the stadium is a disgrace and needs replacing as quickly as possible. I have also seen stadiums in places such as Japan and Australia, and great finance has gone into them.

However, we always return to the point that my hon. Friend was just making—people are serious about sports. We have to make a decision in the next year or so, and if we are serious about sport we need to get it right at every level. We need to ensure that there are school sports for children to take part in for at least two hours. I would prefer that to be part of the curriculum, but I would be happy if children played sport for two hours. That would make a real start.

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We then need to make the link between schools and clubs. I play for a very junior rugby club. I have mistakenly called it on radio the worst club in the country—I actually meant that it was in one of the lowest leagues. It is not the worst club, but we have not had many wins this season. We struggle because there are no links between ourselves and the school. We are an old school club, yet rugby has not been played at that school for 15 years. Unfortunately, because we do not have the people to help to coach at the school to develop players, I am now one of the youngest players that we have, at 37. At 35, we technically become a veterans' side, but we still play in other leagues. That is an anecdote, but the Minister will know that that is a serious problem right across the country. If those links do not exist, people do not have places to play.

The next thing that we need to ensure is that, when we have achieved that mass participation, there are routes for people to find their way through. That includes not only coaching, but the UK Sports Institute, and I am proud that Loughborough is playing a key role in it. The swimming pool is coming along fine, as are the hockey pitches. We can provide the best sports science. In fact, with the UK Sports Institute up and running in the next couple of years, we will be able to find our elite athletes. However, if we do not get the mass participation right in schools, we will have no one to pick. That is why such decisions are crucial.

If I had a £100 million to spend on athletics, would I spend it on a national stadium, or would I spend it trying to give Charnwood athletic club some better facilities and allowing more people in my constituency to participate in sport? Ideally, I would like £200 million so that we could do both, but sport has not had the political kudos that it should have had. I am sure that all the hon. Members present believe that sport should have that priority, but we only have to look at the sparse attendance in the Chamber to realise that we need to convince many more hon. Members and the general public that sport has an important role to play. If I had to make the choice, I would prefer to see the £100 million spent on the grass roots and future athletes.

I have read the section of the report on the question of home advantage. Yes, we probably would win more gold medals, but in this television age it is even more important to ensure that the events are on terrestrial television. Children need sporting heroes, but the success that we had in Sydney is just as important as seeing those heroes perform in Lee Valley or Picketts Lock. These days, it is easy to develop sporting heroes and ensure that people want to watch them.

The debate has been a long-running sore and difficult decisions have had to be made. Twenty:twenty vision hindsight is a wonderful thing and it is great to see that the Select Committee has highlighted a few suggestions. It was slightly contradictory when it suggested that the Government needed to keep their hands off but at the same time to appoint a Minister responsible for events. We must decide which one of those suggestions we will follow.

Now is the time, following this debacle, to decide whether we are interested in running international events. If the Olympics would cost us £3 billion or £4 billion, do

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we really want those games or could we spend the money on developing first class sporting facilities? Hon. Members will have seen in their constituencies the crumbling tennis courts and sports halls. There is much more that could be done in our constituencies with the money rather than its being spent on the glory of a 10-day or two-week event.

6.52 pm

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): I have several sporting interests registered in the book, including being a trustee of Oxford University rugby club. It is 20 years to the day since I got my blue and I have just been paged to tell me that we have won three times in a row for the first time, and that my 1981 team is waiting to have dinner with me outside, so I am a happy man. I share the warmth expressed towards David Faber by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and it would be nice if we could see him in the other place as Lord Sightlines.

I remind the House yet again that there are more nations in the IOC and the IAAF than in the United Nations. We do not understand how important sport is. I say that each time I rise to my feet in the Chamber, but it is true. We just do not get it. The way sport is run in this country is a shambles. The Wembley and Picketts Lock affairs are indicative of that shambles. We are the people who can change that, and it is time that we did so.

We got the Wembley issue back to front. The infrastructure is terrible, so why did we not buy the thing first before we put the infrastructure in? It does not take a brain surgeon to work that out. It was a shocking decision to buy only that site. It took the Select Committee only 20 minutes to work out that we needed to buy the whole site if we were to hold world events there. If it took us that long, why did it take the chief executive of Sport England and the former sports Minister so long? The Picketts Lock affair took us even less time, but I shall not go into that.

I have several conclusions to offer. First, if we are serious about sport we have to have a Secretary of State for sport. I suggest that sport and health education are combined. We have to get school sports sorted out and it should not be separated from other sports matters. We now have a myriad more initiatives in schools and another set of administrators in the new opportunities fund for sport. That is crackers. We must bang some heads together to achieve a return to sanity. Secondly, and as important, we need to appoint an ambassador for sport at our French embassy. We need to be represented in IOC, FIFA and IAAF meetings by a permanent diplomat who will let us know what is going on. With our reputation in tatters, that is even more important. I know the man for the job, and he lives in Paris.

Thirdly, the Minister for Sport must chair UK Sport. We have heard from two former Ministers for Sport who say that that cannot be done, but we love sport and it is time that we took charge. Then we would be responsible and have the executive authority. We would go to the Treasury for more money, not some quango. Until we achieve that representation, sport will not grow up politically. Fourthly, we must evaluate the senior team at Sport England—I hope that the new chief executive has that on his agenda—especially those who made the original decision on Wembley. It was shocking that they made that decision without investigating the requirements for a world class event.

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Fifthly, we need an audit of the international needs of our best sports, whether they are Olympic sports such as rowing, our best sport, and judo, which is outstanding, or international sports such as rugby, which is coming to the Olympics. Lastly, to pick up the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), we need a public service sports television channel, including coach education, philosophy and sports medicine, and the BBC should be made to pay for it.

6.56 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): I shall luxuriate in the four minutes left to me. It is fascinating that the Tories initially wanted a whole day's debate on this issue, because they have hardly bothered to take part in it at all. I am grateful to them for the time that I have. It gives me great pleasure to take part in the debate, not just as a Member of Parliament but as a big sports fan. Since entering the House, I have been lucky enough to be able to raise sporting issues on several occasions. Sport is a matter of great pride and importance to our constituents, and we certainly saw that during Euro 96 and a few weeks ago when Owen hit that great hat-trick in Munich—except for our Scottish colleagues, perhaps.

The situation is not all doom and gloom. We have a proud record of hosting sporting events in recent history, not least the reconstituted rugby league world cup, the FINA swimming world cup and the cycling world track championships, as well as the stuff that we do every year with great quality, such as Wimbledon, the six nations rugby and the British grand prix. It is only when events do not happen, such as when the Cheltenham gold cup was cancelled in my county last year, that we realise how important sport is. The effect of foot and mouth on sport and the local economy made us realise the contribution that sport makes.

To hold world-class events we need viable stadiums. In answer to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), the Minister for Sport replied:

Well, I was lucky enough to bump into that sporting institution, John Motson, at the weekend, and we talked about the dual-use stadium in Saint-Denis in Paris, which several hon. Members have mentioned. Much has been made of that stadium, its quality and the fact that it can host athletics and football. I asked Mr. Motson how good it is for football—he should know because he has commentated on a world cup final there. He said that it was poor for events such as rugby and football. However, in the technological age we live in, it should not be impossible to bring athletics and football into the same stadium.

The key is public perceptions. The public want gold medal performances from the likes of Denise Lewis and great free kicks from the likes of David Beckham, but they want to see those right here in this country. We have a choice of whether we wish to continue to invest in the grass roots or to invest in the grass roots and find the money for adequate sporting facilities. We must try to do both.

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7 pm

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