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8.37 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): I congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on securing the debate. I know that he supports his constituent passionately, as is absolutely right.

In recent months—indeed, years—this subject has risen on the political agenda. Most people now recognise that the use of drugs in sport constitutes cheating, and undermines the integrity of sport. Indeed, it probably tarnishes sport more than any other problem it encounters. The Government and I are committed to the battle against doping in sport, and I welcome the opportunity to debate it this evening.

In the United Kingdom, we are committed to achieving a partnership between sport and Government to tackle these problems. The Government fund UK Sport to undertake, among other things, the Government's programme of action to combat the use of drugs in sport. UK Sport's anti-drugs programme includes in-competition and out-of-competition testing of athletes, the development of a national policy framework, and the provision of education and information services for athletes and sports governing bodies. The cornerstone of the programme has been the introduction of the anti-doping policy.

Over the last two years UK Sport, in co-operation with sports governing bodies, has made considerable efforts to develop minimum standards for anti-doping procedures in the UK, and has consulted extensively on the proposals. I was pleased and honoured to attend the launch of the national anti-doping policy in January.

The need to respond to major changes in sport, such as the increased availability of supplements, the use of blood testing and concerns about the adequacy and consistency of disciplinary procedures, added a fresh urgency to the need for a strong national policy. That policy provides the framework for a coherent, rigorous and accountable anti-doping system that is based on four key elements. First, it promotes greater consistency in procedures and decision making across governing bodies and sports federations. Secondly, transparency and accountability enable the setting of clear minimum standards that need to be achieved, of clear lines of responsibility for all involved in the process, and the establishment of open accountability in the management of results. Thirdly, an independent review and disciplinary and appeals process sets out a clearly defined timetable for the initiation of each stage of the process. It also establishes standards and procedures for independent decision makers, and clear reinstatement conditions. Fourthly, accountability of funding provides a consistent framework for the investment of public funding in sport, and for the suspension of lottery funding for those who commit doping offences.

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The purpose of the national anti-doping policy is to set out clear guidelines and lines of responsibility for all involved in the anti-doping procedures, not just governing bodies. The policy also requires ongoing compliance, so that all concerned are closely monitored to take into account developments in programmes and procedures. Through the development of the national anti-doping policy, the UK has established a rigorous and effective anti-doping programme that is rightly regarded as probably one of the best in the world.

UK Sport has also taken account of significant international developments in anti-doping. The welcome step of setting up the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999 moved international co-operation against doping to a new level, and gave an added impetus to the development of the national anti-doping policy. WADA's ability to take effective action against doping relies on the existence of national standards that are in line with international agreements. The UK's national anti-doping policy has been developed in accordance with the international standards and procedures that WADA has endorsed and adopted.

We are one of the first countries to produce a national policy that complies fully with the international standard; in doing so, we are helping to maintain our leadership role on the international stage in the fight against doping. We are hopeful that the International Federation for Sport will adopt the standards promoted by WADA to ensure complete consistency worldwide.

UK Sport is subject to scrutiny by bodies such as the British Standards Institution, WADA and the international standards organisation. As we know, they are powerful, transparent and well-respected bodies, and we are scrutinised by them. Achieving certification by those bodies provides an independent assessment of the validity and effectiveness of their anti-doping programme and procedures. In addition, the National Audit Office—another well-respected organisation that does much work for this House, and which applies its principles rigorously—audits UK Sport's anti-doping procedures.

In short, the new policy provides a consistent and transparent system that benefits athletes, governing bodies and sports fans alike. Those key features should reassure the hon. Gentleman that our anti-doping programme has adequate levels of independent scrutiny, and meets the relevant standards currently in place nationally and internationally. I want to put on the record the fact that the staff of UK Sport carry out their work very professionally. The other day, I had a pleasant discussion on anti-doping with the president of the International Olympic Committee, who mentioned the role that UK Sport and the British institutions have played in developing international standards. Indeed, the treasurer of WADA is one of the officers of the British Olympic Association.

The hon. Gentleman expressed a number of concerns about the individual case of an athlete in the UK—Paul Edwards—and it is important to respond to those concerns. It would be helpful to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different bodies involved in any doping case. As Minister for Sport, my role is to ensure that the UK has in place appropriate policies and procedures to achieve a drug-free environment in sport. To that end, we have put in place an anti-doping agency, UK Sport, to undertake the Government's programme of action.

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UK Sport is responsible to the Government and its role is twofold. First, it is responsible for managing the UK's anti-doping testing programme. Secondly, it is responsible for ensuring that the national governing bodies of sport comply with the national anti-doping policy.

Following a positive test, it is the governing body's responsibility to decide what action to take and to ensure that an athlete receives full access to appropriate independent review and appeal procedures to establish the final outcome. That would include an independent review of the evidence in the case; a disciplinary hearing; and an appeal hearing, if requested. It should be made clear that Government have no direct responsibility for the actions taken by governing bodies here. Contravening anti-doping regulations is a matter of professional misconduct in sport, and the decision to ban an athlete as a result of a positive drug test is a matter for the national governing body of any sport and that sport's international federation.

In the Edwards case, the procedures operated by the relevant sports governing body at the time conformed to the national anti-doping policy by including an independent review of the evidence, a disciplinary hearing and an appeal hearing, all of which were conducted before a Queen's Counsel. The procedures and the appeal complied fully with the policy. However, Mr. Edwards has continued to query a number of issues relating to his case, so UK Sport has offered to look into his concerns. If a doping case has been through all the relevant independent review and appeal procedures, UK Sport is not required to do that. It has agreed to do so in Mr. Edwards' case because of his assertion that new evidence has come to light.

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UK Sport's investigations will seek responses from the various parties responsible for the stages of the procedures being questioned and will confirm whether the procedures have been appropriately followed or whether new information or evidence is being presented that should be reviewed. UK Sport's investigation is still ongoing and it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this stage.

Apart from the investigation by UK Sport, Mr. Edwards could ask for his case to be referred to an independent sports tribunal such as the sports dispute resolution panel or the court of arbitration for sport. All the relevant parties involved in the case would have to agree to that course of action. If Mr. Edwards has concerns specifically about the role of UK Sport, it would be possible, within the constraints of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967, for the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of his constituent, to ask the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the ombudsman, to look into its actions.

I would, therefore, like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to ensuring that the UK has in place strong, robust procedures for tackling the problem of doping in sport. An essential component of such procedures must, of course, be the facility for athletes to have the opportunity to clear their names. As I have explained, there are clear and well-defined avenues to address complaints that arise from cases such as this one. As a result, I can also assure the hon. Gentleman that he can have confidence in UK Sport as the lead agency for anti-doping in the UK and in the national anti-doping policy as an effective instrument to combat the problem of doping in sport. That is the right way forward.

Question put and agreed to.

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