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18 Nov 2002 : Column 350—continued

Elite Sport Funding

4. Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): What plans she has for funding of elite sportsmen and sportswomen over the next 10 years. [81371]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): Funding to our elite sportsmen and sportswomen is

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provided through the national lottery. The Government are committed to maintaining lottery funding to elite athletes at the same level in the run-up to the Athens Olympics as was provided in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics.

Mr. Hawkins : Despite what the Minister claims, I am told by leading sports administrators who speak to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) that they are being briefed by the Minister's officials that, despite the successes of our sportsmen and sportswomen at the Sydney Olympics and the Manchester Commonwealth games, their funding will be cut, and removed altogether in some successful sports, because lottery ticket sales are falling. That is what we are hearing from people at the sharp end whom the Minister's officials are briefing. The Prime Minister loves basking in the reflected glory with receptions for sportsmen and sportswomen at No. 10, but is not the funding being removed?

Mr. Caborn: What the hon. Gentleman says is totally and utterly untrue. We give a clear commitment this afternoon that the funding was there as we went into the Sydney Olympics and that it will be there in the run-up to Athens. That is the position. The Government have given that commitment up to Athens to all our Olympic sports that received it up to Sydney. I can be no clearer than that.

Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): Does my right hon. Friend's answer mean that the Government will guarantee to implement all the financial recommendations of the elite sport funding review group, which reported last year and which the Prime Minister described as an excellent piece of work? Does it mean that, in addition to maintaining pre-Sydney funding for Olympic athletes up to Athens, implementation of the report's other financial recommendations will also be guaranteed?

Mr. Caborn: The answer is yes. The vast majority of the 40 recommendations given in my right hon. Friend's report—the Cunningham report—have been implemented. Beyond the 40 commitments that were asked for, we are investing #120 million in the English Institute of Sport, which I hope will be on stream in the next 18 months. That will probably give the best infrastructure for elite athletes anywhere in the world.

I have just come back from Australia. The Australian Institute of Sport is being revised and responsibilities are being devolved to the states. It involves higher education much more effectively. It is rightly revisiting its arrangements. What this country puts in place for our elite athletes in the next 18 months to two years will be unrivalled throughout the world.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): What are the nature, extent and results so far of funding for junior tennis players who have talent but no money?

Mr. Caborn: The Lawn Tennis Association is investing about #17 million per year in grassroots tennis. We welcome that. We have been working with the association for many years, and we shall continue to do

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so through the English Institute of Sport and our other facilities. I hope that more elite tennis players will come through than we have now.

Mr. Speaker: I call Dr. Iddon.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Question 5, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Dr. Iddon, I am sorry. I call Mr. Greenway on Question 4.

Mr. Greenway: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, because we would like an important issue to be cleared up. After Sydney, the Prime Minister promised that funding for our elite athletes would be increased. Despite what the Minister has just said, the only announcement that we have had was in a written answer that he gave me less than two weeks ago, which showed a 15 per cent. cut in funding from the lottery fund. As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) suggested, that is why sports governing bodies are being briefed to expect a cut. I assure the Minister that we want this Conservative initiative to thrive, but we need some clear answers. If the money is not coming from the lottery, where is it coming from; and when will a proper announcement be made?

Mr. Caborn: I think Conservative Members are confused. Everyone knows that there has been a reduction in lottery income for all good causes. That is not the question that was asked. The question asked was whether there will be a reduction in the investment in our elite athletes in the run-up to Athens, and the answer is no: there will be no reduction in the investment in our elite athletes or in the commitment that the Prime Minister gave that we will continue to fund at the same level as we funded up to Sydney. We will do that up to Athens, and we will continue to do that. The money will be found from inside and outside the lottery.


5. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): What assistance she gives to create new facilities for the game of cricket. [81372]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) rose—

Dr. Iddon: My second innings.

Mr. Caborn: Very good. The Opposition were obviously slow at getting to the wicket.

The Government support the provision of new cricket facilities through various means, including funding from the sports lottery fund administered by Sport England. The lottery sports fund has awarded almost 600 grants totalling #74.8 million towards the creation of new cricket facilities.

Dr. Iddon : Fortunately, cricket is still very popular in my constituency, but some of the older grounds need investment, especially in pavilions. My ethnic minority

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constituents are finding it increasingly difficult to play the game owing to a shortage of grounds. Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind when he is facilitating and helping the game of cricket?

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. If my hon. Friend wants to write to me about any specific case, I will take it up. I congratulate the England and Wales Cricket Board on its recent initiative. It is now one of the best governing bodies in sport, and has involved the grassroots through every secondary and primary school and through the facilities in its academy. The link with Channel 4 through XHowzat?" is good to look at and is used by schools. Other governing bodies should look into ways of involving grassroots sport. There are probably more young people playing cricket now than there have been for many generations.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): Will the Minister find time to visit Banbury cricket club so that he can have a better understanding of the difficulties that it is experiencing with the Charity Commissioners? Is it not time that charity law was overhauled? It seems strange that recreation is a charitable pursuit, but not sport. For many cricket clubs such as the Banbury cricket club that is a complete headache.

Mr. Caborn: I could not agree more, which is why the performance and innovation unit report on charities a few weeks ago stated that amateur sport ought to have charitable status as of right. We would welcome that, and it is unfortunate that it has taken something like 150 years to revisit the subject of charities. The hon. Gentleman is right that the subject should have been revisited earlier, probably by the previous Administration. However, I agree that the matter needs to be simplified and we have done what we can within the current rules. I hope that more clubs will apply for and get charitable status, but the Charity Commission is looking at that sympathetically under the new leadership of John Stoker. I hope that we can make progress.

Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow): Is the Minister aware that there is not one school cricket side in South Tyneside? Surely if we are to try to encourage greater participation in cricket, we need to get to the schools and make sure that youngsters get involved at an early age. Will he look into the unique case of South Tyneside—and at other boroughs with a similarly low wealth base—to make sure that cricket is available to everybody, not just the better schools?

Mr. Caborn: I will look at that matter. The ECB wants to get round to every single primary and secondary school with senior players and to provide facilities. Anyone visiting Lord's will see that the facilities that are being developed, including a new CD-ROM, are excellent. The facilities are there to get cricket into schools and the investment is going in, as the ECB has a strategy for the development of indoor and outdoor cricket facilities. Quick cricket is also taking off in many

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schools. I am surprised by what my hon. Friend says, but if he wants to write to me I will take the matter up with the ECB and see if we can do something about it.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): In my village, we are aware of the support given by the ECB and by Somerset county cricket club, which has been excellent. However, the key to good cricket is good cricket pitches. What is the Minister doing to encourage the training and employment of good groundsmen in the public sector?

Hon. Members: Good question.

Mr. Caborn: That is a very good question, as my hon. Friends have said. I cannot answer it at the moment, but I will ask the ECB. The quality of our pitches is not what might be expected, but the development of artificial surfaces ought to be looked at. Such pitches do not need the same maintenance and are more cost-effective. They are a little more expensive on the capital side but are much more effective on the revenue side and, with floodlighting, can be used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with very little wear. There is a revolution in terms of sports facilities and cricket is looking at that. However, I will take the point up with the ECB.

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