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Sport And Recreation

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Ryder.]

8.30 pm

It is at least two years since I last sought to raise matters on the Adjournment debate procedure. On the last occasion, the hour was late. This time, I have been in and around the Chamber for almost 39 hours. I fear that the Speaker's Office is trying to tell me something. However, the future policy on sport and recreation is important. The long wait only adds to my resolve to raise the topic on the Floor of the House.

For many years—I intend no disrespect to previous holders of my hon. Friend's Ministerial office—sport and recreation were Cinderella responsibilities tacked on to the main tasks of previous Under-Secretaries of State. In this new Parliament, with an additional Minister with prime responsibility for sport and recreation being appointed to the Department of the Environment, I hope that the topic will lose the Cinderella fringe image and take its proper place. That the additional Minister is my hon. Friend the for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) seems to indicate that the Government now hold out a great future for sport and recreation. The Prime Minister could not have entrusted the portfolio to a more distinguished rowing colleague.

To put the subject in perspective, it should be noted that sport and recreation are estimated to employ 180,000 people directly and another 200,000 indirectly. The statistics are a little elastic, because it is not an easy industry to calculate, but it is said that it generates £7,000 million of turnover. I suppose that central and local government probably spend nearly £1 billion of that sum. I am talking of an activity that, in one way or another, has 21 million participants and 6·5 million club members. We do not have to go further than those statistics to place on record the fact that sport and recreation represent a major economic motor within our society and should not and must not be pushed on to the back burner.

Tragically, we still have 2·75 million unemployed people. Although that figure, happily, is on the way down, it will be a long time before we can say that the problem has been defeated—if, indeed, it can ever be totally defeated in this rapidly changing world. To that, we must add the ever-shorter working week and the growth in the number of part-time and self-employed working people. We are clearly looking at a future life style that is different from that which confronted the House 10 or 20 years ago. Such trends point to an ever greater need to look at sport and recreation as an essential part of our modern society, and not just a throw-away afterthought. Like other sectors of our national budget, it, too, deserves proper and adequate resources. The scale of the potential social and economic pay-back justifies proper funding.

I shall paraphrase or interpret the objectives that the Government set out in 1985. If sport and recreation can improve the health and well-being of the nation, foster pride in the promotion of excellence and fulfil the aim of alleviating social stress, the Minister has indeed a major responsibility, and I welcome the opportunity to hear his plans. I hope that he will have time to comment on central and local government funding, on shared and joint use, particularly in education, and the loss of open public space in urban areas. I hope that he will be able to comment also on the House's continued belief in the benefit of competitive school sport.

The Minister has only just returned from India. He will not have had time to study the report, but I hope that he will carefully read the booklet — published only on Monday of this week—which deals with sport for the disabled. His own area of Lewisham was largely responsible for the production of that report, and I commend it to the House. I hope that he will join me in expressing dismay at the dreadful example set by one of the nation's great athletes in peddling in the drug trade. It diminished him and sport, and it corrupts our young people.

I should like the Minister to comment on the Government's policy on centres of excellence. The flag-bearers of each sport motivate the rest. The Minister will know that, in regard to our own sport of rowing and other water sports, prior to the creation of the national water sports centre — the Holme Pierrepont centre in Nottingham—rowing successes in this country were a pipedream. One gold and one silver medal were the sum total of our sports effort in that regard. Since the creation of the Holme Pierrepont centre of excellence, we have probably achieved that sort of medal tally, on average, each year over the past 20 years.

I am aware that the Government are trying to obtain value for money. Some centres are trying to achieve a near balanced budget. But I am equally aware that they can do more to generate additional income. I hope that the Minister will not throw the baby out with the bath water. In Nottingham—I am sure that it applies to a greater or lesser degree in other centres — some facilities are nothing more than open country parks. Nobody really expects a local authority to run a local park as a successful commercial enterprise.

Millions of people kick a ball, fish, climb, swim, row, paddle, or just watch. What they do greatly adds to their quality of life. The overall effect on the totality of the nation's well-being is beyond measure. I hope to hear the Minister say that he shares my hopes and ambitions for sport and recreation and endorses the objectives that the Government set out in 1985.

8.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Colin Moynihan)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) on securing an Adjournment debate on this subject, albeit at this late hour on a Tuesday. The day started about five and a half hours earlier for me than for my hon. Friend as I was aboard an aeroplane leaving Delhi to return in time for the consideration in committee of the Public Utilities and Water Charges Bill. My voice has suffered from such a long day.

I congratulate my hon. Friend also on his commitment to sport and recreation, which is well known inside and outside the House. His keenness to ensure at an early stage that a debate was secured on sports policy is reflected in his success in the ballot. I know that he has made consistent representations to try to ensure that success in recent weeks. I congratulate him on his achievement this evening.

My hon. Friend represents part of a city that has a proud record as a sporting centre. I shall take three examples. In water sports, with which my personal association has been the strongest, it is appropriate for me to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend. His contribution has been remarkable and important in rowing. I am delighted to have the opportunity to pay tribute to him accordingly. Nottingham has also been important in its contribution to football, and this year especially in cricket.

I shall say a few words about cricket before I take up my main theme. I refer especially to the achievement of the England cricket team in the final of the world cup. Hon. Members will know that I was present for the world cup final in Calcutta on Sunday. It was important in the MCC's bicentenary year to offer the cricketers and administrators alike our congratulations on doing superbly well to reach the final. There were moments—even close to the end—when it looked as if we might have an England victory to celebrate. I must also congratulate the Indian and Pakistani authorities on organising such a successful competition. Everyone I met in Calcutta was full of praise for the way the organisation had worked. I know that we all wish the England team well for the rest of its tour.

The theme of this debate—the future of sports policy—is a particularly relevant one for me as a new Sports Minister, and I would like to use this opportunity to invite a wider debate on what should be the Government's aims in their sports policy and how best should we organise ourselves to achieve these aims.

The subject is an important one to many people in this country for 21 million adults and 7 million children actively participate in some form of sport or exercise. The sports industry provides about 400,000 jobs, and my hon. Friend was right to mention the substantial turnover that that has created. Most of our national press devotes three or four pages to the subject every day.

Central Government's direct role in all this is a limited one, and rightly so. We do not want Government programmes on the east European scale. Our direct financial contribution is through the Sports Council, whose grant for next year will be £38·8 million, nearly £2 million more than this year. I thank the Sports Council for the welcome that it has given this increase. Its figure compares well with the level of spending that we inherited from the Labour Government in 1979—£15 million a year. There has been a substantial increase in real terms since this Government took office.

I believe that we need to consider what we seek to achieve through this expenditure and, of course, through the use of such influence the Government may exert in other, non-financial ways. Part of our purpose must he to attempt to preserve the good name of British sport by countering the abuses. On drugs, for example, I have been very pleased by the response that there has been to the report that Sebastian Coe and myself produced and by the swift way in which the Sports Council has moved to act on the report. The use of drugs distorts the very principles of sport. It should have no place in sporting activity. We do not want top-level sport to become competition between chemists' laboratories. I am glad that Britain is now in the forefront of national and international efforts to drive drugs out of sport.

We must also be firm in our efforts to counter another form of abuse, that of violence both on and off the sports field. We have taken initial steps forward in combating football hooliganism. I shall continue to press for further action with the Football League, and I shall not hesitate to ask those who are not doing enough to do more. Violence on the field is no less serious an abuse, not just in football but in all sports. If players break the rules, still more if they are violent to one another, there is a major responsibility on governing bodies to take determined action.

The curbing of drug abuse and violence are matters which any Government must be concerned with but our role in sport must have wider policy aims too. I suggest three. First, we must improve the nation's health. Particularly, the United Kingdom has a relatively high death rate from heart disease. Sport and exercise help to reduce that rate and the heavy call on health resources. This will help to promote the benefits of participation in sport for individuals and for the community. Secondly, we must alleviate social deprivation. Sport can and should be used as a policy tool in areas of high unemployment and deprivation. In particular, sport and recreation can provide a catalyst for channelling the energies of the young into constructive and satisfying activities contributing to their self-esteem and discipline. Both recreational and competitive sport can also contribute to community confidence and cohesion, especially in pockets of social deprivation. Thirdly, we must help to promote excellence in sport at national and international levels. Some help is necessary to enable prospective international competitors to meet their rivals on equivalent terms. Success in sport reflects well on both our standing in the world and on trade and morale.

In developing these aims, we must seek, first, to extend participation in sport and recreation, especially among young people. Secondly, we should find ways of directing necessary resources to top-level and "elite" sportsmen and women to encourage competitive involvement at national level. The two run in parallel.

The private sector has an important and increasing role to play in financing sport. It already plays a major part—£160 million per annum by way of sponsorship for sport at all levels. The interest for companies in promoting major events and top competitors is obvious. It is an important fact of commercial life that financial support for sport is an integral part of the marketing mix of companies seeking to target sales at specific consumer groups. It is no longer an era dominated by altruism and patronage. All involved in sport from governing bodies to coaches need to recognise and respond accordingly. Some leading firms are now interested in initiatives to support additional provision for young people. We should build on this. Positive steps must be taken to encourage substantially more private sector involvement.

Local authorities must seek to make more use of the private sector in providing sporting facilities for people in their area. The House will be aware that we are now consulting about the possibility of requiring competition for the management of local authority sports centres. There are abundant examples of the success of competition in improving local authority services. With better management, differential pricing, keener marketing we may hope to widen the availability and use of sports facilities. We shall have to see what results the consultation process brings.

We must ensure that those in social and educational need are encouraged to participate in sport at all levels. We have recognised the importance of proper physical education and sport provision for all children by proposing that physical education should be a foundation subject within the national core curriculum.

If the aims that I have described—or something very like them—are those that the Government should seek to achieve in their sports policy, are we going the right way about achieving them? I shall be writing to the Sports Council chairman shortly. This will form the basis for a consultation exercise involving all those with an interest in sport and recreation.

The challenges faced by the sporting world have changed in 15 years since the Sports Council was established. People play a wider range of sports for one thing. Commercial pressures are much more closely involved with sport. The sporting world is much more complex now with trust funds, contract commitments, pressure from television, professionalism, drugs and appearance money. We need to consider the implications of these and many other changes.

I would like to look, with the Sports Council and others in the sporting world, at what the emphasis of our policies should he in the future. I hope that in doing so we may build on the consultation exercise which the council has just completed. My open letter to the chairman will aim to stimulate debate on these issues by asking a number of questions. I am determined to use the time while I am Minister for Sport to ensure that we focus our attention on the best possible policy for the 1990s.

Important questions need answering. Are we striking the right balance between providing for sporting excellence and encouraging wider participation? Should the Sports Council concentrate more of its efforts on local programmes to promote participation in sport, perhaps through strengthening its regional structure? How best can it generate the interest of local industry and commerce? What more can it do to strengthen links with local education authorities? What scope is there for encouraging the governing bodies of individual sports to seek more private sector sponsorship? How best can more private sponsorship be attracted towards the cost of supporting elite competitors, building on the success, for example of the Sports Aid Foundation? Can the Sports Aid Trust extend its excellent work to generate and direct further resources to support local schemes for those in social and economic need?

Before my hon. Friend moves away from the commercial sponsorship of sport. will he say something about the difficulties advertising logos give the media? The question of how big or how small a logo should be causes problems for many of the national sports bodies. We should be able to find a simple answer.

Throughout the wide range of sports which have sought television coverage and which have entered into negotiations with television companies there has been an apparent discrepancy in the size of the logo and of sponsors' names and, where relevant, the extent of the use of the sponsors' names during television coverage. Work needs to be done on giving clear guidelines to all governing bodies. This may be an ideal opportunity for the Central Council of Physical Recreation to bring together all the knowledge and expertise which it has at its disposal and to produce guidelines for the governing bodies that it represents. I will put that important suggestion to the CCPR and I hope that it will respond to it. I hope that assists my hon. Friend.

Other important questions will. I hope, form part of the debate in coming months. If there is a continuing need for public support for elite competitors, as I believe there is, is there a case for channelling it through a body other than the Sports Council, perhaps the British Olympic Association? How might the running of the six national sports centres be improved? Can we bring in more competitive tendering to their operations? It is very important to bear in mind the contribution that my hon. Friend has already made to the consultation exercise this evening in his perceptive remarks about Holme Pierrepont which has been an important catalyst for our rowing crews in the generation of success at international and national level. I shall consider in detail the points that my hon. Friend has made. I am delighted that his speech began the period of consultation that we shall continue.

Finally, I believe that we have to address the question of how best all of us involved in the administration of sport and recreation can serve the interests of sports men and women, for it is their interests which must come first. I think that12 the House will agree that these are important questions and that it is right that we should be asking them. I hope that we shall have a constructive debate. I repeat my thanks to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to foreshadow it now.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Nine o'clock pm on Wednesday 11 November.