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Outdoor Pursuits

4. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): What action he is taking to increase young people's access to outdoor pursuits. [144782]

The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey): The Department is taking action to increase young people's access to outdoor pursuits in a number of ways. Fifty million pounds from the new opportunities fund will be devoted to programmes of activity for young people, based around challenging activities, to ease the transition between secondary school and adult life. We also expect that up to £50 million of the £750 million of new opportunities fund money for school sport will fund the refurbishment of outdoor activity centres for use by schoolchildren.

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her reply. Is she aware that young people who want to take up the outdoor pursuit of canoeing, perhaps inspired by the recent success of Britain's Olympic medallists in the discipline, face genuine difficulty in gaining access either to smaller lowland rivers, or the more interesting and challenging upland waters? As there are nearly 10,800

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miles of such waters, but canoeists have access to just 376--a paltry 2.8 per cent.--what action does she think is necessary to remedy the situation?

Kate Hoey: I know that my hon. Friend has an interest in canoeing and that he was as delighted as we all were to see Britain's best performance in canoeing since 1920 at this year's Olympic games, where two medals were won by Paul Ratcliffe and Tim Brabants. His point was absolutely correct. There are problems that affect access to water for many water users, especially canoeists. Access is only one problem; others include balance in the relationship between anglers and canoeists. Such problems can add to the difficulties for canoeists.

We are working closely with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Sport England and other interested groups to consider more closely the complex issues that are involved. DETR is bringing together a working group comprising all the bodies that are involved, including the Environment Agency, the Countryside Agency, British Waterways and the Countryside Council for Wales. The group is to complete its work within the next nine months, when the facts will be available and we can look towards the right solution for the access of all people to water.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Will the Minister explain how her proposal for a two-hour entitlement to sport and physical education in schools will work in practice? How important will out-of-school-hours provision be in achieving that entitlement? Is it not likely that, for a great many youngsters, home-to-school transport arrangements and a lack of resources, facilities and teacher time could render the entitlement worthless? Is not the reality of the Government's position that sport in schools--especially team sport, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry)--is a major casualty of an overcrowded and over-prescriptive curriculum?

Kate Hoey: I do not want to engage in party politics with the hon. Gentleman, but I should point out that he fails to remember just how neglected and badly run down physical education and sport facilities became during many years of Conservative government. We are trying to redress a position in many of our schools which we accept is not good. That will not occur overnight, but the measures that we have already put on track, including the new money and the recognition that we need better-qualified staff and more support for our physical education teachers, are coming together to make a difference. As we have said, we need entitlement rather than merely aspiration. That means that if it is not happening in schools, we must ensure that it does happen.

The school sport co-ordinators, along with the whole range of measures, will make a genuine difference, as they will bring together the specialist sports colleges and the schools in their areas to deliver good quality. It is not just about time, but about the provision of good-quality physical education. A great deal of such education is provided after school, and not only within the curriculum.

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Wembley Stadium

5. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): What recent representations he has received regarding the future of a national football stadium at Wembley. [144783]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): I have received a number of representations about the future redevelopment of Wembley. In addition, I met Sir Rodney Walker, the new chair of Wembley National Stadium Ltd., on 10 January when he updated me on the progress that had been made on restructuring the Wembley project.

Mr. Pike: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he recognise that football supporters throughout the country increasingly take the view that the future of Wembley has become a farce? Many people are wrongly blaming the Government for that. Will my right hon. Friend now spell out to those responsible for the development of the new stadium and all the facilities that go with it that they must achieve a solution and an end to the current farcical position as soon as possible?

Mr. Smith: Of course, we have two principal objectives. First, we want to ensure that Britain can host the 2005 world athletics championships in a good-quality, specific stadium. The decision that we made a year ago to take the athletics championships from Wembley and create a new stadium at Pickett's Lock in the Lea valley in Enfield has been proved absolutely correct by the events of the past month or two. We will now be able to provide a good location for those championships.

Secondly, we want a good, high-quality national stadium for football and rugby league at Wembley. The Football Association and Wembley National Stadium Ltd. are leading that project; it is not a Government project. However, I am pleased that the Football Association has taken greater control of the specifics of the project, and I am especially pleased that Sir Rodney Walker is now in place as chairman of WNSL. I have full confidence that he will be able to raise the funds, get the project under way, and get a really good stadium built.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): But does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that what the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) describes as a farce, and everyone else calls a fiasco, simply reinforces the Secretary of State's incompetence? He was happy to take the credit for a plan, which he described in glowing terms but has now rejected.

Will he accept that there is further inconsistency between him and the Minister for Sport about whether there will be standing room for spectators at football matches? He slapped down the Minister when she put forward that proposal, and suggested that there was no question of going back on his decision. However, as recently as last Thursday, Lord McIntosh of Haringey said that the issue was not closed. Is not everything to do with football and sport over which the Secretary of State presides a shambles and a fiasco?

Mr. Smith: No. It is entirely as a result of the Secretary of State's competence that we made the right decisions in December 1999 to ensure that we have a location and a venue for the world athletics championships in 2005.

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If we had taken the Conservative party's advice, we would have been left without a venue and any prospect of hosting the championships, and with egg all over our face.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Does my right hon. Friend know that there is a view that what has happened is a shambles? Appointing the vice-chairman as chairman of the board gives no confidence to the football and rugby league world--far from it. The whole board should have been dismissed and replaced with people who have sport at heart.

Mr. Smith: Of course, the Secretary of State and the Government have no power to do any such thing. The project is owned and led by the Football Association. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), it is up to the Football Association to determine how to proceed with the project. I am pleased that Sir Rodney Walker is in charge, and I have genuine confidence that he will be able to raise the necessary finance and get the project under way.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): It is not edifying to watch the Secretary of State floundering this afternoon; indeed, the spectacle has not been edifying for the past two years. First, Wembley was to be

The Secretary of State then decided that there should be no athletics at Wembley. At first, it was supposed to be the centrepiece of a British bid to host the Olympic games, yet yesterday morning the prospect of London hosting the Olympic games "filled him with alarm". By yesterday afternoon, he had remembered Labour's election pledge and was

I am tempted to observe, "Not with him in charge." With the Secretary of State in charge, we can be confident only of muddle and dither. I am genuinely embarrassed for him.

Is it not the case that the failure of the Secretary of State's policy on the national stadium is not the fault of Sport England, the Football Association, Wembley National Stadium Ltd. or even the Minister for Sport, as the Secretary of State would sometimes have us believe, but his fault? Will he apologise in advance to his successor who will shortly take over responsibility for these affairs and have to clear up the mess that he leaves behind?

Mr. Smith: The only thing that should embarrass the hon. Gentleman is his continuing failure to ask sensible and serious questions. I counsel him against believing all the lurid headlines that he reads in the newspapers. All I said, I think quite sensibly and rightly, was that if we were to host a high-quality bid for the Olympics in London, as I very much hope we will, we needed to do so seriously--we needed to be prepared to invest not just in the athletics facilities but in the transport and accommodation facilities that such a bid would require. That is sheer common sense.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are the Government who have established 10-year plans to improve the transport infrastructure that will deliver the

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investment and the improvement. The Conservative party would cut those plans, and would deliver the investment failure that would make a bid unsuccessful.

Mr. Ainsworth: We shall have to put up with this Secretary of State for a little longer, I fear, so will he answer the following question? Given his wrong-headed and stubborn decision to kick athletics out of Wembley, when will WNSL start repaying the £20 million that it owes athletics?

Mr. Smith: I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman is still arguing that athletics should be at Wembley for the 2005 championships. We now know that Wembley could not have delivered a venue for them on time. If we had adopted the hon. Gentleman's policy, we would now be left with no venue. It is clear that we made absolutely the right decision in ensuring that we had an alternative location.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): I welcome the decision regarding the 2005 world athletics championships. Wembley was, in fact, always a distraction from the best option available, at Pickett's Lock. Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm his commitment to Pickett's Lock as the best location for athletics, and will he find time to visit the site in the near future?

Mr. Smith: I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says. Indeed, one of the major advantages of the site, which is in the Lea valley at Enfield, is that all the relevant authorities--the Lea Valley authority, the borough of Enfield, the Mayor of London, Middlesex university and UK Athletics--are all very much committed to ensuring that it is a success. David Moorcroft of UK Athletics has said:

That is what we are going to achieve at Pickett's Lock. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for the help that he has given so far, and I look forward to collaborating closely with him for a long time to come to ensuring that the venue is a success.

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