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8.29 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon) for bringing this matter to the House's attention this evening. It is nice to be able to respond to a debate about Leeds United in a positive way. It is good to hear about what might be called the other side of the coin with regard to the club, and to hear the argument put so forcefully by my hon. Friend. I know that he has followed football, and Leeds United, for many years. He has been deeply involved in the development of the role of the club that he has described this evening.

I also wish to put on record my support for the Football Foundation and its work. I had a meeting last night with Lord Pendry and Peter Lee, the chief executive of the Football Foundation, who are doing a fine job. Having laid the foundations of their work in their first 12 months in post, they are now really developing matters. I was with the Football Foundation in the north-east a couple of weeks ago, looking for ways to develop further the area's football heritage among amateur clubs.

I am also pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned Emma Stanford and Steve Smith. I spoke to them about community development at Leeds United, and credit is due to them for their vision and hard work in that respect. I am pleased that their efforts have been brought to the House's attention.

There is no doubt that certain players have brought the sport into disrepute. I do not want to discuss that in detail this evening. The House is well aware that the behaviour of a few players, on and off the pitch, is a matter for the clubs that employ them and for the sport's governing bodies.

I have made my concerns about recent developments clear to the football authorities. I still have those concerns, but I know that the football authorities are taking action. The legislation that was put onto the statute book a little while ago is helping them to deal with what I hope will be isolated incidents. I want us to get back to where we used to be with football. I believe that the sport was

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developing a good corporate governance which, as my hon. Friend noted, involved fans and community in a very positive way.

I was glad to hear about the efforts of some players to redeem the reputation of the Leeds United club in the local community. Those efforts have included real commitment to playing for success, which established out-of-school-hours study support centres at football clubs and other sports grounds. As my hon. Friend said, the Leeds United club deserves commendation, as it was one of the pioneers in setting up the original playing for success project. Moreover, the club's own learning centre has justly been praised.

The centres use the sporting environment as a motivational tool to raise standards of literacy, numeracy and computer skills among children who are struggling at school and who may lack motivation. Centres are located at clubs and are staffed by experienced teachers, supported by students in further and higher education. That is to be welcomed, as the linkages between the various institutions involved and the clubs are very important.

The centres usually have a first-class IT centre, generally sponsored by local business. I have seen many examples as I have gone around the country. Real enthusiasm exists, as is evident in the sponsorship—financial and sometimes material—provided by local businesses, and in the involvement of companies in the community. That involvement also reaps reciprocal benefits for those businesses.

I have been delighted with the progress of the initiative and would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all those involved with the development of this programme, both in Government and in the community sector. More than 25,000 pupils have benefited so far, and a further 25,000 will also benefit each year when all the proposed centres are opened.

Many centres are also opening during the school day, and are helping adult learning. In that way, they support other initiatives such as Learn Direct and the new deal. As my hon. Friend said, 57 football and other sports clubs have signed up to the full PFS model, and 43 have opened other centres. A further 13 clubs are involved in developing other innovative ways of linking education and sport under the PFS banner.

National evaluations of playing for success have found improvements in literacy and numeracy, ICT skills and motivation to learn. That is happening in some of the more difficult areas around the country, as that is where the centres are located. Indeed, the evaluation carried out in 2001 found significant gains in pupil performance, including numeracy scores improving by an average of 21 months. That is a staggering improvement when we consider that the young people going to these centres think that they are no-hopers.

The evaluation also found that the scheme reached its target group of under-achieving pupils, and that all benefited regardless of gender, deprivation, ethnicity, fluency in English or special needs. A third-year evaluation is shortly to be completed and early indications predict similar significant gains.

Football does a great deal of excellent work, but it is not the only sport that appreciates its important role in community development. I am also aware of many initiatives developed by the regional administrators of

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sports such as cricket, rugby league and rugby union. In my city of Sheffield, basketball has also taken up the challenge. These initiatives, which are often developed independently of Government programmes, have incorporated the Government's message that sport and recreational activities can make a significant difference and a major contribution to neighbourhood renewal. They can bring about real improvement in a range of areas, including health, employment, education and the reduction of crime.

These sports do not always get football's publicity, so I shall say a few words about some that play a tremendous role in our communities. I have been impressed by the initiatives that have been supported by the English rugby league. The diversity and quality of some these initiatives are, in no small measure, a consequence of the location of many clubs in areas of considerable ethnic diversity and social and economic deprivation. I commend these clubs and the sport of English rugby league as a whole on their initiative and professionalism in embracing their communities in this way.

Most rugby league clubs run thriving community schemes. In Bradford, which is very near my hon. Friend's constituency, the Bradford Bulls are an excellent example of what rugby league is doing. The Bulls visit more than 100 schools each year to deliver assemblies, road shows and coaching programmes, with initiatives tackling drug awareness and racism in sport. That is a considerable achievement. As a further development, the club has set up the Bull study centre. Assisted by Bradford local education authority, the centre encourages young people to absorb positive lifestyle messages and develop self-esteem and confidence in a sporting environment.

The Bulls are involved in many other community programmes, and their success must be attributed to the club's partnership with my colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills. There is also considerable involvement with local government, private enterprise and the private sector.

Cricket is another widely supported team sport through which clubs have acknowledged their role in community development. I have been pleased to learn of the organisations for cricket played by disabled people. There are two independent organisations representing disabled cricket—the Cricket Federation for People with Disabilities and the British Association for Cricketers with Disabilities—and they are working together to develop disabled people's position in the sport.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has a disability subgroup which is charged with meeting the needs of disabled people who wish to play cricket. The subgroup is a partnership between the board and the two disability organisations, the British Deaf Sports Council and British Blind Sport. Developments taking place through the national governing body are already paying dividends. The Somerset Disabled Cricket Club, for example, is an integral part of the county set-up. The club competes effectively in the disabled county championship and

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works in partnership with Leonard Cheshire, the leading United Kingdom charity providing services for disabled people, now in 51 countries around the world.

Another of sport's governing bodies, the Welsh rugby union, has also embraced initiatives that invest in the community that it serves. That has been going on since 1992 through the Dragons rugby trust whose initial programme was designed to support the development of rugby union in Wales.

The trust's programme is not elitist. It aims to promote excellence as a by-product of the widest possible participation of young people in Wales. The trust attracts sponsorship from the private sector as well as support from the International Rugby Board. It also seeks to promote the more intangible facets of community involvement—building on the feelings of inclusion and enthusiasm felt by many young people in Wales when watching their national game. The personal development of young people through sport is an important aim of the trust.

The trust aims to increase the number of Dragon development officers to one per unitary authority, and to support that work through the appointment of community development officers, funded jointly by the public, private and voluntary sectors. Another important objective is to expand provision for girls and for youngsters with learning and other disabilities. Although they are enthusiastic about rugby, they sometimes find few opportunities to participate in the game. The trust is working hard to achieve social inclusion through rugby union in Wales.

Considerable work is going on throughout the country to address through the medium of sport some of the difficult problems as regards social inclusion, drugs awareness and, to some extent, health and education. My hon. Friend has been able to bring to the attention of the House the positive role that football is playing. I shall take his message to professional footballers by asking what further role they can play not only in their game but in the wider community.

I have no doubt that the PFA and the football authorities will consider the points that my hon. Friend has made. I shall also raise those points in future meetings with those bodies. If they would sign up contractually to play a role in the community, that would send out all the right signals. Of course, many of them willingly undertake such a role. They know of the importance of their grass roots and of the importance of community development through football.

My hon. Friend's proposals have value and I hope that they are picked up by the authorities. The players themselves can do a tremendous amount for the community in which they play and where their clubs are situated. They could learn from the example of the community work carried out by Leeds United. I again thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue.

Question put and agreed to.

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