Don Foster MP

Don Foster MP - 47/267 - Bath's #1 Supporter

School Sports Funding

December 6, 2023 by admin in Don in Parliament, News

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) feels as strongly as I do that we need to find a way forward, which is why he was concerned about the polarisation of this debate. I would have no difficulty in attacking the previous Labour Government if I wanted to enter into such a debate. I would point out that, for several years, they failed to protect smaller playing fields after they had promised to do so; that, under them, obesity increased; that, when they claimed a wonderful participation level of two hours of sport a week, they failed to mention that that included changing time; that, under them, participation in recent years hardly increased and that, sadly, the participation of women and disabled people has fallen; and that they made little or no dent in the drop-off in sports among people who had left school. That is what I would say if I wanted to be negative.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab) rose-

Mr Foster: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman before I talk about the positives.

Mr Smith: While the hon. Gentleman is not being polarising, and in the spirit of consensus that he says he espouses, does he agree that it would make sense for the coalition Government to respond positively to the constructive offer that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) made? Common cause can be made and we can find a way to save the essential infrastructure for the invaluable work that those partnerships-

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Interventions must be very short. The right hon. Gentleman should know better; he has been here long enough.

Mr Foster: The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is, broadly, yes, as I will say in my conclusion.

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If I wanted to be positive, I would praise the previous Government for their work, for example, in building up the links between schools and sports clubs. Above everything, that increased the opportunity to provide a wider range of sports, so that more children are more likely to find a sport that they like. I would also praise the work that they did in developing the amateur community sport status, which gave tax benefits to sports clubs, and the way in which they restructured and simplified the landscape of the various sporting bodies. In particular, I would praise them for the excellent UK school games, which had a great effect on very many young people-it took place in my constituency of Bath.

The debate has also been polarised on the question of whether the school sport partnerships scheme was excellent or varied. The obvious truth is that there are examples of very good practice and of not such good practice.

Surely the House wants to ensure that it provides a lasting sporting legacy from 2012. That is what we are all about. We know that if we are to do that, we must ensure that we have coaches, volunteers, sports facilities and many other things, including a proper support structure for sport, whether for school, amateur or elite level sport. The one thing that is clear to me is that school is where it all starts. If we can get sport provision right in school, particularly by linking schools with clubs, we have a real opportunity to provide that sporting legacy from 2012.

The Government are right to have introduced the innovation, building on the UK school games, of the schools Olympics-or whatever it will ultimately be called-because that will boost the amount of inter and intra-school competition.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the UK games for young people. Who will organise the UK schools Olympics if we do not have school sport partnerships? The school sport partnership in Waltham Forest organises 112 competitions each week.

Mr Foster: I will come to that very fair point at the end of my speech.

The Secretary of State is right to point out the amount of red tape and bureaucracy in the existing scheme, and to say that we should devolve responsibility for decisions to the lowest possible level, and, within our education system, to governors and head teachers. However, there are two problems. First, if schools buy in services, they need to have a broad framework from which to purchase. Unless we take action quickly, we will discover that all aspects of the school sport partnership network have disappeared. That is why it is important to accept the principle that we need to find a way to maintain a base level of support within some sort of structure. Schools need something to buy in to.

I agree with the Secretary of State that there ought to be ways of slimming the bureaucracy and of the number of bodies. Within my own constituency, the county sport partnership-another excellent set of bodies that do excellent work-already work with our schools and some of the excellent staff who are involved with the school sport partnership to see whether they can find a way to build a framework into which schools can opt. With a little bit of additional support from the Government, that could be a way forward. I do not think that it is
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necessary to have county sport partnerships and school sport partnerships. Indeed, the divisions between school sport and community sport have been too great under the current structures and, as I have said, bringing them together has been beneficial.

To my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I say that I agree with the shadow Secretary of State that while some slimming of the structure is necessary, it has provided some excellent things and, with a smaller budget, there is a way of providing a basic framework whereby schools can bid.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is also a matter of timing? Schools, rightly or wrongly, have great uncertainty about their future budgets and therefore are not prepared to commit to a pool. I am concerned that we could lose everything by acting too precipitately.

Mr Foster: My hon. Friend is right, which is why I have said that time is not on our side. People are being issued with redundancy notices-and that is a problem-and schools are not clear about how much money may be available in their budgets.

Broadly speaking, we are moving in the right direction, but we need a framework. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to talk urgently to the Youth Sport Trust and Sport England, because if they worked with him, he could put together a package that satisfied Members on both sides of the House.

6.31 pm

Water Supplies (Developing World)

December 6, 2023 by admin in Charity support, Don in Parliament, News

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): After many years of campaigning on water, sanitation and hygiene, I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the topic. Far too many people in the world lack safe clean water. Globally, just short of a billion people struggle without access to it. That is more than the population of Europe. In places such as Zambia, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique, I have seen personally that when clean water is not available there are minimal opportunities for good health, gaining an education, looking after crops or animals, or developing a business. If a major part of the day is taken up with walking many miles to collect water, there is no time for a child to get an education, and no time for a parent to earn a living.

Similarly, far too many people do not have decent sanitation or hygiene provision. The figures are frightening. Whereas the number of those who lack safe water is dreadful, 2.6 billion people go without access to decent sanitation. That is twice the population of China. Without decent sanitation or hygiene, the chances of a healthy life are minimal. Diarrhoea is the biggest child killer in Africa. On that continent alone, almost a million children aged under five died from diarrhoea in 2008. Worldwide, some 1.3 million infants die as a result of diarrhoea every year. Ninety per cent. of those diarrhoea cases are down to inadequate sanitation, unsafe water or poor hygiene.

It is clear to me that one of the most important ways in which we can help the poorest people in the world is by providing support in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively referred to as WASH. Many of the other targets of our aid provision-education, agriculture, business development and health-need, as a starting point, people to have access to decent water, sanitation and hygiene.

I have seen at first hand the impact that help with those facilities can make. I have seen, for example, a health clinic in the bush in Ethiopia that was almost deserted because of the improvements in the health of local people following the installation of water pumps in local villages. In many other places I have seen the impact of the excellent work done by the UK-based charity WaterAid. I have even done a bit of well building for it in Zambia.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for introducing a debate on this important subject, on which I support him. I have to declare an interest: my father spent his entire professional career as a water engineer, building and maintaining water and sanitation projects both in the UK and in many countries abroad. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to ensure the sustainability of projects in the developing world such as those provided by WaterAid, it is essential that community groups and church groups on the ground are trained to maintain the projects commenced by voluntary organisations and ensure their continuity?

Mr Foster: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Like me, she has probably seen examples of totally unsustainable aid development. In Zambia I once saw a brand-new fire engine that had been donated to Lusaka urban district council by another country. Within 24 hours nobody could use the fire engine, because its engine was designed to use a fuel that was not available in Zambia. I have seen video recorders provided by other countries with videotapes in a language that was not understood by the population. She is right: there is no point in installing a water pump without involving the villagers in learning how to maintain it and ensuring that they will be able to get parts for it. They can possibly even go further by making a small charge for the water from the pump, so that there can be paid attendants to ensure that it is well looked after and serviced, and the project is sustainable. I agree that involving local people is critical.

As I said, I have seen some excellent work by WaterAid, but many other charities such as Tearfund and Pump Aid work in the field and deserve our praise. Given the importance of that aspect of the UK’s aid work, I was pleased by the Government’s promise in the coalition agreement, which stated:

“A key aim of our aid is to make sure everyone gets access to the basics: clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education.”

Those words are encouraging, but delivering that aim will not be easy.

One of the United Nations millennium development goals is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the world’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Sadly, that goal is not going to be met. According to a UN report this year, the number missing out on proper sanitation will actually grow to 2.7 billion by 2015, if current trends continue. Although the safe water target is on track globally, there are parts of the world where it will be missed by miles, not least in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is predicted that 350 million people will remain without access to safe water.

The UN report says:

“the safety of water supplies remains a challenge and urgently needs to be addressed.”

That warning becomes even more pressing in the context of climate change. The problem is not just hotter weather, causing more frequent droughts that in turn limit access to water. Climate change also disrupts weather patterns, resulting in more frequent and powerful floods. Flooding leads to overflowing latrines, contaminated drinking water, waterborne diseases such as cholera and all kinds of other sanitation problems. The problem is extremes of water shortage and water excess, and that problem will intensify as climate change continues to progress. That is part of the reason why we need to do even more.

Rather than discuss the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and his Department, however, I wish to concentrate on what I believe the Department for International Development can do. In recent years water and sanitation have not been given the priority that I would wish them to have. As a proportion of the UK’s aid budget, spending on water and sanitation has dwindled to just 2.2%, yet if I am right, and if water and sanitation are a vital plank in delivering all our aid goals, increasing the proportion of aid money dedicated to them would be money well spent. WaterAid made that argument powerfully in its recent submission to the Department-

Mr Foster: The argument was well made by WaterAid, and I hope the Minister has had a chance to read its submission. It considers each of the millennium development goals in turn in the context of WASH.

The first goal is to eradicate poverty. The World Health Organisation estimates that for every £1 invested in WASH, £8 is generated. That is because people save time on water collection, so they can be more productive, and WASH provision limits the number of days lost to illness.

The second goal is universal primary education, but children who are busy fetching water do not have time to go to school. The education of young girls ends up suffering the most, as that task more often than not falls to them. Sanitation also has a role to play in education. Dedicated girls’ toilets and menstrual hygiene facilities are important in making schools accessible for older girls.

DFID already knows that. It published a girls’ education strategy in January 2005, which prioritised

Public Confidence in the Media and Police

December 6, 2023 by admin in Don in Parliament, News

[Relevant document: the Thirteenth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2010-12, on Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications, HC 907.]

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I have great respect for the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), but I regret his speech today. It was in marked contrast to the tone throughout the debate, which was rightly set by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in their opening remarks. They made it clear that both major parties have made huge mistakes in their dealings with the media over the past 20 years. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton seemed to want to suggest that it was entirely one-sided, but I could refer to a long list, from Tony Blair’s flight to see Rupert Murdoch on Hayman Island in 1995 to Sarah Brown planning a party for Rebekah Wade. Surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that today we have heard both major political parties saying they have made mistakes and that they are willing to work together to sort out the mess.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Foster: I will in a minute.

We join both major political parties in saying that it is vital to acknowledge that there are some very good police officers and journalists, sadly including many who have lost their jobs because of what happened at News International.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that there are wonderful police officers-as there are in my constituency-and outstanding journalists, who have played an important part in this episode. I said to the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that if Tony Blair had misbehaved, and that includes the visit to Australia, I disapproved. However, the current Government have had a greater cosiness with one newspaper empire than any other Government I have known.

Mr Foster: I regret allowing the right hon. Gentleman to intervene because, yet again, he is trying to engage in the party political knockabout for which the public will not forgive us. They want us to get on and sort out the mess. They want the police inquiry to get under way and be done properly this time around. They want the judge-led inquiry that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set up to do its work as quickly as possible.

Yesterday we saw the excellent work of both Select Committees in their investigations. Sadly, we learned relatively little from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. We got the welcome, but well-rehearsed contrition. We found that The Sun cannot tell the difference between a custard pie and a paper plate full of foam. We discovered that, bizarrely, Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees continued to be paid. Thank goodness it has been announced that, as of today, those fees are no longer being paid. Above all, we discovered that there should be genuine concern about the corporate governance of News Corporation. We need to address that concern and its implications for us.

The Prime Minister rightly said that we must consider competition legislation-we certainly must. He also rightly said that we must consider plurality. I say to my right hon. Friend that we must consider not only when the test is applied-the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has already committed the Government to doing that-but what the plurality rules cover. I think that all hon. Members recognise that we currently base the definition on news and current affairs. Yet surely all hon. Members also acknowledge that a powerful drama can transform how we view our world and each other, and that a powerful comedy can have the same effect. When we consider plurality, we need to widen the remit of what is covered so that it is not confined to news and current affairs.

Damian Collins: The right hon. Gentleman may have been coming to the point that I am about to make, in which case, I apologise, but does he also agree that strong media companies have the budgets to invest in new creative content and talent, which are important to the entire industry?

Mr Foster: My hon. Friend is right, but the other point that I want to make is that we need to reconsider the fit and proper persons test. If we have real concerns about corporate governance, we should be able to test whether a corporation-an owning organisation-is fit and proper to own, for example, BSkyB or parts of it. I think that we should consider whether News Corporation is fit and proper to own not only more shares in BSkyB, but its existing 39% of shares.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is here because I have some concerns about one aspect of his announcement today. He announced the possibility-depending on certain circumstances-of extending the judge-led inquiry’s remit to cover other forms of broadcasting and social media. Before the debate, my concern about that was relatively simple. The issues are so complicated that extending the remit would lengthen the time of the inquiry for such a long period that we would not get on and tackle matters. We should consider some of the concerns that people have raised separately, as part of developing the communications Bill in the next 18 months or so.

What really worried me today, however, was the fact that it became increasingly clear from some of the comments made by colleagues on the coalition side of the House that there was another motive, potentially, for what was to be added to the remit. Some of the remarks attacking the BBC and its independence and its high-quality work make me wonder whether some people on the coalition Benches are seeking to-wrongly, in my view-clip the wings of the BBC. I hope that is not the case.

Let me briefly mention some comments that have been made about the need for what the Prime Minister called independent regulation. The whole House would accept that the Press Complaints Commission has been a failure. Many examples of its failure have been cited. The fact that the Richard Desmond newspapers-the Express and the Star-can simply walk away of their own volition is a pretty good reason for saying that it has failed. The fact that it cannot conduct investigations is another, as is the fact that it cannot fine.

Today we have heard some very helpful lists of ideas of how we can move forward. I particularly welcome the speeches by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. It is crucial that the new, independent body that replaces the PCC has the ability to carry out investigations, and that it has a much more powerful system of redress, including requiring the payment of fines, but I would warn the House about the way in which “independence” can be interpreted by some people.

I recently looked back at the MacTaggart lecture given by James Murdoch, who only yesterday appeared before the Select Committee to give evidence. The House might be interested to hear a small extract from what he said in that lecture:

“Yes, the free press is fairly near the knuckle on occasion-it is noisy, disrespectful, raucous and quite capable of affronting people-it is frequently the despair of judges and it gets up the noses of politicians on a regular basis. But it is driven by the daily demand and choices of millions of people. It has had the profits to enable it to be fearless and independent.”

He goes on:

“The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”

I fundamentally disagree with him, and I would urge people who are looking at how we progress, for example, our creative industries, not to believe that the removal of all regulation will enable the right sort of growth-the growth that we want. It is crucial that we have, for all parts of the creative industries, including and in particular the pr
ess, appropriate regulations. That is why the Prime Minister is absolutely right to talk about regulation-yes, by an independent body, but that regulation is needed.

We have spent a lot of time discussing the way forward in terms of regulations and new structures, but it is crucial to remember that we are at present gravely concerned about illegal activity that has taken place, and that is why it is crucial that everyone be required to contribute fully and provide full evidence to the investigation. Let us hope it is a better investigation than the one by the police last time around.