You ask the questions: Tony Banks

(Such as: Tony Banks, why did you cross your fingers when you swore the oath of allegiance to the Queen?)
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Tony Banks, 55, is MP for West Ham and minister for sport. He was born in Belfast, grew up in Brixton and now lives in east London. He entered politics by election to the Greater London Council in 1970 and remained at County Hall until its abolition in 1986. He has supported Chelsea FC for more than 40 years but cites "18th-century political iconography" as his main hobby. His political heroes are Charles James Fox and John Wilkes.

Since you are the British minister for sport, what are you doing to promote the sporting success of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Iain Baird, Stockton-on-Tees

Not many people know this, but I am the English sports minister. There are others for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What do you miss most, from your time working with Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins?

Alex Sykes, Jeddah Prep School, Saudi Arabia

The sex and the money.

Given the xenophobia, bigotry and racism that seem to go with English sporting success these days, isn't it a good thing that most of our sporting sides continue to be unsuccessful?

Keith Flett, Tottenham, London

It is simplistic automatically to associate xenophobia, bigotry and racism with English sporting success. Sporting activity does not stand outside society's best or worst behavioural patterns. We should utilise the power of sport to reinforce the best and confront the worst within our society. Sporting success can unite the nation and lift the spirit. And we're not that unsuccessful, either.

What does the Labour Government plan to do to tackle drugs in sport? What is your reaction to the IOC scandals?

Philip Jenkin, Solihull

In this country we have one of the most rigorous anti-doping regimes in world sport. We will continue to insist that sport must be clean if it is to be fair, and that our athletes must feel confident that other countries are as rigorous as our own in combating doping in sport.

I made it clear at the IOC conference in Lausanne last month that we expect the Olympic movement to clean up its act. Unless we are certain that the selection process is fair, honest and transparent, there will be no Government support for an Olympic bid.

What political books have had the most influence on you?

Patrick Fox, Basingstoke, Hants

George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, The Iron Heel by Jack London, History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, and The Prophet Armed by Isaac Deutscher.

How do you reconcile the cont-radiction between the drive for non-competitive sporting environments championed by Labour Councils, and the enthusiasm for all things sporting (football, rugby and athletics) shown by the Prime Minister and your good self in recent years?

Wayne Richardson, Yatton, Somerset

Taken to extremes, both positions are undesirable. There is a sport for everyone, whatever their aptitude and level of physical ability, and the Government believes that competitive sport can play a crucial part in the development of the child.

Do you often get mistaken for Lionel Blair?

Joseph Mills, Leeds

Only when I'm dancing.

Shouldn't you have telephoned Glenn Hoddle to get his side of the story before publicly saying he should resign?

Martin Griffin, Southampton

I never said that Glenn Hoddle should resign.

What do you think the policy objectives of the new mayor of London should be in his/her first term of office?

Celia Holmes, London

Building confidence in the office; producing a transport system that works and an environment that's fit to live in.

Were you a good sportsman when you were younger? Which sports do you still enjoy?

Sheila Dobson,

High Wycombe, Bucks

I was useful at athletics and football but then fell foul of bread pudding and Woodbine cigarettes. I have long kicked both habits, but still enjoy both sports.

How is the Government planning to drive paedophiles away from football clubs to protect young players and fans?

Scott Roberts, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Following a series of Home Office seminars attended by voluntary groups to discuss possible amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 1997, the Government issued a draft code of conduct on child protection for voluntary organisations working with young people. This code of conduct gives advice and good practice on a range of issues, including how to conduct pre-appointment checks for convicted paedophiles, and what measures to introduce to minimise the risk of abuse of trust by those over 16 - sports coaches, for example. We understand that the FA's child protection policies are based on this code of conduct.

How do you think Graeme Le Saux and Robbie Fowler should be penalised for their recent behaviour?

Miss S Robinson, Salisbury, Wilts

I will leave the FA to deal with them, but I think they should both be forced to have dinner with me at the House of Commons so I can bang on about my 45 years of football reminiscences.

Why do you believe that Mohamed al-Fayed should be given a British passport?

Peter Murray, Glasgow

Why not? What did Zola Budd ever do for us?

Why do you think chess should be made a recognised sport?

Mrs CL Townley, Reading

Because it is already recognised in most of the European Union, and we are very good at it.

Who is your favourite sportsman, and why?

Mr RE Hewin, Chester

[The paralympic athlete] Tanni Grey, because she is a fantastic athlete and a wonderful person.

Do you think that the Government's obsession with increasing the standard of the three Rs in primary schools will damage the standard of British sport at a grass-roots level?

Andrew Hurst, Plymouth

No. But I do think we should invest far more in terms of facilities in school sports. If we want sporting success, it begins in the school. PE complements the three Rs; it does not detract from them.

Are you a supporter of fox-hunting? If so, why?

Mrs D McDaniel, North Wales

No. It's unnecessary and barbarous.

What did you hope to gain by describing the Tory leader, William Hague, as a foetus?

Anna Berringer, Hull

A good laugh, and it worked. It was a joke and, unlike most of the sad gits who took offence, William Hague didn't. He's a good sport.

Is it true that you do not support the monarchy, and that you crossed your fingers behind your back when you swore an oath of allegiance to the Queen?

Adam Burgess, London

My gesture was misinterpreted. I was advertising the National Lottery.

SEND ANY questions for Eileen Drewery, Glenn Hoddle's mystic adviser, and `drugs tsar' Keith Hellawell to: You Ask the Questions, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182 or e-mail yourquestions@, by 12 noon on Friday 12 March