Sports minister rounds on 'stupid' Hain in sweets row

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When he was told by Tony Blair that he was to become the next minister for Sport, Richard Caborn could have been forgiven for thinking he had landed on a bed of roses with tickets to all the big matches, and a high profile in the media.

When he was told by Tony Blair that he was to become the next minister for Sport, Richard Caborn could have been forgiven for thinking he had landed on a bed of roses with tickets to all the big matches, and a high profile in the media.

But Mr Caborn was reminded again yesterday that the job of Sports minister can be a bed of nails after he found himself under fire from a cabinet minister. Peter Hain, the Leader of the House, described as "pretty indefensible" a promotion encouraging pupils to swap chocolate wrappers for school sports equipment. Cadbury's, the chocolate manufacturer, sponsored the Sport Active scheme in schools in which 5,440 chocolate bar wrappers could be traded in for a football net.

Mr Caborn was annoyed at the criticism, which echoed the damning report on obesity by the Commons Select Committee on Health, but was unabashed. He told The Independent: "I don't accept the criticism. I am not complaining. You have to be able to take the knocks. But I don't think banning chocolate from sponsorship is the right way to go about this.

"Anybody who thinks there should be prohibition on these things is just stupid. They tried that on alcohol in the States and it didn't work. It is really about moderation, whether it's drinking or any kind of food. But I don't think a bar of chocolate a week will do any child any harm."

The health committee also attacked Mr Caborn's ministerial boss, Tessa Jowell, for being "naïve'' in suggesting that the campaigns by snack makers could be countered by promoting more sport among children.

Mr Caborn won the sympathy of Ms Jowell, who telephoned him yesterday to say he had her total support. The Culture, Media and Sport Secretary also defended Mr Caborn in a GMTV Sunday Programme interview to be screened tomorrow, and rejected Mr Hain's criticism.

"I don't agree with him," she said. "There's a debate in Government about this. Either we have an honest and open discussion on it, or we shut the whole issue down and emerge with a conclusion at the end."

Mr Caborn took time out from his weekly constituency surgery in Sheffield to telephone Mr Hain yesterday to remonstrate with him. Mr Hain told him that he was not fully briefed before making his remarks on BBC Question Time. The Transport minister, Kim Howells, a former under-secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport,supported Mr Caborn against Mr Hain. Mr Howells said on BBC radio: "This kind of hysteria helps no one."

Mr Caborn said: "Cadbury's are not part of the problem. They are part of the solution to obesity as far as I am concerned. They have got more kids in this nation interested in sport than almost any other sponsor. They were one of the key sponsors of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

"Cadbury's got thousands of people involved in physical activity. The problem is that a child 30 years ago got 70 per cent more physical activity than a child today. What we need is for parents to recognise that it is a shared problem - mums have got to stop running their kids round to school in their 4x4s every morning. The real problem is that we lead too sedentary lives."

Mr Caborn, who participated last week in the 10km Great Manchester Run, will be refereeing a children's five-a-side football match in Yorkshire this weekend. "I don't think it's sponsored by Cadbury's," he said. "I think I'd better check."

It is not the first time that Mr Caborn has run into trouble with the sport portfolio. A keen golfer, and an occasional tennis player, he was tripped up in his first month in the job when Radio Five Live tested his general knowledge with five questions about sport. He failed to get one completely right.

Each of his predecessors have found the sport folio difficult to handle. Kate Hoey regularly upset the chiefs of the football world - who have Tony Blair's ear - and took the blame for the debacle over the rebuilding of Wembley. She cried when she was sacked. Other Sports ministers, from Tony Banks and David Mellor to Colin Moynihan and Denis Howell, all found it one of the toughest jobs in politics.

MINISTERS' TRACK RECORD

Kate Hoey, Labour (1999-2001)



Famous for: supporting the return of football terraces, regarded as a dangerous and daft idea by football chiefs.

Where is she now? Not-so-humble backbencher who is campaigning against a ban on fox-hunting.

Tony Banks, Labour (1997-2001)

Famous for: calling for ballroom dancing to be made an Olympic sport.

Where is he now? Backbencher, running Commons arts body which commissioned Thatcher statue.

David Mellor, Tory (April-September, 1992)

Minister as Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Famous for: wearing a Chelsea FC shirt in bed with an actress (denied it). Press said: "Toe job, then no job."

Where is he now? Football pundit.

Colin Moynihan, Tory (1987-1990)

Famous for: The former Olympic rower, who won several medals with the sport, defended boxing from those seeking to ban it.

Where is he now? House of Lords, inherited title after legal battle.

Denis Howell (1964-1970 & 1974-1979)

Name: Denis Howell, decd. (Minister for Sport: 1964-70 and 1974-79)

Famous for: Being sport minister in England's World Cup victory year 1966. Still recognised as sport minister 10 years after Labour Government fell in 1979.

Died, aged 74, in 1998.

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