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Westminster Hall

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 1 March 2007

Westminster Hall

Thursday 1 March 2007

[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Sport (Young People)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

I hope that we will have an informative debate. It is well attended even now, straight after lunch. I thank all those who will join the debate. Hon. Members have said to me in the Lobby over the past two or three days that they will make contributions, and I look forward to that.

The Government believe that sport in schools is an important issue and we have a good story to tell. The issue was highlighted this week on BBC radio, and I thank the BBC for what it has done in the recent past. It had Roger Black do a series on school sport, which was interesting. He went to a school in London that was not one of the best performing schools by a long way; in fact, it was well below the national average. It was interesting to hear the head say—I think that this was yesterday morning on Radio 4—that there had been significant improvements in the children’s behaviour. The children themselves claimed that their concentration levels were better and they were much more confident. In the school, there was a group of young people doing the scheme with Roger and a group not doing it, and there was a marked difference between the comments made by young people from the two groups.

On the point about London—I am an inner-London MP—does my right hon. Friend the Minister recognise that both youth sport and school sport are well recognised as far less adequately provided for in inner London than in almost any other part of the country and that levels of participation in most sports are inadequate in inner London, partly due to the lack of open space and access? Will he agree to meet me in the near future to discuss practical ways in which we might be able to take action to boost levels of participation in sport in inner London?

Absolutely. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and, indeed, any other people she wants to bring along to have that discussion. She is right that London is underperforming in relation to the average, although it has got much better over the past five years. It has particular problems, so I would be more than pleased to welcome to a meeting my hon. Friend and any person she wants to bring with her.

What Roger Black found in the school that he went to was exactly what we have found in many of the schools that we and the partnerships have been dealing with since 2001. That is why, as Roger Black explained on the radio programmes, we are investing considerable amounts in school sport. Since 2001, school sport has been completely transformed by the introduction of the national strategy for PE and sport. In 2001, fewer than 2 million children were doing two hours of quality physical activity or sport each week; by 2006, the figure had increased to some 6 million. I will repeat that. Two million young people were doing two hours of PE and sport in 2001; now, it is 6 million. That means that there are 8 million more hours a week of PE and sport in our schools now than there were five years ago.

I believe that that shift has not been equalled by any other nation in the world. We give credit to all those in the partnerships, including the schools, for delivering on that agenda. We are not complacent, however. We are investing some £1.5 billion in PE and sport in schools in the five years up to 2008. With the Olympic and Paralympic games coming to London in 2012, we have a real opportunity to harness the power of that event to encourage greater youth and community participation in sport and to create a lasting sporting legacy for future generations.

Let me outline our key achievements. The national school sport strategy, which is being delivered jointly by my colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has already been successful in driving up participation. Our target was to increase the percentage of five to 16-year-olds who spend a minimum of two hours each week on high-quality PE and school sport to 75 per cent. by 2006 and to 85 per cent. by 2008. We have already exceeded that target. Figures for 2006 show that 80 per cent. of pupils are participating in at least two hours of high-quality PE and school sport in a typical week. The strategy is a multidimensional one that builds a robust and sustainable infrastructure for school sport; helps to promote and support links with clubs outside the school environment; develops leaders and volunteers; identifies pupils gifted and talented in sport; and supports the professional development of teachers.

Every school in the country is now in one of the 450 school sport partnerships, each with its own partnership development manager. There are 422 sports colleges, including 14 academies with a sport focus. We offer true choice to our young people so that they may find an activity that appeals to them and suits their ability. Partnership schools provide an average of 16 different sports, including dance, which is proving popular with young girls.

It has now been proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that young people who have a choice of sports—more than what was available when I was at school many years ago, when probably we were offered three or four sports—are more likely to continue participating in sport when they leave school than they would be if they did not have that choice. One of the fault lines that I inherited as Minister for Sport, which we are addressing, was the fact that five years ago 70 per cent. of our young people did not continue participating actively in sport when they left school. That contrasts with some of the equivalent figures for the continent of Europe. In France, the figure is 20 per cent. We need to address that issue and as young people are offered more experiences in sport, they are more likely to continue participating in sport when they leave school. Growing numbers of pupils are also involved in sports leadership and volunteering.

That said, there is still further work to be done and new challenges to meet, and we are already working to address them. Our aim is that by 2010 all children will be offered at least four hours of sport every week: at least two hours of high-quality PE and sport at school, plus the opportunity for at least a further two to three hours beyond the school gates.

Access to good-quality sports provision is essential if we are to encourage young people to lead more active lives. One obstacle preventing people from being involved in sport and physical activity is a lack of good-quality sports facilities. The Government, along with the national lottery, have committed more than £1 billion to develop new or refurbish sports facilities.

Concerns are often raised about the sale of school playing fields. When I was in Brazil, in Rio, I did an extensive interview on sport and how our two countries are working together now. We have just signed a memorandum of understanding with Brazil on sport. During the interview, the interviewer said to me, “I gather, Minister, that you are still shutting playing fields back in your country.” I thought, “Well, that just shows how far that myth has gone—throughout the globe.”

The Minister is right to draw attention to the fact that, somewhat belatedly, the Government have stopped the sale of larger school playing fields in most cases. Does he not accept, however, that back in 2002 the Deputy Prime Minister said that the size of school playing field that should be considered as a larger playing field should be reduced from 0.4 hectares to 0.2 hectares? What is the Minister doing about the closure of smaller playing fields?

First, let me deal with where we are and I will come back to what the hon. Gentleman has said. The action that we took in 1998 has given playing fields the best protection through Government planning regulations. Local authorities are expected not to dispose of any playing fields needed by the community and are legally required to consult Sport England.

It was in 1998 that the Deputy Prime Minister made that statement. Yes, we still have to implement that fully, but we have given protection to playing fields. That involved three Ministers—me, as planning Minister, Tony Banks, who was then the Minister for Sport and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who was then in the Department for Education and Employment. In 1998, we started to put in place the toughest regulations, which we now have, to stop the closure of school playing fields.

There is no doubt that in 1997 we inherited a situation in which there was the wholesale selling of playing fields—at its peak, about 40 were sold a month. We had to arrest that and we did. I am pleased to note that recently we achieved a stock of 50,000 playing fields in England, which are providing good quality grass playing areas and pitches for the community. For the second consecutive year, there has been a net gain in playing fields. That means that we got more than we closed. In 2004-05, some 62 brand new playing fields were created—building on the 72 that were created in 2003-04. Overall, that is net gain of 35 new playing fields. I hope that those people in Rio will now understand that we are not closing playing fields, but have made a net gain in them.

The Minister assured me that when he had finished his rant about how successful the Government have been with larger playing fields, he would immediately return to the issue of smaller playing fields. Will he confirm that the Deputy Prime Minister told the House in 2002 that the Government would introduce regulations in respect of smaller playing fields of 0.2 hectares and above? When will the Government implement what the Deputy Prime Minister assured the House that they would do?

We recognise that the statutory requirement to consult Sport England does not extend to planning applications on sites of less than 0.4 hectares. That is precisely why Sport England and I support the change of the definition of a playing field to 0.2 hectares or more. The Department for Communities and Local Government will consult on that next year. Reducing the threshold will enable us to assess whether existing protections are sufficient to guard against the inappropriate disposal of those smaller, but vital, community spaces.

The hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge the significance of the move from the previous situation, in which there was the wholesale selling of playing fields, to the current one. We have introduced one of the toughest ever regimes on the closure of playing fields.

Can more be done? Yes, but the issues that I shall address shortly will demonstrate that we have got this argument slightly out of focus or proportion. This is not just about playing fields. We are in the early part of the 21st century and ought to be considering how we can develop other play areas, such as third-generation pitches with floodlighting and the like. That is important to our young people.

We are focusing on investing in facilities that are fit for the 21st century, including third-generation floodlit pitches that enable people to play sport whatever the weather, 365 days a year, and in state-of-the-art indoor facilities. Artificial pitches, particularly third-generation ones, are, broadly speaking, maintenance-free. They cost a little more up front, but once they are down, they cost less in maintenance and are probably more cost-effective overall. Importantly, those facilities can be used seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, if that is possible, given where they are sited.

Does the Minister share my disappointment that the 3G pitches funded by the Football Foundation in Paddington recreation ground, in Westminster, are consistently let out to high-paying sports clubs from outside the area at times when local children could use them? Many of those children are from deprived backgrounds—we have the eighth highest child poverty rate in the country—and they are pushed away from those facilities because they are not able to pay the kind of charges that are demanded by Westminster city council’s private leisure contractor. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quality provision that he is talking about, which the Government support, should be given as a priority to local, deprived and hard-to-reach communities?

In general, the answer to that is yes. I hope that agreements include giving people access to such facilities free of charge, in many cases, at times that are negotiated. I know that that happens, even with private contractors, who are getting into partnerships with the Football Foundation and other public organisations. Many of JJB Sports’ facilities are free of charge between 9 am and 4 pm, when many schools use them. In the evening they are available for commercial use. I do not know what the exact agreement is with the contractor that my hon. Friend mentions, but she should probably raise that with me again when she comes to see me about school sports in London.

We need to convince communities to back the facilities that have been put in place by their local authorities, which should be in use all the time. We have a tremendous amount of nimbies, so many facilities have to close down at 7 or 8 pm because people in the surrounding areas do not want lights on after those times. That has to be balanced with what we allow to happen in those areas, and it is preferable to having young people running around in the streets. There needs to be a lot more campaigning to ensure that facilities are used much more extensively. Currently, restrictions and constraints are placed on their use through the planning regime because of pressure from the local community.

In schools, the building schools for the future scheme is putting sport and physical activity at the heart of the building programme. Over the next 15 years, about £2 billion will be invested, through that scheme, in building schools for the community. The new facilities will be not just for the schools, but the community in which the schools are located. I know that there have been difficulties with private finance initiative schemes in the past, but I hope that they have been overcome and that the facilities will be seen as an integral part of the community. That is very important.

I move to the vital issue of coaching, in which we have made significant strides. It is evident, when one goes around and meets successful athletes, that every one of them puts coaching at the top of their agenda. That is why we want this country to be the leading coaching nation in the world by 2016. We have been working closely with Sports Coach UK on the action plan for coaching, which we will deliver over the next few years. I congratulate, in passing, Ian McGeechan, the chair of Sports Coach UK, and Pat Duffy, who have done a fantastic job. They will fundamentally change the approach to coaching, so much so that I hope that coaching will be right at the top of the agenda by 2016, and will become a true profession. That would be a significant step forward, but it can be done and is wanted within the sports world. We will then have a clear sports coaching structure.

The Government are investing £60 million between 2004 and 2008 to improve the quality and quantity of coaching. Last year we met our target of getting an additional 3,000 community sports coaches in place by the end of 2006. We have also established a network of coaching development officers to continue to support the profession by developing coaches. That is important, but has been neglected in the past. As well as driving up participation and improving athlete performance, coaches can help to deliver across whole areas of Government policy, including on health, social inclusion and education.

Coaches can help in the fight against child obesity by working with primary schools and can help to improve the nation’s health by working with doctors’ surgeries and getting referrals from doctors. Coaches can also do a first-class job in rehabilitating offenders on probation. I have seen that happen up and down the country. We can multi-skill coaches, as a profession, and move them into many other areas, where they will add tremendous value.

The national school sport strategy supports the links between schools and clubs. The main aim of the links is to increase the percentage of five to 16-year-olds who are members of accredited sports clubs. Our aim was to increase membership levels from 14 per cent. in 2002 to 20 per cent. by 2006, but we exceeded that target and 27 per cent. of young people are now linked into a club structure. The programme provides additional opportunities for children to develop basic physical skills and acts as a stepping stone to club sport. It has established more than 1,500 clubs.

The Chancellor’s instigation of the community amateur sports clubs tax breaks was a significant move to recognise that grass-roots sport needed that type of fiscal incentive. Mandatory rate relief builds on the back of that. All clubs that apply can access that relief—they do not now have to have charitable status to do so—and that can be done through CASCs. Many millions of pounds are going directly into grass-roots sport, which is at that club level.

I believe that when we took the mandatory rate relief through Parliament, the Central Council of Physical Recreation said that we had been fighting for it for 30 years. I was pleased that it was on my watch that clubs got not only the tax breaks but the mandatory rate relief.

Let us consider competitive sport.

I was hoping that the Minister might say a little more about the CASCs scheme, which is very welcome. He will recall that in January, on the Floor of the House, I asked how many clubs would be eligible for the tax reliefs. I thought that the Treasury, at least, would have the figures available, because it would need to know how much money to set aside. I was told that the Government did not know how many clubs would be eligible; I was given the welcome news that a few thousand had applied, but that far more could be doing so. Will he give us an update on the current figures and on what the Government are doing to encourage more clubs to take up this extremely beneficial subsidy that our CASCs are being given?

It is not a subsidy; it is an investment. I give credit to the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he has been pushing this very hard indeed in his area and beyond. We believe that there are about 140,000 to 150,000 sports clubs. The number that would access the CASCs scheme and the mandatory relief is about 50,000. The latest figure that we have is that 4,172 clubs were receiving rate relief as of 31 January 2007. That amounts to an additional £15.2 million going into grass-roots sports today. The estimate is that about 40,000 to 50,000 clubs could be involved, which means that £150 million could go into grass-roots sports if they all applied. I cannot say why they do not all apply. All I can say is that with the support of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the other governing bodies, we are, little by little, convincing clubs that they should apply.

As an aside, this situation shows a bit of a disconnect between some of the governing bodies and their clubs’ structure. There might be an issue about whether good communication is taking place. If it were, I am sure that governing bodies would have convinced their clubs a long time ago to apply for what is clearly a significant tax break. The beauty of it is that once a club gets the tax break, it is not like a grant or a loan, because it will be in place year in, year out, provided the circumstances do not change. It is an important investment in grass-roots sport.

I hope that this proves a helpful intervention. The Minister might be surprised to hear me say that he is absolutely right. The Deloitte and Touche breakdowns that are published every month make it clear that the sport governing bodies that promote this scheme actively, notably the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Rugby Football Union, lead the field by far in respect of the number of clubs that have taken up the scheme. He is right that it is down to governing bodies to promote this scheme actively among their clubs.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention. I hope that if this debate does anything, it asks governing bodies to revisit this matter and ensure that they communicate it positively to their clubs. He says that the RFU has provided some services to help the clubs apply, and it has acted in an effective and systematic way.

I want to dispel the myth that competition does not exist in our schools—on the contrary, it is thriving. Some 97 per cent. of schools hold a sports day, and 37 per cent. of pupils take part in inter-school sport. We are establishing a network of competition managers across school sport partnerships to improve the quality and quantity of competitive sport in schools. The first wave of 20 competition managers were appointed in September 2005, and at least 90 will be in place by the end of 2007. In their first year, nearly 40,000 young people attended one of the 690 competitions that competition managers had created. By the end of 2006, the figures had risen—more than 50,000 young people and 931 competitions were involved.

Building on an important part of the sports infrastructure in schools, we then decided to develop the UK school games. They are now the pinnacle of school sport competition. Hon. Members will probably remember that the inaugural games were launched in Glasgow last year. They brought together more than 1,000 young people in a four-day festival of sport, comprising five disciplines, including, I am pleased to say, two disability sports.

The event showcased our most talented young athletes, who could become medallists on the podiums in 2012—I hope that they will. The important part of the four-day event, which I was privileged to attend, was that it tried to replicate what happens in the Olympics. The Olympics are not just about a sporting event; they are about athletes coming together and living together in the village, and sharing their experiences across the different disciplines. Anyone who was in Glasgow last year will have seen that happening among a lot of young people. Kids from the east end of London were mixing with kids from Northern Ireland, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I am convinced that they will remember that experience for the rest of their lives.

We want to hold such an event each year as we approach 2012. I hope that we will be able to sustain that effort well beyond that, but who knows. Next year, the games will be held in Coventry and will be bigger and better. There will be more events and more competitors. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the excellent work of UK Sport and the national governing bodies of sport in the delivery of talent identification and development.

Besides the mass participation that has been attained, we now have in place a structure to identify talented young people, and not by chance as happened with Steve Redgrave, Kelly Holmes or Steve Cram. When asked how they got into sport, they tell us that a lot of it was down to the fact that they happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that the right person spoke to them. Through the talented athletes scholarship scheme, we have now put in place a system whereby young people from the ages of 11 to 25 can be identified and a bursary or scholarship may be awarded. For disabled people, the scheme runs from the ages of 11 to 35.

Slightly fewer than 900 people are on the talented athlete scholarship scheme, and to date it has supported slightly fewer than 3,000 athletes. The scheme is important for the development of our young people, because it takes them up to world-class performance level, where there is a major investment, both in terms of the individual athletes and the facilities. The English Institute of Sport is involved, and some of the best coaches, best sports scientists and the best sports medicine are available to those young people.

We now have 1,500 world-class athletes. We have built the infrastructure for 50 or so school sports partnerships, linked to the pathway programme, to move them into excellence and to realise the talent of any of those young people who want to get on to the podium. The investment is clear. That work is designed to enable all athletes to maximise their sporting potential and to progress through the UK’s world-class pathway programme to the pinnacle of their sport.

It is not just the most talented who will be inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. Our presentation to the International Olympic Committee in Singapore was all about the 2012 games inspiring a generation to take part in sport. I believe that what we said about using the power of the Olympic movement and the five rings to reconnect young people with sport clinched the vote of 54:50 against Paris. We are determined to deliver that aim, and we have started on the course of persuading more young people to play more sport, but we shall also do that internationally. In partnership with the British Council, the Commonwealth and UNICEF, we are working, first in five countries and then in 20 countries, to help them build up their sport infrastructure and to reconnect young people with sport in those countries.

I am delighted that Dame Kelly Holmes, our double gold medallist, is our national school sports champion, and I was with her on Saturday morning in Coventry. It is remarkable to see how the young kids’ faces change when she walks on to the field or into the playground. She is doing an incredible job by inspiring many young people—hundreds, if not thousands—throughout the country. That shows clearly that athletes such as Kelly Holmes and others can inspire young people, and we should use them more effectively.

I would be remiss if I did not recall one of our greatest Paralympians ever—Tanni Grey-Thompson—who has now put her wheels away. Tanni gave me some great advice when I was running a marathon. She said that she always takes a bag of raisins with her because when bashing through 26 miles of marathon, raisins are comfort food, but they also provide slow-release energy. I want to put on record our thanks to Tanni for what she has done for Paralympic sport. She has been an inspiration to many young people, and I hope that, whatever she does in future, she will continue to provide that inspiration to young people, particularly those with disabilities. She has shown that disability is no barrier and can be overcome. She has been one of our greatest athletes.

I do not know.

Another important part of our sport structure, particularly for young people, is volunteering. Sport would not exist in this country without volunteers, and we must focus on and continue to invest in that. Over the past five years, we have encouraged young people to become involved in volunteering and leadership as part of our national school sport strategy. The step into sport programme will invest £23 million up to 2008 and build on a huge amount of volunteering activity by young people in the sports sector. In addition, we are working with the Youth Sport Trust to develop a pathway for young people in the step into sport programme. That will help them to go on to become young officials in sport or to be deployed as volunteers at high-profile sports events and competitions, such as the UK school games, the world rowing championships and so on. The Olympics and Paralympics provide many opportunities for young people to become involved in different ways, including volunteering. We now have more than 800 recognised young ambassadors—outstanding young people who are helping to spread the Olympic message and ideas to their peer groups.

Sport has wider benefits. It has often been said that academically low performing schools concede that sport is a powerful tool for raising education standards. Participation in sport and recreation during the school day can assist concentration, behaviour and achievement, as Roger Black showed on his BBC programme. The percentage of pupils at sports colleges who obtained five or more good GCSE passes rose from 49 per cent. to more than 54 per cent. in the past two years. Sport and recreation has the ability to re-engage young people who have struggled in the education system, thereby offering them a route away from exclusion. There are many examples of sport being a medium that brought young people back into society.

More active young people will help to tackle society’s major problem of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Headlines on obesity are never far from the front pages, and childhood obesity is a major cause for concern, not only for our young people, but because of the health implications. I recently supported a Sport England/MEND initiative to change the attitude of some of the capital’s children and their families to sport and exercise. I was in the east end of London last week where the results of that have been remarkable. Those who are working with young people and their families should be commended for their work.

One of my first speeches on coming into this job more than five years ago was on a National Audit Office report on obesity. It was a brilliant speech, brilliantly delivered, but not one word was reported in the media. If I made that speech today, I am sure that it would be reported, not only in the broadsheets, but in the red tops. Within five years, the matter has come on to the agenda. We must address it and we are.

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have put money where their mouths are. As sports Minister for the past five years, I have been pleased with the support that I have received. Without such support, we would not have been able to make the advances that we have made. It has been significant. Many people throughout the world, including in Australia, come to see what we are doing not just in elite sports, but in achieving mass participation in schools and beyond, in clubs and the community. We probably have one of the most sustainable sport infrastructures anywhere in the world. If there is continued investment, it will go from strength to strength and will not only put future athletes on the podium, but will start to address issues, such as social exclusion, health and education, for the better.

Any debate on sport and young people should start by answering the fundamental question why sport is good for young people and, indeed, people of all ages. In my view, there are six main reasons.

First, sport is clearly good for physical health. As the Minister has said, that is important, because obesity levels, particularly among children and younger people, have risen by 50 per cent. in the past decade from 12.6 per cent. in 1997 to 18.3 per cent. today, according to the health survey for England. Secondly, sport is good for young people’s mental health. Thirdly, it is also good for their education—I attended a dinner for head teachers from specialist sports colleges last night, and they spoke about the positive effect of sport on the academic attainment of young people in their care. Fourthly, it can have a profound effect in combating antisocial behaviour and crime. One has only to look at America to see the effect of the midnight basketball experiment, in which young men are taken off the streets between 10 o’clock at night and 2 o’clock in the morning. There has been a large reduction in crime in major US cities. Fifthly, it contributes enormously to the economy. I have seen estimates as high as £22 billion. Finally and importantly, it stimulates national pride and social cohesion. I suspect that all hon. Members here this afternoon would agree that sport is indeed good for young people.

The logical way of approaching the subject is to examine the three main areas of sport—elite or high performance sport, school sport, and mass participation sport—and assess both what is currently being done and what needs to be done to help young people in all three areas. However, it would be wrong not to touch briefly on the London 2012 Olympics, which were won on a commitment to enable young people through sport.

Given the controversy about budgets, buildings, regeneration and construction, I worry that the central role of sport could be forgotten, and that worry is certainly shared by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, whose chief executive, Tim Lamb, said only yesterday:

“The Games are fundamentally about Sports—yet that is a word that’s barely been mentioned in recent months.”

I suspect that all of us here who agree that sport needs to be at the centre of the process want that to be corrected. Indeed, I would go much further and say that I hope that hosting London 2012 will lead to a much-expanded range of sporting opportunities—“opportunities” is the key word—for young people up and down the country, rather than solely to the regeneration of part of the east end. If the lottery is raided further to make up the shortfall, however, I fear that that opportunity will be diluted.

When the Minister winds up, as I assume that he will, will he give us a report on the progress that has been made in implementing the goals set out in the Chancellor’s article “My fight to get Britain fit for the Olympics”, which appeared in the Daily Mail four or five months ago? The Chancellor finished the article by saying:

“How much better we will all feel if Britain can lead the world in 2012 as one of the fittest and most sporting of nations”.

If he delivers on that, he will have my wholehearted support. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will tell us exactly what progress has been made.

I turn now to the three main areas of sport: elite, high-performance sport, school sport and mass-participation sport. On elite sport, which is almost exclusively, although not entirely, populated by young people, I can, again, start by being reasonable—this is, after all, Westminster Hall on a Thursday afternoon. I have genuinely been enormously encouraged by several of the developments that have taken place in elite sport since we won the right to host the 2012 games. First, there is no doubt that elite sport is now properly funded, although I hope that the Minister will update us on the whereabouts of the missing £100 million. That sum, which was due to be raised from the private sector, was announced in the Budget, but it has not yet appeared.

Secondly, UK Sport has now come of age and found a proper role as the lead agency in distributing money and setting rigorous performance standards. There have been complaints about centralisation, but—perhaps curiously for a Conservative—I entirely support the Government’s approach, because a little rigour and toughness were needed to get the system up and running. The Government took that approach safe in the knowledge that they would be able to take a more hands-off approach once they were satisfied that the correct systems were in place.

Thirdly, I hope that the English Institute of Sport, which the Minister has mentioned, can be brought further into the UK Sport system. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it makes little sense to have separate organisations with individual bureaucracies, when the money used to fund them could be better spent on sport.

Fourthly, although the Minister has indicated that he is not keen to do this, I hope that he will at least consider looking again the Select Committee’s recommendations on the independence of UK Sport’s drug-testing agency. I say that in no way as a criticism of the agency’s performance—quite the reverse—but it is important to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest. With the London Olympics soon upon us, our drug-testing procedures must be seen to be entirely above reproach. Making the agency more independent would allow us to become a world leader on anti-doping issues at precisely the time when the eyes of the sporting world are upon us.

The hon. Gentleman’s point is critical not only for youth sport, but across sport generally. Many national governing bodies have responsibility for the integrity of their sport, and that extends to issues such as doping. Is it not the time to consider whether money from betting organisations, which, after all, rely on the integrity of the sports involved, could contribute towards helping sporting governing bodies deal with such issues?

It is certainly a time to consider the issue, although I am not sure whether I know enough about the in-depth details to give the hon. Gentleman a firm commitment one way or another. It will be interesting to hear what the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), with his medical background, says about the issue, if he chooses to address it, but from what I can see, the problem with anti-doping agencies is that it is almost impossible for them to keep up with the game—as soon as they develop the correct testing procedures, another way of achieving the same results appears. My point was more that the drug-testing agency should not only be independent, but be seen to be independent, thus avoiding a conflict of interest. Clearly, anything that we can do would help, although I would be nervous about giving the hon. Gentleman a commitment one way or the other without the full facts.

To finish what I was saying about elite sport, however, I hope that the Minister will take some confidence, on a cross-party basis, from the fact that I am broadly satisfied with the progress that has been made.

I now turn to the second issue, school sport, which formed the bulk of the Minister’s speech. Clearly, school sport has a profound effect on young people. Last night, the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills and I had dinner with a group of head teachers who had been brought together by the Youth Sport Trust. The focus of the conversation was not so much on what has been done as on what needs to be done to take the process further, and I thought that the Minister and other hon. Members would be interested to hear the feedback. Encouragingly, the good news is that there was wide support for the Youth Sport Trust, and every one of the 12 or so head teachers around the table was enormously supportive of the trust, the specialist sports college system—that is not surprising, given that all the head teachers were from that sector—and the school sports co-ordinators. Rather more worryingly, however, when the head teachers were asked what they put that success down to, they said, “Ignoring directives from the Department.” There was a feeling that rigid adherence to the national curriculum would have made it difficult for them to achieve some of the things that they had achieved.

There was considerable concern about the spiralling cost of the Olympics and the effect that it would have on the lottery and thus on sports provision for younger people. There was widespread agreement that the additional two hours of sport that the public service agreement target requires by 2010 would have to be delivered by extending school hours, rather than as part of the mainstream curriculum.

There were also worries about the impact of such provisions on rural schools, which have transport difficulties. Somebody described the situation as rather like a balloon game, because there will be a large number of pupils at four o’clock, but only three or four left by the time it gets round to half-past four. That is because they have to be picked up at the school gate at different times.

The one thing that all the head teachers said was that there should be more focus on teaching core, basic sports skills at an early age in primary schools.

Inevitably, there was concern about the number of coaches, which the Minister has already mentioned. Critically, there was also concern about the amount of sport that is included in teacher training. There was a feeling right around the table that the number of hours included in general teacher training is too small and that that does not help to deliver school sport.

Finally, there was enormous enthusiasm for legal protection for volunteers, so that those who take sport and adventure training trips are free from malicious prosecution. To be fair to the Minister, there was enormous recognition at the dinner that much has been achieved, although we probably only heard about the real success stories. Equally, however, there is clearly an appetite to do a great deal more.

The third issue to which I want to turn is community or mass-participation sport, which also has an enormous effect on young people. Having been generous to the Minister over elite and school sport, I must say that this is currently the issue of greatest concern. The reasons for that are threefold. First, the amount of national lottery funding going into sport has fallen from £397 million in 1998 to £264 million last year, a cut of one third.

Secondly, we have had a succession of reports on this issue, including the Carter report commissioned by the Government and “Raising the Bar” by the independent sports review. Just before the last election, we also had the debate held by The Observer, in which the Minister took part and to which I listened just after I was appointed to my post. He will remember, however, that two of the four panellists, when asked what one thing they would do for sport, said, “Ensure efficient delivery mechanisms.” I am in no way convinced, however, that mass-participation sport has such delivery mechanisms.

Thirdly, there has also been a considerable increase in bureaucracy, which has affected community sports clubs. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) has commented on the issue in the past, but let me highlight the problem using an example from my constituency. Headcorn football club, which is a really good small community sports club, used to pay £25 every five years for its licensing fee. Following the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003, however, that has risen to £900 every five years—an increase of more than 3,000 per cent. The hon. Gentleman gave the example of one of the rugby clubs in his constituency before the last election.

What needs to be done about all that I have described? In my view, five things would help immeasurably. First, we should restore the national lottery to its four original pillars, so that sport would get at least 25 per cent. of the take. Secondly, we need to ensure that there are efficient delivery mechanisms, so that the policies set out by the Minister will be delivered at the grass roots. There is a process going on of modernisation of national governing bodies in sport—it is true that not all of them have been perfect in the past. However, they are by far the best delivery mechanism at the moment, and we should transfer to them the responsibility for bringing about increases in mass participation. Indeed, those governing bodies that have modernised are ready and keen to do that—I am thinking of the England and Wales Cricket Board, with which I was involved last year through the parliamentary sports fellowship, and the Rugby Football Union, which has a fabulous plan.

The third point is that, from the bottom up, we need to engage local authorities in the process better than we have so far, so that sport becomes more community-based. We need to strip out the bureaucracy that stifles some of the developments. A classic example is regional sports boards. I sat down with people from my regional sports board a year ago and said, “Tell me some things that you are doing in my constituency.” They looked completely blankly at me and could not tell me a thing. The boards may have more meaning in the part of the world that the Minister represents, but in Kent we think of ourselves as Kentish, not as part of a greater south-east; a regional sports board based in Reading does not have much feeling for the particular needs of Kent.

It is possible that the hon. Gentleman’s regional sports board did not have the facts and figures to hand, but as the chair of my county sports partnership, I assume that he went to his county sports partnership to see what it was doing in his area.

Indeed, I did, and of course it knew—that is the short answer. The chief executive of the Central Council of Physical Recreation said only a week or so ago that the problem with the regional structure is that sport in this country tends to be organised nationally or by county and that it is not regional, which is exactly the point that I am making.

Finally, the Government need to change their role to become as much a catalyst as a provider. The Minister paid tribute to the CASC scheme and I entirely endorse that. Why not extend that to sport governing bodies, by removing, for example, the National Sports Foundation—a creation of a couple of years ago that sat on top of Sportsmatch—and simply give those sports governing bodies an exemption from corporation tax, providing that they meet various basic criteria? That would be much simpler, and it would involve much less bureaucracy.

In conclusion, there is a mixed picture for young people across the sporting landscape at the moment. There have been clear improvements at the elite level, stimulated by 2012, and there has undeniably been progress in schools. However, the missing part of the equation at the moment is community sport, which has suffered as priorities have recently switched. I believe that sports policy for young people, and indeed for people of all ages, should be governed by three key principles. First, there is a need for an efficient delivery mechanism in the form of modernised sport governing bodies. Secondly, the Government’s role should be as much catalyst as provider, and, as far as possible, the policies and management should rest with sport itself. Thirdly, sport should be community-based.

The London 2012 Olympics was won because the bid was based on the enabling of young people through sport, which is one reason why the current budget row is so damaging. However, improvements in the opportunities around sport for young people, will not happen by themselves. It is vital to take action now if this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young people and for sport is not to be missed.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) invited me to comment on a Select Committee report with reference to drugs, but, along with the Minister, I may hold fire until another day. If a debate is precipitated on that, we shall, I think, mount a quite venomous attack on some of the conclusions that have been reached. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall leave that and get on with the issue before the House—young people and sport.

Some of us were fortunate, I think, to indulge in sports at an early age. We were good at some and bad at others, but it gave us a lot of experience of life. I remember coming, at the age of 14, to a place called England to play football against the English, and cuffing them 3-1. I did not come back for another four years, I might add, but here we are now. Sport can take people out of places, if they are quite good at something. Those who are fortunate enough to be elite sportspeople can get out and see the world. Because of the Minister, young people have many more of those opportunities than I had in my day, and so do young people in other countries.

Things have changed so much. I remember having to walk 2 miles, which was good for us, to play football when I was at school. In those days, we had one sink for about 40 of us to wash in, so we always had dirty knees until bath night, which was once a week. Things have changed a lot—showers are marvellous pieces of technology. I congratulate the Minister on what he has done to get things moving. Things are much better, but there is of course much more to do.

People get interested in sport for all sorts of reasons. I remember, for example, getting interested in cricket, because the English used to come up in their summer holidays, and they taught me how to play. I quite enjoy, now, playing in the odd charity match down here. People pick things up because they are interested in sport, and because a certain level of competence allows them to reach pastures that they would not have got to before. Golf was always a major thing in Scotland, because it was free. People could go out and have great fun in the school holidays, battering balls into the local river. In many ways that helped young people to develop not only to reach the elite groups, but to reach the world of the golf club, where they could enjoy the game. We did not just engage in those sports. We would climb trees and play a game called hotchy-pig, which I shall not describe. However, activity was very much part of the school playground. The 50-a-side game was marvellous, and there was no elitism there—kicking the ball was enough of an achievement, and we would go home elated if we did that.

Young people come up against sport in many different ways. They may see something on the television and fancy their chances of becoming as good as the person they have seen—the footballer, cricketer or golfer. Parents, too, can see that the benefits of certain sports are very important to the young person, and they will encourage them. I know, as will many other hon. Members, parents who drive hundreds of miles in a year to a swimming pool to allow young people to develop the skills that they are passionate about.

Schools are the first point of contact for young people with the sports in which they become interested. PE at school must be the most uninspiring thing in the world. In my mind I equate it with turkey twizzlers. I think of blue-kneed children trying to pretend that they enjoy touching their toes. That still goes on in schools, and it is because of the teacher. Not all teachers are good. I remember a teacher once telling my father to take me out of the school play so I could go to the police academy and learn how to box, because that would make me a good footballer. That was what a child had to be. Stuff of that kind still goes on in many ways among people who see elitism as what sport is all about. However, I think that sport is about engaging young people in an interesting pastime, which makes them into team players. There is nothing like having to play in a team to make people pull their weight. Everyone knows if someone is not pulling their weight, and a quiet word here and there can really help. Children who are stuck outside doing cross-country running is one of the saddest sights. The poor little devils have the right gear on, but they do not really enjoy it. Sport is not about forcing them to do what they do not enjoy, and we should find other ways to go about it.

The Minister has mentioned that many young women do not participate in sport—not as we understand it, anyway. We must get away from the traditional nonsense of hockey and netball, which they are forced to do because those sports are in some curriculum. I am interested in the dance and exercise classes that many young people, both women and men—Billy Elliots—can indulge in these days. The world is changing as far as ways of exercising and looking after one’s body are concerned. The Minister is very positive about helping sports partnerships, and the Norwich schools sport partnership gets coaches in—they are not indigenous to the county—to teach young people basketball. That does not seem revolutionary, but it is compared with what went on 20 or 30 years ago or even more recently.

I invite the Minister to form an all-party dance group with me. My researchers have told me about a fascinating dance called Capoeira. It is defined as

“a Brazilian martial art created by enslaved Africans”—

what a way to teach history—

“during the 16th Century. It originated in Nigerian or Angolan ethnic groups where members fought with music and the winner won a partner...Participants form a circle and take turns playing instruments, singing, and sparring in pairs in the centre of the circle.”

The Minister will like the next part, which is why he can chair the group and I can be secretary:

“The game is marked by fluid acrobatic play, feints, subterfuge, and extensive use of groundwork, as well as sweeps, kicks, and headbutts”—

rather like Sheffield United on a good Saturday afternoon.


The definition continues:

“Technique and strategy are the key elements to playing a good game,”

and it has various styles. I say that, because it is a Brazilian game and the Minister invited taunts against Brazil. However, they brought it to this country, and the number of people who indulge in it is amazing. There are many functions of dance in which young people can become involved.

The television interview to which I have referred took place in Rio. I was also in Sao Paulo, where I participated in that sport, and I have the film and the stills to prove it. The conclusion, however, was that I was not very good at it.

I thank the Minister for that intervention. I do not for a minute think that he and I should demonstrate our skills at that art in this place. The head butt and subterfuge we will leave for our professional lives.

Alternative sports are now crowding us. There is skateboarding, rollerblading and mountain biking, and many young people want to play those sports rather than the conventional sports that we play. We do not realise it, because those sports were not part of our scene. As parents in the Chamber will know, young people will not do what they do not want to do. We have to make activities appealing to and fun for young people, and we must also tell them about the benefits of sport.

I shall describe a little of the medical stuff without using the big words. As the Minister has said, sport can be built into school education programmes. When one exercises, things happen in one’s heart and lungs, which can really teach us about how our bodies work. Some television programmes ask people, “Where is your liver? Where is your kidney?” People’s answers are usually about 1½ ft out. They do not have any idea about their own bodies, which is sad in this educational age. “Education, education, education” is about our bodies, too, and through sport we can try to understand what happens when we undertake certain activities, and how one can strengthen one’s heart and lungs and take pride in them. We can do that in many different sports.

Norwich’s own queen, Delia Smith, feeds the footballers—not the fans—in a very interesting way with a balanced diet. We could teach people how food helps their bodies to undertake sporting activity. I shall not go into the details, but those people whom we used to call dinner ladies—they are called canteen staff these days—should try to understand how young people’s lives revolve around not only school dinners, but other activities. Canteen staff should play a major part—just as big a part as the Latin teacher.

We should not underestimate the mental functions that take place when one undertakes certain sports. Endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin are stimulated to interact much more functionally when people undertake sport. Depression is caused by an imbalance, and sport helps us to come out of the black world into which everybody goes at some time. Sport is related to more balanced food, and it gives people a more balanced attitude to mental health. Although one is—at a certain age—sometimes very tired after exercise, young people are at times hyperactive, and their hyperactivity is diluted by individual activities and their effects on the brain.

I shall discuss independent schools as against public schools—Scottish style public schools. The playing fields at some independent schools are absolutely marvellous. I always remember going to Hawick to play rugby. We had a head teacher who suddenly decided that in our final year, rugby was something to play. We got cuffed about 90-0 by Hawick rugby team. Their facilities were absolutely brilliant compared with ours. I described our single sink; they had three single sinks, which was luxury in those days. We would also go to Fettes and to Loretto—but that is all I shall say about going there and their facilities.

Independent schools have amazing facilities that sit fallow for a long time, and I am not taken in by their publicity in which they say that they share it with people from deprived areas with poorer facilities. I know what happens in places such as Norwich: people get on to independent school facilities once a year to play the game in which they are interested. For the rest of the time, the facilities are little used and we must do something about that. It is not fair that independent schools can claim charity status just because they let a group of people on to their facilities once a month. It is a real issue.

In Norwich, the school sport partnership with the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union works well to identify the athletes of the future. Norfolk needs more of them, because there have never been that many, and creating facilities will allow that to happen.

The English coaching system leaves a lot to be desired, however. I have mentioned schools, but coaching is so important. Holding a cricket bat is quite an art. Even the English boys who visited on holiday could not teach it to me, because I still held it strangely. However, there is a way, and coaches can teach us how to be better at a game, whatever it happens to be.

I am also proud of StreetGames, a not-for-profit organisation that is doing good work to help young people in poorer areas to play sports by bringing the facilities to where they live. I do not want young people to walk 2 miles, 5 miles or get a bus—if they can—to go to the richer kids’ place in order to play. We must think about how we can meld the sports that young people want into the areas in which they live.

After-school classes are very important, too. I do not know whether it is still difficult to get teachers to stay on after school. There is still a hangover from the strikes, but they are receding in people’s minds, and many younger teachers stay behind voluntarily to help young people to develop their skills. We must allow teachers time off to train, so that they can coach and help. Never again must a child be told that they should give up the school choir to learn how to punch somebody out. That world must disappear, but its remnants still exist.

Walking kids to school is very important. I am sure that everybody present has constituency problems whereby people park on drives and fights develop at school gates over where people park. Most children have only to walk 2 miles. I should be tough and cut that street off to make them walk to school just to see how it works. All the voluntary stuff does not work, and we must take really tough action. Who knows? With a change of leadership, it might happen.

Young disabled people really have problems. We have mentioned the Paralympics, but there is a problem with facilities for young people. I spoke to someone the other day who is partially sighted. Of course, there are people who are blind, too. They are perfectly capable of playing football; one can put a bell in a ball, and they want to play. However, we ignore at our peril the large group of young people who have eye or limb disabilities.

The Paralympics in Athens had huge support. I have a daughter who works out there. She worked at the Paralympics, and she said that it was amazing: on some days, they had more spectators than the major Olympics, because there was more interest in and support for young people striving hard against the odds to achieve something, which they do. We must do more to provide them with facilities and transport to those facilities.

Swimming is absolutely amazing, but travelling 100 miles on a Sunday morning to an Olympic-style swimming pool is not enough. We must move not tomorrow, but in the next five to 10 years to ensure that that does not continue. Access and facilities are the major issue.

Sport really does maketh the man and the woman. It is so important in our lives. They say it is “character building”, which is a generalisation, but everyone knows what I mean. It teaches us to do things together at different levels, and at the end of the day, people who become involved in it, achieve something and feel proud of their achievements. What more could we, as politicians, offer than the facilities and the right to do that?

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and I agree that showers are wonderful things. I enjoyed his reminiscences about games in the school playground. I do not know if he played British bulldog, which was the game that caused my adrenalin to rise regularly in school.

I was grateful that the hon. Gentleman referred to the importance of coaching, which I shall return to in a few minutes, and I was delighted to hear him mention something that not enough has been said about so far: the importance of recognising that people with disabilities are perfectly capable of participating in sport. That is why, whenever we talk about the Olympics, we should always talk about the Paralympics. I do not know whether he had an opportunity to see this on television, but when I was at Twickenham to see England beat—in fact, thrash—Scotland, I saw a demonstration before the match. It was put on by young people to show the way in which the Rugby Football Union is seeking to build up a rugby game in which the blind and partially sighted, those who are wheelchair-bound and the perfectly ably bodied are able to play together in a competitive form of rugby.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for letting me interrupt him as he has just started. The RFU is also doing midnight rugby in Rugby itself, which is astonishingly successful, and tag rugby at lunchtime in business parks that are separated out from communities. If we were having this debate 10 years ago, rugby would not have been there. It is interesting to see how our national bodies have grown up and worked out that they owe us something.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I was going to praise the RFU, as the Minister did earlier, for the way in which it has gone out and promoted the benefits of tax reliefs to community amateur sports clubs, for example, and for the many other things it is doing.

Normally, at the beginning of these Adjournment debates, we know why we are here and we congratulate the relevant Member on securing the debate. There is some confusion in the minds of some of us about why we are here, so I suppose I ought to begin by congratulating the Minister on securing this debate. I have no doubt that he was hoping that this would be an opportunity for everyone to give him paeans of praise for his great success in being the longest continuously serving Minister for Sport. Since no one else has done that, I would like to place it on record that I genuinely congratulate him on that achievement.

I am sure that he read with interest, if he was not there, the speech that the Prime Minister gave to the Youth Sports Trust conference in Telford on 1 February. The Prime Minister gave a huge list of all of the successes in school sport that had taken place, but sadly made no reference whatever to the right hon. Gentleman, who deserves credit for many of the successes announced at that conference.

Whatever the reasons are for us being here, this is an important debate. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss the positive role that sport can play in young people’s lives and the way in which we can improve upon the successes that we already have. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) was right to say that we should make it clear why it is so important. After all, 29 million people in this country regularly take part in sport or some form of regular physical activity. People are interested in it and it is right that politicians, who represent them, are equally interested and have comments to make about it.

We have already heard why we should be interested. Sport provides solutions to the issue of obesity in society and shows young people how they can live fulfilled and healthy lives. It can help with educational achievement and can help those who feel excluded and isolated by developing teamwork, leadership skills and social interaction. It helps to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour, it improves behaviour in school and contributes to the economy. Perhaps above all, it can inspire each and every one of us, whether through the achievements of an elite athlete or someone in the local community who successfully completes a half-marathon for charity—in the Minister’s case a full one—with a personal best. We can all be inspired by such things, and that is important.

The Minister, who secured the debate, rightly pointed to a number of successes, which I acknowledge. They include the success of the national school sport strategy, which went live on 1 April 2003. We heard from the Minister about the fantastic increase in the number of children doing two hours of PE a week, which has now reached 6 million. We should have realised that increase much earlier, but we have got there nevertheless and now there is talk of extending it further.

There is a lot of talk about the decline of competitive sport in schools, but the latest figures demonstrate that that is simply nonsense: 97 per cent. of schools now hold a sports day and 37 per cent. of pupils take part in inter-school sport. We should welcome that and the fact that increasingly we have a sustainable structure for sport at all of the different levels referred to by the hon. Gentleman.

We have seen growth in the important area of coaching, with more money going in, but a lot more work needs to be done. I cannot help but mention the other great innovation that the Minister rightly takes personal responsibility for—the introduction of the UK school games. I would like to put on record that we are waiting for an announcement from the Minister about where the games will go during the next few years. I commend the excellent Bath-Bristol bid to him. Not only would it bring fantastic opportunities for thousands of young elite sportsmen and women to use the excellent facilities we have on offer, but our bid would ensure that everyone in our community in the sub-region of the west of England would have the opportunity to try their hand at sports that they might not otherwise have tried, and it would be backed by a full cultural programme. We look forward with anticipation and anxiety to the Minister’s announcement in the near future.

Having said all that, everybody accepts that there is still a huge amount to do. I will not repeat what has been said by others about the problem of obesity, other than to say that that problem has not remained static or got less problematic. Obesity problems are getting worse year on year despite all of the successes. The figures for the past 10 years show that the proportion of boys and girls aged 12 to 15 who were obese in 1995 was 10.9 per cent. and that it had risen to 18 per cent. by just over a year ago. The figures for girls show a rise from 12 per cent. to 18.1 per cent. Those figures are staggering and show why obesity costs the nation billions of pounds every year. That is why it is crucial that we take action in the areas that have already been talked about, and it is why we are using the Olympics as a springboard to improve the general health of our nation, particularly that of young people.

There are problems. A staggering number of people drop out of sport when they leave school. The figures vary, but roughly speaking, 70 per cent. of young people drop out of doing any sport whatever the minute that they leave school. We need to address why that happens. I think that the hon. Member for Norwich, North put his finger on the reason: we simply do not offer a wide enough range of sporting activities for young people in schools so that they can find a sport that they want to do—one which will become a passion that they can take into later life. I welcome the link between school and sports that is being developed by the Government. It is the way forward and we need to ensure it progresses much more quickly.

We need to ensure that we provide appropriate sporting facilities. The Minister talked about the wonderful work he has done in preventing the sale of larger playing fields, but told me that we will have to wait until next year even for consultation on the smaller ones. I remind him that the fields he is preventing from being given away are the equivalent size of 15 tennis courts or more. I am interested in the smaller ones—those from 0.2 hectares.

To return to the hon. Gentleman’s point about offering young people a range of sports, as I said, 16 sports on average are offered in the school sports partnerships. However, we are offering 22 different sports in the club links work strand. It is also interesting that dance, which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North mentioned, is now the second most popular sport offered in schools and is being offered in a creative way. Five years ago the hon. Gentleman would probably have been right, but the whole scene has moved dramatically in the recent past.

The Minister is right, but his own figures show that only 27 per cent. of young people—roughly a quarter—are involved in a scheme that is linked with a club. We need to build on the undoubted success that has been achieved, for the very reasons that I have given. There would be clear support for any moves by the Minister on that.

We also need to ensure that the money that has been made available is being spent. The Minister knows that I am a frequent critic of the Government’s failure to spend on time. The £750 million of New Opportunities Fund money allocated for physical education and sports that the Prime Minister announced ought to have been spent by March last year, but at that time, and even subsequently, only 50 per cent. had been spent. Where money is allocated, we need to get on and spend it.

We also need to ensure that we do not waste money. The £6 million that Sport England spent on the active people research was undoubtedly a complete waste of money because all the information that was gathered had already been gathered. If we are going to do something that we think is helpful, we also ought to do it on time. The Domesday project to gather information about where all the sporting facilities in the UK were—what became known as active places—actually took longer to compile than the Domesday Book itself. So, we need to get on with things.

We need to be careful. The Minister was proud to announce that some of the targets had been met and surpassed, but it is easy to be picky about which targets to mention. I remind him that we have an activity target, to get 70 per cent. of the nation active by 2020. We are years behind on achieving that target, which is based on mistranslations of Finnish documentation anyway. The vast majority of sporting bodies say that the target is complete nonsense and the Wanless report described it as aspiration and unlikely to be achieved. We are failing on that largely because the wrong target was chosen in the first place.

There are things that we could do better, including getting people more active in a way that the hon. Member for Norwich, North mentioned. Far too many school pupils are driven distances of 1 mile or less to school. Research that I conducted a few years ago showed that if we could get all those who are driven 1 mile or less to school to walk or cycle, we would save the equivalent in weight of 30,000 John Prescotts, which would be a good move.

We should not expect the Government to do everything. We should welcome those many firms and organisations that are involved in promoting sport. We could mention many of them, such as B and Q, and its work with the Olympics, and even the banks. They have been heavily criticised for their large profits, but we should certainly praise Barclays bank for its wonderful spaces for sport programme; indeed, I was delighted to open one such facility in my constituency recently. There are many others we should congratulate on the work that they do, such as the sports governing bodies, including the Football Association, which does wonderful work in partnership with clubs, such as Chelsea, to launch positive community initiatives. Yesterday my attention was drawn to Gibbs Green special school in west London, where children with emotional and behavioural problems, and children from five other primary schools in the area are given opportunities to be involved in football, with all the benefits that it brings. We also ought to praise the Central Council for Physical Recreation for its work with those 150,000 voluntary sports clubs and its work to promote the CASCs tax reliefs, as well as the RFU, which has already been mentioned, and the other sports governing bodies.

In answer to a point made in discussions about the regional bodies, it is absolutely right to praise the work of the sub-regional bodies and the county sports partnerships that are now under way. Wesport in my area, which is led by the wonderfully charismatic Steve Nelson, is doing fantastic work in the Bath-Bristol area. I congratulate him on his work. One of Wesport’s schemes is about recognising the national schemes that the Minister and the governing bodies have put in place to provide pathways up to elite sport for young people and all the way to high coaching level for coaches. All those national schemes are little use, however, unless work is done on the ground locally to identify those people, whether through the talented athlete scheme or whatever else. That is one of the key things that Steve and his team in Wesport are doing, and they deserve to be praised for it.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that even at county sports partnerships level, the idea is that the final delivery mechanism is the community sport networks, or as they are called in Leicestershire, local sporting alliances. The hon. Gentleman criticised the active people survey, but those data and statistics allow people at grass-roots level to find out why specific groups in geographical areas are not participating. Does he not agree that delivery will happen through those sorts of mechanisms, not—with all due respect to the Minister—through handing out massive targets?

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, other than his point about active people. The vast majority of the data collected nationally by the active people survey were already available locally, where that information is needed, for the reasons that he has given. However, I entirely agree that work at local level is critical.

Briefly, the other group of people whom we should praise are our current elite athletes, who do so much good work. We have heard about Tanni Grey-Thompson and the many other sporting heroes, such as Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Steve Redgrave, who is doing fantastic work with his proposed Olympics “X-Factor” for tall athletes. We ought to thank all our current sporting heroes for their work to enthuse young people and get them involved.

More can be done. We could do more about school playing fields, which are critical, and more to promote the benefits of the CASCs tax reliefs schemes. There could be a fund of £150 million being spent, but in truth the figure is currently less than 10 per cent. of that. We need to encourage more clubs to become involved. We need to do more to develop the school-club links. I congratulate the Minister on what he is doing, although I hope that he does not go down the route that the Conservative party has proposed and say that we should never dictate how lottery money should be used. The Conservatives’ proposal for a club-to-school link is that the £750 million be taken from the lottery. I am sure that the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent will regret the fact that they have made that proposal just when they are saying that the Government should not take money from the lottery.

I end, however, by echoing something that the hon. Gentleman said about the lottery. Among the various lottery good causes, there are some fantastic schemes that are related to the very topic that we are debating. Taking any additional money away from those lottery good causes to pay for any increased cost in the Olympics would do huge damage not only to people’s support for the Olympics, but to the very thing that we have said the Olympic games are all about—using them as a springboard to get people engaged. I have looked with interest at some of the Big Lottery Fund schemes, but I draw the Minister’s attention in particular to an exciting scheme in his constituency put forward by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. The scheme will involve young people aged 13 to 19 in his constituency living in disadvantaged areas in terms of work, and health and fitness, and will involve sport and sports work staff. It is crucial schemes such as those which could be cut if there is a further top-slicing of money from the lottery good causes to pay for Olympics overspend.

The Minister deserves congratulations. He is the longest continuously serving Minister for Sport and has achieved a great deal. We welcome that. I hope that he will acknowledge that, nevertheless there are further things to be done. I hope that I have suggested one or two of the areas in which that work can be done.

I want to talk about the falling-off in levels of physical activity at age 16, which other hon. Members have mentioned, and the consequent lessening of the willingness to take strenuous exercise and participate in sport as we get older. I shall move on to talk about how the StreetGames initiative is helping to overcome such issues in Salford and the rest of the north-west.

My constituency of Worsley covers the local authorities of Salford and Wigan. The Sport England active people survey was bad news for us locally, because it showed that Salford has one of the lowest percentages of 16 to 19-year-olds who do 30 minutes of exercise three times a week—less than 20 per cent., compared with the national average of 35 per cent. Not surprisingly, the other side of that was that 31 per cent. of our 16 to 19-year-olds are doing no exercise sessions at all. Wigan had a slightly higher level of inactivity, with almost 33 per cent. of its 16 to 19-year-olds doing no exercise. When we consider the focus on rugby in Wigan, it is a little disappointing that a third of its young people do no exercise at all.

Does that matter? Coupled with that level of inactivity, we have high levels of health inequalities and concern about health, so I guess it does. We also have very high levels of long-term illness and incapacity and consequent reduced life expectancy. In fact, in the ward of Little Hulton in my constituency, life expectancy is seven years less than that of another ward just 10 minutes down the road. It has the highest level of stroke and heart disease in Salford, and a nearby ward, Walkden North, has the highest rate of cancerous disease in Salford. We have some way to go.

The Sport England survey shows that inactivity among 16 to 19-year-olds follows through to adulthood. So how inactive are our adults? Nationally, as has been referred to, 21 per cent. of adults take part in three exercise sessions a week, but the figure is only 18 per cent. among adults in Salford. Whereas the national figure for adults who take no part in sport is just over 50 per cent., the figures for Wigan and Salford are 54 per cent. and 55 per cent. respectively.

I do not want to be hypocritical; if I talk about other people not doing sport, I have to consider what I do myself. I have thought about my own experience of sport. As a child, I was not particularly competitive, although I got quite proficient at swimming. I was lucky enough to go to a secondary girls’ school with its own modern swimming pool, and we also played netball and tennis. At age 14, I and most other girls just stopped doing all those activities. The main reason was simple: the school did not have any hair dryers. At the time, I had very long, straight hair and there was no way that I was going to undertake any gym, swimming or other sport—although I liked them—and mess up my fabulous hairstyle. So that was that.

Such things may seem trivial; I notice that I am the only woman MP in the Chamber. However, I was listening to Kelly Holmes, the national school sports champion, who has been considering why girls do not take part in sport. She has been reporting back this week, and the issues that I have mentioned are involved. She was talking about facilities and about communal showers, which girls do not like—they have no curtains and probably no hair dryers, although Dame Kelly did not refer to those. Most of us would not go to a private gym that did not provide private showers and, for women, hair dryers. We have to ask ourselves why our municipal sports and leisure facilities and schools are still far behind on that issue. If such things are stopping girls and young women—and young men, given that they have concerns about their appearances—we should take them into account.

There has been progress; I am not saying that facilities in schools and municipal leisure centres are as bad as in the days when the question was whether there was one sink or three. On the issue of local facilities, however, the aquatic centre in Manchester, which was built for the Commonwealth games, has mixed-gender showers. There are people—women and people from different ethnic minority groups—who will not use that centre or will not take a shower there. That magnificent new sports facility has mixed-gender showers, and we have to address such issues.

Luckily, I was saved from the inactivity into which I had slumped in my teens and early 20s by colleagues at work who had taken up squash and encouraged me to do the same. We were so appallingly bad that we took up running to improve our fitness on the court so that we could win the competitions that we kept losing. I then met the man who became my husband, who was involved in orienteering and really enjoyed running. Running got me back into activity. We started doing fun runs and half-marathons—once I even did a full marathon. I was encouraged in that by the support of people who ran with me, which is very important. It is very hard to keep up a commitment on your own, so it is great if people can find others to support them.

Young people who have become or are becoming inactive need encouragement and support. As other hon. Members have mentioned, we also need better and more accessible facilities in our communities. I was delighted to find out about the StreetGames initiative, which is developing strongly in the north-west. I attended the launch event, which took place in the House in January this year, where I met the north-west StreetGames team. As I discovered, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) has mentioned, StreetGames is a new charity established to bring sport to the doorsteps of those who most need it. It complements activities in schools, of which we have heard a lot in this debate. It is important that StreetGames should focus on activity out of school time.

Some schools in the Worsley constituency have already benefited substantially from the Government’s commitment to improving sport in schools, and more will do so in the coming years as a result of the building schools for the future programme. St. Mary’s high school, Astley and Bedford high school are on the Wigan side and have both recently established multi-purpose astroturf pitches. It has been insisted that the facilities should be used for the community by people other than those who go to the schools. Many estates and deprived communities still do not have such facilities or sports clubs. As I have mentioned, even when such clubs and facilities exist, we have to acknowledge that, as I have touched on, girls are significantly less likely to belong to clubs and use their facilities than boys.

I shall not go into great depth, but I have a concern, which I will follow up, about the cost of participation in sport or exercise, which is a key factor. Even if a person wants to get involved in running or some other group activity, they start to need sportswear, which needs to be washed, and shoes. In certain sizes of family, that puts a significant extra into the budget every week. There are also entrance fees, bus fares or other transport costs. For some families in my constituency, meeting those costs would be very difficult. There are some very low-income families, and the cost of such things must be a factor for them. It is significant that when Wigan local authority offered free swimming to children and young people, the numbers participating rose dramatically. Even entrance fees play a key part; although I have not checked whether the swimming pool involved has hair dryers.

The StreetGames model also aims to get more coaches into communities, which is also important. Coaches can work on whatever is there in the community—a multi-purpose sports area, such as those in the schools that I have mentioned, grassed or tarmac areas or community halls. Many such facilities are not used for local activities as much as they might be. What impresses me about StreetGames is the finding of new ways to deliver sport, such as opening up disused buildings or using portable floodlights on car parks—anything that can create a space that young people can use. We can say that there are no facilities, but if we look around us, we see that there are bits of tarmac and places where people can have a kick about and do activities.

Most importantly for girls is the inclusion of dance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) pointed out in the House yesterday, dance reaches parts of the British public that other physical activities cannot reach. We know that girls have a high drop-out rate from sport by the age of 18. Yesterday, my hon. Friend said that

“surveys in 2003 and 2004 of 50,000 year 9 pupils in more than 700 schools in the north-west of England showed that dance was the top recreational activity for girls outside school.”—[Official Report, 28 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 929.]

When looking at any festival or activity, we see girls involved in dance and cheerleading. Dance is popular, and increasing participation in it can only be good for health. Cheerleading is interesting in itself. Girls are keen to do the sheer physical practice that it involves, which is a good form of exercise. I do not apply my comments about dance to myself, as I have discovered that I have two left feet. Salsa and all the other dances may be good for us, but I am going to stick to jogging.

As well as increasing participation in sport, StreetGames has enabled that important group of young people—those not in education, employment or training—to connect with sport. We should really worry about that group, often called the NEET young people. Any initiative that offers training and can take such young people through coaching or make them learning mentors can be a good result for a young person who is not doing anything else and for their community. I, too, know that one of the difficulties of running sports activities in my constituency is the lack of coaches and volunteers. People’s lifestyles have changed, and although they want to take part in things and want their children to take part in things, there are not those who are willing to run football clubs, dance troupes and so on.

Having StreetGames in the north-west for a period of time has been really good. The programme has involved young people, and it has gone out to deprived communities where nothing is happening. Last year, 630 young people from some of the most deprived communities in the north-west took part in activities that culminated in a tournament on 1 September. There were big attractions, stars and celebrities came, and the young people could bring along a coach, if they had one in their community, family members and friends. Eight different types of sport were on offer, plus dance.

This year, the north-west StreetGames tournament is on 31 August. I hope to attend, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport will, too.

The Minister says that he will attend, which is good.

Recently the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport asked MPs, athletes and those who work in sport to go out and recruit another 10 street gamers. Part of what I want to do today is to highlight that initiative, which other hon. Members have also mentioned. It should spread throughout the country and our communities, because such innovation is vital to ensure that we counter the trends.

We have talked in this debate about improvements in schools and activity levels, but, as with everything that the Government do, there are pockets where things are just not happening. The value of the survey has been to show that we are not getting through to people in some places—for example, there are still problems in Salford and Wigan.

In parts of my constituency, physical activity levels are falling off. Obviously, initiatives such as StreetGames can help to empower young people, to remind them what they enjoy about sport, to improve their health and fitness and to develop their skills and confidence. For me, sport is about quality of life. It is a great thing that in the more active parts of my community there are pools, sports clubs and people involved in sport.

Such initiatives may produce—I shall now do a bit of name dropping—another Michael Vaughan. He lived in my constituency and started playing cricket there before his family moved to Sheffield.

Yes, but he started in Worsley, and I claim him for Worlsey. Ryan Giggs, the footballer, was born in Salford, and, importantly, there are female athletes and sports personalities such as Paula Dunn-Thomas, who lives in Salford and coaches young people. I hope to see the spread of that initiative, which I am keen to support myself.

I congratulate the Minister for Sport on this debate. We have had many debates on sport while he has been the Minister. I believe that the reason so much has been done in sport is because we have had the same Minister for such a long time. That is a lesson for Governments: the merry-go-round every 18 months, with a change of course, means that Ministers hardly get their feet under the table before they are moved. In this instance, I pay tribute to the Minister not just for his longevity, but because he has learned more and more and got deep into some of the big issues. Well done and congratulations.

I will probably die before sport is officially delegated to local authorities, but everything that we are discussing happens because we do not make sport provision compulsory on local authorities. If we are going to change the tax system for local rates, somehow, somewhere—it is a dangerous area—we must couple that with making sport and health education compulsory on local authorities. They have a get-out clause. In poorer communities, where health and physical activity levels are worse, all the things that are needed to improve them are also worse. I have some ideas that have not been discussed today.

The first is about delegating to local authorities and borough councils. My friend, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) and I share Swale borough council, which has delegated responsibility for its sports fields to an outside contractor. At the same time, it has increased the hire cost to youth sides and adults. The fields are not fertilised, guarded, lined or looked after in the summer. People who play say, “What is the point? This is outrageous.” The National Audit Office should look at this. It is not reasonable to ask people to pay more for less, but the council can get away with it because there is no political pressure.

I want to make a proposal. We have the National Trust. Would it be possible for sports clubs to develop a national sports trust, so that they owned the facilities? Trevor Brooking came to an area in my constituency—New Road in Sheerness—when he was chairman of Sport England. He said that it had the worst facilities that he had seen. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) talked about having one sink. We have no sinks. At some of our fields, one still has to change in the car. There are no showers, there is nothing to offer opponents, there is no tea, there is nothing afterwards.

The Isle of Sheppey is an hour from London, but Members would not believe how appalling the facilities are there. We have some of the highest heart disease and cancer rates in south-east England, and I believe that there is a connection. If one does not get activity levels right at the start, they will not be right as children grow into mature adults.

Is it possible to consider a different way of spending some of the money that we take for television rights? I wonder whether in the next five or 10 years we could consider making money available for organisations that would like to buy the facilities from the local authority. They could hold them in a charitable trust and then—this is the key—apply to the foundations, whether cricket, rugby union or whatever. The Football Foundation will not even talk to someone unless they own their facilities. I believe that it would be possible, in that beautiful civil service way, permanently to loan the fields to the trust so that people can start to build pavilions to change in and improve the quality of the pitches.

The same argument applies to schools. An extraordinary organisation called the Health and Safety Executive tells me that the fields are too bumpy. Children in some primary schools are not able to play. Why? Because there are no longer any grounds staff. I would be baffled if Members asked around in their constituencies and found more than two permanent grounds staff in the whole of their education authority. That is shocking.

We could start to deal with the problem in the further education colleges. Why is there not a groundsmanship national vocational qualification? We must try to get around this problem. Less able kids like gardening and playing, but they cannot see a way forward. Groundsmanship is one way, and if academies and specialist sports schools could just tease it in and deliver perhaps six to 10 18-year-olds with an NVQ in groundsmanship each year, we would be off. The youngsters could be attached locally, and the cricket and soccer fields would come back. That is one area where we still have work to do.

Let me start from another perspective altogether. The two Government achievements in the past 10 years of which I am most proud are the minimum wage, which is a wonderful thing—there were 2,000 people in my constituency earning less than £2 an hour in 1997—and Sure Start or family centres. They are the most profound achievements of my party since it introduced the national health service in 1948.

I want to focus on Sure Start, because I do not think it does enough to promote sport. For example, when a pregnant woman comes into the system, there are no facilities in Sure Start centres for exercise, as far as I can make it out. If the woman is already obese, the child suffers during the pregnancy and after they are born. If we are trying to improve the health of the nation, we must ensure that Sure Start centres have facilities to make exercise, like eating, a normal activity. Then, once the child is born, mums need to get back into shape, but they find that one of the more difficult things to do. They are overwhelmed by having a child, and dads are not so good in the first three to five months—they tend to step back slightly. Sure Start centres therefore need to focus on health and physical exercise, so that, instead of the hairdryer problem, they become accepted norms. Can the Minister consider piloting some sort of challenge fund? Perhaps he could say to Sure Start, “This is an interesting area. We could probably find five or six stakeholders, but it would be interesting to find some sort of portable way of doing exercise, so that it is normal.” Will he think about that?

Mums, dads and children might not come to exercise, if it is not introduced in those five years. It is almost too late by the time the children reach primary school. I am not necessarily supporting the East German regime of old, but they tested for heart size because the heart size would make the athlete. I am not saying that that is a good or bad thing, but it is good for the health service to know the genetic make-up of the child because the health service will need to cost it later.

I have mentioned primary school reporting many times, but I am going to mention it again. When I was at school and when my two children went through the primary school system, reports gave marks such as, “B+. Could do better”, and, “C-. Where the hell’s he been this week?”, but never for PE. They just said, “Good at games”, or, “He can throw the ball”, or whatever. They never gave body fat index. They never said whether I was in the green, amber or red section of the danger list for my size, weight or anything.

I am old enough to remember school doctors and school nurses. That is another thing that cuts in the education service have done away with. It has been a little better re-organised with the PCTs, but I am still not aware of any school having a physio or nurse provided by primary care trust funding. I am talking not about secondary schools, but about primary schools. I want to see the PCTs challenged and pilots developed to get the system sorted. Let us take the example of a child who is overweight—an interesting case emerged last week in the north-east about a child who was 14 stone at nine. What can be done with that child and with other overweight children? We all accept the figures. We can say that their body mass index is low or high, but what can we do about that?

When my son comes home with a maths report that gives him a C+ and says, “Could do better”, he has to go on Wednesday evening to do his maths class after school. I do not object to that, as I want him to improve his maths. I am not saying that his maths is that bad; I am merely using him as an example. In PE and games, we do not do anything to improve performance. Why can we not do that? First, we need to bring the parents with us. We have to look at the parents and ask what they are eating, how they cook and what the outlook is. We cannot work on exercise in isolation. Even if we get the girls to dance more, as soon as they go home and get their McDonalds the good work has been disrupted. We need a more holistic approach. That is why the PCTs are key and why the school nurse and school physio need to be reintroduced. More remains to be done in primary schools.

I was attracted by the idea of giving a child some salsa dancing vouchers once we had said whatever we had to about a child—however we put it and whatever colour coding we used, whether the Food Standards Agency code or whatever—but they might not spend the vouchers. We have no idea. I want us to attack the problem; we cannot leave it. That is not necessarily the Minister’s role, because we do not yet have a Secretary of State for sport and health education. We will one day and it would be good if we could start the thinking now.

Much is being done in communities to try to bring everybody together, but in areas where we have excellence—as we do in some cricket clubs and in our rugby union and league sides—the sides are not involved in the schools. Is there a way in which we could ensure that there was always a sports governor on a primary school’s governing board? Is it possible for groups of primary schools to be attached to clubs? For example, cricket is so well coached in Kent that kids are queuing at the local cricket clubs to come and watch, but that is only on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays. Can we find a way to employ those cricket clubs or to offer them some volunteering system so that they can give cricket training in six primary schools?

One of the problems is that teachers in primary schools do not provide the quality of sport teaching that is needed. Let us pilot 200 or 300 systems whereby the Rugby Football Union or the England and Wales Cricket Board carry out such training schemes in 16 cities, and see what happens. It is such an easy idea. In that way, the staff will see that sport is not such a foreign and alien thing, but that it is quite natural. Will the Minister consider that? Of course, funding will be critical. Several of us have mentioned the point that the 12p in the pound of lottery money does not hang together. That is an unnecessary tax and if we could take that 12p in the pound out of the lottery and put it into the Olympics and sport, it would transform the argument and the health of the nation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North talked about walking to school when he was younger, and wondered why that is not done now. It is hard to know why. Perhaps there is a perception that it is not safe, but people take their cars even if the distance is only 1 mile. We have tried to find a solution, but I do not know whether we have tried hard enough.

I forget the exact figures, but something like 85 per cent. of our Olympic medals come from those with a private school education. How can that possibly be? One reason is that they have a longer working day at school. Any prep school will go from half-past 8 to half-past 6, while any private school goes from 8 am to 6 or 7 o’clock. The coaches come to pick up day boys to take them home, but they do their prep at school. One of the reasons that they do their prep at school is that they break for two hours in the afternoon for sport. We have to think about that.

If we could extend the working day at school, we would change the way in which children think about sport. If we do not do that, private schools will continue to win the medals. We will have to come back and ask the public schools to run local sport. It is another case of asking where the excellence is in the local community. It does not matter where it is; we should buy it into the state system. We should not recreate too much more of what is already there. I cannot believe what Dulwich college, which might sponsor my local academy, can offer in terms of cricket, swimming, tennis, hockey and rugby. What it could offer my local community on the Isle of Sheppey would blow one’s brains out.

We have talked about the youth games in Glasgow. They took us all by surprise, with some 170 personal bests. It was unbelievable. Could something be done with the perception of the StreetGames initiative? One of the legacies that we could leave the Olympic movement in 2012 could be the street games initiative leading to the UK youth championships. Why cannot we say that on 21 June there will be a national sports day for primary schools called the Olympic sports day for schools and that that will be one of our legacies? Those schools would then feed into sport at county level, then at regional level and finally at UK level. It would be fantastic to know that such sports days quickly led up the system. It would be wonderful if the Olympic movement were to leave as a legacy to the world a day of exercise for all and a sports day for all children aged six to 11.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has mentioned the Barclays spaces for sport programme. We could not live without that programme in our poorer communities. It takes place because of Danny Reardon, who runs the system in the south-east of England and lives in Canterbury. He is a marvellous ambassador for whoever he works for—he used to work for BT and now works for Barclays. I cannot thank him enough for his professionalism and compassion in sport in our community. He has been a really good friend of ours.

I cannot believe how good Charlton Athletic’s new system is. The Government, Kent constabulary and Kent education services—I cannot think of the other stakeholders—gave it nearly £1 million. It was nowhere in my patch, but now it runs 11 different schemes in my constituency that work with the toughest boys and girls—those who do not go to school and find it difficult. Boy, is that working. We cannot do that, but there is something about professional football that works. I wish we could get more professional teams to do that. I know that Chelsea was here the other day. Middlesbrough is outstanding and Leeds has been sensational. I am sure that all hon. Members have their favourites. It is another way in.

If we were to give Charlton £3 million, the club would get so much more out of it than anyone else. I commend the club, although it is having a difficult time at the moment. I am a shareholder and a season ticket holder, so I know about its problems, but what it does in the community is fantastic.

I forewarn Hansard that I will be using some unusual names, given my special interest in the sports of Tai Chi, Hsing I and BaGua—the spelling of those names will be provided.

We live in a technology and media-oriented world, in which children of five may have little eye-hand co-ordination, and we have seen a great reduction in collective play. Research shows a worrying decline in participation in sport among children after they leave school. For some children, we must look beyond the traditional sports. We must think outside the box, and extend the range of sports opportunities and options offered to young girls and boys, if we are to keep their interest.

As a child who was severely bullied at primary school, I have seen the benefits of boxing. As a 10-year-old, I had boxing training at the Hoover club at Cambuslang in Lanarkshire. Then, as a 12-year-old, I studied amateur wrestling with Mr. Max Shacklady at the Barton Athletic club in the city of Salford in my Eccles constituency. From the age of 13, I studied Okinawan karate and other martial arts with Mr. Tony Nelson. When I was a teenager, Mr. Nelson introduced me to Mr. Alan Pittman, who is the direct line inheritor of the system of Chinese boxing called Hsing I from the late Mr. Hung I Mein of Taiwan. Mr. Pittman’s senior students Mr. Will Bibby, Mr. Colin Fisher and Mr. Paul Carr are my current instructors.

I pay tribute to those volunteer instructors and to volunteer instructors throughout the country, to whom the Minister has referred—we rarely take the opportunity to thank them for their time and commitment. Those are the people who help build our characters, and it is important that we take the opportunity to thank them.

It was that background that led me to establish and chair the all-party parliamentary group for the prevention of bullying and violence at work. I am also the chair of the all-party boxing group, and the Government’s liaison representative for what are politely called defence sports.

I know that the Government have set ambitious targets and that they have a good record of investment in sport in schools. I have a love of most sports including, of course, football. Coming from Eccles in Salford, I am, as you would expect, a lifelong supporter of Manchester United and of Salford Reds rugby league club. Britain’s success at the Manchester Commonwealth games and London’s securing the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are all welcome.

I pay tribute to Mr. Lawrie McMenemy, MBE. He is an outstanding champion for the Special Olympics, not to be confused with the aforementioned Paralympics. Lawrie never tires of promoting the excellent work of the Special Olympics for young people with special needs, but the organisation is in desperate need of sustainable support. I hope that those who control the funding will help to stabilise the situation for the Special Olympics as a matter of urgency.

I want to talk today about what I sometimes believe to be the Cinderella sports—defence sports, including boxing, wrestling and the martial arts. I know that some argue that boxing should not be termed a sport, and that some parents would not want their children to pursue that option. I have no problem with that, but I believe that training in those sports can help to develop important skills and self-confidence for some boys and girls. I know that many schools now have martial arts classes, but they are done very much on an ad hoc basis. I would like to see a standard module for education for martial arts training, non-style specific, that could be introduced at primary and secondary levels. Taster courses for schools could also be promoted.

The British Ju-Jitsu Association implements a variety of programmes in its member schools. Those include family awareness, safety training, anti-bullying programmes—winning without fighting—and courses to raise children’s self esteem. Thus the sport is introduced and a variety of benefits are gained. The British Schools Judo Association is in the final stages of amalgamating with the British Judo Association, which is the national governing body for judo, and it believes that that is the way forward for judo in schools and that it will enhance and develop the sport.

The British Wrestling Association has collaborated with Network Rail in its no messin’ campaign, which aims to encourage children to participate in sporting pastimes in order to play safe. The programme targets schools in areas where fatalities have resulted from children playing on railway tracks. The BWA defines wrestling in schools and clubs as a sport of individual participation, functioning within the framework of the team concept. That is a good description, and it applies to a number of defence sports. I believe that those sports teach respect for oneself and for others, and that they help to develop important body skills such as flexibility, strength and leverage, balance, co-ordination and quick reaction time. Often in such sports, teachers and coaches find that because no one is top dog, so to speak, there is no bullying. Again, that is a positive spin off from a physical activity.

Successfully promoting such sports in schools and sixth form colleges will need good links between schools themselves, and between schools and further and higher education institutions, local authorities, the governing bodies of the sports, the Sports Council and the Government, all of which have a role to play. High-quality coaching, which the Sports Council has been actively promoting, is essential.

Finally, I want to talk about what may be considered the most contentious sport—boxing. Amateur boxing is a popular Olympic sport at which Britain has done well in recent years. It should not be compared with professional boxing, which some have described as a business. It is not pertinent to my contribution to the debate, which is about younger children.

Amateur boxing is highly regulated, and the safety and well-being of the participants comes first. Good sportsmanship, discipline and fair play are integral to the sport. It has minimal equipment and space requirements, so is good for schools. Boxing in schools can be taught and practised as a purely recreational activity—a non-contact activity—in which schoolchildren can learn to move, punch and master self-defence techniques without physical contact. It is sometimes called “boxexercise”. However, it can be extended to include technique and conditioned sparring, and then, of course, competitive boxing should the student wish. I welcome the Schools Amateur Boxing Association’s efforts to promote boxing among schoolchildren and its provision of coaches and sports leader education for teachers and sixth formers.

I do not suppose that I am the only person to have been inundated with letters from an organisation called Save Independent Judo. Its argument appears to be common across the martial arts spectrum, in that it represents a number of individuals who deliver training individually, whereas the British Judo Association is probably saying, quite rightly, that common standards are needed and that everyone must buy in to that. Has the hon. Gentleman’s all-party group come across that, and what advice would he give us?

My all-party group is for boxing, but I would advise the hon. Gentleman not to interfere in internal sports politics. [Laughter.]

A recent newspaper article in the Evening Standard reported on the work of the London Boxing Academy in Tottenham, which received a significant donation from the fund set up in memory of Tom ap Rhys Price, who was so tragically murdered near his home in London. The academy helps children excluded from school to get an academic education together with boxing and physical education at the boxing gym. The London Boxing Academy could be a model of good practice and be promoted throughout the UK. Like many other sports, boxing teaches self-control and channels aggression. Boxing and defence sports in the wider sense are not simply for those who may be labelled delinquent or antisocial, because they can also help the timid gain self-confidence.

There are circumstances in which the application of behavioural tools, such as ASBOs, would be enhanced by the inclusion of a sport requirement where appropriate. I wish to inform the Minister that I have already spoken to the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, who is interested in looking at that concept further. In conclusion, is the Minister prepared to meet me and the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety to examine that idea more closely?

It is a pleasure to follow hon. Members who have already spoken. I see that there are familiar faces here today and I know that those who have contributed are passionate about sport—particularly sport for young people.

As the Minister knows, I usually start debates on this subject, which seem to be held fairly regularly at the moment, by recounting how well I did at rugby at the weekend. Unfortunately, our result was not dissimilar to that of the England team as we had a 45-nil loss in our league game against the league leaders. I should have guessed what the England result would be.

The debate has been partly about providing a slap on the back and saying well done for what we have achieved and partly about listing the areas for improvement. My speech will cover both of those aspects.

As the Minister knows, I spent some time in his Department with the former sports Minister, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), back in 1999 and 2000. The landscape then was pretty dire—particularly the situation with school sport and participation rates among young people—and playing fields continued to be sold despite our best attempts to reduce that trend. Considering the average age of hon. Members here, we all probably have some glorious memories of school sport. I went to high school at Stonehill during the teachers’ strike, which probably marked the end of the golden era of sport in school as we knew it for a whole generation. From that point in the early 1980s through to the years 2000-01 when real attempts were made to reverse that trend there was a massive void in terms of sport in schools. We must recognise the role of the Youth Sport Trust in addressing that issue. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) mentioned that in his contribution and said that, only last night, he had met the heads of specialist sports colleges. As is to be expected, the Youth Sport Trust is based in Loughborough—the home of British sport. [Interruption.] I always like to wind up my colleagues and I am sure that they have their own views on that.

The role of the Youth Sport Trust has clearly been central in addressing issues relating to sport in schools and it has been the driving force behind delivering school sport as we know it. I was pleased to hear the feedback that the hon. Gentleman has had because, in my experience, there is a widespread view that the trust has played a vital role in delivering improvements in school sport. What the trust has achieved is no small feat in trying to turn around sport. I only have figures from the past two years, but the trust has hit the target of 75 per cent. of children having two hours of quality PE by next year early and in a short period of time. When we consider Government targets—for example, the participation rate targets among adults mentioned earlier—there are not many organisations or parts of the Government that have managed to turn around such a situation in such a short time. Our congratulations to all those involved should be put on the record. We should congratulate those involved from the top right down to the bottom, including partnership development managers and school sports co-ordinators in every partnership that has made such progress possible.

It is worth knocking the myth of competition on the head and I am glad that other hon. Members have raised that. When I was a child, Wednesday afternoons were for inter-school competitions, on Saturday mornings I played ruby and on Saturday afternoons I played football. Figures show that levels of participation are good and if there is a school sports day, participation can be up to 97 per cent. However, I hope that hon. Members are not satisfied simply with a school sports day once a year. I enjoy seeing my son at his school sports day as it demonstrates the activities that the children have taken part in throughout the year, but it is not the same as my school sports day was. In addition, I do not like the levels of competition that exist on a school sports day. Other figures are improving and if one third of schools are now taking part in inter-school competitions, that is to be welcomed.

There are now additional pressures in schools. I remember playing my first football game for my primary school at an early age. It took up a whole afternoon. Even playing in a local league in north Leicestershire would mean losing a whole day of school and I can imagine that many heads and teachers find that difficult to achieve within a crowded curriculum. My son participates in football on a Saturday or Sunday morning and the school tennis league is on a Saturday afternoon, which alleviates the pressure on school hours. It can be difficult to balance participation rates with school hours and I hope that we can try to find ways for more competitions to take place in an extended school period. There could be a fixed point of the week for that to take place—for example, the traditional Wednesday afternoon. If people know that on a Wednesday school does not finish until six and that lots of participation activities are taking place throughout the school, that would help them manage their time, which I appreciate can be difficult to do.

Hon. Members have mentioned that one of the difficulties is the inequality that exists among improved participation rates. Out of all the challenges that we face the drop-off rates at 16 or 17 years of age is the biggest.

The hon. Gentleman was right to say that, largely, we have got elite sports right. UK Sport and the British Olympic Association have said, “You have given us the money and it is now down to us to deliver.” We must keep a careful eye on what they are doing and ensure that they deliver between now and 2012. We have given them the tools with which to do so and they are doing an excellent job in trying to turn the situation around.

In terms of what the Youth Sport Trust is doing in schools to drive up participation rates, we are there. How we will achieve four hours of sport a week is a slightly different matter, but I am confident, considering what has been delivered in terms of two hours of sport, that if the trust is given the resources, it can deliver four hours. However, the drop off rate particularly for girls in the 13 to 17 years of age group is still a problem—particularly the drop off rate at 16 or 17 when children leave school, which links to access to a club. Some hon. Members have suggested ways of overcoming that problem—for example, leaving it to clubs to deal with or perhaps trying to strengthen links between children and clubs. The problem is that the level of capacity is simply not there in clubs that rely on volunteers. By way of anecdotal evidence, in my club we have been desperate to have a junior section, a colt side and an under-16 side for years, but the people involved in the club are also the players and the management committee. I am the club president. I would love to be available to do coaching mid-week at the school where we play and where rugby has now taken off, but we do not have the individual capacity because everybody works from nine-to-five, five days a week. We need one point of contact through which we can get into the school or to encourage children to come to mini-rugby on a Sunday morning , like many rugby clubs do, otherwise we cannot bridge that gap.

The reality is that participation rates in sport are good at school and there are clubs locally that provide mini-sections, but the physical ability to utilise the capacity coming through is not there. In the Rugby Football Union magazine this week, RFU figures rightly demonstrate that since 2003—the Rugby World cup—a plan has been in place to drive up levels of participation, particularly at youth level through to colts level. However, it seems that there has been a small drop-off in the number of adult players. Again, my anecdotal evidence indicates that the number of teams that each club is putting out has reduced over the past few years. There is a worry that by 2010 youngsters will have four hours of quality sport in school, but they will not have the quality time waiting for them in the community.

An additional problem, which should be considered a solution rather than a problem, is that if we are driving up 50 per cent. sport participation rates in higher education, people are investing a lot of time in developing young people through clubs, club structure and schools. However, 50 per cent. are then leaving largely because people move away to higher education establishments and then move away from the town or the area where they have participated in sport. Unless that first experience at university is good, people can easily be turned off sport. They are then not only lost to the area, but they are lost to local sports groups in the places and universities where they were participating.

Loughborough has a fantastic record on sporting facilities and the numbers of international athletes—a couple of hundred—who come from the university. However, that is also part of the problem. Sometimes players who have played at county level, for their schools or in their local areas, in a particular sport think that they will get into the first team at Loughborough, only to realise that they will struggle to get into the first team for their hall of residence. That disappointment can have a knock-on effect. I have spoken to many people who have played sport—in particular, rugby, in my experience—to a reasonable level, have struggled to get into a decent side early on and have then dropped out into a student lifestyle. With the exception, obviously, of Sheffield and Bath, even the use of some of the best facilities is not enough to hold on to potential athletes.

We have to keep a close eye on the school-club link and ensure that it works. The PESSCL—PE, school sport and club links—work is fantastic, but it needs the same level of resources and enthusiasm that we put into the school sports co-ordinating work and the partnerships. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) touched on this in a way. We need those little groupings of clubs in each of the disciplines—16 to 20 in each school partnership—in which perhaps someone takes the lead on behalf of the others, so the small partnerships and the concentric circles all work together to deliver what is needed. There is probably a way through by that means.

I am impressed by what we are doing on elite performers and the talent ID programme. Obviously, I am disappointed that I am not 6 ft 3 and aged 16 to 24, so could not rush off to Trafalgar square to join the Minister the other day on talent ID. I asked representatives of UK Sport the previous day when we had a meeting whether it had a post-40s talent ID for those who had failed at everything—those who had tried everything at least once, but who thought that there might still be one thing left. The people from UK Sport pointed out that at Olympic standard often archery and shooting were the only sports left for hon. Gentlemen who had reached their 40s. However, I hope that there is a chance for us all.

Let me return to the issue of inequalities, which my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) talked about. We talked about hairdryers as an example, but it is symptomatic of and fundamental to the problems that all the research has shown exist. As the Minister knows, the Youth Sport Trust and Nike research of three or four years ago highlighted all those problems. I have raised the issue here before. People pooh-poohed the point about self-esteem and the idea that getting sweaty and not being able to shower in the right conditions is enough to put people off sport, but that is where we are at. As my hon. Friend said, people can go into a private members’ club where there is a sauna and other facilities available, including good shower facilities. Contrast that with the worst aspects of some local authority stock and clearly we see the enormous gap in provision. We must find other ways to achieve the necessary levels of participation and not just rely on traditional methods and the idea that three or four sports at each school will do. That is why I am pleased if it is 16 to 22 different sports that are offered, with dance playing a crucial part. That is the way we will encourage people to lead an active lifestyle.

There is a clear link with the issue of young people walking to school. I still preach that and practise it personally. In fact, I have doubled it up: I now walk to school on a Monday and Friday with my son. The journey is about a mile and a half long. My children walk every day, but now I run back from the school the long way round the village to get a 30-minute run in as well, and more often than not I am back home faster than the people who live round the corner from me and drive their 4x4s to the school. Vehicles clog up the school gates and then people worry that it is all too dangerous. It is too dangerous only because they all try to park too near the school and make it dangerous for others.

We did have a walking school bus, which made an enormous difference in terms of changing people’s attitudes. It is not in operation at the moment, because many parents saw the benefit of it and now walk their own children to school, so we have done a great deal. Despite the great effort that has been expended on trying to change the culture, the efforts have still not reached as far as I would like, knowing that there are people who could walk but who currently do not. I will not name names, but I will be tempted to do so at some stage, if we do not start to make some progress.

My hon. Friend wants me to go further. I sort of agree with him. This week, I supported the introduction of a Bill to reduce speeds around schools. I would also like there to be exclusion zones around schools, where cars are not allowed. We have managed to get the vast majority of little closes around our school designated exclusion zones, albeit only informally—it cannot be enforced—but it is a start. People have to park their car further away, instead of trying to get as close to the school as possible.

As the Minister knows, I chair the National Strategic Partnership for Volunteering in Sport. I want to put on record the vast contribution that is made not only by volunteers in general, but by young volunteers in particular. This debate is about young people and sport, and that is probably one of the most unsung areas. I know that the Minister referred to it in his opening remarks. He quite rightly wanted to give people thanks, and the reality is that there is a greater proportion of young people volunteering than is the case among the older population. That is very much to be welcomed. There is not only a greater participation rate in schools, there is a greater level of volunteering among that age group, and they are volunteering not only among their peer groups but among older adults. That gives them a great start in life.

I heard yesterday about an idea from Australia. As part of the volunteering that individuals do, they are taught not only coaching and peer group mentoring, but officiating, so older children are officiating at games for younger children. I am on the rugby football union fellowship as part of the sports fellowship in the House and I have never admired referees as much as I have since spending some time with them. People who give up their weekends to officiate at games are probably making one of the greatest sacrifices that people can make. Increasingly, younger and younger people are coming through who do that.

I wonder whether we could build into such a programme the chance for everyone to learn how to officiate. That would also teach young people the rules of the game and some of the discipline. In addition, those who are the worst offenders, imitating some of the antics of footballers that we see on television, would understand how difficult officiating is. It involves trying to keep an eye on 30 blokes running around a rugby pitch, in my case, or 22 football players. Perhaps the worst offenders—the Wayne Rooneys of junior football—should be forced to officiate to see how difficult it is when individuals mouth things back at them.

There are many other things that I would like to say. However, most of them have been said and I appreciate that the Minister wants time to respond to some of them. 2012 gives us the brand, the enthusiasm and the focus to ensure that we turn this nation into a sporting nation. The Minister knows about that because we had an Adjournment debate on the issue recently. It has been shown already that that focus has delivered at the elite level, and the recognition that we needed to do more for school sport has changed things at that level. The weakness remains the link between school sport and people going into the grass roots and the community. I do not believe that the Government have all the answers in that area. It is down to all of us who are involved in different national governing bodies and it involves organisations and charities, such as StreetGames, which can come along and drive up participation levels.

We need to ensure that there is competition in schools and that that is carried through throughout the rest of life. It is crucial that the four hours of sport are of quality. In that way, we can start to tackle obesity levels. The school-club link is vastly important. We also need to deliver on the idea of a sporting nation on the back of what 2012 can offer. There are great sporting models out there. Individuals such as Dame Kelly Holmes demonstrate the level of enthusiasm that we need, but she cannot go to every school and meet every school child. We need sporting champions locally who can do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and I have been involved in the community rugby awards, for example. The healthy eating message is got across much more effectively by sporting champions. I have seen demonstrations of that. A Saracens ruby player went into a school to teach children to eat their five pieces of fruit a day. That is more effective than an MP in a suit or even someone from the local primary care trust saying the same thing. The kids really take the message on board when their sporting hero is standing in front of them, saying, “I have got where I have because I eat healthily.” I have seen that working. I have seen schools with long-term partnerships involving sports clubs and PCTs, and it is making an enormous difference.

There are many challenges, but I conclude by congratulating the Minister again on what he has managed to achieve in his time in post. Those of us who have slight misgivings to carp about here and there and highlight areas where we would like more to be done, should just think back to where we were when the Minister came into his post five or six years ago and compare that with where we are now. I think that every one of us would say that we prefer where we are at this stage. I just hope that the Minister can deliver even more and can deliver on the wish list that we have given him today, so that in 2012 we are fourth in the medal table and we have participation levels of which we can be proud.

I shall try to respond to some of the points that have been made. First, I thank everybody for the contributions that they have made. That shows clearly that this is an area in which consensus has emerged between both sides of the House and which is taken very seriously. It is not just sport for sport’s sake, because sport can deliver on many other agendas. It is absolutely right to say that much more needs to be done. We still need to convince people in authority that we should continue to invest in sport and physical activity, probably in a way that we never have before.

If we want to get the cultural shift that many hon. Members have talked about, we need to look at health and obesity and consider how much is spent on the health service compared with physical activity and sport. If we want to move to prevention rather than cure, we need there to be a shift in how resources are allocated and a cultural shift in society and in many professions. For example, the last town that was built, Milton Keynes, was built with the motor car in mind, and many buildings have escalators and lifts instead of stairways. Putting stairways back in would be a move towards a more proper way of life. Some 25 per cent. of the traffic in our major cities and towns every morning is due to children being taken to school. Consider the carbon footprint of that alone, never mind what it teaches our young people. A cultural shift is needed.

At a lecture that I recently attended, some Americans made the powerful point that what we treasure most is life itself. Given that life expectancy is going down in the USA, the richest nation on earth, because of lifestyle, we must question what we are doing to our population. There are some big issues to address. It will not be easy to shift public perception, and it will not be easy for decision makers then to take the quantum leap of investing in different areas.

I want to clear up some of the points raised by hon. Members. The spokesman for the official Opposition, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), made several points. He is absolutely right to say that we have been successful in the schools sector and the elite sectors. There is a chunk of people in the middle whom we need to get active. We have our target of 1 per cent. per annum moving towards doing three and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week. Broadly speaking, we are trying to move one third of the population into doing that, and we think that a third of people, in the middle, want to do it. There is probably a third at one end who will never do it, but we have to help that third in the middle.

Working in schools is relatively easy, because we have some control over what happens from day to day. In the elite sector, people want to do it and will do it because they are driven and motivated—they want to achieve. All the signs are there that the middle chunk wants to take that exercise. That is why we have charged Sport England with driving through the regional boards and county partnerships a 1 per cent. year-on-year output of increased physical activity in their regions.

We have tried to bring together, on those sports boards, all those who have a vested interest in making sure that that happens—the public and private sectors, academia and civil society. We have brought those cultures together to drive forward a programme to increase that 1 per cent. That approach is very focused. I know that the hon. Gentleman has had some doubts about the chairman of Sport England and about the new chief executive, but I urge him not to criticise the chairman for the past and to look to the future.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is going to meet the chairman, because one meeting has been cancelled, probably by political design. I ask him to go and see what is happening on the ground. I know that Derek Mapp is very receptive to ideas.

I am not one for congratulating Ministers in a mealy-mouthed way when they do not deserve it, but the Minister deserves congratulation. In his time as the Minister of Sport, he has encouraged—that is the polite way of putting it—major structural change in some of the sports in which I take an interest. However, the main sport in which my constituents are interested at primary level and above is football. The Minister has described the structural approach at county level, which I welcome, but does he understand and accept that there are problems with organisation, particularly in football? One club in Irlam, in my constituency, has 23 teams of under-11s—that is 23 teams of 11 players. Structurally, they need to organise themselves on a locality basis and conduct a needs-analysis of what they have and what they would like to have, so that they can feed into the county structure and organisations such as the Football Foundation for funding.

That is right. We promised in our last manifesto to move towards the population having multi-sports clubs within 20 minutes’ travel. That is the aspiration, and we are driving matters in that direction. The key is in getting sports to come together and deliver multi-sports facilities.

We can look to the past and to the continent. Why is the fall-off rate of young people doing exercise when they leave school considerably lower on the continent than here? It is because they organise sport differently. Our sport is unique in that it is organised very much on the governing body structure. We have rugby, cricket, football and so on, and there is competition between the various sports. They do not do that on the continent, where there are multi-sports clubs that are run inside the community. Hon. Members who are as old as me might remember that major companies used to do that. Certainly in Sheffield, where I am from, every major company had a multi-sports club. When I was an apprentice at Firth Brown, I could play every single sport, and the company provided some fantastic sports facilities. As industry changed, so did sports provision. We need to consider how we can recreate that situation in a modern setting.

There are 40,000 football clubs in England. Rugby probably has 3,500—4,000 tops—and cricket is broadly the same. However, the major sports are starting to come together and say, “Can we work together? Can we, as we develop our strategies, identify economies of scale?” Someone who wants to play rugby on a Saturday might want to play tennis, hockey or another sport as well. We need to build up that interaction. If we do so, we can bring in the expertise of coaching and development staff, who are necessary for a comprehensive approach to those sports. This is where we start addressing some of the issues to do with getting the nation active and with the 1 per cent. target.

I have had some interesting meetings with Slimming World, the Fitness Industry Association and WeightWatchers, which has recently gone from looking only at calories in to also looking at calories out. Most of its schemes are now 50 per cent. based on physical activity, but with a very user-friendly approach. I do not think that it even uses the word “sport”—if it did, everyone would probably be turned off. It is horses for courses.

The Fitness Industry Association has done a huge survey of its facilities, the results of which were released towards the end of last year. The survey showed that the use of single sports or physical activity facilities has levelled out, but that the use of multi-sports facilities is growing. There has been a cultural shift, which might have occurred because of what we are doing with the school sports partnerships or because of organisations such as WeightWatchers. Whatever the reason, there is a movement towards involving the family in physical activity and sport. The question now is how we cater for that and how we develop facilities.

I return to the point that the hon. Gentleman made about elite sport. Let me make it clear that we have reorganised elite sport. We have converted TASS into UK Sport, and involved the English Institute for Sport in that. UK Sport now has the responsibility of delivering on very clear targets regarding elite athletes, into whom we are investing huge amounts of money. I have already discussed how many of them we have on those schemes.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the Chancellor gave £200 million of Exchequer money to the elite programme, but with the challenge that we matched that with £100 million. We are now discussing with UK Sport how we raise that money between now and 2012. The key is the whole sport plans, which are proper contracts between the funding bodies—UK Sport and Sport England—and the governing bodies. Over the next period they will start to develop. The situation is being watched by the Australians and others.

The Australians probably have the best elite sport structure in the world—the Australian Institute of Sport—but even they accept that it has become a little tired and needs refreshing. The way in which the UK is developing sports science and sports medicine and the creation of links to the regions will be the envy of the world in the not-too-distant future. UK Sport now has responsibility for that, and it is under exceptionally good leadership.

I shall not get into the World Anti-Doping Agency issue, because it involves a whole debate of its own. All that I shall say, very genuinely, to my colleagues on the Select Committee is that we will be responding robustly to some of the recommendations that they have made. As an ex-board member of WADA, and as someone who is firmly committed to taking drugs out of sport, I say that WADA’s core business is to get cheats out of sport; it is not to run social policy. Since 1999, its job has been to take cheating out of sport, and it is so important that it does so.

Why is that important? Because millions of young people look up to sports people on podiums, and if those sports people have not got there cleanly, they bring their sport into disrepute. The damage that such people do is immense. WADA was set up to drive cheats who take illegal substances out of sport. We must consider how we ought to support our athletes. We have strict liability on this issue, because people are responsible for what they put into their bodies, but it is our job to give our athletes education, information and everything else that can get them to make the right decisions. The matter involves a much bigger debate. I feel passionately about it, and I have rightly put a lot of my time into it during my tenure of this job.

On the question of the legal protection for volunteers, I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. We have to get to the bottom of this issue. We have been trying, in many areas, to examine how we can assist volunteers, particularly in schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) also raised that question. There is a big issue to address on volunteering and insurance for what are termed extreme sports—we could put rugby into that category. Many people who play sport in this country are not insured, which is not good for sport. We have to get to the bottom of that question.

The hon. Gentleman gave figures of £397 million and £264 million in respect of lottery money that has been invested. Since 1997, £3 billion of lottery money has been invested not only from the sports lottery but from other pockets—the New Opportunities Fund, as was, the Big Lottery Fund, and the other lottery funding streams. We are investing £1 billion of Exchequer and lottery money in grass roots sport in this one year as well. We will debate that matter later.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, I hit a lot of golf balls, and mine tend to go into the lakes, rather than down the fairways, too. I shall have to go to Scotland to get in a bit of practice. We will have a debate about the points that he made, but I should address the question of disability sport. We can do a lot more in that area, but I am proud of what we have done.

On the Olympic bid, we said, “This is the Paralympics coming home”. In 1948, we held the first Paralympics in Stoke Mandeville. We are leading the world through the inclusive fitness initiative, in which we have invested millions of pounds. It has adapted the facilities in the various gyms and fitness suites up and down the country, and is now being taken on to the continent. It has been a great innovation, and one that we have put a lot of effort behind.

On the talented athlete scholarship scheme and world-class sport, there is no discrimination. If there were, it would be in favour of disability sport. The TASS is accessed by 11 to 25-year-old able-bodied people and by 11 to 35-year-olds as far as disability sport is concerned. Every governing body has to sign up to the equity programme, of which disability sport is a part. In terms of world-class performers, there is no discrimination. That is why we always do so well in the Paralympics, where we have come second, and on the world stage, where we play a significant role and will continue to do so.

The Commonwealth games in Manchester was the first occasion in which medals were competed for jointly by able-bodied and disabled people. That happened in the bowls and in other disciplines. Unfortunately, that was not carried forward. I hope that all governing bodies, including the Olympic movement, will examine how they can start to bring disability sport and able-bodied sport together. I say that genuinely, because a lot more can be done. Those bodies—the leaders of sport both internationally and nationally—can send out a much stronger message than is being sent out now. We will do our bit as the Government, but others must do their bit as well. That is an area for discussion.

I could refer to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) as my hon. Friend in view of what he said in the opening part of his speech. I was unaware of the list that he mentioned, and I shall take it up with the Prime Minister. Anyway, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the activity targets and county sport. County sport partnerships are an important part of our approach, and I shall be meeting representatives of many of those partnerships in a few weeks’ time. The partnerships are crucial if we are to achieve delivery at the local level. The regional and county structure is important and we will be discussing how we can strengthen the partnerships and facilitate much of the work that they are doing.

May I suggest one thing that the Minister might discuss at that meeting, which could facilitate the partnerships’ activity? They will able to go forward on a number of projects that they wish to undertake only if they get funding from Sport England. The vast majority of the projects require them to find either matching funding or some funding themselves, but they end up swimming in the same pot as everybody else. It might be worth persuading Sport England that it should not necessarily require a funding element to come directly from the partnerships.

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I know that the question of funding at regional level is being reviewed. The question is whether we should put the resource at regional level and then at county level, or maintain it at national level. That debate is now going on, and I hope that over the next period we will roll out a much more focused and less complicated form of funding as far as Sport England is concerned, of which the county partnerships will be part.

Make no mistake that there will be a backlash to that process. Those whom we have traditionally funded at national level will raise the issue of why we are moving from the national to the regional level. Hon. Members should watch this space, because more parliamentary questions will probably be tabled in the near future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) touched on an area of real concern that we must consider concerning facilities and what people want at the beginning of the 21st century. I had a discussion with my dear wife about that point. She goes to a Virgin gym, but I do not, because I do not particularly like gyms. I prefer to run, and I do so a lot, a bit like some other hon. Members. I asked her why she goes to the Virgin gym rather than to the local authority’s gym, which is good. The answer is that people get a fluffy towel and a cup of coffee and that there is quite a nice atmosphere. Such things are as important as the facility for the physical activity itself in attracting people into places.

As has rightly been said, we must think a lot more about such issues, particularly the provision for women, including hairdryers and so on. I visited Wembley stadium the other day. Its changing rooms have iPods and hairdryers—they look like a five-star hotel. We have to replicate a bit of that, and we must consider the matter seriously.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that Sir Alex Ferguson would be able to help with the training for the hairdryer technique.

I have no doubt that he would, although my hon. Friend and I are probably not too bothered about hairdryers any longer.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about street games, but informal sports, such as BMX, blading and so on, are also important. Street athletics is also emerging, and Darren Campbell is linking into that. Darren sat on my settee the other day and talked about street athletics. He told a powerful story about how he got into athletics, which saved his life. His closest friend was shot in Moss Side in Manchester. Darren had to make a decision about which road to go down. He believes passionately that that got him out of his previous way of life.

Some hon. Members may have been at the meeting with the north-east consortium when a young lad, David Lacey, addressed the gathering and said that he had been in prison three times for drugs. When he came out the third time, rather than returning to the peer group that had put him into prison, he was encouraged to play sport, and because of that, he started playing in a football team. Not only that, but his peer group—tough guys, tough kids—saw him in a different way, and he also has a job. David Lacey said that had it not been for sport, he would definitely have been back in Durham jail because of drugs. He is now off drugs and has a job, but more importantly he has a peer group that will keep him out of prison. That is what sport can do, and we must be clear that it is important to consider who young people associate with—their habits, peer group and lifestyle. That is why we must work with the probation service and so on. Street games and street athletics are important, whether they are informal or formal. I fully support street games and will be in Manchester at the back end of August, as I have been in previous years.

As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey has a million new ideas—about one in a thousand works, but I love his ideas. I agree entirely that we must look at Sure Start and factor it in. We are doing a lot of work on that.

I usually commend my hon. Friend for having his ear to the ground, but on this occasion it is not as close to the ground as usual. We are making the best use of primary school data on height and weight measurements, which will be available in the autumn. Pilots are running, and we will use that information to consider how to inform parents. We are in front of the game. In Somerset, the DASH scheme—do activity stay healthy—which is a link between the primary care trust and the county sports partnership, has some very good ideas and is focusing on some very good pilots in the area.

Will the Minister tell us whether information from the trials in which height and weight are being recorded will be sent to each parent of the children who are measured?

Yes, but we will also look at groupings. When high levels of obesity are linked to inactivity, we may have to go beyond the parents for collective action. The pilots will show where we need to target resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles has, as always, done a fantastic job in liaising with me, and keeping me informed about martial arts. I am a great supporter of boxing. My experience is in Sheffield, where Brendan Ingles, who is a good friend of mine, has probably kept more kids out of prison than any probation officer—that is not a criticism of probation officers. At his gym on Saturday mornings there may be a hundred kids, who are as tough as nails and probably at the bottom of the economic ladder, but they have self-respect, self-esteem and play a considerable role in the community.

Under Paul King, the Amateur Boxing Association is at last getting its act together, which I welcome, and I think it will go from strength to strength. The martial arts generally and boxing in particular should not remain in clubs but should, where possible, be taken into schools in the way that my hon. Friend has described. I will go with him to meet Home Office Ministers, and I will consider anything we can do to get young people involved in sport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) has referred to the drop-off rate and volunteering. He is absolutely right, and we must consider that carefully, as we are. The Russell report started to focus on that, and the organisation has been set up. We are working closely with it, and I had a meeting last week when I agreed to bring governing bodies together to consider their strategies on volunteering—we will then bring in the private sector. The organisation is working with my officials, which is important. Sport will not happen in this country and will not grow without volunteers.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right about officiators. Football and other sports are seriously considering that. Every weekend, football in this city is short of 200 referees, and unless we start to address that, we will not see the sort of growth that we want.

I am not as downhearted as my hon. Friend about the PSSCL side. Twenty-two national governing bodies are delivering through the club structure. More can be done, but 27 per cent. of young people from the school sport partnership are now participating in high-quality club activities. We are starting to move forward. The governing bodies have transformed themselves in the recent past and are examining how they deliver through the club structure, not just in the community, but in schools. The club-to-school and school-to-club links are important if we are to have a sustainable structure and address the drop-off rate. It is important to have volunteers linked into that.

None of those initiatives stand in isolation; they are part of the landscape of people working together. That is why I believe we are moving into an era with the most sustainable sports structure of anywhere in the world, from mass participation in schools to the elite on the podium. That is what we must do if we are to achieve what we want to achieve in 2012.

The Olympics in 2012 is not an end in itself; it is a means to many ends. It consists of 26 sports—30-odd if winter sports are included—and I have responsibility for 130 sports in this country. We must ensure that the magic and gold dust around the Olympics are used to change the nation’s attitude to sport and physical activity. The Olympics are not an end in themselves, but a means to many ends.

Will my hon. Friend take on board my comments about the Special Olympics, and is he prepared to meet me and the Special Olympics organisation to discuss it?

I assure my hon. Friend that I am in continual dialogue with the Special Olympics through Lawrie McMenemy.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Five o’clock.