Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]
I welcome the opportunity to debate this important topic and I thank hon. Members present for their interest. [Interruption.] A crowd is gathering as we speak, which is very welcome news. It is appropriate, at the beginning of a new Olympic year, for us to be getting together to discuss participation in sport and, in particular, sport in schools. Obviously, in 2008 sport will not only be showcasing some of the best young sporting talent from around the world, but will be bringing together the international sporting community in a spirit of friendship and competition.
The Olympics will inspire not only the competitors. They will inspire people around the world—as I am sure many of us in this Chamber were inspired by the Olympics when we were younger—to rediscover their old sporting passions, to take up new ones and even perhaps to learn a little more about other cultures. More importantly, the Olympics will, we hope, inspire our young people to get involved in sport. I was pleased to visit just yesterday Millfields community primary school in Hackney, where people proudly told me that the school had been named as one of the partners for the Olympics this year in Beijing and for London 2012. They were proud to have been selected to be involved in that way.
Sport is a motivational force that brings people together, and its power to transform people’s lives should not be underestimated. That is particularly true for children in our schools, where sport forms a very important part of their education. It can inspire young people and motivate them to achieve, with a very positive knock-on effect in the classroom. Already we have evidence that some of the best improvements in academic performance are being made in schools that have sport as a specialism. Through sport, children are learning valuable teamworking and leadership skills and a sense of fair play and integrity. All those are valuable qualities that future employers will want, and valuable qualities for life in general. Young people benefit greatly from a boost in their confidence and self-esteem, which is essential to personal relationships and to a sense of personal well-being.
It goes without saying that one of the most important benefits of sport is improved health. I am sure that all of us here could benefit from a little more exercise from time to time. One of my officials recently informed me that if I were to walk up the stairs to my office on the seventh floor of Sanctuary buildings once every day for a week, that would be equivalent to walking to the top of the “gherkin” building. I am trying to take that on as part of a new year’s resolution. I am not sure what the answer would be in this building. We cannot all fit into the tower of Big Ben, but certainly there are many ways in which we can get more active in our lives. At a time when we face the unprecedented challenge in modern life of obesity, it is vital that we try to instil healthy habits in children and young people early on to get them in the habit of taking care of themselves and to get them to set their sights on achievable goals and becoming physically fit.
For many young people, participating in sport is extremely important. The Government have been working hard to try to extend those opportunities to more and more young people. I pay tribute to the hon. Members here for this debate, to previous Ministers and to everyone out in the country—the volunteers, teachers, school sports co-ordinators, coaches and so on—who is involved in trying to extend opportunities to more and more young people. That has been a key feature of the Government’s policy over recent years, which has not always been recognised. We still hear in the media and read in the newspapers from time to time a debate that people will find is rather out of date if they go around the country and talk to people about sport, physical education and physical activity among our young people and in our schools.
As my hon. Friend knows, one of the driving forces behind this has been the Youth Sport Trust, based in my constituency. The growth of the trust, with the backing of Sue Campbell and Sir John Beckwith, from being a very small charity turning over something like £1 million a year through the BT programme and others, to what it is now, a multi-hundred million pound programme that delivers sport across the country, probably encompasses exactly what he has been saying. I am sure that he would want to pass on his particular congratulations to the Youth Sport Trust for its work.
Yes, there is no question but that one of our key partners in increasing the participation of young people in sport and particularly school sports has been the Youth Sport Trust. I shall refer later to what Sue Campbell has said about the development of PE in schools. I am very pleased to pay tribute to that organisation and the remarkable work that it is doing across the country, much of which I have seen in my time as Minister with responsibility for sport in the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
The Government have worked hard to extend opportunities. It is not always recognised in the debate out there that that has happened, but in reality a quiet revolution has been going on in recent years in school sport. For the world, 2008 is an Olympic year, but every recent year has been a tremendous year for school sport in this country. Ten years ago, direct investment in school sport was sadly lacking. A consensus has emerged that that was the case and that for too long, PE and school sport was left to languish. No schools officially specialised in sport at that time, and the facilities—the sports halls and gyms—in schools throughout the country were often housed in fairly shabby and dilapidated buildings.
Now—with £1.5 billion of investment over the past five years, with the support of our prestigious champions of sport, including Dame Kelly Holmes, and with a network of more than 450 school sport partnerships throughout the country—we have 438 specialist sports colleges and academies, which have much better, often state-of-the-art, equipment; we have introduced the first ever national strategy for PE and school sport; and, most importantly, we have had significant success in increasing the number of pupils doing at least two hours of PE and sport in a week in our schools. I am happy to say that the figure for that has risen to 86 per cent. We are confident that it will rise even further, but that 86 per cent. represents a breaching a year early of the target of 85 per cent. that we set for next year. That has been an extremely important development. Participation in at least two hours of PE and sport in schools is up by nearly 40 per cent. since 2003.
Those targets were ambitious but, as I said, we have surpassed them a year early and pupils are benefiting hugely from access to improved support, better facilities and increased choice in sport and PE in our schools. I do not know about other hon. Members here, but at the school that I went to—St. Alban’s R.C. comprehensive school in Pontypool—the choice that we had in PE was rugby or rugby. Others may have had a similar experience. I should point out that that suited me fine, but obviously it may not have been everyone’s cup of tea. There has been a transformation, a quiet revolution, in the variety of sports that are available to children and young people. They are offered sports that are much more appropriate to their individual needs and the variety of modern activities that are available. I shall say more about that later.
It is not only the Government saying that that has happened. Sue Campbell of the Youth Sport Trust, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) mentioned, recently said:
“The national school sport strategy is the best thing to have happened to PE and sport for young people in this country in recent years. We are the only country in the world to have every school as part of a network of school sport partnerships…In the last few years, I have visited many countries around the world to exchange ideas about PE and sport provision, and wherever I go, they look on our provision with envy.”
That is an important endorsement. In a meeting with Sue Campbell, she told me how she has even been out to Australia, to tell people there about the national school sports strategy that we have, and I think that we would all recognise the Australians’ reputation as a significant sporting nation.
My hon. Friend is quite right to extol the virtues of community sports colleges, two of which are in my constituency at St. Mary’s high school and Priesthorpe high school. They have been an enormous success in terms of cascading their expertise out into surrounding schools. However, they consistently make two points to me. First, despite the comments that were made about facilities, there is still a dearth of facilities for some of the partnerships in a range of sports and there is a need to target investment to deal with that. Secondly, they tell me that, sometimes at local level, there is not sufficient co-ordination—there is not a single responsible group to co-ordinate the activities of these specialist sports colleges, the community sports clubs and the local authorities, which obviously have a key role to play, for example in pitch provision.
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. That is why a strategy is required. One cannot rely just on the schools to join up all those important and different needs. A network of competition managers, for example, and school sports partnerships, must be put in place, and that is our intention. Also, there must be investment in order to provide the facilities. There is a need ever more for investment and we have listened carefully to what some of those sports academies and schools specialising in sport have told us. I am looking again to try to see what we can do about accelerating the refurbishment, replacement and renewal of the types of facilities that my hon. Friend is talking about. I hope that perhaps we will have something more to say about that in the near future.
In addition to what I was just saying about the Youth Sport Trust and Sue Campbell’s endorsement, I had the great privilege of walking around the UK School games with Dame Kelly Holmes last summer and I saw the remarkable impact that she has on young people. I know about the remarkable work that she does, often with people who are not naturally motivated, particularly girls, to participate in sport. I pay tribute to her for the work that she does in that respect and also the work that she does as our national school sport champion. Referring to the strategy, she said:
“I am now at the start of my third year as National School Sport Champion, and in that short time I have been amazed at how far this country has come since the introduction of the national school sport strategy. Some of the young people that I have come into contact with in the last two years were in danger of going off the rails and dropping out of the system. Through sport, they are developing their self-esteem and self-confidence and are expanding their horizons.”
So I think that there is justification for the claim that there has been a quiet revolution, and it is not justification that comes from the mouths of Ministers; it is actually out there, if one talks to people involved at the front line, including PE teachers, school sport co-ordinators and young people themselves who are involved in sport.
Increased participation in sport has also reached beyond the bounds of the school playing fields, which, of course, we are now protecting in a way that they have never been protected before. It is reaching into local communities, where sports clubs and facilities are springing up, organised by creative and committed volunteers. I recently went along to the new Wembley stadium to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the playing for success project, which I know many hon. Members have experienced in sports clubs in their own constituencies. I went there to open the new playing for success centre at Wembley stadium, which is a wonderful facility. Furthermore, that means that, for the first time in my 17 years in public life as a local authority member and a Member of Parliament, I now have a plaque somewhere with my name on it. The centre with the plaque in it is in Wembley stadium and, although it doubles as the coach drivers’ common room when matches are on, I am still very proud of it.
The 10th anniversary of the playing for success project celebrated the project right across the country, which involves bringing learning centres into sports clubs; very often, it started with the Premiership, but other football clubs, rugby clubs, even race courses and other sporting venues are now involved. It has used sport, if you like, as the magnet for young people who are perhaps underachieving in school in the basic skills, in literacy and numeracy, to bring them into another setting and the transformation that I have witnessed and heard about from teachers and young people themselves is very significant indeed.
I have visited a number of these projects around the country, not just the one at Wembley, since I was appointed to my current position. What always strikes me is the incredible commitment of the people running them; the importance of the partnership between local sports clubs and local schools and what that partnership can achieve; the passion for sport and learning of both the young people themselves and the people involved in teaching them, and also the impact that these projects have on the young people themselves.
I recently visited a project at Cambridge United, a football team that is no longer in the Football League although it is doing very well just outside it. I was really struck by what the teacher there told me about the impact that the playing for success project had had on the young people themselves, not just in terms of the improvement in their literacy and numeracy skills but in terms of the improvement in their attitude, their behaviour and attendance at school at quite a crucial time in their school career, in that transitional period between primary and secondary school. So that type of state of the art resource, in an inspiring sporting location with the learning materials that young people can relate to, is not only improving attainment but bringing improvements in behaviour and attendance.
Last summer, the Prime Minister announced £100 million of additional funding that will see not only all five to 16-year-olds benefiting from the two hours of quality PE and sport each week at school as part of the curriculum but all five to 19-year-olds being able to access a further three hours of sport outside of school time during the week. That scheme will include over-16s who are in employment or training as well as those who are still at school.
That is the next tremendous challenge for us. I recently met Sue Campbell of the Youth Sport Trust and we were discussing how we were going to meet that challenge, and I also recently attended a meeting with all the governing bodies of the various sports associations, along with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, where we discussed how we will make that offer a reality.
Building on the successful national strategy for PE and sport, the additional funding will provide sporting provision outside school; widen access for disabled children, and extend our existing school sports partnerships into the further education sector. It will also provide children and young people with more opportunities to be trained by qualified sports coaches and to take part in competitive sport.
If I may say so, we all know what the value of healthy competition is; I suppose that all of us in politics understand the value of healthy competition. More than a third of pupils are now participating in inter-school sporting competitions, but we must raise that number even further. That is why we are setting up a network of 225 competitive sports leaders who will help schools to organise new competitions between schools. I am delighted to be able to tell the House today that we have met early our interim target to have 90 competitive sports leaders in place by the end of the month and we are working towards having that network complete by the end of January next year.
To inspire more young people to explore new options and challenge themselves to great heights, we will also have a national school sports week and we will recruit more coaches in schools and in the community who can help to offer expert training advice to aspiring athletes.
I have already mentioned the success of the UK School games, which I attended last August in Coventry. This year, the games will be held in Bristol and Bath, in the west country, and the following year, completing the mainland Great Britain trio of venues, it will take place in Cardiff; I am happy to say that the athletics event will be taking place in my own constituency. It is an event that provides additional motivation to budding athletes and it is a multi-sport event, which is very important. Anyone who has been to the UK School games will realise just what a huge event it is now becoming. It is akin in size to the Commonwealth games—a multi-sport event for school children from across the United Kingdom, with fantastic facilities, which mirrors the kind of provisions that we see in international sporting events. In that sense, we can be very proud of it. It will be a tremendous lead-up to the Olympics in 2012. We have already seen much success, and we want to see it replicated at every level and in every school, although perhaps not on such a grand scale.
Offering less traditional sports will be an important part of raising participation. Many people do not necessarily see themselves as sporting. About a quarter of youngsters will participate in any sport put before them, about half will get involved with a bit of encouragement, and the other quarter or so will need a lot of additional attention and help to get them involved in sport and physical activities.
Some may be put off by the idea of track running, hockey or football, but they might participate more readily in cycling or golf, going to the gym or becoming involved in some of the newer street sports. I have had the pleasure of meeting Darren Campbell several times in the course of my duties, and I know that he and others like him are very keen to promote that.
Increasingly, schools are offering more of the less traditional sports to pupils. I would like to see more of that throughout the country, extending to club and community provision. We need to think about the potential contribution of sport and exercise in the widest possible sense, and not as an afterthought or restricted to traditional activities.
Getting young people involved in activities such as cycling is also of great value in promoting habits that are environmentally friendly and that do not place a strain on our environmental resources. Schools should think about the environmental implications in their planning—for example, for green gyms, cycling routes and so on.
It will be a challenge, but widening the sporting opportunities available for young people even further is crucial to extending participation. Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust are valuable partners and are geared up to work with us towards that objective.
A few moments ago, the Minister mentioned the importance of coaching. Does he share my view, gleaned as a parent and a sport fanatic, that coaches can be important as a catalyst for engaging and enthusing young people in sport irrespective of their level of ability. I give an example. The Aire-Wharfe cricket league in my area has been very successful in developing a girls’ cricket section, many of whose participants play with their male peers in the under-15 matches. Much of that has been generated through a dedicated and enthusiastic female coach, who has been able to engage girls at school in the sport, through quick cricket and other means, and get them involved. What are the Government doing to ensure that we continue to make that sort of coaching provision available to schools, possibly through community sport clubs and other organisations?
I thank you, Mr. Hancock, for giving us appropriate coaching on procedure.
We have met our target to establish 3,000 community sports coaching posts; it was to have been achieved by the end of 2006. It is a significant achievement; 17 sports have been endorsed to deliver UK coaching certificate qualifications at one or more levels, with more to follow. We have developed a network of coach development officers across the country. The coaching project is transforming coaching in the UK by creating real step changes in the recruitment, education, employment and deployment of coaches. Over the past few years, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and my Department have invested more than £60 million implementing the key recommendations of the coaching task force. My hon. Friend is right, and coaching remains a key part of our strategy.
As well as school teams and structured activities, it is important to allow young people to explore games, and to become involved in less structured activities such as pick-up games in the park, playing basketball or even knocking a ball around in the local park. However, they need safe places to do so. I know that that is a major concern among hon. Members, but particularly so for the parents of younger children, who want safe places for their children to play.
I have said before that we want to see a generation of free-range organic children, not battery-farmed kids who are kept at home and never allowed out. Young people themselves consistently tell us that they want more places to go, better facilities, better youth clubs and open spaces where they can skateboard, play football or whatever.
As well as encouraging good health and cultivating skills for later life, sport and physical activity is also a great social institution. We need to invest in it if the next generation is to form a nation of participants rather than spectators. That is why, in the children’s plan, published at the end of December last year, we committed £225 million of investment to provide safe places for children to play and to pursue outdoor physical activities, often with supervision by trained staff in certain areas. We committed a further £160 million, in addition to the £60 million announced in “Aiming High”, to improving youth facilities. Last month, my colleague Beverley Hughes, who is in charge of our youth strategy, allocated a £420 million fund for the continuation and expansion of the positive activities in the young people’s programme and in the youth opportunity and youth capital funds, which will provide yet more places to go and things to do for young people throughout the country.
Being involved in sport does not always mean participating directly. Sport is the lifeblood of our voluntary sector; nearly 2 million volunteers give at least an hour a week to sport, and sustain more than 100,000 affiliated clubs, serving more than 8 million members. The sporting sector makes the single biggest contribution to total voluntary effort in the country.
In the 2012 Olympics, there will be a great many roles behind the scenes, as well as in the arena. It will be an exciting time for the UK and for our younger generation, whose talent will come under the international sport spotlight. Preparations have already started, and last week the second national talent orientation camp concluded, which gave young athletes the chance to learn what it takes to compete at the highest level. My colleague Jim Knight has been discussing with the regions how the structure of planned opportunities such as the Olympics can reflect local creativity and imagination.
I do not know whether other hon. Members have met any of the young people in our network of young ambassadors, but they have been acting as role models to inspire other young people and to help promote opportunities in schools in connection with the Olympic games. I have attended events with them, including a recent one sponsored by Sky; those young people are admirable and impressive and are doing a wonderful job in mentoring others.
In this Olympic year, we must fix our sights on the next Olympics in 2012. We must try to increase young people’s enthusiasm and ability to participate in sport and give every young person the opportunity to go for gold—and not only the talented young athletes in the Olympic arena. Britain has a proud sporting legacy. Before Sir Steven Redgrave, the greatest British Olympian ever, we had Paul Radmilovic, from Cardiff. He won four Olympic gold medals before and just after the first world war. He would have one even more had not the great war intervened. He won in the sports of swimming and water polo.
We have a great sporting tradition. I have every confidence that it will be continued by the next generation, partly because of the policies that the Government are following. I am proud of our record, and of the quiet revolution that we have started, which is transforming school sport for the better.
We in the House have traditions, too, Mr. Brennan, and the Chairman of Ways and Means would not forgive me if I did not remind your staff that even when Ministers are talking about colleagues, they should be addressed by constituency or title and not by name. But you did it only twice; a third would get a gold metal.
I appreciate being given the opportunity to participate briefly in the debate. I usually find myself squeezed in at the end of debates and have to rush what I want to say, so in many respects, it is pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Minister. [Hon. Members: “Pace yourself.”] I will have to pace myself. I want to make similar points today to those that I made last week in the debate on obesity, but I had to be squeezed in on that occasion.
My hon. Friend rightly said that, as individuals, Members know that we need to keep fit, particularly in this post-Christmas period. Inquiries for gym membership rocket in this early part of the year, and everybody has the sense that they need to be doing something. By February, however, that has all gone. My hon. Friend said that he wishes to do even more, but turning those who are willing into genuine participants is difficult. That is part of what today’s debate is about. It is about setting up the structures, ensuring that the investment is there and talking about coaches, facilities and volunteers.
An important area, in which we need to do a lot more research, is changing social behaviour. A big time factor is involved in helping individuals to change their entire behaviour and their work-life balance, as opposed to just setting up the structures. Setting up structures that meet people’s modern and daily lives is one of our challenges. These days, 65 per cent. of people work an atypical working week. A minority, rather than the majority, now work the nine-to-five working week.
As my hon. Friend knows, I regularly play rugby. I will be playing a game tomorrow. We will have the traditional 2.30 kick-off, because it is the middle of the winter and we do not have floodlights. If we do not kick off then, it is dark by the end of the game. In many cases, that probably would make no difference to the standard of play. In fact, our standard might actually be better. Like many junior clubs, we have struggled. Over the 25 years that I have been playing, we have regularly turned out three teams. Of course, people now work on a Saturday morning as well as during the week. The idea of being able to commit to every Saturday afternoon—I am as bad as everybody else—from September to May is no longer a reality for many people. There are those who are really committed and have understanding families and partners who allow that to happen, but the reality for many people is that 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon is an increasingly difficult time. The national governing bodies and others are reacting to that situation, but they have to think in a wider perspective about what they do.
My hon. Friend talks about the quiet revolution, and it is worth setting the scene: about seven years ago, school sport had fallen to a really low point. We can be reasonably happy with the progress that we have made in the past decade. The Government got off to a slow start. They did not take the matter seriously enough for the first two or three years. It is only in the last few years that we have started to make up the lost ground. However, we must not be complacent; there is always more to do.
The five-hour offer is welcome, but it is a massive stretch target and will be difficult to achieve. Success comes down to the balance of sport that is being offered inside and outside the curriculum. We understand that from the way people’s lives work. That is the situation in my experience. My son is reasonably keen on sport—he does not have any choice from my perspective—and many of the activities that he undertakes occur outside school hours. That works fine for us, but it does not necessarily work for everybody, particularly if the sporting facilities are not available locally.
Returning to the vital subject of coaching, it is about getting coaches to people rather than getting people to facilities. In that way, we will change the mindset. It is important to recognise where we have come from. The national school sport strategy has transformed the way in which school sport works. It is also important not to eulogise countries such as Australia. As my hon. Friend said, Australians are now looking at how we are developing school sport. A great myth exists that, somehow, every other country has got it right and we have got it wrong. Actually, as my hon. Friend knows, obesity is increasing in Australia at equal if not faster rates than in the UK. The Australians are very good at supporting their elite level. If someone is reasonably good at a particular sport, they will be fast-tracked and given every opportunity to compete for their country. Australia loves to win gold medals and championships. Ironically, though, for every £1 we spend at elite level, Australia spends £7. Yet the other way round, at school sport level, for every £7 that we spend, Australia only spends £1. From a national perspective, it looks good to win gold medals, but it does not necessarily help to increase participation locally. Australian participation rates are slightly better than ours because of the enthusiasm for sport, the climate and a number of other factors. However, we have got our strategies and delivery largely right at school level. I think that, by 2010 and 2015, we will be pretty satisfied with what we have achieved.
My hon. Friend is also right when he says that changes are taking place in traditional areas. His school was rather limited in its choice of sport. At least we had rugby and football during the winter, and then athletics and cricket during the summer, so we had four activities to choose from. From what I understand, there is now an average of 21 sporting opportunities available in each of the school co-ordinated areas. That is important because we have seen a decline in traditional sport. Many people want to take part in other activities. That is important if we are going to extend the core of people doing sport.
My hon. Friend said that 25 to 30 per cent. of people will always do sport. They are mad keen and will always do it whatever they are offered. There is then 40 to 50 per cent. in the middle who, given the right opportunities, will participate, and then find that it becomes habit forming. Those people might take up activities such as skateboarding, rock climbing, walking, dancing or aerobics. It is the other core that I worry about, and I am sure that Sue Campbell has raised that matter with my hon. Friend as well.
We call the last 10 to 15 per cent. of people the hard-to-reach group. In a recent presentation from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, I heard one of the chief medical officers say, “We find them hard to reach, but quite often drug dealers, alcohol advertisers and others don’t.” There is obviously a disconnect between us and that group, but not with other people in society. However, they are not always such people. They can also be young Asian girls who have cultural barriers to participating in the sport that is provided en masse in school. Also children with special needs and learning difficulties are still poorly catered for in many areas. The Youth Sport Trust would be the first to admit that more work needs to be done in that respect.
We need to make more special interventions at that level, so that we can make an impact on those people who have not been given the opportunities that they want. We can deliver on that 25 to 30 per cent. who always want to do sport for its own sake. We need to do a lot more in building up the school-club link. By 2010, we will have driven up our participation rates—probably 85 per cent. of people will be doing up to five hours of sport a week—but what happens when they leave school? Are the clubs ready to take on that level of participation? At the moment, I do not think that they are.
The other group that is a worry is young girls, for whom the fall in participation rates starts much earlier. There is a dip at about 12, 13 and 14. Some 70 per cent. of girls at that age drop out of sport. Therefore, we need to take another look at how on earth we can respond with activities that will attract young girls to stay. As my hon. Friend knows, most of the research shows that it would not take an enormous change. We need to see a slight change in attitude and to address the barriers that some girls may face. For example, we need to look at the type of activity that is offered, the changing facilities and what they are asked to wear. Those minor issues represent small barriers to what they do. In every other walk of life, there are examples of best practice in which schools and others have responded to those challenges. They have offered girls all the things that are required to remove those barriers, and participation rates then increase. We need to roll out that best practice right across the country, rather than writing about it and shelving what we have written somewhere in the Department. That could make an enormous difference to obesity among girls.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, will he not agree that young women may be put off sport because the right activity has not been identified and because of the experiences that they may have with the coach? Very often, it could be a case of finding another coach to teach the same sport or identifying an alternative sport that they would feel comfortable with.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. There is an array of reasons why people do not participate in the first place. When they do participate, they are quite often put off. That is why professional coaching is crucial. The coach will understand the group or the individual that they are working with, and they will be as professional as they can be. At elite level, that will mean working with a national team. However, working with a group of young girls requires a specific set of skills.
My hon. Friend’s comments about role models also relate to the media. A really positive role model can make an enormous difference, and Dame Kelly Holmes is a perfect example. However, our national media promote so few role models, and we do not read about them or see them often enough. Yesterday, I joined the Morgan inquiry, which is looking at youth volunteering, and the point made by young people and particularly—I hate this term—the hard-to-reach groups is that they want to see people like them, rather than just elite athletes, volunteering and participating in sport. In that respect, Dame Kelly’s story and where she came from are important, and people need to see more role models, so that they can relate to sport and so that sport is not just on the back pages of our newspapers or just about the glamour of football. Lots more is going on that is much more important to people.
Everything comes back to three elements, one of which is coaching, and I have changed my mind about it over the years. The enormous amount that we have spent on facilities has not been successful. Although lots of national lottery money—about £1.5 billion—has gone into facilities, participation rates have not necessarily increased as a result. I should therefore like the figures in the coaching strategy to double or treble from 3,000 to nearer 10,000, because that is where we will make the difference.
The facilities will then need to follow, because what people will put up with has changed, although it does not always feel like that: in some of the rugby club changing rooms that I change in on Saturday afternoons, I am lucky to have cold water at all, let alone a hot shower to get the three inches of mud off my legs. However, people’s expectations have rightly changed. The David Lloyd centres and others have moved gyms and changing rooms up a notch, and even local authorities have had to respond. Clearly, however, it is difficult for everybody across the board to raise their game at the same time.
As I said, therefore, we need the coaches and the facilities. However, we also need the volunteers, and this is where I declare my interest as the chair of the National Strategic Partnership For Volunteering In Sport. My hon. Friend rightly acknowledged that the biggest group of volunteers are sports volunteers, and 26 per cent. of all volunteers volunteer in sport. They do not necessarily regard themselves as volunteers, but as helpers who are helping out, but they are the vital cog that enables our grass-roots sport to function day in, day out. As somebody who brings in the post pads at the end of the game and organises things, I know that we can all make an enormous contribution by doing just a little, rather than leaving things to the club secretary and everybody else. We must get those things right; we must increase the number of coaches and continue to invest in facilities. That is why my hon. Friend’s work on building schools for the future is vital.
We need to ensure that the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we have to provide facilities is not lost. Many of our facilities are very good—they are fantastic for school sport—but if they are to make a real contribution in terms of contiguity, we must ensure that they are also good for community use. One criticism that I have heard of some of the early designs of facilities—I hope that the problems have now been ironed out—is that they are great for school sport, but that they will have to facilitate community use, too, if we are to use them post-school. Just adding a couple of badminton courts is not good enough, and that goes back to the need to have not only coaches, but suitable facilities that are comparable to those in the private sector.
The debate is entitled “Participation in Sport”, which is an important subject, but it needs to be linked to the definition of our requirements in terms of core physical activity. I will have to stop playing rugby at some stage; indeed, my wife wanted me to stop 10 years ago, so I will have to stop. However, I want to continue doing something that at least helps me to do the four or five activities a week and the 30 minutes of moderate activity that the chief medical officer says that we require. Doing an activity five times a week is sometimes difficult, however, even in this job. People therefore require the right mindset and they need to make doing an activity a priority, but it is not possible for everyone to do so.
At the heart of the issue is the need for genuine joined-up thinking to respond to the potential epidemic that faces us. If we do nothing now, 50 per cent. of women and 65 per cent. of men will be clinically obese by 2050. We cannot let that happen, and that will require not only an enormous response from the Minister’s Department, which has made the initial change in terms of education, but an effort on the part of other Departments to step up their game and to take the opportunity to focus on sport presented by the changes taking place in Sport England. I hope that my hon. Friend will use his ministerial influence to ensure that that happens.
In particular, we require local government and the Department of Health to be the drivers of the physical activity agenda locally. For years, I have been advocating that Sport England should concentrate on doing what it says on the tin and focus on sport, which it can do really well, but now is not the time to let the physical activity agenda slip through the net. As I said, I believe that the Department has got things right. We will be churning out youngsters who have formed the right habits and who want to participate in sport or physical activity. However, we must be ready out there in the community to pick them up, because if we are not, they will be lost.
We know how easy it is to give up once we have stopped. I have found it difficult to make up for the December excesses in this place and for family breaks, and the first two weeks in the gym have been really tough. I have been measuring my performance every day, and I can assure my hon. Friend that it always takes twice as long when people get to my age to undo the harm that they have done in the month before. Part of the problem for those who stop doing physical activity is that the first steps back are very difficult, and we need to ensure that primary care trusts and local government offer a set of activities that meet the needs of such people. If we do not do that, 50 per cent. of the country’s people will become obese, and we cannot afford that.
As I said in the debate last week, we often think that obesity will kill the next generation, but the people from NICE told us in a recent presentation that obesity is actually a really inefficient killer. All that it does is make us really unwell for a long time and make us an enormous burden not only to ourselves, but to the rest of society. Obesity is one of the greatest health challenges that we face, and we must design different ways of working in local government and planning terms to redesign the way that we live our lives. We have heard all that before, and as my hon. Friend said, we should take the stairs, not the lift when we walk into a tall building. All too often, however, they are the ugly bits tucked around the back as a fire escape, but they should be the central features in the way that the glamorous lifts are, and we should always know that they are there. That is a minor change, but it is a change in perception and in the way in which we respond to these issues.
We face an enormous challenge, but we have come a long way, and if I were asked whether I would prefer to be where we were 10 years ago, the answer would be no. We have come an enormous way, and I am pretty pleased with what we have done, but there is a lot more to do. The 2012 Olympics give us a golden opportunity to inspire a generation, and anyone who talks to schoolchildren, as I am sure that hon. Members do, will know that they are inspired by 2012, which has given them a new hope and a vision. However, we still need some clarity about how we turn that enthusiasm and focus on 2012 into genuine, increasing mass participation in sport at grass-roots level.
As the chair of a county sports partnership, I can come up with lots of ideas, but there will be no money to deliver them, so we are talking more about using the Olympic dream to gold-plate all the things that we have. We can do that, but we need to be realistic about how we might deliver things if we do not have extra resources. There might be some underachievement in respect of the most important issue to come out of the games: increasing grass-roots participation in sport.
There are lots of challenges, and I honestly believe that my hon. Friend the Minister is up to them. I have worked with him in the past, and he is one of those Ministers who actually gets what he is supposed to be doing, so we do not need to convince him that sport is good. To go back to the point raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about our experiences, people have all too often hated cross-country running and have decided to take it out on sport for the rest of their lives. However, I have seen the Minister playing in the parliamentary rugby team, and he is certainly full-on and gives it his all. I hope that in responding to some of the points that have been raised, he will not rest on his laurels, but make this golden opportunity to increase sports participation a reality.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for a very thoughtful contribution. May I just offer him a bit of advice as somebody who was daft enough to play rugby until he was in his 40s? If he is having to scrape three inches of mud off his face, get rid of the ball earlier.
Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to have with us a Minister who knows what he is talking about.
I shall set out some of the background and follow on from what the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) said about obesity by giving some statistics. Currently, it is estimated that obesity costs the UK £1 billion a year, and the amount is projected to rise to £45 billion by 2050. A 2007 report suggests that on current trends about 60 per cent. of men, 50 per cent. of women and 25 per cent. of children in the UK will be obese by 2050. As hon. Members will know, there has been a steady and alarming rise in the number of children aged as young as two to 10 who are obese, from 9.9 per cent. in 1995 to 13.4 per cent. in 2004. As to the split between girls and boys, one fifth of boys are expected to be obese by 2020 and one third of girls by the same date. Girls are clearly at much greater risk of obesity than boys. There are many other statistics on obesity, which will I think cause all hon. Members present today to be concerned about the importance of tackling the issue. There are other statistics that provide useful background, to which we should respond.
Both the hon. Member for Loughborough and the Minister raised the question of what happens at the point when children stop participating—when they leave school and stop school sport. Do they continue with it thereafter? Unfortunately, seven in 10 children drop out of sport after leaving school.
I agree with what the Minister said about improvements in school sport. I do not intend to go over the same ground, but the progress being made in secondary schools is slower than progress in primary schools. We are, of course, an increasingly sedentary society. The two hours a week of PE in primary schools are welcome, but unfortunately probably all children, almost without exception, spend a lot more than two hours a week sitting in front of the telly, playing computer games or doing things that are completely inactive beyond moving a computer mouse.
For reasons of obesity and mental health, we need to do something to increase participation in sport. There is increasing evidence that mental health issues can to an extent be addressed by participation in sport, giving people a feeling of well-being. However, it is obvious that tackling obesity is not the only reason for extending participation in sport. We should extend it for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Loughborough. We have heard that he and the Minister play rugby. I take part in sport fairly regularly; we all get enjoyment out from sport, which is another very good reason to extend participation in it.
What are the Government doing, and how are they responding to the challenge? So far, there is one event, with which we are all familiar—the Olympics in 2012—securing which was probably the biggest thing the Government could have done to increase participation in sport, certainly in the run-up period. However, as the Minister knows, the legacy after the games presents a challenge, because even in Sydney, where the games had such a high profile and such success, there was no legacy of participation. That is probably the biggest challenge for the Government.
It should be possible to secure such a legacy. Children are now hearing about the Olympics and being told about them by their PE teachers and when they go to sports clubs. Some are not of an age to be participants in the 2012 Olympics—such as my six-year-old son, who does gymnastics, and will clearly not, without dramatic improvement, be taking part in the 2012 games; but he is certainly aware of them and may feel that he wants to take part in the 2016 or 2020 Olympics. I hasten to add that I am not one of those pushy parents who stand on the sidelines shouting and pushing their children on. We should be looking beyond the 2012 horizon, because children in particular will already be thinking about the Olympics beyond 2012.
An area in which I am afraid the Government’s performance is not as good is the general encouragement of people to participate in exercise of one kind or another. I am thinking of the 2 million more people target, and public service agreement target 3, which is to increase the number of people who participate in active sports. It will be interesting to see—I do not know whether the Minister is already in a position to give us more information—how the switch in responsibilities with respect to Sport England will work: how its focus on elite athletes will work and, more important for the general health of the nation, how the Department of Health will pick up and run with its responsibilities for increasing physical exercise. It was not clear that a handover process had been embarked on before the change was made. If there was a handover, and clear plans were in place, I hope that the Minister will give us an outline today, and explain how the Department of Health will deal with its responsibilities.
What do we need to do to increase participation in sport, improve the UK’s sports performance, and reduce the incidence of obesity? Schools are one starting place. The Minister has referred to playing fields. In questions a few weeks ago I raised a possible loophole, and afterwards in the Lobby the Minister informally confirmed that there was an issue. The loophole concerns instances when a playing field site is bought, after which the developer sits on it for five years and does nothing with it. After five years, according to Sport England, its right to be a statutory consultee no longer exists, because the playing field has not been used for five years or more. There are apparently several examples of sites in London that have been left with weeds growing on them, because the developer knows that after five years it will be easier to convert them to some other more attractive use. I do not think that the Minister has responded to me on that yet, but perhaps the matter could be pursued, to see whether the loophole, if it indeed exists, can be closed.
I think I can help the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right. Something comparable applies to ordinary developments: if someone puts up an illegal development at the back of their house and it is left for five years, they acquire the right to have it there. By the same token, if a developer buys a playing field and holds it for five years, it loses its status as a playing field and becomes a brownfield site, which can be developed.
Interestingly enough, the England and Wales Cricket Board told me yesterday about another relevant area that is becoming a problem, although it is not something that one would blame the Government for—indeed, quite the reverse. An increasing number of companies that used to have sports fields at the back of their buildings are now closing them down. The board thinks that for cricket, which clearly needs investment in pitches, that is as big a problem as the loss of playing fields was 10 years ago.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention, and I hope that it will help the Minister respond. Clearly there is an issue, and I have been told of examples in which perhaps half the playing field has been fenced off and is now out of use, specifically so that at some point in the future, five years hence, it can be developed.
Specialist teachers are also relevant. In primary schools there is a need for input from qualified PE teachers. That may be true at secondary level, but if we want children at primary school to engage effectively with sport, the type of activity I have witnessed my children getting involved in at primary school is not challenging them from a sporting point of view. That may be because of training levels and the abilities of form teachers to do things that would challenge primary school children more. The question needs to be considered, as does the capacity to offer alternatives. We have heard that the Minister had the choice of rugby or rugby at school. If for girls the choice is netball or netball, lots of children will miss sporting opportunities, and will grow up thinking “Sport is not for me,” whereas actually they were not offered an alternative.
I would like to hear whether the Minister has any ideas about how to strengthen links with local clubs to ensure that if a school itself cannot offer sporting opportunities it can do so through local community clubs, which would widen children’s opportunities. Throwing money at the provision of facilities is not always the solution. Interestingly, the UK Paralympics team does exceedingly well, yet it uses the same facilities as our other athletes who do not do nearly as well. Clearly, something about the way in which the Paralympic athletes are organised is different and delivers the goods. Mainstream athletics is obviously organised differently, because those athletes use the same facilities.
The provision of facilities at local level, however, remains an issue. I welcome the Government’s heavy investment in education; the previous Prime Minister said, “Education, education, education”, and we said, “1p on income tax”. We scrapped that idea because the Government made the necessary investment. However, pockets of difficulty remain. For example, Wallington county grammar, in my constituency, does not have a sports hall. Clearly, the local authority, which has many other financial demands on it from other schools to provide other facilities, has not managed to put the sports hall at the top of its list. The school is struggling with facilities that are barely adequate—they were barely adequate when built 30 or 40 years ago. In some schools, issues remain over the provision of facilities.
We need to consider after-school provision, whether for children at school or for those who have left school and want to continue their involvement in sports, as well as voluntary community sports clubs. The hon. Member for Loughborough was right to sing the praises of the volunteers who ensure that those clubs can operate. When volunteers are mentioned, some people—I might be guilty of this—tend to think of people who work at the citizens advice bureau or in the Marie Curie shop. However, they also support the local sports clubs in which we need to invest.
I am sure that the Minister received the briefing from the Central Council of Physical Recreation on one voice for sport and recreation, which highlighted the need to invest in community sport. I shall mention a couple of clubs in my constituency. The first is the Sutton School of Gymnastics, in which I declare an interest, because my son goes there. It is struggling with facilities based in a school that needs to use its sports hall for normal school activities, which do not involve gymnastics. Before each session, people have to roll out the equipment and then put it away again at the end. Like the hon. Member for Loughborough, I try to do my bit. I put in my diary once a month that I will help to pack the equipment away, because it is quite a laborious process. The equipment is very heavy and the number of mats used means that a lot of effort is involved.
The club is in need of investment, yet it delivers some of the best athletes and gymnasts in the UK. Ross Brewer, who regularly wins gold medals in competitions in the UK and beyond, trains at the club, but is trying to cope with facilities that are barely adequate.
The second club is Roundshaw Colts, a successful football club for youngsters on the Roundshaw estate and the surrounding area—one of the most deprived estates in my constituency. However, the club is struggling to find funds to provide a new pavilion so that the youngsters can change in a proper environment. Funding remains a problem, therefore, particularly for community and voluntary sports clubs.
I want to raise the specific matter of athletes with disabilities and, in particular, those with learning disabilities. Medals tables suggest that our disabled athletes and Paralympic athletes perform reasonably well. The facilities might not be everything that they want, but clearly there is support. I am very lucky in having David Weir in my constituency; he is one of the country’s best wheelchair athletes and regularly wins medals for our country. However, as the Minister will know, for the past eight years, since the Sydney Paralympic games, there has been an ongoing issue over athletes with learning disabilities, owing to the regrettable antics of the Spanish basketball team, who posed as athletes with learning disabilities. Since then, all athletes with learning or intellectual disabilities have been barred from participating in international events and from receiving funding from national sources—all because of the controversy that arose as a result of that incident.
I understand that the British Paralympic Association raised the issue in the International Paralympic Committee and, I think, secured a motion that will, we hope, ensure that by 2009 the matter will be resolved. If the resolution comes after 2009, realistically, our athletes with learning and intellectual disabilities will not be able to participate in the 2012 Olympics—or at least they will not be able to participate with their best chance of winning.
I was briefed by an athlete who came with his father to see me. He is a regular gold medal winner, but he can continue participating only because his parents are willing to fund his activities. He has the necessary level of personal commitment to his sport so he continues to be motivated, but he knows that even though he is one of the best in the country he will not be able to participate in the 2012 Olympics because that matter has not been resolved. I hope that the Minister will say something about what the Government can do to ensure that it is brought to a conclusion, so that funding can be released for athletes through the usual channels and they can receive training from paid coaches.
Learning disabilities are one of the biggest issues relating to the extension of participation in sport. A substantial number of people are affected. I was told that a significant percentage of the children not participating in sport have learning disabilities. We need to address that.
Young people need to be able to see their idols in action in the flesh. I am talking in particular about premier league football matches. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has been raising the issue of ticket prices for premier league matches for months, if not years. The price of a ticket to a premier league football match is about four or five times the equivalent price for a club of similar standing in another European country. One could speculate as to why that is: perhaps because UK clubs that are also businesses derive a lot of their revenue from other sources and are not quite as dependent on spectators going to see their favourite footballers in action. If we want young people to see players in the flesh, winning and scoring goals, to motivate them to get on to the pitch and perform in a similar fashion, we must do something about that situation.
I accept that the issue is outside the Government’s remit, but they can take action in some respects, to which I shall refer later. Premier league clubs are fortunate; they have lots of cash and they can invest in new stadiums. Some clubs, such as Portsmouth, are not in a position to invest in a new stadium, or they are struggling; other clubs, such as Arsenal, do not face the same challenges. If we want young people to attend those events, we must address the cost of tickets. The clubs will say, “We have schemes in place, and there are discounted tickets for children under the age of 16.” However, even with those tickets, the children will have to go into the family enclosure with an adult, so someone will still need to pay four or five times the price of an equivalent ticket if they were to attend a similar football match in Barcelona or elsewhere in Europe. I am told that if one does the calculation, one can actually fly to Barcelona, watch a match and come back for less than it costs to attend a match at one of our premier league clubs. There is something ludicrous about that, particularly if we want children to grow up seeing their favourite footballers in action and wanting to emulate them on the football pitch.
I hope that the Minister will find a way for the Government, and if not them, the Office of Fair Trading, to examine whether consumers get value for money. A reasonable point was put to me recently. If Members want to go and see Manchester United play, they have only one place to go, and only one club to see—Manchester United. If they are a dedicated follower of Manchester United, they will not want to watch, for instance, Newcastle, Arsenal or Chelsea; they will want to see Manchester United. To a certain extent, therefore, Manchester United has a monopoly over its ticket prices, and I shall be asking the OFT to examine whether a monopoly is operating against the interests of consumers who want to go and watch football matches, and whether it or the Football Association, which somewhere hidden away in the detail has responsibility for ensuring that football clubs are football clubs, as opposed to businesses, can take any action to ensure that prices for attending a premier league match are more affordable for the people we want attending them so that they can see players in the flesh, rather than watching the match stuck in front of the telly.
Mr. Hancock, I have made a suitable reference both to Portsmouth, which I hope you will find to your satisfaction, and to the importance of the club’s securing a new stadium. The debate has been important—much more important than its attendance suggests. We must do all we can to support sport in the UK at all levels, including schools and community clubs, at all ages, whether for young or older people, and for many reasons, whether health, well-being, mental health, or simply to win. We must maintain the broad consensus that operates on sport—although sometimes, particularly on the Olympics, there are some strains—because sport makes us feel good, it is inclusive, it breaks down barriers and it is worth every penny that is spent on it, and more.
I entirely endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). Although the debate has not exactly been full to bursting, it has been interesting. It is a crucial subject, but the sadness is that such debates always seem to take place on a Thursday afternoon, and people’s attention is often elsewhere.
This has been a thought-provoking and intelligent debate, and I very much welcome the Minister’s opening remarks. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and I attend a fair number of these debates each year, and I am often taken by the fact that with sport, the battle is not between different ideas, from left to right on the political spectrum, about how it should be run, but between those who believe in sport as a means to achieve a range of Government objectives, and many difficult people who still do not. The battle for those of us who believe in sport as a way to enrich young people’s lives, and to achieve a better balance, and a healthier and better integrated nation, is to get all the people who either do not believe it, or are unwilling to use sport to achieve it, to see the benefits that it brings.
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s contributions, and I really must go and watch one of his rugby matches. He is absolutely right to talk about the 2012 challenge and the challenges of increasing participation. We heard an excellent contribution, too, from the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. He is right to highlight the facilities issue, which is a planning problem rather than anything else, and probably difficult to get around. He also made some powerful points about people with learning difficulties.
It is often said that being in opposition has little going for it apart from the chance to get out, visit people and listen to what is going on, but in the two years or so that I have been doing this job, I have been lucky enough to visit not only a great deal of schools in this country, but 18 months ago Australia, as a guest of the Australian Government on one of their exchange programmes to see the schemes that they run. Hon. Members are right that the Australians have not solved the problem, but they recognise that. It is rather bizarre to think of obese Australians, but obesity is a huge problem, and they tackle it by introducing innovative programmes in their primary schools.
We went to have a look at an organisation called the Bluearth Institute. I do not know whether the Minister has come across it, but it is a Melbourne-based charity that seeks to teach children physical literacy without necessarily using sport. Its staff play a lot of games in the playground, teaching children to hop, move, run backwards and forwards, jump and skip, so that the basics of physical literacy are built at that stage. The Australian objective is to try to do so between the ages of seven and 11, teach them sport from about 10 or 11 until 13 to 15, and build the elite level beyond that.
I also had a look at an interesting school called the Punchbowl boys high school, which was a failing school. The roll had gone down from 1,200 to 700, but a new head teacher had come in and decided to use sport to turn the school around. I went out for a run with them in the morning, and in the year since he had been doing such work, his exam results had improved by 30 per cent. and his truancy rate had fallen off. When he started, the kids were exhausted and slept through the first two periods of the day, but once they got used to it, they went home at the end of the school day having burned off their energy, and they were much more pleasant to their parents, who, as a result, became much more supportive of the school. It was a classic win-win—purely by introducing sport at the centre of the school curriculum.
There are two difficult challenges. I have a lot of sympathy with the Minister, who is right to say that a quiet revolution is going on and that much has been achieved. However, school sport is not an easy subject. I suspect that those of us who have watched a lot of it have seen fantastic examples of good practice, where one incredibly enthusiastic person drives it forward. They sometimes do so in desperate facilities, but sometimes we build fantastic new facilities, the person is not right and there is no human input to get people going, so it does not work in the same way.
I thought I should give the hon. Gentleman a concrete example of that. When I was a child, I took part in a few tennis lessons in fantastic facilities, but I was just a beginner and the coach’s response to my failure to put the ball in the right part of the court was to whack me on the head with a tennis racquet, which discouraged me from taking up the sport for about 20 years.
I am afraid that there are many other examples. I took part in a chat show over Christmas on talkSPORT Radio, and somebody phoned in to say that they were at school in Wales, the head teacher loathes sport and so they are virtually forbidden to play it. They just did not have the opportunities that are available.
The challenge is two-fold. I shall first address what went wrong with school sport before the quiet revolution, then I shall turn to the structure of it and the strategy for what needs to be done.
There is always a temptation to look at school sport with rose-tinted spectacles—we have all met people who say that it was fantastic when they were at school and is not the same now. I am always a little suspicious about whether school sports were ever as good in the 1960s and ’70s as some people would have us believe. However, it is clear that a number of things happened in the 20 years after that to cause the system to fall apart, some of them the fault of successive Governments and some not. The teachers’ strike in the 1980s was damaging, because teachers stopped being so interested in extra-curricular activities and in many cases were told not to do it. The concentration on academic excellence that followed was entirely right in itself but often had the unintended effect of squeezing sport and other extra-curricular activities out of the curriculum. In some places there was an anti-competitive sport agenda, which was clearly wrong, as was the sale of playing fields.
As I have said, getting everything right is a pretty complex mix, but if there is one thing that makes a difference, on the basis of what I have seen in the past few years, it is the quality of the people involved. If the right people are in place delivering school sport, the results are often as they ought to be.
On the structure of sport, I have said that I have been to Australia and seen how they do it. One thing that they do much better than we do is structuring sport in government. Nobody should be blind to the fact that sport is a difficult topic for Government. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport looks after elite and mass participation sport, the Department for Children, Schools and Families looks after the school sport offer, and there is quite a lot of input from the Home Office, which is often interested in sport to help problem children and for social inclusion. Quite properly, we are increasingly using sport as a tool of international diplomacy and aid; UK Sport runs excellent programmes abroad. There is also the Ministry of Defence, and there are planning issues, of which we heard an excellent example this afternoon. It is incredibly difficult to bring it all together, as we find from talking to sports experts. I had a fascinating couple of hours six months ago with the professor of sport at the university of Toronto, who talked about the “playground to podium” ideal. It is incredibly difficult to bring that about by joining up all those activities.
I shall give the Minister a thought on how to do that. The Australians do it through the Australian Sports Commission, which brings together all the Ministers who have anything to do with sport so that they can iron out the various issues. It worked well in that way in its early days, but as it developed it also became a powerful champion for sport in Government. The equivalent to a Home Office Minister, for instance, would come along and say, “We have a problem with gun crime and knife crime,” or whatever it was, and somebody would be able to say, “This is where we can help you by running a football programme.” I know that Wolverhampton Wanderers runs a good scheme of that kind. Best practice can spread, and in that way the Australian Sports Commission became an incredibly powerful champion for sport.
The structure below Government in this country is also complicated. There is the Youth Sport Trust, and I entirely endorse the Minister’s words about its fantastic contribution in the 10 years or so for which it has been involved. There are the other non-departmental bodies with responsibility for young people’s sport, principally Sport England. For those who go on to elite programmes there is UK Sport. There are the sports’ national governing bodies, which have a vital role to play because they have the clubs and coaches. If the five-hour offer takes off, they will probably be closely involved in delivering it.
There are also the professional teaching bodies that have an interest—I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the Association for Physical Education—and local authorities, which are often the forgotten partners. Finally, there is the private sector. I suspect that other Members, like me, received a briefing from the Fitness Industry Association pointing out that it owns nearly 6,000 facilities up and down the country.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right—I received that briefing too. I hope that the Minister will respond to the question whether the private sector can play a more imaginative role, particularly on community facilities or the absence of them. They often have top-quality facilities that are underused at certain times of the day or week and could be accessed.
I am sure that that is right, and I think that we would all agree. The FIA’s briefing states that it has 6,000 facilities and more than 40,000 exercise professionals, which is clearly a huge wodge of expertise that we need to use.
Finally, as other Members have said, there are volunteers, who are key to the delivery of sport. So how can we pull it all together and make a strategy? I shall briefly mention the various elements of the strategy and what more could be done. The Government are there to set the strategy, pull it together and provide resources, but I hope that they will also act much more as an enabler. There are fantastic examples of good practice whereby, by giving a small tax incentive, the Government have been able to achieve an outcome far beyond what they had anticipated. One is the community amateur sports club scheme, for which there is a mandatory 80 per cent. rate relief. It has been a huge boon to sports clubs, and to qualify for it they just have to fill in a simple bit of paper. It is almost bureaucracy-free, and it has been a fantastic success.
Likewise, the national governing bodies lobby hard on corporation tax. The Rugby Football Union states powerfully that it is not a corporation and does not have shareholders but gets clobbered for corporation tax. If it were allowed to put that money into its grass roots programmes and its foundation, it could do a great deal more for young people’s sport with little bureaucratic overload.
The Central Council of Physical Recreation is running a campaign on gift aid for junior sports club subscriptions. That is another simple thing that could be done if it met all the necessary public expenditure tests. If clubs were allowed to claim back 28p in every pound for every junior sports club subscription, it would be a terrific incentive to clubs up and down the country to recruit as many young people as they possibly could. The Government can do such simple things, which would make a huge difference.
The Government must also integrate the school sport strategy with the mass participation strategy. I hope that the Minister will be able to say a little about Sport England, although it is probably not directly in his remit. I entirely endorse the new Minister’s strategy of getting Sport England to concentrate on sport. The hon. Member for Loughborough clearly feels the same. As he said, the responsibility for participation in exercise is due to pass to the Department of Health. Will the Minister confirm what is happening in that regard?
There is also the lottery. We have been campaigning for some while for the lottery money to revert to its four original pillars. The amount that goes directly into sport from the national lottery has declined from £398 million in 1998 to £208 million last year, which is a big cut. If we are to deliver on many of the 2012 objectives, that will need to be corrected. As I have said, sport governing bodies have a vital role to play through their clubs and coaches and, crucially, through school-club links. We have mentioned the Youth Sport Trust, and then there are the schools themselves, which are the hub.
The Minister mentioned the building schools for the future programme. It is vital that the new facilities are built in such a way that they can be open for community use when a school is closed. I am sure that everybody in the room has driven past a school on a Saturday morning and seen pristine playing fields completely unused.
Very often, particularly if a new school is located on a controversial site—I can think of one in my constituency—ensuring that its sports facilities are fully accessible to the community is a clear pay-back that the local community might feel offsets its other concerns.
Once again, I entirely agree. The problem has been with older schools, as it is difficult to lock off facilities to meet child protection measures. That should not be a problem in building schools for the future, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman and hope that that will happen.
The Government must ensure that sport is at the centre of the school curriculum. It is too easy for schools to concentrate entirely on the academic side of life because of the pressures of league tables and so on. I do not know whether there is any way in which schools that perform exceptionally well in sport could be recognised. We all agree that it is a good thing for schools, and schools that specialise in sport generally do better academically as a result. Something is needed to ensure that schools take that seriously.
Teacher training is an interesting issue. I do not know whether this is absolutely true, but I have been told—that is always dangerous in opposition—that a primary school teacher going into their year’s teacher training will get only six hours of PE or sport training as part of the syllabus. That clearly is not enough to give them the confidence really to take on sport in primary schools. I have also been told, by the Association for Physical Education that, slightly disappointingly, the number of mainstream PE initial teacher training and education places is falling dramatically. It was 1,450 in 2005-06, 1,310 in 2006-07 and has now fallen to 1,180. It will be extraordinarily difficult to deliver the extra school sport offer if the number of PE teachers coming into the system is declining dramatically. I hope that the Minister will consider that.
Another issue that I want to address is that of primary schools. I was very convinced by the Australian model of teaching physical literacy. Most people who deal with sport seriously will say that if one can get the right habits into children between the ages of six or seven and 11, it is likely to stay with them for the rest of their lives. We need far more concentration on that.
Finally, there is the challenge of the extended school day and how we use it to produce the five-hour offer. I suspect that that will be done only through an integrated strategy. We are already linking schools to clubs, but we need to bring them in to help deliver that strategy.
This has been an interesting and thought-provoking afternoon, with several very good contributions from hon. Members. I think we all agree that much good work has been done on school sport, and I congratulate the Minister and his Department on that. Equally importantly, there is emerging consensus on the direction in which we are travelling and on what needs to be done. If there is one thought on which we should finish, it is simply that 2012 was won not on a promise to rebuild the east end of London, but that the Olympics would be used to empower the lives of young people through sport. That is the single most important reason for having them, and it is the only way in which their legacy can be rolled out across the country. If, after 2012, everyone across the UK is playing more school sport to a better standard, we will have achieved something worth while. If, however, all we end up with is a set of gleaming buildings in the east end of London, I think that most of us will agree that quite some opportunity has been missed.
A little birdie said “vote imminent” to me, Mr. Hancock, so I shall do my best to cover the many points that hon. Members have raised. What the debate may have lacked in attendance, it has not lacked in content. I thank Members for their contributions, which have been in the right spirit—positive, useful and with the right intentions. To use a sporting analogy, I have the feeling that we are all in the same boat and want to go in the same direction, but we are trying to find the right way to row at the same rhythm.
As Members have noted, school sport has been one of our biggest success stories. That is largely down to school sport co-ordinators, link teachers, coaches, mentors and all the volunteers who have been mentioned in the debate. I should like to pick up as many specific points as possible that Members have raised.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
A few more votes and quick turnarounds like that, and we shall all be fit in no time at all.
I shall attempt to respond to the points that have been made during the debate. It ranged fairly widely—some of it was, perhaps, a little beyond my direct ministerial responsibility—but I shall do my best to respond on behalf of the Government. Clearly, if Members have further queries, I will attempt to follow up with correspondence as appropriate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) obviously is one of the Members of the House who has a great deal of expertise in and knowledge about school sport. He told us about his continuing participation as an active rugby player and as a volunteer in his local community. I pay tribute to him, to his leadership role in encouraging volunteering in sport and to the contribution that he always makes in these debates.
My hon. Friend started off by discussing obesity, which was also mentioned by other Members. We must acknowledge at the outset—in the spirit of the debate, I am sure we all will—that obesity is an international problem. It is a problem in all the countries of the western world whose stage of economic development is similar to ours. The recent Foresight report, which was commissioned by the Government and produced by the Foresight group under the leadership of Sir David King, brought home to us the significance of the issue, not as it is sometimes portrayed in the popular media in terms of morbid obesity but in the fact that we are all becoming more obese. To put it crudely, we are all getting fatter and, in decades to come, that will have a significant impact on the health and wealth of the nation. We need a proper response to that right across the Government and society.
In response to the Foresight report, the Government are planning to publish an obesity strategy in the near future. It will be the first go at responding to the challenges laid down by the report. It will be a broad cross-governmental response and will cover physical activity. The simple message of the report is that as animals who emerged from the caves a few thousand years ago, we are programmed through evolution to consume when we can, but our modern lifestyles do not require the same physical activity that would normally have been required even just a few decades ago.
I accept that consumption may be slightly beyond the Minister’s remit, but I hope that with colleagues he is considering a matter that was raised in the press a few days ago about what food manufacturers are allowed to state on ready-made meals packaging. I understand that the variation in the stated content of salt, fat and so on is 30 per cent. That seems very generous, and it should be addressed.
The Food Standards Agency is conducting a review on that very point, and I hope that a consensus will emerge that will mean that all manufacturers and retailers of processed foods agree on the right system for giving consumers accurate information about the nature of what they are consuming. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that we are straying a little, but he makes an important point in relation to obesity.
Returning to school sport and the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, he mentioned that he had slightly more choice than I did in my school. I may have been unfair to my former physical education teacher, Mr. Geoff Bodman. When I was in school many decades ago, we played other sports, although representing the school in rugby was the one that was most available. We also did cross-country, which I did not particularly like but had to participate in, athletics, basketball and cricket, so there was a bit more choice.
The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) made a fair point that the ’60s and ’70s were not necessarily golden eras of PE, but I believe there is a consensus—I am not making a party political point—that things went wrong in the ’80s and ’90s, and that it was necessary to return to the subject to reinvigorate school sports and bring about the quiet revolution that everyone has acknowledged.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough also made important points about the need to ensure that we can reproduce best practice, particularly in involving girls in physical activity and PE. Of course, the great challenge always to Government is getting best practice replicated across the board. It is not an easy thing to do, but, clearly, having a national strategy and a network such as the one that we are trying to set up is a way of trying to achieve that.
My hon. Friend made a good point about the so-called difficult-to-reach groups. He said that they need role models—not just great Olympians but people like them who are getting involved in sport and, in many cases, in volunteer activities around sport. We very much understand that point and take it to heart.
Coaching was raised by my hon. Friend and other contributors to the debate. He is right in saying that it is crucial and central to achieving improvement in participation in school sport. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) described his unfortunate experiences as a young man. They were, perhaps, all too common in those days. However, by the end of November 2007—just three months ago—funding awards had been made to support 3,360 community sports coach posts, of which 3,089 were operational, including nearly 500 funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. There is significant investment in community sports coaches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough made a good point about the community use of sports facilities, and the subject was also raised by other Members. It is absolutely the intention of the extended schools and building schools for the future programmes that there should be community use of such facilities, and all the guidance in respect of building schools for the future encourages early engagement with Sport England to ensure that any new sports facilities are suitable for community use. That should now be built into the system, although I take my hon. Friend’s point that during earlier stages of some of the programmes it was not happening as routinely as it should be happening now.
I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington for his gracious comments, at the outset of his remarks, about my involvement in sport. Although it has been extinct—perhaps I should say dormant—for some years, I have a qualification to teach PE at subsidiary level in secondary school. He was right in what he said about obesity and its importance. There is no single cause of obesity in children and tackling it is complex, as I mentioned earlier. No other country in the world has yet managed to push back the tide of obesity. We have recognised that difficulty. When I came into this post I looked at the matter early on and realised that there is a bigger challenge than people had realised; it is a new challenge for us all.
Clearly, primary responsibility for children’s lifestyle in normal circumstances lies with their parents in their family life. However, although it is not our role as a Government to tell people exactly how to live their lives, the public expect the Government to help them make healthier choices and provide a framework in which it is possible to make those choices, so the Government are committed to helping families eat better and lead healthier and more active lives—hence the school sport strategy and the school food strategy.
As I said, yesterday I visited a school in Hackney. In a deprived area, serving food under the new guidelines, we have achieved a 40 per cent. increase in the take-up of healthy school meals, with more than 50 per cent. of those meals coming from organic sources. We also managed to get involved in the Olympic programme. We need to hold up that beacon as an example of what we in government can do in relation to the matter. However, a broader cross-Government response is needed in response to obesity and the challenges that were outlined for us so clearly in the Foresight report at the end of last year.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of youngsters. As a parent I am often aware of the difficulty of encouraging youngsters away from computer screens. Perhaps we should consider persuading manufacturers to build in an automatic switch-off for some computer games after a period of time, or at least the ability for parents to activate such a thing in computer games to try to get youngsters off them.
It is called the on/off switch, but if it happened automatically it might help.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned mental health in relation to physical health. Some of this is not exactly new. The ancient Greeks knew the truth about a healthy body and a healthy mind and perhaps we are having to rediscover it. I have been impressed by the “Social and emotional aspects of learning” programme that is taking place in 60 per cent. of our primary schools and is being introduced in our secondary schools. A school in Bethnal Green and Bow that I visited recently—again, in a deprived area—has achieved remarkable results from that programme in terms of better behaviour and better physical health. Head teachers, teachers and the young people themselves attest to the success of that approach.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Olympics. I remember participating in the debate about whether we should put in our bid for the London Olympics a few years ago. The late, great Tony Banks, a former Minister for Sport said in that debate that it was all very well Members supporting the Olympics then, but he asked how many of them would still support the games and how many would be crying foul when the going got tough and difficulties were experienced along the way, as happens in every Olympic journey from the inception of the bid to the games. He was right to say that, because it is all very well being a fair weather friend at the start of a difficult journey, but when the going gets tough we have to remember why we are there.
It is right to scrutinise the Olympic preparations and to hold the Government and other bodies to account for their pitch for the Olympics, which was based on young people and the legacy of increased participation in sport that we want. That is what won us the bid and why the Government are committed to continuing with their programme of trying as much as possible—for example, through the young ambassadors programme I mentioned earlier—to spread participation through the Olympic message.
We want to use the Olympic games in 2012 and the Paralympics to lever the strategic system and try to achieve the behavioural change that we need to transform young people’s participation in sport and physical activity and, at the same time, identify more of our talented and gifted young athletes through the education system and get them into that elite performance. Many initiatives, including UK School Games, the young ambassadors programme and the annual summer camp, which I mentioned, deal with that aim. Trying to get the whole country involved in gaining the benefits of the Olympics is important: that is what their success will be judged on.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sport England. During our short break I had a quick word with the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who assured me that the current review will be a short one and will be reporting, we hope, in March. He said that community and grassroots participation in sport remains vital in the Government’s focus on the matter. The Sport England review will feed into the wider cross-Government work led by the Treasury, creating a physical activity strategy to be published by the end of March. Both reviews are meant to provide clarity about the roles and responsibilities for all the key organisations to meet the Government’s aim of getting 2 million more people active by 2012. I am sure that my hon. Friend will say more about that in the near future.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked me about the Department of Health and its continuing involvement. The Department will be working across Government. It is currently working with us in the Department for Children, Schools and Families and with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Transport to ensure a joined-up approach to obesity. We will hear more about that in the near future when the Government publish their cross-governmental obesity strategy. The Department of Health is seized of the new responsibilities that are coming its way as a result of the changes that are going on.
I am glad that there is finally broader recognition that the bad old days of the sale of playing fields are over, although that line is still repeated, glibly and unchallenged, in the media and we should all take the opportunity to challenge it from time to time. However, it is not just simply a matter of having playing fields: they need good drainage, for example. In respect of modern facilities, in many cases, all-weather surfaces and floodlit surfaces are needed if we are to attract young people into sport. If we are to have community use, those facilities must be usable in the evening, so it is about investment as well as protecting playing fields. However, since the end of the 1990s we have had much greater protection of playing fields.
Although there are cases of disagreement on the panel that comes to me, as Minister, to make an adjudication in any dispute about whether a playing field meets the criteria and whether appropriate compensatory playing fields are available, in recent years net figures for the number of playing fields have been rising rather than falling, which is welcome. I heard the point that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington made, which was clarified by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, about the little planning anomaly. I will look at that. I suspect that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington may be right: it might be one of those wicked, difficult issues to unravel. However, if there is widespread evidence on the ground of real abuse, it would be useful to know about it. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of that I should be pleased to hear about it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned links with local sports clubs. He is right: it is vital that we make such links. That is the territory of the DCMS, but if the five-hour offer for students is to be in place, it is vital that links with sports clubs in the community are built up, because we will need their participation for the initiative to succeed. Work is ongoing at the moment to try to build up and improve the links between sports clubs in communities and our schools to achieve the five-hour offer. That has been helped, as all Members who participated in the debate generously acknowledged, by the community amateur sports club rate relief arrangements.
I remember that, during my days as a chair of finance on a local authority, we regularly had to decide on a discretionary basis whether we could grant rate relief to clubs, and it seemed silly that we were doing that when the benefit that they were bringing to the community was obvious. On 31 October 2007, 4,524 clubs were receiving rate relief and other benefits that effectively amount to an additional £21.5 million going into grass-roots sports since that scheme was introduced.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to learning disabilities and participation in sport, and I am very much aware of the issue. I undertake to raise it again with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to find out whether we can obtain an update on where we are. It is sad that that abuse should have led to this situation. Clearly, I am aware of the need for us to look at greater participation by youngsters with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, in UK school sports and games.
The hon. Gentleman’s final point concerned premiership football. He ranged fairly widely, although he was careful to sweeten his comments with a reference to the need for a new stadium for Portsmouth, and it is testimony to his political skill that he managed to do that. It might be a little beyond my powers directly to do much about the cost of tickets, although I acknowledge his point. My love of sport and of watching it came very much from the schoolboy tickets that used to be available to watch Wales at Cardiff Arms Park when I was a youngster growing up in south Wales. That was an important part of building up sporting heroes, in the way that he described, so I take his point. However, premiership football is a private business, although we see it in a different light from other businesses. As he knows, it has huge costs, such as players’ salaries, and it is a global sport when the best players come to play in this country. If the Government decide to nationalise Northern Rock and we have “HM Government” printed on the front of Newcastle United shirts, we may be able to do something more directly about prices at one club, but I want to make it clear that that is a light-hearted remark.
The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent brought his expertise to the debate, as did the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent made some interesting and enlightening observations about his experience when visiting Australia. I have not had that privilege. Ministers do not always get to venture as widely as Opposition spokespersons—the furthest that I have been in my job so far is Telford—but it might happen one day, who knows?
The hon. Gentleman made some valid points about physical literacy and the need to engage the youngest of children in physical activity at an early age and before they get into competitive sport. Our play strategy—we announced that we will develop it in the children’s plan—will have something to say on some of those issues, and I would welcome any contribution that he might want to make to the consultation on that strategy.
The hon. Gentleman was right to point out the effect of the 1980 teachers’ strike. I was working in schools at that time, and it was unfortunate that relationships had become so poor that teachers withdrew their outwith-contract activities and withdrew from school sites at lunch time and after school. It was a sad period, but I am glad to say that a social partnership between the Government and teachers has now been in place for a few years, and with the new investment in school sports, we are no longer in that state. But the strike had an impact for many years after it ended.
The hon. Gentleman was also right to point out the effect of the sale of playing fields and the crowding out of physical education in the curriculum, although I acknowledge that it was put into the national curriculum during that era. A silly and daft ideological, anti-competitive view in some areas did not help matters, but we are well beyond that now, thank goodness, and in a new era of school sports.
I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Australian Sports Commission and Ministers. We have a dual-key arrangement—perhaps it should be a triple-key arrangement—after the machinery of government changes last year, and Ministers are working closely together on delivering our broader sports, obesity and physical activity strategy. We work together regularly and pool budgets to achieve some of the targets, but the hon. Gentleman’s observations on what they do in Australia were interesting.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the picture is complex below Government, including the fact that, in the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own sporting national bodies, and rightly so. Given that diversity, it is important to ensure that we do not lose the synergy that can be created by being in the same boat and rowing with the same rhythm, because that is important. The Government are trying to play their role in bringing people together, rather than leaving them in their silos, in which case we would not make progress.
I heard with interest the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions about gift aid and corporation tax, and I am sure that my colleagues in the Treasury will read them with interest. The Chancellor will no doubt consider those proposals when thinking about the forthcoming Budget.
The hon. Gentleman referred to some of the concerns about the lottery. No existing lottery project will be affected by the Olympics. Sport England, for example, should still have about £40 million of new lottery money between 2008-09 and 2011-12. We will continue to work with DCMS and Sport England to ensure that the 2012 games are not just about London, but about the whole country. Sport England is working with the sports sector to ensure that an Olympic legacy of community sport is delivered, as the hon. Gentleman emphasised it should.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the need for facilities to be available to the community, to which I have referred, and the need for recognition in the curriculum. I thought his point about awards and recognition for schools that are doing well in sport was well made and one that we should ponder to see how we can take that forward.
The hon. Gentleman discussed teacher training places, and it is true that they are planned according to pupil numbers and need. There will be tens of thousands fewer pupils in schools in years to come, and planning for teachers across subjects must take account of that. There are shortages in some subjects, as there have been in science, but there are signs of improvement. There is no shortage of PE teachers, and vacancy numbers are not a cause for concern. However, we have been careful when planning teacher training numbers to ensure that the new responsibilities and the additional competition managers and so on, which may draw into that area PE teachers who may then want to return to become heads of department or whatever, have been taken into account in planning for teacher numbers in years to come. We are confident that there will be a fairly healthy market in PE teachers, and a fairly healthy work force available to teach PE in schools and to deliver the aims that we have talked about today.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about primary schools, and the need to ensure that teacher training is sufficient. His point was important, and we should consider it carefully to ensure that trainee teachers receive sufficient training to teach in primary schools. He also emphasised the importance of ensuring that our extended school provision is used to the full. That initiative has also brought great benefit.
We have had a very useful debate this afternoon. I thank hon. Members for their participation and for their constructive ideas and thoughts on the issue, and I look forward to discussing it further in the near future. In particular, in this Olympic year, I look forward to the inspiration that we can expect from Beijing before London 2012.
I should like to thank all the hon. Members, including the Minister, who participated in the debate—they were few in number, but the quality was first class. The debate was very interesting. For the second day running, there has been a consensus across the Chamber about the importance of the issue under discussion and a lot a common ground on where we are going, which is very useful.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Five o’clock.