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Sport (Girls)

Volume 471: debated on Monday 28 January 2008

The annual school sport survey shows that, although the disparity in participation in sport between girls’ schools and boys’ schools is narrowing, there remains a need to reduce the gap further. Key to achieving that is to provide further sporting opportunities that respond better to girls’ needs and abilities. That is why we are investing an additional £100 million to offer physical education and sport to all pupils aged from five to 16, and three hours for those aged 16 to 19.

I welcome the progress the Minister is making in this area, but does he not share my concern that 1 million children still do not participate in two hours of sport a week? The Government’s own most recent figures show that they are failing to meet targets to increase the number of women participating in sport. Will the Minister explain what steps the Government are taking to ensure that activities that young girls want to participate in, such as dance, where demand outstrips supply—

I cannot see how 86 per cent. can be a failure, so we are clearly doing very well on school participation, but we want to do more, especially with girls. We must be careful that girls are not stereotyped by participating in certain sports: instead, we have to broaden the offer. We are doing that by, for instance, working with the Youth Sport Trust, and looking at whether we can introduce dance and creativity. I wonder whether the hon. Lady saw the news today that Kelly Holmes is looking at steps such as the wearing of loose-fitting clothes as opposed to tight PE skirts, to make people feel better about themselves and get more involved in sport.

I join other Members in welcoming my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his new role; he is a great choice for the job. On the issue of girls’ and women’s participation in sport, it is understood that there is a bias in national funding, from the top to the bottom, in favour of sports played by men and boys, and that needs to be looked into. Members of the national women’s football team do not even receive salaries; they have to do other jobs. That is not an encouragement to girls. Will the new Secretary of State make it a priority to address that imbalance in funding from the top right down to the grass roots, which are so important?

This is an important point. We have been trying to ensure that the fastest increase is among girls playing football, and to ensure, through the Football Association, that we have an elite league and investment in women’s football. As I said earlier, through the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, we are trying to ensure that we stop any imbalance and promote opportunities for girls and women. A dance review is taking place, so the future looks good, but we must ensure that we get to those hard-to-reach groups.

Will the Minister agree to meet his Home Office colleagues to discuss the need to increase participation in sport of girls and boys in our young offender prison estate, where the provision of sport for young people is still far too low?

I heartily agree, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. He will know that one of my previous roles was in the Home Office, dealing with young offenders. The busiest place in a young offender institution—and, indeed, a prison—is the gym, and we must try to channel that activity into sport. I believe that there is a great role for sport to play in helping support offenders and in getting them away from offending.

There is only one sport in which girls and boys participate equally in England and Wales—swimming. However, Paris has more 50 m swimming pools than England and Wales put together. That is partly because it is very expensive for local authorities to build and maintain swimming pools. Will the Government consider building more 50 m pools and making sure that funding comes from central Government, rather than local government?

I think that my hon. Friend has been speaking to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about 50 m pools. We clearly need to see investment in sports infrastructure, and we are proud of our record over the past 10 years. It is important that local authorities play their part. We want them to have facility strategies, so that they can work out what is required in their areas. We hope that the sports partnerships can help them to build more pools, if that is what is required.

May I start by welcoming the new Secretary of State to his post? The two greatest barriers to increasing female participation in sport are a reluctance among girls to take part in the conventional school sport offer, and an appalling post-school drop-out rate. Given the Government’s reorganisation of Sport England, will the Minister be absolutely clear about whether the responsibility for increasing the number of girls doing dance, yoga and the like lies with Sport England, or has been transferred to the Department of Health?

Increasing participation is a target across government, but what is important is that we make sure that all Government Departments can contribute. On participation, we are working very closely with the Department for Children, Schools and Families and with the Department of Health to make sure that there are no gaps for people to fall through. However, the question of where the responsibility will lie depends on the outcome of the Sport England review, which we hope will take place toward the end of February. The review will doubtless make sure that we do not let girls and hard-to-target groups fall through such gaps.