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Volume 493: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

5. What steps his Department is taking to encourage young people to play cricket; and if he will make a statement. (278192)

Through the PE and school sport strategy, £1.5 billion was invested in the five years to 2008. A further £783 million has been committed for the next three years. That has already helped to ensure that 90 per cent. of schools now provide cricket to their pupils. The “chance to shine” programme has also played a significant part in bringing the sport to young people, with 20,000 sessions delivered across 2,000 schools in 2008. In addition, Sport England has awarded nearly £38 million over the next four years to the cricket programmes.

The cricket board’s “chance to shine” programme is an excellent initiative, but it is able to get into only about a third of all state schools. Of the competitive matches it has organised, only a tiny percentage—about 4 per cent.—are played with cricket balls. How on earth are we going to beat the Windies, India and Australia in the future when so few youngsters are playing competitive cricket and when, of those who are playing competitive cricket, only a tiny proportion are learning to play with cricket balls?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I had the misfortune to be at Lord’s on Friday to see England being beaten by Holland. Thankfully, England managed to rectify the situation against Pakistan yesterday. I think that the hon. Gentleman is right, and what we are trying to do with the investment—cricket gets the biggest investment of Sport England money—is to ensure that we have the best coaches and the best opportunities, particularly for school children. We are trying to get school children and the clubs together to ensure that that coaching continues. The way in which that coaching is provided is surely a matter for the England and Wales Cricket Board and not for the Government.

In inspiring young people to take up cricket, is it not a great shame that alone of the major sports there is no live coverage of it on free-to-air TV, particularly in a summer when there are the Ashes and the Twenty20 world cup? Is this not something that the David Davies review of listed events should consider seriously?

Certainly. I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is a keen supporter not only of men’s cricket but of women’s cricket. He will congratulate the England women’s team that won the Ashes in Australia and will hopefully do very well in the world cup that is now taking place. We asked the David Davies review of listed events to ensure that we look at all the things that need to be considered. When that report comes to us shortly, the Secretary of State and I will make recommendations, which will then go out to consultation.

Does the Minister agree that if cricket is to flourish, particularly in state schools, we need close links with clubs and a commitment from teachers to stay on after hours to coach and take teams? What discussions has he held with his colleagues in other Departments to make sure that those people are able to commit their time?

One of the good things about sport is that we work with colleagues right across Government—whether it is cricket or swimming, we are showing the impact that sport can have on other programmes for individual development. Specifically on cricket, the increase in school sport from two hours to five hours can be delivered only by clubs working closely with schools. Yes, PE teachers, and teachers, are important, but we also have specialist sports colleges and competition managers in schools. We need to encourage more coaches at different levels. We certainly want volunteer coaches, but we also want coaches for specific sports, including cricket, which is why we set up investment to offer 5,000 young people the opportunity to become cricket coaches.

The Minister realises of course that for young people to play cricket there must be cricket clubs. What advice can he give Wilnecote sports and social club, which runs two teams, but is suffering from a high level of vandalism and needs £20,000 to build a perimeter defence to reduce it? The club has made applications to our local council, which has reserves of 200 per cent. in its annual budget but refuses to pass on to local clubs the money the Government have sent down. Of course, it is a Conservative local authority. What advice can my hon. Friend give?

I hope the local authority will support its local sports clubs. Whether it is cricket, football, rugby or hockey, the role of the local sports club in our communities is vital. Clubs do work that is usually unpaid and usually done by volunteers, but the impact on our communities is large. The amount of vandalism we see in many sports fields and clubs is regrettable. Sometimes, volunteers are sickened by the mindless vandalism that takes place. If my hon. Friend needs my assistance to speak to the local authority about the specific case he raises, I am happy to provide it. The authority should understand the significant contribution that the local club is making.