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Sports Participation

Volume 514: debated on Monday 26 July 2010

Since taking office two months ago, the new coalition Government have already taken three steps that will increase participation by young people in sport. The first step is to increase sport’s share of national lottery funding to 20%, which was envisaged when the lottery was set up; the second is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced plans for a new Olympic-style school sport competition; and the third is that we have asked sport’s national governing bodies to increase to 30% the amount of money that they commit to grass-roots sport from their broadcasting deals.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for a positive answer. The borough of Lambeth and my local borough have an excellent sports action zone, promoting sport at all ages. Will the Minister take further steps both in the short term to ensure that, now the school holidays have started throughout the UK, all ages are encouraged to get used to doing some sport, and in the medium term to ensure that we train and recruit many more sports coaches throughout the UK?

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. A key part of the new whole-sport programme, which the previous Government introduced, was to ensure precisely that sports’ governing bodies devoted a far greater proportion of their funding to grass roots; that the funding was targeted at precisely the sort of voluntary schemes that he mentions; and that a crucial part of that was funding for extra coaches, who will be vital to drive any form of participation that we get off the back of the 2012 games.

I am glad to hear that the Minister has some ideas on increasing youth participation in sport, but, as someone who has coached young people in rugby for the past five-and-a-half years and as a parent of a sports-mad child, I have to say that the idea that over the past 10 years there has not been any encouragement for competitive sports always seems quite ridiculous. Does he agree that the tabloid myth that there is no support for competitive sports is an insult not just to the previous Government, but to all those PE teachers who give up so much of their time and to all those people who voluntarily coach young people in sport?

It would be fair to start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to grass-roots sport over many years as a rugby coach in his own area.

The question of competitive sport is a difficult one, and it is clearly something that, as a new Government, we put at the heart of our sports policy. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for competitive sport in schools, he will see that it is an area that needs attention and that everybody would agree we need to work on. We have highlighted that and put in place a plan to address it.

Last Friday, I had a meeting with people at the National Badminton Centre, which has its headquarters in my constituency in Milton Keynes. They have ambitious plans to extend participation in the sport, but a problem they often encounter is that sports halls built for sports use are increasingly rented out for non-sports uses. Will the Minister look into that as a matter of urgency?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In fact, the people there said the same thing to me when I went to visit about a year ago. When I looked into this, I found that the problem is that a village hall can be used for a variety of uses, so to try to screen it out for badminton means no dog show, no village fete, and none of the other things that take place in village halls. This is about the sensible division of time in the way that village halls are used. I can only promise my hon. Friend that I will look into it.

Over the past 13 years of a Labour Government, £5 billion was spent on sport, and that increased investment increased participation. After 10 weeks of this new Government, we have already seen the Building Schools for the Future programme cut, with 11% of that money due to be spent on new sports facilities; we have seen free swimming cut; and we are now seeing that they are prepared to drop the target of 2 million people participating in sport, which was one of the Olympic legacies. What discussions did the Minister have with the Department for Education before the decision was taken on Building Schools for the Future, and what is he going to do about the sports facilities that need to be improved and would have been improved under that scheme?

There are two obvious things to say in answer to that question. First, we are dealing with an economic inheritance that we did not create but that was left to us by the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member. Secondly, the Secretary of State has a regular series of meetings with his counterpart in the Department for Education at which these matters are discussed. We have already increased the share of lottery funding to 20%, and that is a huge improvement. Under the hon. Gentleman’s stewardship, the amount of money that sport governing bodies were committed to giving to the grass roots in their broadcasting deals was 5%; in three or four months’ time, when our changes have gone through, it will be 30%—a huge increase.