Since our last session of DCMS questions, Iain Sproat, a former sports Minister, has passed away. On behalf of all Members, I should like to convey our condolences to his wife Judy—who, incidentally, is a former parliamentary reporter—and to his family and friends.
Let me also, on behalf of the ministerial team, welcome the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) and the rest of the new shadow team to the Opposition Front Bench.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games is making up to 100,000 free tickets available to schools and colleges throughout the United Kingdom which sign up to the Get Set network by 16 December. In addition, the Mayor has purchased 75,000 tickets to be allocated to young Londoners through the network. Lord Coe has recently written to the schools and colleges that have not yet signed up to encourage them to do so, and 1 fully support him in that approach.
It is disappointing that after 14 months, 75% of tickets for schools outside London have not been taken. Will the Minister assure us that every effort will be made to ensure that young people, not just in the home counties but throughout the United Kingdom, are given this one-in-a-lifetime Olympic opportunity?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because it gives me a chance to encourage Members on both sides of the House to get out in their constituencies and encourage as many young people as possible to go. The involvement of young people was one of the central tenets of the London bid, and I am sure that Members in all parts of the House want as many schoolchildren as possible to have that opportunity.
Children have been heavily involved in the “pass the passion” celebration in Dover, where the torch will stop on the way to London. Is it not particularly important for children to have access to free tickets when they have played a real role in the torch’s progress around the country?
I welcome what the Minister has said. Obviously there is not a single Member in the House who will not want young people to have access to every available ticket, and we will support that fully in every possible way. However, does the Minister share my fear that the excitement stimulated by the prospect of young people going to the games is being undermined by the gradual disappearance of school sport from the lives of children throughout our schools? Does he agree that, as the school sport partnerships are dismantled and redundancy notices handed out, we should at least establish the desired levels of continuing participation, and take advantage of the chance that still remains to fulfil our legacy promise to transform a generation of young people through sport on the strength of London 2012?
School sport is a vital part of the base of the sporting pyramid, and most young people in the country will have their first experience of sport at school. I make no bones about the fact that it is difficult for us to deliver our commitment against the current public expenditure background, but the right hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that we should make every effort to do so.
My Department’s funding is confirmed for the next four years, and 8,000 schools are now signed up for school games, which is a much better result than we had expected. We are engaged in discussions with the Departments for Health and for Education about the further support that they will provide, and we fully intend to make this a key tenet of London 2012.
We have heard about the schools and colleges that have not taken up their allocation, but aspiring young Olympians in sports clubs such as the Melksham school of gymnastics are disappointed not to have been able to secure tickets. What provision is the Minister making for young members of sports clubs to attend the Olympic and Paralympic games?
The problem is simple: we had 26 million applications for 6.5 million tickets. Even the most basic calculation will make it clear that one will not go into the other, and that there will be a lot of disappointed people. The good news is that I am sure some members of that gymnastics club will have obtained tickets, or will obtain them in further rounds. We should also bear in mind the fact that one of the successes of the last six months has been the securing of the world gymnastics championships, which are coming to this country in 2015.