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Women and Girls in Sport

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 15 October 2015

1. What steps the Government are taking to increase the participation of women and girls in sport. (901556)

9. What steps the Government are taking to increase the participation of women and girls in sport. (901564)

First, I would like to welcome the hon. Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) to their new positions. I should also like to thank the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) for her commitment to promoting equality.

The Government are determined to tackle this important issue. The award-winning This Girl Can campaign is a fantastic example of the work we have been doing to encourage women into sport. It features real women of all different shapes, sizes and abilities taking part in sport and, most importantly, having fun. We know that 75% of women want to be more active, and this campaign, which has been viewed by more than 13 million people, offers them the inspiration to do just that.

The Pendle sports awards, which took place just two weeks ago, recognised the achievements of sportswomen across Pendle, including Bethany Widdup, who is now a member of the British ski team, and many others who have excelled thanks to grass-roots sports clubs across Pendle. What more can my hon. Friend do to give our local sports clubs the help they need to get even more women and girls involved?

First, I should like to add my own congratulations to Bethany. Awards such as those in Pendle provide a fantastic way of recognising the enormous effort that goes into grass-roots sport across the country, almost always involving incredible volunteers. Schemes such as satellite clubs, supported by Sport England, are helping to link schools and colleges to grass-roots sports clubs across the country, giving a better sporting experience to children and young people.

This week I watched the excellent film “Suffragette”, which illustrated just how far we have progressed in creating a fair and equal society over the past 100 years. Does the Minister agree that sport is a very effective way of continuing to make such progress? Will she join me in congratulating the media on the much greater coverage that is now being given to the participation of women in sport?

I absolutely agree. We have further to go, but—without wishing to rub salt into the wounds of our English gentlemen—I must mention the fact that the brilliant performance of our women’s teams in the recent football, rugby and netball world cups has showcased some fantastic role models and demonstrated character and success. That is exactly why they deserve all the media coverage they are getting—and, indeed, much more.

If we are to build a healthier society, our children will need to engage in sport from a very young age. This applies especially to girls, who, sadly, opt out all too frequently. Some excellent youth programmes for boys and girls are running in Taunton Deane, including the centre for cricketing excellence, Taunton Vale hockey club, Taunton rugby club and Taunton football club. Will the Minister expand a little further on what the Government are doing, especially for young schoolchildren’s participation in sport?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The good news is that, in Taunton, 4,700 more women are regularly playing sport today than in 2005. Research published by the Government Equalities Office shows that year 3 is the critical stage at which to keep girls motivated to play sport. That is the last academic year before the difference between girls and boys—in terms of confidence, body image and sporting participation—starts to grow. That is why investment in schools sports, such as the £150 million a year for primary PE, is so vital for helping girls to develop this very healthy habit for life.

I commend Manchester City football club for its women and girls programme, which provides 12 weekly sessions free of charge to girls and women between the ages of 14 and 25 to increase their participation in football. Do we not need to see other such examples spread right across football in the country?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic point. It is an incredibly successful girls’ football team, and I know that the sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), is a huge champion of women’s football and not a bad football player herself.

There are great opportunities for girls to participate in sport, especially in rugby and football, at schools and universities. What has been done to provide that same provision at clubs after university?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We want to encourage that participation through school, university and out into life afterwards. That is why the This Girl Can campaign, which shows real women taking part in sport that is fun and not just competitive, has been such a fantastic way of encouraging them to get out there and lead a healthy lifestyle.

15. As the chairman of the all-party group for running and the father of a young daughter, I am very keen to encourage more girls to take up running, particularly through the excellent parkrun scheme. Mr Speaker, those runs are a great way to start a Saturday morning for those who, like yourself, have a young family. I recommend three miles around your local park. What is the impact of the Government’s investment in the school sports premium particularly on the take-up of sport by girls? (901570)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know that he is no mean marathon runner himself. Running is a fantastic form of exercise and parkrun has been particularly effective at encouraging inactive people and those from all age groups to get involved in sport. In recognition of that, Sport England is investing £400,000 in parkrun to support its work. The primary PE and sports premium has been really effective in allowing schools to tailor this offer to pupils, giving them suitable opportunities to target particular groups, especially girls.