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House of Commons Hansard
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Jamie and Andy Murray: Sporting Legacy
07 December 2016
Volume 618

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Graham Stuart.)

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It is an enormous pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on the sporting legacy of Jamie and Andy Murray, who hail from Dunblane in my constituency and who finish the year as the world’s No. 1-ranked players in the men’s doubles and men’s singles, respectively.

At the outset, I want to offer my personal congratulations to both Jamie and his doubles partner Bruno Soares and to Andy on what is an incredible achievement for all three of them in finishing the year as the No. 1-ranked players.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He rightly praises the remarkable talents of Andy and Jamie Murray, but is he aware that Scotland has another world No.1 tennis player—Gordon Reid, the wheelchair world champion? He is a worthy champion, who, having developed his skills at Helensburgh lawn tennis club, went on to win the Australian open and Wimbledon in 2016, before being named world No. 1.

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I am grateful for that intervention. Had my application for the debate been put in three or four days later, Gordon’s name would have been included—he had not yet achieved No. 1, but then he did, and I am very pleased that he is recognised now. Of course, he is a product of not only Helensburgh but Stirling university, and I will say something about that later.

These congratulations extend to the crucial network of support that Andy and Jamie have in their family and coaches, who play a vital role in supporting these athletes in their preparation for tournaments and in their recovery after them. In Judy Murray, who was here in Parliament earlier at a meeting I was at, we have someone who is a family member and a coach all rolled into one, and she must be immensely proud of her sons’ achievements.

The scale of these achievements can best be demonstrated in simple terms—just by looking at the records of the players. In Jamie Murray, we have the first British man in 44 years to win the US open doubles, alongside his partner, Bruno Soares. As well as the US open, the pair also won this year in Sydney, before winning the Australian open, so it has been a magnificent year. At the present count, Jamie has no fewer than 16 career titles to his name.

So far in his career Andy has won 44 singles titles. These include three grand slams; 14 masters 1000 series titles, which places him ninth on the all-time list; two Olympic gold medals; and, just a few weeks ago, the title at the Association of Tennis Professionals tour final here in London. He also has two doubles titles with Jamie and an Olympic silver medal in the mixed doubles with Laura Robson.

Back in 2014, I was able to play a small part in recognising Andy’s achievements at that point, when, as a councillor, I was able to vote in favour of conferring the freedom of the city of Stirling on him at a ceremony in Dunblane—his home town. The freedom of the city is the highest civic honour Stirling has, allowing him the ancient right to march through the centre of Stirling with drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed, as well as the right to drive his sheep through the city, which I am sure he is planning on very soon.

In my contribution, I intend to consider what I see as an appropriate legacy for the tremendous sporting achievements of Jamie and Andy Murray.

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Jamie and Andy Murray are two very proud Scotsmen, but they are cheered on from across the United Kingdom. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the entire United Kingdom can take great pride in their magnificent achievements?

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I am grateful for that intervention because it allows me to say that in Andy and Jamie Murray we have international stars in the world of sport. They are respected and supported across the world for their achievements. They are the No.1 players in tennis.

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Like you, Mr Speaker, I come to the debate as a very keen tennis player, which is why I applaud the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) for bringing forward this Adjournment debate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) that the Murrays have really helped to move tennis right on in this country—not just in Scotland, but across the board. They are an inspiration to young children, as is Judy Murray, who has helped to coach many young children and to set up many programmes. My own children started playing at the age of two in many of those programmes, which Judy Murray was key in setting up with the Lawn Tennis Association. I applaud the hon. Gentleman for bringing forward this debate, and I applaud everything the Murrays are doing that represents the nation.

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The point is well made, and I will go on to say that the point of the debate is to see how we can build a fitting legacy for Jamie and Andy Murray.

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I would like to pay tribute to the Rutherglen lawn tennis club in my constituency, which does a superb job in promoting the game of tennis and which works to help more people to enjoy this fantastic game. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should all do our bit to encourage more people to take up the sport so that, hopefully, we will have more Andy Murrays and Jamie Murrays?

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Yes, indeed. There are clubs all over the country—not just Rutherglen—that are doing that, and my hon. Friend’s intervention speaks for all of them.

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I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing this debate. Jamie and Andy Murray are an inspiration for many young tennis stars in my constituency who, over the past month or so, have been playing tennis in Greyabbey, Ballywalter, Donaghadee, Newtownards, and Comber. In all those places, young people are inspired by the skills of Jamie and Andy Murray within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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That is right.

This debate is about investing in this legacy and considering how it is to be achieved. I see that, first, in terms of developing the sporting infrastructure and facilities that allow future generations of athletes to achieve the heights the Murray brothers have reached, and—who knows?—perhaps even to challenge the considerable records of these two fine tennis players. Secondly, just as importantly, it is about widening access and opportunities for everyone to participate in sport.

I want to say this about the values that sport can instil: sporting competition is a good thing. I took part in lots of sports when I was at school and since, from football to athletics to karate—although regrettably not tennis, I am afraid—and I always played to win. I was at school at a time when there was a movement saying that sporting competition was perhaps somehow a bad thing because it meant there were losers as well as winners. I rejected that thesis then and I reject it now. There are tangible benefits both to children and adults in participating in competitive sport.

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I heard this week about Thornliebank, Giffnock, Braidbar and St John’s Primary Schools in my constituency joining a number of others in attaining a Sport Scotland gold award. Part of the inspiration for them, particularly the children from Thornliebank, was playing tennis with Judy Murray. It is vital that children have the opportunity to do as my hon. Friend says and participate in all kinds of sport.

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Absolutely. There are obviously particular physical benefits as we face a generation where obesity is a major issue. There are also mental benefits in terms of setting and achieving goals, and the hard work that has to go into being successful in sport.

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The hon. Gentleman is making a good point about the benefits of sport. Perhaps he read about the recent survey by the British Journal of Sports Medicine—this was reported in The Daily Telegraph and various other papers last week—that said that playing racket sports, but particularly tennis, reduces one’s risk of death at any given age by 50%, so I think that Mr Speaker, as a keen tennis player, has many, many years ahead of him. That makes the point that we should do everything we can to encourage more people to take part in this sport.

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Yes indeed. I did not read that, but it does not surprise me. There are clear benefits to participating in sport. I am sure that Mr Speaker is extremely pleased by the hon. Lady’s mention of him.

I was talking about the fact that there are winners and losers in competitive sport. Losing is part of life, just as it is part of sport, so it is important to learn what it is to get back up and win next time. That is a really important point that is sometimes overlooked in relation to competitive sport and why we should support it. Anyone who has followed Andy Murray’s career, in particular, can only be inspired by his reaction to heart-breaking losses at various times. That has forged him into the formidable champion, and world No. 1, that he is today. It is important to take the lessons from sport into other parts of life.

Sports infrastructure is integral to affording opportunities to young sportspersons to develop their skills and maximise their potential. You may be aware, Mr Speaker, that Judy Murray is currently awaiting a decision following a public inquiry into a planning application for a world-class tennis centre at Park of Keir on the outskirts of Dunblane that would include a tennis academy to nurture the next generation of tennis players. I do not intend to comment directly on the application, because that is not appropriate. It will be determined on the basis of the relevant planning legislation once the planning reporter makes their recommendation. However, I wholeheartedly support the concept of a tennis academy that can be created as a lasting legacy of the Murray brothers and provide the opportunity for the champions of the future to realise their potential. Speaking as the Member of Parliament for Stirling, and someone born and bred in the Stirling area, I sincerely hope that the academy can proceed and benefit local children and young people from the Dunblane and Stirling areas.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this debate to the Floor of the House. As a graduate of the University of Stirling, I can speak from first-hand experience about the fantastic facilities in his constituency that I benefited from as a student. Does he agree that just as formal spaces for children and young people are important, so are informal spaces? In recent years, there has been an encroachment on our civil spaces, with signs saying “No ball games”, and the areas in which children may play has been reduced. Does he agree that it is important that children are encouraged to get out into our communities and to play in the streets and local parks?

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That point is extremely well made. When I was growing up, “No ball games” signs seemed to be on every patch of grass and piece of ground. It is no surprise that football, for example, is on the wane in Scotland, as it has been for some time. I think it is partly because of the situation that my hon. Friend has described, and we need to turn it around.

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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing the debate to the Chamber and being so generous with his time. Given the athleticism that is required to be world No. 1 in any sport, he may be disappointed to hear that I am not related to the Murrays. The hon. Gentleman is talking about facilities. Will he congratulate Liberton High School in my constituency, where the headteacher, the parent council, the staff and pupils came together to deliver new tennis courts at the school, to provide those facilities for the future?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. That was part of the discussion that we had at our meeting earlier today, and we will take it forward. I am conscious of the fact that time is racing on, so I will make some progress.

Stirling University is, as has been mentioned, Scotland’s university for sporting excellence. There has been a lot of investment in facilities, including the National Tennis Centre, a facility well known to the Murray brothers and to Gordon Reid. As Scotland’s university for sporting excellence, Stirling is committed to developing a lasting sporting legacy in the community and beyond. One of the ways in which it does so is through coaching. I understand that Judy Murray was on campus yesterday delivering the Tennis on the Road programme, which trained more than 20 students to deliver starter tennis lessons in primary schools.

The university works in partnership with Tennis Scotland and the Tennis Foundation, which is responsible for disability and education tennis. As part of that partnership, the university has two graduate tennis co-ordinators who study for masters degrees part time and work in graduate assistant roles at the university. One has responsibility for supporting grassroots tennis and getting more people into the game. The other delivers coaching for students and staff below team level from beginner upwards, as well as running tennis-based fitness classes. As far as widening access to the local community is concerned, more than 250 people—from three-year-olds to people in their 50s, and everything in between—come to the campus on a weekly basis to take part in the community programmes. Some excellent work is going on there.

I am conscious of the time, and I do not want to eat into the Minister’s time or anyone else’s.

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rose

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I will take one last intervention.

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I thank my hon. Friend for taking an intervention. In case he did not know, in September this year Andy Murray held a sporting tournament in Glasgow, at which he raised £305,000 for charity. Half the money went to UNICEF UK to help children in Syria and the other half went to Young People’s Futures, an incredible organisation in Possilpark, in my constituency. It operates on a tiny little budget, and the money has made such a difference to it. We should all thank Andy Murray for not forgetting that his fans got him where he is, as he has said, and for paying them back in such a way.

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That says everything about Andy, Jamie and the family. It is exactly the kind of approach that they take: they use their positions to do the right thing. Jamie and Andy Murray richly deserve their legacy after years of dedication and hard work in tennis. As I said two weeks ago in this Chamber, the Murray brothers are the pride of Dunblane, and we salute their superb achievements in the sport, in reaching the pinnacle of tennis and becoming world No. 1s.

I hope that we continue to build on the enthusiasm and inspiration that these sporting heroes generate for tennis and, indeed, for other sports. I hope that we will develop and enhance sporting facilities and increase the accessibility of sport for everyone, irrespective of their background. If we succeed in doing so, the legacy of Jamie and Andy Murray’s sporting achievements will be to make them the trailblazers of a golden generation of sporting champions. That is a goal we should set ourselves and achieve.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) on securing tonight’s debate, and I thank him and the Minister for allowing me to make a contribution. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for ensuring that the debate was scheduled this evening immediately following the hearing of the all-party group on Scottish sport with Judy Murray and Blane Dodds, the chair of Tennis Scotland, on the Murray legacy. May I put on record my thanks, and that of the all-party group, to Judy and Blane for attending the hearing? It was a fascinating talk, and it was an absolute privilege for us all. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for attending the meeting as well. That was much appreciated.

The all-party group on Scottish sport is keen to offer as much assistance as possible to support the growth of tennis in Scotland, and it is anxious that we do not miss the opportunity to build on the success of the Murray family. The success of the Murrays is fantastic for Scottish and British tennis, and we have all—none more than you, Mr Speaker—enjoyed watching them rise to become the best tennis players in the world. However, the story of their path to success raises some serious questions about the state of British tennis, and how about supportive the system has been and is for emerging talent.

Following the final of the European under-16 championships and after receiving advice from a young Rafael Nadal, a 15-year-old Andy Murray realised that, if he was to become the tennis champion that he is now, he would have to move away from the UK. The infrastructure to support emerging talent was very poor. The lack of indoor courts combined with coaching issues and the horrendous British weather meant that British tennis could not support his development as a player. That was 14 years ago and, sadly, the situation has not improved as much as we would have hoped or expected. The best way in which we can live up to the legacy of Andy and Jamie is to ensure that young people, regardless of their background, have access to facilities and coaching, and to ensure that promising young tennis players do not have to travel abroad to access appropriate facilities and elite coaching.

As we have heard, Scotland well and truly punches above its weight in tennis. Not only are Andy and Jamie world No. 1s, but it was confirmed last weekend that Gordon Reid is the end-of-season world No. 1 in men’s wheelchair tennis. Scotland currently provides the Davis cup captain and the immediate past Fed cup captain in Leon Smith and Judy Murray herself. However, despite our world-leading position, serious questions and concerns exist about how tennis in Scotland is supported; hence the decision of the all-party group to investigate what work is being done to establish a Murray legacy. The picture, to this point, is not good. Despite Scotland having 8.5% of the UK’s population, Tennis Scotland only receives just under £800,000 of funding from the Lawn Tennis Association, despite its budget of £63 million. That represents 1.3% of the LTA budget.

The Scottish weather is well known and well loved, we might say—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are correct to say that that is, indeed, a huge exaggeration. Despite our climate, however, we do not appear to have our fair share of accessible indoor tennis courts. In fact, according to a BBC report, there are only 102 indoor tennis courts in Scotland compared with 1,494 in England. That is not just the responsibility of the LTA; it is the responsibility of all politicians, Governments, local authorities and governing bodies to ensure that we have the correct facilities to cater for the needs of any youngsters who want to pick up a racket and start playing tennis.

During the meeting, Blane Dodds said that we have one court for 48,000 people in Scotland, whereas it is one for 26,600 people in the rest of the UK. He also said that the need, demand and opportunity are greater in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK and that partnership working and multi-sport facilities will be key as we move forwards. I am not the constituency MP, so saying this is not so incumbent on me as it is on my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, but Judy Murray’s excellent proposal for a multi-sport facility at Park of Keir near Stirling is exactly the sort of project that should be supported if we are to make real progress. This exciting proposition represents a huge investment, and I wish her luck in securing approval for it.

Politicians are quick to send out a tweet to congratulate the Murray brothers on their success, and it is only right and proper that we acknowledge their success and the contribution they have made to Scottish and British sport. However, the most fitting way that we can respect, acknowledge and celebrate the success of the Murrays is by establishing a Murray legacy to ensure future generations benefit from the success of Andy and Jamie.

During the meeting, Judy spoke passionately about the urgency of the situation in that we risk losing this great opportunity forever and of her frustration at the governing bodies. She talked about how she started Tennis on the Road, which amounted to Judy and another coach going around the country in a van loaded with equipment. Managing to utilise that small resource, Judy and her coaching partner coached more than 8,000 people. She said that we need more vans, coaches and courts, but that such facilities need to be accessible to all. She wants the country to benefit from her 25 years of coaching experience. She closed by saying that, at the end of the day, we need the LTA to release more money for tennis in Scotland.

In conclusion, now is the time to cement a legacy from the achievements of Andy and Jamie. It is incumbent on all politicians and governing bodies alike to ensure that the unique opportunity to build on the success of the Murrays is not missed.

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I thank colleagues very warmly for what they have said, and I think they will be thanked outside this place as well. Follow-through is key of course.

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I thank the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) for taking this opportunity to formally celebrate two of our great British sportsmen. I also thank the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for his contribution.

I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that it is a pleasure to take some time out to reflect on success and give credit where it is due. Like yourself, I have followed tennis through the years—the highs, the lows, the expectant British crowd and the frustrating near misses—so I feel pretty lucky to be the Minister for Sport in an era of such success for these two great players. If I may, I will add a third great player into the mix, Gordon Reid, who has already been mentioned and whose achievement in becoming the world No. 1 wheelchair tennis player last weekend by making the final of the Wheelchair Masters at Lea Valley was phenomenal, especially after winning the Paralympic singles in Rio alongside Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

Andy Murray’s achievement in becoming the world No. 1 tennis player of 2016 is an incredible testament to his dedication, professionalism, skill and sheer will to win. In winning both Wimbledon and Olympic gold for the second time, Andy’s place as one of Britain’s all-time sporting greats is assured. To win both tournaments and then defeat Novak Ðokovic at the World Finals in London last month to retain his No. 1 position is nothing short of incredible. That does not even begin to cover his exploits representing Great Britain with such distinction in the Davis cup, which I will come back to later.

Beyond his achievements on the courts, Andy is also a genuinely nice guy, making him an inspirational role model to many. Members may recall that Andy was chosen to carry the Union flag at the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The night before the ceremony, we had a photo call with the flag, which was enormous. He managed to drape it over Princess Anne, making news bulletins around the world. I was lucky enough to be on the other side, and remained free from what was basically flag carnage. We ended up having a long chat while we were waiting for all the photographers in the bank to get ready and get their positions. Afterwards, people asked me what I had talked to Andy Murray about for so long—whether it was tennis tactics, or investment in the future, and so on. I confess that Andy and I were talking about the babies we had left behind—his daughter and my son were born within a few days of each other. We often forget that international sports stars’ dedication and commitment quite often take them away from their families. To still achieve the great deal that he did in Rio, despite that being the case, is something else we should applaud and appreciate.

The debate rightly recognises the contributions of both Murray brothers. Jamie has climbed to the top of the doubles game without perhaps the same level of public scrutiny and expectation. His profile was raised after winning the 2007 Wimbledon mixed doubles with Jelena Jankovic. Since then, his increased success in men’s doubles, winning the Australian and US Opens this year, has culminated in his and his partner’s rise to become the world No. 1 doubles pair at the end of 2016.

I thought the sibling rivalry in my childhood was something, but sibling rivalry must be quite special in the Murray household, when one brother holds two Wimbledon titles but the other won theirs first. As my sister is not in a position to answer back, I think it is only fair that the record shows that I always won.

The sheer dedication it has taken for Jamie and Andy to reach the pinnacle of their sport has been immense. But talent must be nurtured and supported. Of course, not every aspiring tennis player is raised by Judy Murray—that might be a hard task even for her—but her inspirational leadership, nurturing her sons’ talent and enthusiasm, along with her six years as GB Federation cup captain, has led the way to a new golden era in British tennis. Her work on the Department’s Women and Sport Advisory Board has also played a leading role in championing women’s sport. If I end up being half the mother that Judy is, I will be extremely proud.

One of the most notable contributions that the Murray brothers have made to tennis in this country was made together. The Davis cup win of 2015 was Great Britain’s first for 79 years. Both Murray brothers played crucial roles in that historic win, as did the fans who in both London and Glasgow ensured a roaring home crowd. While 2016 saw a narrow loss to Argentina in the semi-finals, I look forward eagerly—as, I think, many other hon. Members do—to the 2017 competition.

Such global victories have undeniably made Andy and Jamie catalysts for British tennis at home. The chasing pack of other British tennis players has undoubted links to the inspiration of having such world-class role models on our team. With Kyle Edmund, now in the top 50 and rising, and other leading doubles players such as Dominic Inglot improving their rankings, the Davis cup is certainly looking healthy for Great Britain for many years to come. Gordon Reid is inspiring teammates in wheelchair tennis. As well as winning singles gold in Rio, Gordon won silver in the wheelchair doubles with teenager Alfie Hewett, who is seen as a future world No. 1. I congratulate Great Britain’s fourth world No. 1 of 2016, quad tennis player Andy Lapthorne, who won silver in the quad singles in Rio and bronze in the doubles alongside Jamie Burdekin.

UK Sport’s record investment in Paralympics GB paid further dividends with Jordanne Whiley and Lucy Shuker taking bronze in the women’s doubles.

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Will the Minister give way?

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I do not have time, I am afraid. I would if we had a longer debate.

I must mention some more of the recent successes that British women have been enjoying. Johanna Konta’s meteoric rise to the world’s top 10 has been a fantastic development for her and the women’s game. With Heather Watson and Naomi Broady improving steadily and Laura Robson returning after injury, British women’s tennis is proving to be very healthy.

These players are an inspiration to up-and-coming players and the grassroots of the game in this country. Sport England statistics show that over 428,0000 people play tennis at least once a week—over 20,000 more since London 2012. Disabled player numbers have increased by nearly 50% since 2012, rising to over 30,000.

Sport England and sportscotland support the LTA in its objective to increase participation in the sport through their current £17.4 million investment. Since 2010, Sport England has invested £8.2 million in 278 national lottery-funded projects. The hon. Member for Stirling is right to mention that Stirling University is home to the Scottish National Tennis Centre. It is very important in the development of Scottish tennis, which is being enjoyed by both the public and promising Scottish players.

The LTA provides support to British players and tennis generally across the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of the projects and schemes being funded. Following the Davis cup victory, the LTA launched Tennis for Kids to inspire five to eight-year-olds to pick up a racket and play for the first time—perhaps not the two-year-olds my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) mentioned—and over 13,000 children were introduced to the sport through a free six-week training course and given a free racket to keep playing.

Time is very short, but it is important to remember that the great Union between us has been the cornerstone of our prosperity in the past and it is vital to our future success. Andy and Jamie Murray are a wonderful illustration of that success both now, when at the pinnacle of their sport, and in the future, when they will continue to inspire millions across the United Kingdom and beyond. They are a credit to their country, our country, their sport and their family. I congratulate them again on their phenomenal performances in 2016 and look forward to further great achievements in the years ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.