I beg to move,
That this House has considered sport in the UK.
I am delighted that the House has the opportunity to discuss this important subject today. This debate takes place just over three years on from the publication of our sport strategy, “Sporting Future”. I will shortly be laying a written statement in the House on the progress we have made on implementing that strategy. “Sporting Future” set out a radical new vision for sport and physical activity. It reassesses how we value and measure the nation’s health and wellbeing. It prioritises tackling inactivity as well as engaging people from under-represented groups. It places five outcomes at the heart of everything we do: physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development and economic development.
On economic development, although the Minister will appreciate that, in essence, sport is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government, does she welcome physical regeneration, as has happened in the Llynfi valley in my constituency in the community of Nantyffyllon? It has redeveloped an entire rugby ground, including new facilities for a sports club. This has brought about community cohesion together with whole area regeneration, so sport can not only play a big physical part in improving people’s fitness, but bring about real change in a wider community.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. Indeed, I have met my counterparts in Wales and will have further such meetings. I absolutely agree that when communities come together around sport, it is really important that economic regeneration plays its part as well. I think that those in his community are benefiting greatly.
I spent my first three months as Sports Minister meeting people in the sector and seeing at first hand the fantastic work that is going on across the country, as we have heard. This is mainly a devolved policy area, so a lot of what I will talk about this evening relates to grassroots in England-only, but there are some reserved aspects in my policy brief, and we share themes and common goals across the UK. As I have said, I met the home nations Ministers at sports cabinet and I plan to build on relationships during my tenure and have further visits and meetings planned.
Frodsham junior football club in my constituency has done a remarkable job in fundraising for a needed 3G facility. My concern is that the premiership is not doing its bit. What is the Minister doing to ensure that those vast funds—those vast profits—are used for grassroots football?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. It is something we have heard across the House, and in my first three months in this job, it has been raised time and again. I looked into the eyes of the premiership leadership last week and spoke about many issues with them, such as how the Football Foundation is doing and how that £100 million that the league gives actually works. I am hot on their heels on this one and it is absolutely right that we continue to work together for all our grassroots sport.
I know that the Minister shares my concerns about financial transparency in the Premier League so that we can see not only how money is being used to support grassroots, but to enable the continuing economic benefits that the Minister spoke about so eloquently. Newcastle United Foundation in my constituency does fantastic work in using the power of football to inspire young people. Unfortunately, the Premier League clubs’ financial transparency does not enable us to see what is really happening to the money in the club itself.
I hear the hon. Lady—she always wears the outfit of the day when mentioning her football club. It is absolutely vital that when sports clubs are doing well, the economic benefits are felt in the city. Southampton has had a difficult time recently and I know that the city, which is close to me, has felt those pains. I absolutely hear the hon. Lady about the transparency issue and the Premier League. There is work to do to keep those conversations going, but I hear her loudly, once again.
I know that a lot of what the Minister wishes to say will not apply to the devolved region of Northern Ireland, but I recognise that she has indicated how important sport is as an economic driver. Given that no devolved Government are currently operational in Northern Ireland, will the Minister encourage and pick up on those strands and push those issues, so that the North West 200, the biggest motorbike race and festival on the island of Ireland, and the Ulster Grand Prix, the fastest motorcycle road race in the world, are given encouragement and support by central Government?
I hear the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, my officials and I have had conversations about making sure that we do not forget our links to Northern Ireland. In the sports cabinet, it was said very clearly that we cannot forget to focus on areas where there may not be that push right now. I will take that away as an action, and I am very happy to continue to look at that area.
Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the army of volunteers who support mass participation in sport? In Cheltenham, we have a parkrun every Saturday in Pittville park—it is a 5k run—but it simply would not be possible without the volunteers who make it happen. Will she join me in paying tribute to their valuable contribution?
I am being given a workout with the interventions this evening and I have absolutely no problem with that. I thank my hon. Friend for raising Parkrun. I will come on to that later in my speech. There are junior parkruns and local parkruns. Frankly, by half past 9, people can get their weekend exercise done because of volunteers, rain or shine—or snow, as we have seen recently. It is absolutely right that we thank our local volunteers for that.
I am going to set out my thoughts on participation, but I give way first to my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend talked about junior parkruns, which reminds us that habits formed in childhood often last a lifetime. Initiatives such as the Erewash school sport partnership do just that. They start in primary schools and hopefully, some of those children will continue with sport throughout life, which is so important. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I feel that my hon. Friend has read the next part of my speech. Participation and a culture of participation within families and communities is absolutely vital. I would be delighted to set out some of my thoughts on that, so let us talk about participation. We are making good progress on getting more people active. We want half a million people to be more regularly active across England by 2020, with at least half of those being women. Over 470,000 more people are already active compared with when we launched the strategy in 2015, but delivering long-term change in habits requires persistence. We know that we need to do more to get and keep people active.
In the three months that my hon. Friend has been in post she has been an absolute champion for women’s sport and women’s participation in sport, and we welcome that. In that spirit, will she join me in wanting to see women’s T20 cricket at the Birmingham Commonwealth games? It is a fantastic sport and we want to see it there in the west midlands.
My hon. Friend tempts me on that point—he knows it is very tempting and I have recently been hoping to visit his constituency—but that is not fully down to me. However, I have made it very clear that participation, particularly of women, and broadcasting opportunities are absolutely vital, so this is on my radar.
Does the Minister think that in the 21st century it is a scandal that only 10% of television sport coverage is dedicated to women’s sport? If she does share that view, what will she and the Secretary of State do to get Ofcom to take action against the free-to-air broadcasters on this issue?
I spoke to the Rugby Football Union just this afternoon, praising it for its women’s Six Nations opportunities and for making sure that there is a chance for women to be seen doing that sport. We also talked about the events list. If we want to inspire people, it is absolutely right that we get chance to see them on the telly or indeed that we can see them play and take part in our local communities. The Secretary of State is sitting next to me and we are very keen—he has had meetings with broadcasters and I have some coming up—that the elite are seen on our TVs and ultimately, that people feel that they can aspire to be part of sport.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case and I had to intervene on this point, because statistically, one might say that women in rugby—in terms of the Six Nations—are destined to do better than the men, and the same can be said of the England women’s football team. So, to follow the point made by the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), why are we not seeing more coverage of women’s sport on our screens?
On a point of clarification, the hon. Lady was talking about rugby union. I say that because there is rugby league as well.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member makes an important point about how women in sport are inspiring others. I was talking about participation and the people we should be inspiring: everybody. If we are to do that, women and girls need the opportunity to be seen on our televisions, so I will absolutely take that away with me tonight.
The gender reward gap between women’s and men’s sport is often reported on and is a serious problem. The BBC has reported that 83% of sports have better gender parity, but does the Minister agree that seeing more women’s sports, such as rugby union, rugby league and football, on television will help to close that gap?
Indeed. The hon. Lady points out that 83% is getting there, but it is not good enough. In some of my brief conversations with sports journalists so far, I have been keen to point out that this is “sport”, not “women’s sport”, and once we think of it as sport for all and see everybody participating, on the TV or on the pitch, as equally valuable, we will have made real progress, and part of that is equal pay.
My hon. Friend rightly associates people being inspired to take part in sport with seeing sport on television, but she must be aware that a lot of sport now has to be paid for before it can be viewed and that subscription to channels such as BT Sport can be in excess of £30 a month. Therefore, will she encourage more free-to-air sport as part of the strategy to encourage more people, be they men or women, to take part in sporting events and to enjoy a more active lifestyle?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about free-to-air sport—indeed, I made that point to rugby union representatives today—but if we are prepared to pay for Netflix, we should also be prepared to pay for great sport. We should have the broadest opportunity for people to be seen participating and inspiring at the highest level.
On participation, I was talking about everyone, and I am pleased that the Chamber feels the same. We must ensure that everyone can benefit from sport. I also want to ensure that we reach harder-to-reach groups and get them active and staying active.
I am sure the Minister knows that basketball is the second most played team sport in the UK and reaches hard-to-reach groups in urban communities. I pay tribute to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and her predecessor, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), for giving £500,000 to GB Basketball. It meant, in particular, that the women could stay on court and qualify for EuroBasket top of their league. It is important to look at UK sport funding to ensure that basketball can make its Olympic dream come true.
Basketball is a sport that has been helped by the aspiration fund, which makes it possible to turn the dial, become medal winners and so continue to inspire. I am delighted about the fund, and I, too, pay tribute to my predecessor.
I was talking about harder-to-reach groups, and some of those have just been described. We want more women; more black, Asian and minority ethnic women and men; and more disabled people taking part in sport, as well as those who might have a hard time finding the cash for exercise and wellbeing. We want everyone to have the opportunity to take part, including those who struggle to find a family activity that they enjoy—we have heard about that this evening as well. These are often the people facing the biggest hurdles to being active, and they are the people we need to support most. I want to tackle those hurdles and make sport fun.
Is the Minister aware of the work being done by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association not only with seniors—I think I qualify as a senior, but then so does Ronnie O’Sullivan—but with people with disabilities, particularly people with autism? Despite that, Sport England does not give snooker any funding. It gives a lot of money to bowls, archery and angling but none to snooker. Would she be prepared to look at that?
The hon. Lady makes a great point. We need to work with Sport England to reach everyone who can take part in sport in whatever way possible. I was lucky enough recently to speak at an event marking the 30th anniversary of the Paralympics, and it made me think of my young children, who do not see any barriers to participation because of London 2012, which changed so much. It is absolutely right that where there is an opportunity for people to take part in sport we give them that opportunity. That is the focus of my speech this evening.
The Minister is making a strong case for participation in sport, but there is also a clear case in terms of preventive health, given that evidence suggests that being involved in sport reduces by 30% people’s incidence of stroke, cancer and other illnesses. Today being World Cancer Day, does she agree that there is a long-term public purse benefit to getting people fit and healthy through participation in sport?
Absolutely. I will build on that thought in my speech. It is vital that we work with health bodies and communities and through social prescribing. It can help to keep our communities fitter, healthier and more connected.
Does the Minister agree that this is about not just physical but mental health, and will she join me in celebrating the work of Elaine Wyllie, the founder of the daily mile? All over the world, more than 7,000 schools and nurseries practise the daily mile, and the evidence of the benefit that comes to the children who participate is immense. Would she encourage all our schools and nurseries to engage with the daily mile?
The daily mile has been a revelation in getting youngsters involved. I recently visited a school that was getting involved but which did not have much green space, only tarmac. It was difficult for that school, but the inventive ways in which the daily mile is being used across the country is a sight to behold. I congratulate Elaine on her work.
I forgot to mention that it all began in Stirling at St Ninians Primary School—the most important thing of all!
I have no problem with interventions. The problem is that the people wanting to speak later are cutting down their own time. The time limit was 10 minutes, but it is now down to eight.
I will plough on, but thank goodness for Stirling!
I want us to find different ways of doing things. I want to find the next parkrun or daily mile. I thank the fabulous parkrun family for all they are doing. Building strongly on the success of the This Girl Can campaign, we need to be smarter about how we use data and new technologies to get people moving and—more importantly —staying moving. I want us to make being active easy and fun for everyone and a habit for everyone.
December’s Sport England’s active lives children’s survey will help us to understand how children in particular engage with and think about sport and physical activity. This world-leading study represents a big step forward. We now have robust data that tells us which changes will make the biggest difference to our children’s lives. The first set of results was published late last year, and the evidence it set out was a wake-up call for the sector. Our children are simply not active enough. We all need to address that head on.
I will work with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care, and I am delighted that we will be publishing a new cross-Government plan to focus on getting kids active in and out of school. I particularly want to focus on after-school periods when children should have the opportunity to be active and safe in enjoyable environments. I want to make sure that all children have access to the right sporting offer and that they enjoy physical activity and therefore can reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. Sport needs to be fun, inclusive and engaging. There is a world of options out there, as we have heard, and I want us to work harder to make sport and physical activity appealing to everyone.
Why does this matter? Being active brings many benefits not just to children but to people of all ages. Working with the Department of Health and Social Care, I want us to embrace the use of sport and physical activity in improving health outcomes. Being active can reduce chronic diseases and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and it can ease pressures on our health and social care systems. Given our aging society, we must do everything we can to help people to enjoy healthy, independent and fulfilling lives for longer.
With my loneliness Minister hat on, I must add that getting people active, where that means people being connected, is also vital, and the enjoyment and sense of belonging that can come from taking part in sport and physical activity can be a huge part of that. Real change is already happening in that regard. As part of the NHS long-term plan, NHS England is hiring 1,000 new advisers to expand social prescribing and help patients to lead fitter, healthier and happier lives. About 50% of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions, and pills are prescribed. Evidence shows that referrals to, for instance, exercise classes, sports groups or, indeed, ballroom dancing classes can greatly help people’s health and wellbeing.
However, I want to go further, and work with ministerial colleagues to use the power of sport to make lives better. Physical activity can help us in so many ways. Getting more people walking or cycling reduces congestion, improves air quality and can revitalise our high streets. Sport can bring people together and reduce social isolation, and the discipline and teamwork that it encourages can also be an important tool in cutting reoffending rates in the criminal justice system.
My second priority is protecting the culture and integrity of high-level sport. What matters is not just what we do to win medals and create sporting success, but how we go about it. It cannot be right for athletes such as Kelly Sotherton to receive their medals six years late and behind closed doors because the systems are not right. Since taking up my role, I have had discussions with UK Anti-Doping, UK Sport, the World Anti-Doping Agency and representatives of athletes in order to understand what has gone wrong in some quarters, and to make the UK’s position clear.
How can we inspire more people through sport by preserving and strengthening its integrity? People must have faith in sports that they know and love. Our athletes deserve to know that they are competing on a level playing field. We must continue to operate robust anti-doping and governance regimes, both domestically and internationally. We must continue to lead the way.
My hon. Friend is making a superb speech and an important point. Does she agree that if fans cannot trust what they see, the integrity of sport will be permanently damaged, and that we need a multi-agency approach, information sharing and, very importantly, much more player education, so that those who are tempted to cheat know that they will be caught and punished?
My hon. Friend has walked in my shoes in this role, and she knows how important that issue is. When I have spoken to athletes, there has been compelling evidence that the integrity of their sport, the hard work that they demonstrate, and everything that they do to lead the way is undermined when people feel that sport does not have the integrity that they hold so dear.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; she is being very generous with her time. She is making a good point about the integrity of sport, but will she also look into some of the often questionable medical exemptions of recent times? There has been reference to a level playing field. It sometimes seems that it is the athletes who have the best doctors, and can obtain the best medical exemptions and certificates, who can benefit from medications that may enhance performance. In the context of other sports people, that may not be correct when the medical conditions involved do not reach a threshold that I, as a doctor, would consider to be sufficient to require such medications.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. When sport is being led by the question of who has the best doctor, it is likely that we have a problem.
People need to feel that it is safe to take part in sport, and ensuring that children and those at risk are protected as much as possible is a top priority for me. I have been speaking to my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about putting sports coaches in a position of trust to give additional protection to 16 and 17-year-olds, and that work continues. We need to inspire children to take part in sport, to make them feel welcome, and to let them have fun. That golden thread runs through all that we do.
As we have heard, if we do not get this right over time, it will affect our love for our sport. It will affect those who take part in it, and also those who watch it. There are huge benefits to be had from watching live sport. London 2012 showcased to the world the UK’s enthusiasm for that, and we see it week in, week out in our sporting fixtures and at our local sporting clubs. Today our sports grounds attract a wider and more diverse range of spectators than ever before, and it is important for those experiences to be enjoyable and safe for all who attend. I know that many of my colleagues are interested in stadium safety and the long-standing commitment to an all-seater policy. I am expecting a report reviewing existing evidence on that topic very soon, and, along with the Secretary of State, I will consider its findings carefully.
As a new sports Minister considering the experience of attending football matches, I have been immediately struck by the racist and other discriminatory behaviour that has been reported over the last few months. I am sure that all Members have been alarmed by the worrying number of incidents about which we have all been hearing. We can take heart, because people feel more confident about reporting such experiences, but we must not tolerate a return to the worst days of sport. Football is the national game, which people of all ages and from all backgrounds should be able to enjoy and play. It should bring people together, not foster division. Those involved in abuse are not football fans; they are using football as a cloak for discriminatory and often criminal behaviour. They are not welcome in our stadiums. In the coming weeks, I will bring together football authorities and other organisations with an interest in the issue to discuss what action must be taken to stamp out all forms of discrimination at sports events. Together, we must find a way of tackling such unacceptable behaviour.
As the Minister may know, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on homophobic chanting in sports stadiums—sponsored by colleagues on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee—to bring it within the remit of the Football (Offences) Act 1991. When will we hear from her whether the Government will support the Bill?
I think I have made it clear tonight that I am determined to deal with this matter, but I will reserve judgment until I have heard from the authorities. I will write to the hon. Lady.
Football reaches every community in the country, and it can play its part in helping to champion the values that we want to see in our society today. However, we need to get tougher on those who refuse to play by the rules. Zero tolerance means just that. We cannot allow the minority to ruin the sport for the majority of us who love it. I look forward to reporting back to the House on the actions taken as a result of my discussions.
Let me now turn to more positive matters, because I am very conscious that I need to move on.
Will the Minister include the fit and proper ownership rules in her discussions with the football authorities? My club, Forest Green Rovers, has had a run-in with Bolton Wanderers because Bolton refused to pay the money that it expected for the transfer of a player. So many of those at the lower levels of football are not, dare I say, fit and proper people to run football clubs. Will the Minister look into that?
I would be happy for the hon. Gentleman to write to me about it. As I think I have made clear tonight, trust and integrity are paramount in sport.
Our sport, internationally, has a massive part to play in our global reputation. We can travel the world and meet people who do not know much about our home town, but they will know if our local football club is in the Champions’ League or has been in an FA cup final. As we leave the European Union, we will work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Trade to ensure that the incredible contribution of sport can be part of our international profile, and part of our vision for global Britain. I recently met the Japanese Sports Minister, who is keen to learn from our experience of hosting major events so that the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and Olympics can be an inclusive experience for everyone.
We can continue to deliver major world events, and this summer we will host the cricket world cup, with an expected global audience of 1.5 billion people. It will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase our country, bring communities together and get more people to be active. It is not just cricket—I will rattle through the other sports. The world wheelchair curling championships take place in Stirling in March; Liverpool host the netball world cup in July; the world road-cycling championships take place in Yorkshire in 2019; UEFA 2020 Euro fixtures take place at Hampden Park and Wembley; and the UEFA women’s Euros and rugby league take place in 2021, with matches hosted all over England. I am delighted that the benefits will be experienced across the country.
Our investment in major events will deliver opportunities for everyone. Everywhere, people will be able to see at first hand that sport is great. Of course, we look forward to hosting the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham, which will be the biggest sporting and cultural event in the west midlands ever. All those global sports events offer a fantastic opportunity to showcase the UK to the world, and give us an opportunity to showcase our commitment to fair and inclusive sport, which is why we must take steps to protect the culture and integrity of elite sport.
In that long list of sports, the Minister failed to mention one particular sport that I am particularly keen on—rowing, which is important not just for the high-class activity that takes place in Henley but because it contributes to the better appreciation of the sport by young people in that area. Will she give credit to those companies for attacking sport, as it were, at both those levels?
My hon. Friend mentioned high-class behaviour in Henley—I expect nothing less. Absolutely—it is fantastic that rowing is thriving, and I have promised to visit.
The Commonwealth games will take place 10 years after the Olympic and Paralympic games, and I want to build on the success of 2012, and make them an event that is remembered for bringing people together, celebrating diversity, and promoting inclusivity across the Commonwealth and beyond. Its legacy will go further, and embrace trade and investment, culture, sport, employment, housing and tourism. Later this month, I will set out the strategy with UK Sport beyond 2020, the Olympics and the Paralympics, supporting our athletes and all competitors for the next stage. As we heard, UK Sport has recently launched its aspiration fund.
I want to conclude, because I am sure that you want me to do so, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] I want the number of people enjoying sport and engaging in physical activity to grow; I want sport to be embedded in Government thinking on health and social care; I want this country’s amazing reputation for hosting the world’s biggest sporting events to continue; I want our sporting bodies to demonstrate strong leadership and a duty of care to all participants; I want Team GB to continue its medal success; and I absolutely want to make sure that everyone can benefit from the power of sport.
To reassure the House, it was not me who wanted the Minister to conclude—it was all the Members wishing to speak, if that helps.
I would like to begin by sending all our best wishes to Cardiff City FC and its fans, who sang continuously throughout the match against Bournemouth on Saturday, in memory of Emiliano Sala. There is no doubt that he will for ever remain in their thoughts.
With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to put on record my disgust at the situation of Hakeem al-Araibi, the footballer who fled Bahrain and appeared in court today in Thailand, facing forced extradition. The Opposition strongly urge the Government to lean on Thailand and Bahrain with maximum force to drop those charges. The United Kingdom has a proud history of assisting those fleeing political persecution, and we should not stay silent on this matter.
Supporters should always be at the heart of sport. Sport should be run in the interest of fans, not the privileged few, which is what I want to focus our debate on. In a world of ever-growing commercialisation, fans are rarely part of the decision-making process; instead, money talks. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our national game—football. The premier league has undergone a transformation in the past three decades, and without a doubt is now the best sporting league in the world, admired around the globe. Wherever we travel, whether Hollywood Boulevard or refugee camps in Bangladesh where I have worked, premier league football shirts are commonplace. It is incredibly moving to know that the UK football scene has such an incredible fan base, which we must nurture.
Fans are desperate for small changes: they want a better atmosphere in stadiums; they do not want to be at the mercy of billion-pound TV deals; they want a say in how their club is run; and they do not want their children to be bombarded with betting adverts. Those form our pledges for supporters, because we believe that fans must have a greater say in the sport that they love.
Does my hon. Friend accept that many fans want to see premier league football clubs doing the right thing by all their staff? Does she share my view that it is highly disappointing that only four premier league clubs pay the living wage?
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent intervention, and I share his thoughts, views and feelings that everyone should be paid the wages that they deserve, particularly when they work hard, out of hours, supporting the beautiful game of football.
Returning to football supporters in stadiums, the current system simply is not working and is not safe. Standing happens frequently, sometimes in steep tiers where the seat in front barely goes above the ankles of the person who is standing behind it. When I brought together 50 supporters’ trusts for a parliamentary roundtable, they made clear what they were asking for: small sections of a stadium that can be converted to accommodate those who want to stand, allowing them to stand safely, while giving those who want to sit the enjoyment of watching a game without people standing in their way. I am a football fan, and I attend matches regularly. I know the dangers that can arise for a young family when there are people standing in front of them. Children often have to stand on their seats to watch the game.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. There was a good reason for redesigning our sports stadiums at one time, but does she agree that the introduction of safe standing areas makes watching live sport in person more affordable for many people?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. We have made it clear that we need to take the decision away from Whitehall. What the Labour party is proposing with the safe standing system is a one-for-one seating and standing arrangement. There is no plan to cut the cost of a ticket at this point. It is about enjoyment and safety, which is paramount.
We need to take the decision away from Whitehall and devolve it to clubs, fans and local safety authorities, because they know their stadiums better than any of us. To any supporters watching, let me say that we will continue to push for the introduction of safe standing. The Government cannot kick the can down the road on this one. Our second pledge is on the introduction of a “fans fare” travel scheme. It is not right that fixtures are constantly rescheduled, so fans miss out on the cheapest train tickets. In the opening three weeks of the premier league season this year, five matches were rearranged for TV, which made it impossible for supporters to travel to or from the match in time. Fans deserve better—they must be part of the conversation. The Football League, the Premier League, the Rail Delivery Group and fans’ groups are all in favour of the introduction of a “fans fare” scheme, but the Government are dragging their feet. A Transport Minister agreed to meet me, but then cancelled our meeting.
Labour will not sit still. We will continue to push for this. Supporters should not be at the mercy of billion-pound TV deals. The “fans fare” travel scheme would allow them to change the date on their ticket if a match was rescheduled, so they would not miss out on the cheapest train tickets. Those who have tried to attend a match with their partner and two children will know the cost of buying four new tickets to attend a match and see their much-loved football team.
Our third pledge would give fans a say in how their club was run. Overseas investment has revolutionised the Premier League and brought remarkable success for clubs, both domestically and in Europe, but supporters are desperate for a greater say. At the moment, fans are involved in supporters forums, but with clubs increasingly becoming solely owned by rich investors, those forums are becoming meaningless when it comes to making decisions. We would make it mandatory that, when a club was sold, a proportion of the shares being sold should be offered to fans to buy. We would allow supporters trusts to appoint board members who would hold full voting rights, ensuring that fans had a place at the table.
Our fourth pledge relates to gambling. A staggering 55,000 children are problem gamblers, and this is being fuelled by an increase in sports betting. Football stadiums, football shirts and advertising boards are filled with gambling logos and names. This is fuelling a worrying epidemic in children, and not enough is being done. We are pleased that the industry has listened to our calls for a whistle-to-whistle gambling ban across all sports, but we would go further and ban gambling companies from sponsoring football shirts. People who are susceptible to gambling-related harms should be able to enjoy football without having to battle the demons of addiction. That addiction tears families apart and ruins lives. Today and always, our message to the industry is loud and clear: prove to us that you take this seriously by taking real action now, because in government, the Labour party will come down hard.
I have highlighted some of the issues being faced by fans today, but I also want to spend a few minutes talking about the future of sport. We need sport to be run in the interests of those who participate in it at grassroots level, not just of the privileged few. I ask Members to take a moment to imagine two children who were born in the same hospital on the same day. Let us imagine that they were born equal, with the same abilities and potential as each other. The barriers that they might face in life will start the moment they leave the maternity ward. This will be no truer than when it comes to their making a success of any sporting talent they might possess. One child will go to an underfunded state secondary school where PE hours have been cut and the grass field is waterlogged for four months of the year. The other child will go to a private school where there is provision for a cricket coach to come in once a week and for the children to practise indoors during the winter.
Is not the hon. Lady missing a significant factor in the encouragement of children—namely, their parents? I am not convinced that the circumstances she describes are definitive when it comes to whether a child excels in sport, but the encouragement of parents makes a huge difference.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. Of course parents’ encouragement is a factor, but we cannot run away from the fact that this Government have cut 35,000 hours of PE from secondary schools. Children do not have a level playing field in this country, and the sooner this Government accept that and do something about it, the better off all our children will be.
Going back to the maternity ward, let us imagine that one of those children is a girl. She will be actively discouraged by society from getting involved in sports. Does she possess the qualities to be a professional coach, a commentator, a physiotherapist or an athlete? Will she grow up to be a role model for other girls? Many girls will never know whether they have the ability to make it to the top of their sport because of the barriers placed in front of them. If she makes it to the top in rugby, football or cricket, will she get a proper contract? Will that contract give her the security to feed her family and reach her potential without having to focus on finding additional work? Will she be given a role on a national governing body that enables her to make the changes necessary to break down the barriers that she herself has faced?
The hon. Lady is making an important point. Does she agree that there is still a lack of diversity in the broadest sense when it comes to representation on boards and in senior management positions, notwithstanding the fact that we have a really healthy talent pool? Does she also agree that we need to reach a position where people from every background can not only knock on the doors for the very top jobs but actually get them?
The hon. Lady makes a most excellent point. If you can see it, you can be it. I firmly believe that, and in my position as shadow Minister for Sport I have always pushed for equality in the boardroom, not only based on gender but across socioeconomic divides and for the black, Asian and minority ethnic community.
While I celebrate our wonderful Olympic success in London and Rio, I question whether we should be pumping millions into niche sports to gain a couple of gold medals when sports such as basketball, which is ever so popular in the UK, are going through a funding crisis. Should our success be measured by the number of gold medals we win?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning basketball. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on basketball. The UK and Team GB are on track for Olympic qualification, which will happen at the world cup this summer, but we will need the funding from the National Basketball Association and the Women’s National Basketball Association to get our players into that qualification tournament and into the Olympics.
I know that my hon. Friend has been tireless in his pursuit of ensuring that basketball gets the funding it deserves. I also know that, like me, he was staggered to discover that shooting is getting £6.9 million while basketball, a popular grassroots sport that can be played by all, has had its funding cut.
Should our success be measured by the number of gold medals we can win, or by the millions of people we can motivate to get fit and active and take the opportunity to play the sport they love? Just £23 million a year is being put into grassroots sports by the Government, and half of that was put in under Labour. Local government cuts have resulted in more than 1,000 grass pitches, swimming pools and sports halls being closed over the past two years. The discussion surrounding the sale of Wembley stadium sparked an interesting debate about the funding of grassroots sport in the UK. We believe that the Football Association answered all our questions and had the best intentions, but did we really need to consider selling our national stadium to build grassroots facilities fit for the 21st century?
Since 2010, more than 110 publicly funded swimming pools have closed, denying working-class children the opportunity to get active and to excel. The Minister has talked about her aspiration to get the nation moving more. She has the right aspiration, but actions—and money—speak louder than fine words.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that valuable point. If we do not invest in our young people at grassroots level, we will be fuelling our obesity crisis even further. If the Government are serious about taking a public health approach to active lives, they could support local authorities and national governing bodies in building sporting facilities.
The hon. Lady talks about sports funding and the funding of facilities. Is she aware that the Scottish Rugby Union, based at Murrayfield in my constituency, feels that it has not benefited from lottery funding in the way that other sports have done? For example, it has had no lottery funding to help it to improve the stadium. Does she agree that it can have an ongoing impact on grassroots sports such as rugby if those bodies do not get the lottery funding that will enable them to invest?
I agree. No sport should be left out and no one should feel that they are not part of the conversation and benefiting from pots of money that may be available.
I am going to make progress and get to the end of my speech, because I am aware that many Members want to speak. How can the Government support local authorities? They could broaden the Treasury’s infrastructure guarantee scheme to include the building of sports facilities. Currently, just £2 billion out of £40 billion has been allocated. If our public health approach truly wants to consider preventive measures, it is essential to underwrite schemes to build pitches, swimming pools and athletics tracks. We have a national obesity crisis. The Government could revolutionise grassroots sports if they looked carefully at that scheme, so I encourage them to do so.
We can boost funding for our most popular sports, help build the necessary facilities and give everyone the opportunity to reach their potential, regardless of where they live or how much money their family earn. We can level the playing field and ensure that sport is run in the interests of all those who love it, not just a privileged few.
If Members speak for up to six minutes each, that would really help us. Some Members may pull a face, but that is because of the Front Benchers, not me.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), who spoke on behalf of the Opposition. She made a powerful speech, but I have to say that it was quite negative. She talked about all the things she does not like—including betting, big football clubs and sitting down at the football—but we should be talking about the positive things that sport can achieve and what it brings to all our communities. Let us not be dour; let us be positive about the power of sport.
The Minister gave a brilliant speech. We were lucky to have the Tour de France visit Yorkshire not so long ago, and she gave us a tour de force today about all the benefits of sport.
As well as being the home of brewing, my constituency of Burton and Uttoxeter is also the home of the English football team. We are delighted to have in Burton—I share it with my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)—St George’s Park, the home not just of the English football team but of all 28 England national football teams, including the disability teams, the women’s team and the blind team. It is a truly inspirational facility. I took some credit from the Bring it to Burton campaign, which I ran when I was a candidate. That was obviously instrumental in the £105 million being spent in my constituency to develop that state-of-the-art facility. The 13 pitches have attracted teams such as Barcelona and Monaco, and the Irish rugby union team have trained there. We are a magnet for sporting excellence and it is a great pleasure to have the facility in my constituency.
We also have Uttoxeter racecourse for the sport of kings. I am delighted that we play host every year to the west midlands grand national, which attracts some 16,000 people to my constituency on the day and puts £1 million into local businesses over that weekend. We talk about the power and benefit of sport, but its financial benefit to my constituents and those businesses is really important.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about horse-racing, which in terms of attendance and revenue created is the second biggest sport in the United Kingdom; it is a great shame that it has not been mentioned so far in the debate. My constituency has Kelso racecourse, which contributes greatly to the local economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that horse-racing is very much an underrated sport and that it does so much to promote sport and physical activity?
Absolutely—my hon. Friend is spot on. I am lucky enough to know very well David MacDonald and his team who run Uttoxeter races, and it is thriving. Horse-racing is a great sport that inspires people and gives a great day out. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we should not underestimate the real benefits of horse-racing to the United Kingdom.
May I seek clarification on the previous intervention? In what terms is horse-racing the biggest sport? It may be in terms of betting revenues, but it is certainly not in terms of participation.
I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) may have been referring to attendance, but I understand the hon. Lady’s point.
Football is at the crux of the point I really want to make. We have had a great sporting weekend, with some fantastic sporting triumphs, including England’s success over Ireland in the rugby—[Interruption.] I will not mention the cricket. I was lucky enough to attend another sporting giant of a match on Saturday: the thrilling nil-nil draw between Burton Albion and Oxford United. I was delighted to be there.
Burton Albion is a small club. It was only promoted to the football league in 2009, yet by 2017 it had been promoted to the championship. That is a Roy of the Rovers-type success story for a club that is embedded in the community. Thanks to the hard work and determination of the chairman, Mr Ben Robinson, and Nigel Clough, our inspirational manager, who has a huge sporting history behind him, the club has done incredible things. We talk so often about money in sport, but Burton Albion is a shining example of what heart and passion, rather than just money, can do in terms of delivering.
On the commercial benefits of and money in sport, does my hon. Friend agree that women still lag behind men in commercial sponsorship and that sponsors should become more alive to the benefits of association with some of our fantastic female role models?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Women’s sport, such as women’s football, is thrilling to watch, and the advertisers should get on board and realise how powerful it could be for their brands.
Burton Albion Community Trust is a shining example of what many clubs up and down the country are doing. It is not just about elite sport; it runs grassroots projects throughout my community. Every week, it touches some 7,000 people through the programmes it runs, including the Fit Fans sessions for, shall we say, the more mature fan, to get them fit; walking football; disability teams such as Able Too and Powerchair; and, importantly for me, Head for Goal, which is a mental health and wellbeing programme, using the power of sport to improve mental health. Given that this is Children’s Mental Health Week, and with my own appreciation of the issues of mental health, it is really important to acknowledge the power of sport to be able to improve mental health. The community trusts of lots of clubs up and down the country, working with children, old people and the disabled, are making a real contribution.
Finally, I hope that the Minister has heard what I have said about the power of community trusts, and that she will agree to visit the mighty Pirelli stadium, where she will be able to see the work of Burton Albion Community Trust in my community.
For those of us who stayed up into the wee small hours last night to watch the Superbowl, it has already been a long day. The game itself could have got sport stopped, to be honest, but it would be remiss of me not to thank the Renfrewshire Raptors, the Flag American Football team, for hosting the Superbowl party last night.
I should also say at the outset that Scotland currently head the Six Nations table, a position that I fully expect them to stay in until the end of the competition. I will also use this opportunity to praise my own club, Paisley rugby club, which after a slow start is now unbeaten since October, probably because I retired a number of years ago.
It is good to see the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) in his place, given that he was running the line at the St Johnstone-Celtic game yesterday. As a St Johnstone fan, I am hugely disappointed that he did not find a way to disallow the two Celtic goals in their 2-0 victory. In recent years, with European qualification and a Scottish cup win, it has been easier to be a Saints fan than a Scotland fan. However, recently we have had cause for optimism, with Shelley Kerr’s women’s team backing up qualification for the Euros by qualifying for this summer’s World cup in France, for the very first time.
In my first shameless plug for the all-party parliamentary group on Scottish sport, which I chair, I draw attention to the fact that on 13 March both Shelley Kerr and Ian Maxwell, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, will give a presentation to the APPG on the women’s game and the recent UEFA report on the social benefits of football to Scotland. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Sport offers so much in personal development, self-confidence, discipline and social skills, and it plays a vital role in building strong communities and a healthy society. For many, sport can be all-consuming, whether simply as a fan of a local football team, as someone who enjoys a game of golf at the weekend—when the weather permits in Scotland—as a linesman or as a performance athlete who dedicates their life to be the best at what they do. It would be a grave mistake indeed to understate the importance of sport to people’s lives.
Thanks to the media, when we think of performance athletes, we tend to think of multimillionaire football players, but professional athletes come from a wide range of varying disciplines that are all unique and as important as each other. The vast majority certainly do not provide people with the opportunity to retire to a life of wealth and comfort while still in their 20s.
For many athletes, including those who bring home Olympic medals, transitioning to a life beyond professional sport can be a challenge. That challenge often includes uncertainty in establishing a viable career beyond sport, but it can also include poor mental health and battles with depression and anxiety.
On mental health, a survey by the Rugby Players Association in England reveals that 62% of players suffer mental health issues after retirement and 52% feel their life is out of control after two years. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, UK-wide, the Government need to take a better, more holistic approach to helping people not just in rugby but in professional sport to be able to cope when they come out of sport by injury or by the end of their sporting life?
I could not agree more. As the hon. Lady is a former international rugby player herself, her point is even stronger, and I will echo that in my later comments.
I have been seeking an Adjournment debate on this issue without success, so I will outline some of the issues now. The Glaswegian Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson spoke about the difficulty towards the end of his fantastic career as he battled depression caused by a gruelling training regime. He made the decision to retire, and it was the right decision for him. After some difficulties, he is now an example of an athlete who has made the transition well, as he has now built a successful career as a leading coach, but his story is by no means the norm. Such difficulties have been relatively common in football, but, since the advent of UK Sport lottery funding, they have become more widespread in other sports, and the current cliff-edge approach to UK Sport funding in no way helps the scenario.
Last year, the BBC reported on examples of athletes finding the transition difficult. Rower Mark Hunter competed at three Olympic games, winning gold in Beijing and silver in London:
“It doesn’t matter how good you are, how much money you earn—you have to learn to cope with that loss of purpose. Athletes think everyone cares about what you are doing but most people don’t care until you are performing at the highest level.
In Athens in 2004 I came last and that was my darkest point. I had no money, I had nothing. I used to drive down back roads thinking, ‘if I crash I wouldn’t care right now.’ I didn’t tell my parents but I was lucky I had so many friends around me to help me escape. I’d gone to the ultimate event and come last. We came last, the funding is cut and it’s like ‘get out’...I had no money, I had nothing.”
Ollie Philips was world rugby sevens player of the year in 2009:
“Because I had to retire through injury, it felt as though I had been robbed of my rights and the dreams that I was hoping to achieve. Once I realised that ‘right I am now not a rugby player any more’, there was a really tough period. It’s such a destructive experience on a personal level—everything is affected by it. That experience of feeling valued and adored. Suddenly you’re not as good; you’re not in the limelight. And as a result you chase highs and ego boosts. They give you a kick in the short term, but the highs are high and the lows are very low and you don’t know how to get out of them.
There were times when I looked at myself and thought, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I’ve probably accepted not being a sportsman but have I truly accepted that it’s not me anymore? Maybe not entirely.”
Switch the Play, which has presented to the all-party parliamentary group on Scottish sport, is an excellent social enterprise—it is shortly to become a charity—dedicated to improving the support offered to elite and aspiring athletes as they transition to a life outside sport, and it has done excellent work on this issue.
One of those athletes is Beth Tweddle, who most Members will know. She is an Olympic bronze medallist, a triple world champion, a six-time European champion and a Commonwealth champion—the list goes on. Beth made the decision to retire after a glittering career, but she was seriously concerned about what she would do with herself after focusing on gymnastics for 21 years. Switch the Play helped to provide her with training, and she found the confidence to become a company director for Total Gymnastics.
Research by Abertay University’s Professor David Lavallee shows that athletes who engage in planning for their future feel less stressed and are better able to focus on their sporting performance. The study also found that the levels of support provided to athletes in planning their retirement can also influence their performance. Switch the Play and others do excellent work, but we cannot expect such organisations to give that peace of mind and care alone.
Sporting bodies and, of course, the Government therefore have a duty of care to our athletes and must ensure that they have all the support, training and opportunities they require to live life and build a career after retirement, whether that be in their sport or in any other sector. I hope the Minister will meet Switch the Play and me to discuss this issue further.
Most Members, and particularly Mr Speaker, could not have failed to be moved by Andy Murray’s press conference, in which it was clear he is very much struggling to come to terms with his possible upcoming retirement. I am sure the House will join me in welcoming his recent successful hip operation, which at the very least will give Andy a much better quality of life, without pain, to spend with his children. Of course, we all hope the operation will enable Andy to continue playing top-level tennis, but, if it fails, he has an astonishing career to look back on. He is a two-time Wimbledon champion, a US Open champion, a Davis cup winner, twice Olympic champion and, probably most impressive of all, a world No. 1 in the era of Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
I can only hope that Andy is as proud of himself as Scotland is of him. Without a shadow of doubt, Andy is Scotland’s greatest ever sportsman or sportswoman. What can we say to Scotland’s, and probably the UK’s, greatest ever but thank you? Thank you for the memories, the inspiration and the sheer joy that he has given to the nation.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I give way to Andy Murray’s Member of Parliament.
Sir Andy Murray is the pride and joy of Dunblane and the Stirling district. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, to commemorate an extraordinary career and an amazing contribution to Scottish sport, some form of statue to Sir Andy Murray should be erected in Dunblane?
There is a danger that we might get a bit ahead of ourselves but, yes, I agree that, in the time to come, there should be a statue to Andy Murray in Dunblane, perhaps to sit alongside his gold post box. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will commission the statue himself.
That brings me on to the Murray legacy. The staggering success of the entire Murray family is and will continue to be a positive thing for Scottish tennis, as well as tennis across the UK, yet their rise to become the best tennis players in the world has exposed funding and governance imbalance issues that need to be taken seriously, lest we risk squandering the opportunities that their success could provide us with: opportunities not only to nurture future champions, but, just as importantly, to give more people the opportunity to play tennis. To achieve that, we need to be frank about where we are going wrong.
At the age of 15, Andy was advised by one Rafael Nadal that he would have to move away from the UK if he wanted to become a professional. That was 16 years ago, and not much has changed. Scotland is one of the world’s leading nations for tennis, thanks to the success of not only the Murrays, but Gordon Reid, the former world No. 1 in men’s wheelchair tennis, and others. However, it is an indisputable fact that Tennis Scotland has been drastically underfunded by the Lawn Tennis Association. Despite Scotland’s enviable success, the LTA gave Tennis Scotland just £650,000 in 2017, from a budget of £60 million UK-wide. That means that Scotland, with some 8.5% of the UK’s population—and the UK’s best players, Davis cup coach and so on—received just 1% of the revenue funding available from the LTA. In 2018, that allocation was slashed to just £582,000.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about the funding for sports development. Does he therefore agree that it is unfortunate that shortly before receiving the extra revenue from the sugar tax from the UK Government the Scottish Government slashed funding for sportscotland by a fifth?
Far be it for me to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but last year the Scottish sports budget grew by £2 million—more than 7%—and Derek Mackay offered to underwrite any loss from the lottery sports funding of up to £3.5 million. So I will not hear any Scottish Conservative nonsense about the Scottish Government on this issue. This debate at least should be a consensual one.
The perfect example of this problem can be seen in the availability of the indoor courts that make the game possible, particularly in Scotland, given our weather conditions. At the last count, there were 102 facilities in Scotland, compared with 1,484 in England. Of course, this is not just the fault of the LTA; government at all levels, as well as non-governmental bodies, have also to address issues of access. But what a shame it is that, particularly in Scotland, the biggest issue that young people who wish to get into the game may face is finding somewhere to play. Speaking to the Scottish context, Murray said:
“I know in Scotland that there have not been many indoor courts built in the last 10 years. That seems madness. I don’t understand why that is. You need to get kids playing; you need to have the facilities that allow them to do that.”
The all-party group on Scottish sport has looked at these missed opportunities, taking evidence from the then chief executive of the LTA, Michael Downey, Judy Murray and Blane Dodds, the chief executive officer of Tennis Scotland. Following this investigation, the LTA loosened its purse strings somewhat and, along with sportscotland, delivered a capital investment fund specifically for tennis facilities in Scotland.
Andy Murray has criticised the LTA for not doing enough to build on his and his family’s success, recently saying:
“Maybe it’s something I should have given more thought to while I was playing but I never felt that was my job to do that.”
He is right. It is not his job—it certainly should not be—to be getting involved in the governance of his sport; our athletes, in whichever sport, should be able to put 100% of their concentration into their game. But the Murrays have felt the need to intervene as, staggeringly, tennis participation numbers continue to drop, despite the success of top-level tennis players across the UK. Two things must change: we need a sharp increase in the number of facilities available across Scotland, and the UK as a whole; and we need parity and fair funding between the game’s governing bodies. That means that the LTA needs to provide Tennis Scotland with the funding it needs to do its job properly.
Over the past few years—I say this from speaking to other Scottish sporting bodies—it has become increasingly clear that the issues we see arising within tennis are very common in the governance of other sports. Many of these non-governmental bodies feel strongly that there is a lack of “equal status” and “equal standing” between the Scottish bodies—this applies to other devolved bodies, as this is not simply a Scottish issue—and their English counterparts, with many UK-wide NGBs functioning as extended versions of their respective English bodies.
One chief executive I spoke to said that their respective English body acted like they were the “GB” organisation, rather than one of four separate bodies. That too often leads to the organisations responsible for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland being cut out of processes, with no say in crucial decision making. That leads to the kind of situations we have seen in UK Athletics, where a shambolic leadership team are trying to ride roughshod over the devolved athletics bodies. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) seems to have a cough, but I will come back to him shortly.
A recurring concern of all Scottish NGBs is that there is a lack of systematic process, with the English bodies often unilaterally taking action over the others on UK-wide decisions. That is not to say there is not some excellent practice that we can learn from; the governance of swimming has been cited to me as an example of a better system working between the UK’s countries. I look forward to raising this issue with Dame Katherine Grainger, who, in addition to being one of the UK’s most decorated Olympians, is also the chair of UK Sport, as she will be attending a meeting of the all-party group on Scottish sport on Monday 25 February.
On devolved sports, another area that needs to improve is broadcasting, and the all-party group has been looking at this subject. The level of media coverage awarded to Scottish sport is regularly a contentious point among sports fans, with claims regularly being made that individual sports in Scotland do not receive the coverage they feel their sport is entitled to. For example, early last year, Scottish football fans took to Twitter to complain that ITV/STV aired the England v. Malta game but did not air Scotland’s crunch game against Lithuania. STV responded to those complaints stating that it did not have the rights to the match, as they were sold on a UK-wide basis. At the time, STV responded on Twitter by saying:
“Scotland, we hear you.
We’d love to bring you the match, but as football rights are sold UK wide it's sadly out of our reach!”
The current list of events was drawn up in 1998, more than two decades ago. I fully appreciate that, because of England’s size, the rights for England internationals are commercially viable for commercial public service broadcasters, and that is not the case for Scotland. If Scotland games were added to listed events, the Scottish game, which is not exactly flush with money, might be forced to accept a smaller rights fee package. I hope to address several other issues to do with broadcasting in an upcoming roundtable with partners and broadcasters in Scotland.
Finally, next Tuesday Glasgow Life will present on the impact and legacy of the Glasgow 2014 games. With Birmingham 2022 on the horizon, Members from the midlands may find that interesting. I hope the Minister will confirm that the Scottish Government will receive the full Barnett consequentials that should flow from the Birmingham 2022 spending commitments.
In conclusion, the great American football coach Vince Lombardi once said:
“It’s not whether you got knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”
And with that, I’ll get down.
Order. As colleagues will see, a large number of people want to speak in the debate. The Front-Bench speeches were quite long and I have to impose an immediate five-minute limit. I urge people to be considerate, because that limit may well have to come down.
In the spirit of the sporting values of keeping to time, being efficient and delivering on goals, I will try to keep to my five minutes. It was originally going to be a 10-minute oration, of which I was terribly proud, as the new chairman of the all-party group on sport, but that has now obviously bitten the dust.
We are a great sporting nation. We all remember the super Saturday of the 2012 Olympics and Archie Gemmill versus Holland in 1978. I was fortunate enough to be at the World cup semi-final last year. It is obvious that we are sports mad. Some 27 million of us do more than two and a half hours of sport a week. For the nation, sport probably ranks as the No. 1 pastime, I suppose, outside of work and bringing up children, and it has always troubled me somewhat that sport has not played a greater part in Government policy.
When I had the pleasure of being a Minister, for those two glorious years at the Ministry of Justice, I embarked straight away on trying to introduce sport into the criminal justice system as much as possible. To say that when I suggested this I encountered some resistance—a degree of inertia at the Ministry of Justice—would be an understatement. It took me six months to convene my first meeting on sport and its value in the criminal justice system. What was fantastic about that meeting, when it actually took place, were the people who attended—people who were already deploying sport effectively in the criminal justice system. They were trying to help often vulnerable adults and young people to turn their lives around.
There were such inspiring characters at that first meeting, including David Dein, who used to be a director at Arsenal and who, along with Jason Swettenham from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, is embarked on a project twinning professional football clubs up and down the country with prisons. There was also John McAvoy, an infamous armed robber from an armed-robbing family, who discovered while he was a prisoner that he was an outstanding indoor rower, set a load of world records and is now a Nike-sponsored endurance athlete; and Jane Ashworth at StreetGames, which works in the community to try to dissuade people from committing crime in the first place. These people were putting into practice, via their own hard work, charity and so on, something that I think the Government should have been doing for a long time.
Off the back of that first meeting, we had a second, and I managed to eke together the massive sum of £70,000 to commission a report on the value of sport in the criminal justice system. That report, by Rosie Meek from Royal Holloway College, is worth a read. Anybody who is interested in the value of sport and the impact it can have should read it. It is particularly interesting on the impact of contact sports such as rugby, including the work of Saracens at Feltham, and boxing. Unfortunately, the Government, and No. 10 in particular, took a rather odd view of the introduction of controlled boxing into controlled circumstances. That view was not backed by any evidence whatsoever, but was driven by the fear of silly headlines in tabloid newspapers.
Boxing in the community—Fight for Peace is a particular example of a charity—is undeniably doing remarkable work in trying to dissuade young people from participating in a life of crime. Anthony Joshua, a classic example of someone who was on remand, turned his life around through boxing. The list of examples of where sport has changed people’s lives is long and continues to grow. If we can bring about a change in our prisons whereby sport plays a significant part in a typical prisoner’s life, we would be doing something remarkable. If we could take prisoners out of the environment in which they find themselves—often locked up, drugged up and so on—and put them into a sporting environment, I am utterly convinced that we could address the rather woeful reoffending levels that we have in the adult male estate, and particularly in the youth estate.
In summary, I am a passionate sports fan. I was alright at sport as well once upon a time. It has made a huge impact on my life, and I just wish that we could use the sporting values of fair play, participation, resilience, hard work and the pursuit of excellence in every aspect of Government policy—in healthcare and education—but I feel particularly passionate about changing the lives of offenders and giving them a second chance.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) whose evidence at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the report on sport in prisons I very much valued and enjoyed.
My constituency of Cardiff Central, and our capital city as a whole, had the most amazing sporting year last year: Cardiff City got promoted to the premier league; Cardiff Blues won the Challenge Cup; Cardiff Devils won the Elite Ice Hockey League; and Cardiff’s Geraint Thomas won the Tour de France. At the age of 11, Anna Hursey, my constituent, became the youngest competitor in the Commonwealth games, playing table tennis for Wales.
Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University in my constituency have, for many years, produced world-class sportsmen and women. In cycling, we have Olympic gold medallist Nicole Cooke. In athletics, we have Lynn the leap, the long jumper; and Aled Davies, the Paralympic gold and bronze medallist in the discus and shot. In cricket, we have captain of the World Cup-winning England team Heather Knight, and in basketball, we have Steph Collins, Great Britain’s captain and the most capped basketball player in British history. Of course, in Rugby, we have: Gareth Edwards, Jamie Roberts, Non Evans, JJ Williams, Ryan Jones, Heather Price and my brilliant hon. Friend, the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), who got her first cap for Wales while at Cardiff University and went on to be capped a further eight times. Chwarae Teg—“Fair Play” as we say in Wales—is a woman of many talents and she throws a mean set of darts, too.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I would like her to join me and the House in congratulating an ex-pupil of mine, a lady called Alex Callender from Bryngwyn School in Llanelli, who got her first cap for the Wales women senior team this weekend in France.
I am delighted to add my congratulations to Alex, and I hope that she will have a long and illustrious career playing for Wales.
I could probably spend my entire five minutes talking about the incredible success of those two universities producing sportsmen and women, but I want to touch on two other issues in my contribution. First, I wish to mention the many people who help make sport happen in my constituency, and, secondly, the low-paid workers in our clubs and stadiums whose hard graft allows us to enjoy live sport so much.
Every week, my constituents of all ages and all abilities are able to participate in sport because of people working in our leisure centres, clubs, universities and schools and the very many volunteers who dedicate themselves to keeping sports clubs going year after year. There are clubs run by volunteers who provide improved health and well-being for people every single day. I want to take the opportunity today to pay tribute to every single volunteer who gives up their free time to keep sport at the very heart of our city: referees, coaches, first aiders, fixture and membership secretaries, and parents giving lifts, fundraising and making hot drinks and hot dogs. They keep our city happy and healthy, and I thank them very much.
There is another group of people without whom our sporting venues and professional clubs could not operate, including, in my view, the biggest and best sporting venue in the world, the Principality stadium in my constituency. These people are a group of predominantly younger, low-paid workers—the pint pullers, catering staff, programme sellers, cleaners, stewards and security guards. We get fed, watered and looked after safely by them every time we go there to watch rugby, football and cricket, to see bands and to watch other sporting events.
Sporting stadiums and elite sports clubs, particularly premier league football clubs, are deeply rooted in our communities and they have huge commercial success. But despite the money flowing to the owners, players and agents, most stadium workers—including cleaners, catering staff and security guards—are paid less than the real living wage and are struggling to keep their heads above water financially. Today, Citizens UK has published its report on money in sport and the real living wage; it is a happy coincidence with our debate.
Last week, I welcomed living wage campaigners to Parliament to hear more about how sports clubs and stadiums that have become accredited living wage employers can lift people out of in-work poverty, bringing benefits not only for those workers, but for the organisations and local economies. Those who work in sports clubs and stadiums are disproportionately affected by low pay; about 42% of them are paid below the real living wage.
These large clubs and stadiums are anchor institutions like universities, local authorities and hospitals. They are major private sector employers with strong social and historical links to their areas. I cannot imagine my constituency without the Principality stadium, or my city without Cardiff City stadium or Glamorgan County cricket club. The significance of these institutions lies in their ability to play a leadership role when it comes to driving take-up of the real living wage and generating that shared economic growth. That is why I, and nearly 30 Welsh MPs, are writing to the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union tomorrow, asking for a meeting to discuss how the Principality stadium could also become an accredited living wage employer.
The Welsh Rugby Union pays each of its players a £5,300 appearance fee, and on Friday night, against the French, I reckon they were worth every single penny. But the Six Nations games at the Principality stadium could not happen without those stadium workers, some of whom are earning as little as £7.50 an hour. A cleaner at the stadium would have to work for four and a half months just to earn the equivalent of that match appearance fee.
It is not radical to say that every job in Wales and across the UK should pay enough to live on. Welsh rugby upholds the highest standards on the pitch and off the pitch, and during the Six Nations the Principality stadium has the chance to make a massive difference to the lives of people who work so hard to make our experience and the Six Nations tournament a success, so I am asking the Welsh Rugby Union to step up and become a living wage employer.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), particularly because she mentioned a number of people involved in sport, including volunteers. As a referee, I was very pleased that she mentioned referees, although she then mentioned others involved in sport, including hotdog sellers. Many things are said before and after “referee” when people describe me, but I have never heard “hotdog seller” before, so that is a new one. At this point, I remind the House of my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a qualified Scottish Football Association referee; I also officiate for UEFA and FIFA.
I want first to focus on a point made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) about facilities, because facilities are extremely important to all our communities. In the last week, I have raised a number of points about budget cuts, so today I do not want to get into the politics of the budget cuts, who is to blame, and how we can fund things more or less centrally in Scotland or through Westminster. I want to highlight the major impact that budget cuts are having on facilities in Moray. When our swimming pools in Keith and Lossiemouth are under threat, I stand with the hundreds of campaigners who went to a public meeting in Lossiemouth and are signing petitions to save their swimming pool in Keith.
The Active Schools programme is hugely important in Moray, and a number of parents and others have contacted me since Moray Council has decided to axe the programme. The programme is a partnership between councils and sportscotland, with the aim of promoting more and higher-quality opportunities to take part in sport. In 2017-18, over 90,000 participant sessions in Moray were held through Active Schools, with 35% of all school pupils in Moray participating in the sessions. Some 50% of those in my former council area of the Milne’s associated school group were involved in the Active Schools programme. There are 487 people involved in delivering these sessions, 93% of whom are volunteers.
My hon. Friend is talking about budget cuts. In Clackmannanshire, we are facing cuts to Alloa leisure bowl, which is the only remaining public swimming pool in the county. Does he agree that we should be saving and investing in these facilities to give these opportunities to our young and old people, not taking them away?
I fully endorse my hon. Friend’s point.
If the Active Schools programme is taken away, that will devastate our communities and our young people. Sportscotland is giving £272,000 in the next financial year to Moray Council to run this and other sports programmes, and that funding is under threat if we ultimately do away with Active Schools.
In speaking about facilities in Moray that face potential closure, I also want to highlight what will be a great addition to our facilities in Moray—Moray sports centre. It will be built in 364 days, and delivered on time and on budget. It will cost £8.4 million, with £8.15 million of that investment coming from the Moray Sports Trust and £250,000 from sportscotland. It will be a great facility with eight courts allowing for regional-level competition in many sports. That is really needed in Moray, as I am sure it is in other communities. Athletes young and old often have to travel to Inverness and, more often, further afield to Aberdeen, to train several times a week, so having a facility like that is a huge breakthrough for sport in Moray. It is more than 30 years since a major new public sports facility was built in Moray. I really pay tribute to Sandy Adam, Kathryn Evans, Grant Wright and everyone else involved in constructing this outstanding facility, which will be opened later this year and will be a huge benefit to the local area.
There are many things that I would like to have spoken about, but time is clearly constrained, so, as a football referee, I want to focus on football and refereeing. We have already heard about the Scottish women’s team qualifying for this year’s World cup in September. That was a great achievement for Scottish sports stars and for our women’s team. I know that everyone in the country will be getting behind the team later this year at the finals. There will also be a derby match between England and Scotland that will, I am sure, allow for interesting debates across the Chamber as it is being played. It is great to see women’s football doing so well in Scotland and across the UK. If I may, I will make a quick pitch for the reception I am hosting on Wednesday night to promote opportunities for women and girls in the football industry. I hope that the Minister, the shadow Minister and the SNP spokesperson could perhaps come to that event. Many people are going to be speaking there, and we really have to do everything we can to promote having more women in football and in sport generally.
On football refereeing, I could speak not just for five minutes but for five hours and maybe even for five days. We do not mention refereeing enough. Without the referees, and indeed the other officials, there is no football. We are quite often derided for our decisions, but it is quite simply the fact, in any sport, that without officials that sport cannot take place. Without a Deputy Speaker in the Speaker’s Chair, this debate cannot take place. That shows how important it is to have someone neutral keeping an eye on the time and on the behaviour of the participants. When I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I led a debate on our Scottish officials who had been selected to represent Scotland at Euro 2016. It is important when our sports stars—the men and women who play the sports—qualify for international tournaments, but when we have officials who are selected to represent their country, whether they be tennis umpires or snooker referees, we should celebrate that as well.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross). Many community organisations in England would recognise his concern about funding cuts. I come from the constituency that produced Sir Roger Bannister. Members of organisations such as Harrow Athletic Club, Metros Running Club and Jetstream Tri Club pound the paths in Harrow that Sir Roger once trod. I am only too well aware of the funding constraints facing Harrow Council and, indeed, other local authorities.
I want to concentrate the bulk of my remarks on two issues, and if time allows, I will raise one other issue at the end. The first issue is the one I raised in my intervention on the Minister, which is the coverage afforded on television and in the media more generally to women’s sport. As the father of a four-year-old daughter, I have been struck by how little coverage of women’s sport there is on mainstream television. There has been some improvement of late, and it is certainly true that there is a spike whenever a major women’s championship takes place. However, the highly commendable organisation Women in Sport, which did research into this issue, notes that only 10% of TV sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport at the moment, compared with 7% across all media. When it looked at a number of countries, it identified that there were more hours of women’s sports coverage in the media in Romania than here in the UK.
It is not as if there is not substantial interest in seeing more coverage of women’s sport. Recently released figures show that there is a growing appetite for watching women’s sport. Indeed, research from specialist data measurement company Nielsen shows that almost 50% of people would watch more women’s sport if it were accessible on free-to-air television, while almost 40% would watch it if it were available online.
If we are to see a significant change, it will come down to Ministers holding the feet of the free-to-air broadcasters to the fire. It would be good to hear more about what the Minister is willing to do in that area. If the free-to-air broadcasters are not willing to move quickly, changes to the licence arrangements may be required to apply the appropriate financial pressure.
I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) that reform of the premier league is overdue. There is not enough financial transparency. Our fans do not have enough power to hold owners to account. There certainly is not enough investment from premier league revenues into grassroots sport. If the Football Association has to think about selling our greatest sporting asset—Wembley stadium—to get substantial investment into grassroots sport, that is an indicator that the Premier League is not doing enough. A 10% share of the TV rights that the Premier League secures every year would have raised more than the amount of money that the Football Association hoped to generate for grassroots sport from the sale of Wembley stadium.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) is right to say that not only the Welsh rugby union but a whole series of premier league and championship football clubs could do a lot more to tackle the issue of paying the living wage to the poorest paid workers in sport.
Lastly, there are Indian elections coming up shortly. I raise that in a debate about sport because it would be wonderful to see an Indian premier league match hosted here in the UK. Many of my constituents would welcome the opportunity to see that just as much as American football is enjoyed at Wembley stadium.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas). It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I am making the case tonight for a stadium for Cornwall. Dr Caroline Court, director of Public Health Cornwall, said in Cornwall’s physical activity strategy:
“Physical activity is a key component in improving the health of the local population… Working together with sectors such as education, sport and leisure, planning, transport and economic development, we can achieve a step change for the health and prosperity of all of Cornwall’s residents.”
Mike Thomas, the director of Cornwall Sports Partnership, wrote:
“Inactivity is a stubborn long standing problem, which without intervention is not going to go away. We cannot afford to be complacent and the situation could get worse. Opportunities to be active in everyday life are engineered out of our lives and older residents in Cornwall spend longer in ill health than in other parts of the country.”
Mr Thomas—no relation—concluded:
“Never has the need to reduce inactivity levels in Cornwall been more urgent.”
The vision statement for Cornwall Sports Partnership reads:
“The vision is a future where everybody in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is active as part of daily life, regardless of age, gender, culture or circumstance.”
Its 2020 target is that 50,000 more people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will be more physically active as part of daily life by 2020. Its strategy has five key themes: physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development, and economic growth. At the time of writing the strategy in 2016, 42% of children aged five to 15 in Cornwall were described as inactive—42%—and 28% of adults were described as inactive.
Hon. Members can see why so many of us in Cornwall are working so hard to deliver the stadium for Cornwall project. What is the stadium for Cornwall? It will be a multi-use sports and education facility, and a centre for the promotion of health and wellbeing across the duchy. It will be the permanent home of Cornish Pirates and Truro City FC, with an accessible location, all-weather pitch, improved facilities, and the sharing of costs will put both clubs on a long-term sustainable footing. There will be 180 days of community-based sport on an all-weather pitch. Meanwhile, a new sports and leisure suite, to be managed by Greenwich Leisure, will meet the strong and growing demand in the surrounding districts.
What have we been doing to deliver the stadium? In 2009, I was involved in and part of a working group on developing the scheme. In 2015, we caught the attention of the Conservative Government, and we were promised Government support to deliver the stadium. Direct central Government funding is needed. This ambitious and much-needed stadium for Cornwall project is requesting just £3 million of Government money to unlock a further £11 million. The Minister has been clear this evening that this Government are committed to the health and wellbeing of everyone and to reducing demand on NHS and care services where possible.
It is important that the Government get behind this stadium because the Cornwall Sports Partnership is nowhere near delivering the extra 50,000 more people in the Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly being more physically active as part of daily life. It is already accepted that the geography of Cornwall presents challenges for access to sport and that Cornwall is not receiving its fair share. Sport England acknowledged just last month that there is a rural location factor and that access to and between facilities is a real issue in Cornwall. It also acknowledged that there has not been the same investment in Cornwall as in other parts of the country.
The stadium for Cornwall project is committed to delivering better health outcomes, improving the lives of vulnerable adults and families, improving the physical and mental health of children and young people and increasing the aspiration of young people, especially those who are disadvantaged. Those of us who have been engaged in the project for some time recognise that there is significant political will for the stadium to be built. We are also confident that this is a sound investment for the Government, because it provides an opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of people of all ages across the duchy.
Those who have been involved in the stadium for Cornwall project for a long time believe that the Government would welcome the opportunity to back and fund this initiative, but we are also perplexed. Given the positive case I have set before the House today, I cannot pretend that the stadium for Cornwall partners are not frustrated by the hurdles we are having to jump over and perplexed by the hoops we are having to jump through to secure just 20% of the funding for an initiative that delivers on something at the heart of Government funding.
I remind the House and the Minister that never has the need to reduce inactivity levels in Cornwall been more urgent. Will the Minister please take note of this challenge and do whatever is in her capacity to deliver this sound investment for Cornwall’s health and wellbeing?
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas). I look forward to going to see Yorkshire play Cornwall, one day in the future, at that new stadium in Cornwall. I intend to take as my mantra for my few remarks tonight the words of the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), who is no longer in his place. He charged us all to be cheerful and look on the bright side tonight, so that is what I want to do.
As you may remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, I warned the House during the Christmas Adjournment debate that the future of Keighley Cougars rugby league team was at stake. The team that first brought razzmatazz to rugby league was in danger of going under. However, the first good news that I can bring to the House is that Keighley Cougars are now back in safe hands, having been sold to Mick O’Neill and the consortium that first brought that razzmatazz with it 20 years ago. Keighley are an example of a community club that really helps to define a town. I hope that the years to come are good ones and that we can redevelop the site as a whole sporting site, with the Cougars next to Keighley cricket club.
Various speakers have mentioned the soft power of sport. We have heard about the soft power of the premier league. I speak as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Mongolia, as you well know, Madam Deputy Speaker—you have entertained Mongolian visitors on my behalf. There are 1,000 members of the Liverpool supporters club in Mongolia who will be gripped tonight watching West Ham and Liverpool—[Interruption.] I have not yet heard the score, although someone mentioned that it was 1-1 slightly earlier on.
Parkrun has also been mentioned, and that is soft power as well. It started in the United Kingdom, and it has now spread to 20 countries. It reached Keighley last year. The average time for the average parkrun has gone up to 29 minutes and 30 seconds, as more people, and different members of the community, have embraced the parkrun. My average time is slightly faster than that, even though we have three hills to climb on our parkrun in Keighley. So that is another reason to be cheerful.
Canoeing has not been mentioned tonight. I can reveal exclusively that, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and colleagues from across the House, I will be tabling an extremely important motion about canoeing tomorrow. In Scotland, people can canoe wherever they like. In England and Wales, there are 42,000 miles of inland waterways, but people have uncontested access to only 1,500 of them. That is unfinished business from the right to roam legislation. In many countries in the world people can canoe, and canoeing is also a great Olympic sport. I would like Ministers to have a look at that issue.
I want to finish on sports broadcasting, which has been mentioned quite a lot tonight. Incidentally, we can look forward to the women’s netball world championships and the women’s football world championships live on free-to-air TV later this year. However, one thing we should be proud of in our country is the listed events regulations. They are an intervention in the market, and I think they are supported by all parties. There are reasons to look again at them to see whether we need to extend them. For example, there is not one women’s team sport on the list. The women’s World cup is on free-to-air TV this year, but as it becomes more popular, it may become tempting to subscription broadcasters.
The Six Nations has been mentioned very much tonight. Last week, it appeared that it was under threat and that it could have gone off to Amazon or Google, in a deal that would have created a new world rugby championships—I thought we had the world cup in rugby and that we did not really need a new one. The good news is that, over this weekend, the chief executive of the Six Nations has confirmed that he wants to keep the tournament on BBC and ITV. He sees value in that in terms of uniting the nations. I commend the Sports Minister on speaking out about this at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions last week. I hope those on the Labour Front Bench—there was no mention of listed events from Labour Front Benchers earlier—will mention them in summing up.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a national tragedy that we will have an Ashes series this year—14 years after the magnificent 2005 victory—that will not be on free-to-air television? Is it not about time that cricket realised how much interest it has lost by making that very bad decision?
My hon. Friend makes a great point. To be fair to the England and Wales Cricket Board—the cricketing authorities—I think it is now beginning to realise how much this has cost cricket since that summer in 2005, when the Ashes were, I think, on Channel 4. There was a spike in the number of people participating in cricket. I think the latest figures from Sport England suggest that there are now a third fewer participants in cricket, and that is because it has disappeared. A photo of Joe Root—despite the weekend’s results, perhaps the greatest living Yorkshireman—was shown to a group of schoolchildren not so long ago with that of a World Wide wrestler. Very few of them recognised Joe Root; they all recognised the World Wide wrestler, and that is because of the power of television. One good thing, however, is that some T20 cricket is coming to the BBC next year.
Finally, there is one commitment the Minister could give, either now or in the future, in relation to free-to-air coverage. There has been a lot of talk about bidding for the men’s 2030 World cup. The last time there was a bid for the World cup, the Government headed by Gordon Brown was pressurised by FIFA. It was insistent that for England to have any chance of getting the World cup we would have to scrap our listed events legislation as it applied to the World cup whereby every game would be free to air. But FIFA is now under new management and I hope Ministers will make it clear at the very start of the negotiations that if the World cup is to be in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, it will be live and free on free-to-air TV.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I had written a 300-page speech to bang on about sports, so I have had to cut it down significantly. Nobody has mentioned my favourite sport of hockey, so I will take the opportunity to do so. In 20 years as a player—I used to be all right, but my knees cannot take it anymore—as a coach and now as a chairman of a hockey club, I have seen the changes that have taken place in the sport. England Hockey has worked to make the sport more inclusive and accessible, with initiatives such as “Back to Hockey” for older players, Quicksticks and walking hockey. In recent years, there has been a massive growth in participation. Hockey is not unique, but it is a rare example of a sport played equally by both men and women, and with equal coverage.
There has been a huge growth in the number of under-16 players, particularly girls. That is no doubt due to the massive success in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the GB ladies won the gold medal. Since then, participation has gone through the roof. In my mind, that gold medal and England’s netball success in last year’s Commonwealth games are huge sporting highlights. It was a great privilege to see how that affected people—watching sport live and free to air on TV had an impact across the piece. I talked to people about hockey who would never normally have taken an interest. I have had the great privilege of playing alongside some of the ladies at junior level at Belper hockey club, including Hollie Webb who scored the winning penalty in the final. They are an incredibly inspirational bunch of people.
I would like to raise with the Minister the big challenge of playing surfaces. There has been a massive expansion in the number of 3G pitches—the Football Foundation’s investment in Mansfield is very welcome—but hockey cannot be played on a 3G pitch. A lot of local authorities do not seem to recognise that. My own club is looking at bids and planning permission for three 3G pitches in the community where our hockey pitch is gone—it is dead, it is old. We need a new pitch, but there is no support for that. We will be forced out of the town by the lack of facilities. The sport could end up being increasingly centralised. Big clubs have the money to drag players and resources out of small clubs that cannot afford to maintain facilities. I just wanted to flag that with the Minister.
I want to raise a couple of points in the second half of my remarks. Mansfield is a massive football town. I could not not mention the Stags, Mansfield Town football club. I have my tickets for Notts County away next week. Mansfield Town have never lost when I have been there, so I am very hopeful—I am a lucky charm. Since John and Carolyn Radford took over at Mansfield Town, they have been an amazing influence on both the club and the town with the success they have had on the pitch and the positive atmosphere they have brought to the club. We are second in League Two at the moment. If we manage to get promoted, increased attendances could have a huge economic benefit for the town centre. The Radfords have brought forward hotel plans to try to maximise that benefit. That could be incredibly positive, so I wish Mansfield Town the best of luck in the remaining games.
I want to raise a couple of points about football and the English Football League. The arguments are well-rehearsed so I will not go into great detail, but safe standing has been mentioned. It seems strange to me that we can have existing terraces in football stadiums, but new ones cannot be brought in. Scotland has allowed clubs to introduce safe standing. Celtic trialled it and did so successfully. I would love to be able to see that in EFL clubs across England. It would provide the opportunity to bring in more revenue, which is so important for the clubs. We should definitely look into that, and I welcome the Government’s willingness to review it.
The other thing is alcohol served during games. The opportunity for smaller clubs, and the Chancellor, to bring in that additional revenue could be really positive. In rugby, we see—even when games are in the stadiums that are shared with football teams—that the money spent in the club is more than double the amount spent for football. Some of that is based on being able to purchase alcohol in the stadium. I do not see how it is that much safer to tank up before a game and down a pint at half-time than it is to be able to drink sensibly throughout a game.
I also want to mention Powerchair football, which we have in my constituency at West Notts College. It involves electric wheelchairs controlled, in some cases, only by a thumb. It is an incredible, life-changing thing. Ricky Stevenson, who is now chair of the international Powerchair football federation, is from Warsop in my constituency. I urge the FA and the Government to support that sport—it is a real inspiration—as much as possible. There is an awful lot more that I would like to say, and I have a vast list here—
But I am forced to stop, so I will not say it.
After the next speaker, I will take the time limit down to four minutes.
Since I have hardly got any voice, I might not make the five minutes—and I do have a cough, I might say to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). I am only going to speak about concussion in sport. My doctor has told me that I should not really be here tonight, but I care about this issue passionately, so I want to speak about it.
On 19 January 2002, Jeff Astle died. He was a very famous player for West Bromwich Albion. When the coroner came to examine his brain, it was decided that he had died from heading the ball. It was termed an industrial injury and yet, still today, we have made remarkably little headway.
Ben Robinson died on 29 January 2011. He was just 14 years old. He had had concussion and then went on to play again, and later that day, or two days later, he was pronounced dead at the local hospital because he had suffered from double impact syndrome, where effectively, the brain sort of explodes inside the head. His family have done an amazing job, as have Jeff Astle’s family, in trying to keep the issue of concussion in sport alive.
There have been many recent issues. Last May, the 17-year-old Adrien Descrulhes died after a head injury in France. Also in May last year, the 18-year-old Canadian, Brodie McCarthy, was killed in a rugby match. In December, Nicolas Chauvin, an 18-year-old student at Paris Descartes University—he was a flanker in the academy at Stade Français—was also killed following a similar accident. That is one of the reasons why the French rugby union is campaigning for changes in the sport, which I think we need to listen to very carefully.
If anybody saw the Chelsea versus Bournemouth match the other day, they would have seen David Luiz, the Brazilian player, receive the ball very hard on the head. Interestingly, some of the spectators sort of revelled in the violence of that moment. One person wrote:
“Poor old David Luiz getting a bullet in the mush seems very popular with a lot of your following”—
meaning the opposite team. He said “Terrible” and then he added:
“Must admit did a thumbs up myself”.
This is one of the problems. In some sport at the moment, there is a kind of glorification of such violent moments, and we need to think very carefully about that.
In the United Arab Emirates match against Australia in the Asian cup quarter final, Fares Juma Al Saadi clashed heads with Mathew Leckie, and then he went back on. He then played a few days later in another match and even the players’ union, FIFPro, questioned whether the protocols had been properly adhered to.
The significance of this, first and foremost, is that there is still remarkably little understanding of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is the steady acquisition of more damage to the brain by virtue of lots of small concussions. Individual events may not have done an enormous amount of harm, but they may over time. I have a terrible fear that many of my constituents who have played rugby many, many times and have been concussed many, many times, who are now in their old age or in their middle age and who worry about fatigue, depression, anxiety, memory loss and early onset dementia, may have acquired this because of the successive concussions that they suffered in sport. The thing is that concussion, in many people’s minds, is what happens when someone is knocked unconscious, but that is about 10% of concussions. There are a lot of other different symptoms from concussion, so it is very misunderstood.
In youth sport, concussion rates are 18 times higher in rugby, five times higher in hockey and twice as high in American football—those are USA figures. Unfortunately, when I asked the Government for statistics for this country, I was told there were none, which means we have no idea how many concussions there are in sport at the moment. Some sports are getting better, but the Government do not keep the information. It is important that we change that.
My impression is that football is making progress only because it is terrified of litigation, which is a terrible mistake—it should care about the players for heaven’s sake! Research funding is minimal in this field, and as for the protocols in football, it is preposterous that, although the Football Association and the premiership have made some strides in recent years, FIFA still does not allow subs to come on, as happens in rugby. Subs are necessary because it takes 10 minutes to do a proper assessment at the pitch side. It cannot be done in three minutes, and any ref who thinks it can is living in cloud cuckoo land, and dangerously so. Players and coaches often think they know best, but the only person who knows best is a doctor, who knows what they are talking about. If in doubt, sit them out. We can save lives and people’s brains.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
Sport has many forms. As far back as 1770, a racecourse was established in Ayr, and the sport of horse-racing has remained a local economic driver to this day. The present day Ayr racecourse is a modern venue with approximately 24 race meetings each year, including the prestigious Ayr gold cup and the Scottish grand national. It is Scotland’s premier racecourse. The racecourse and the sport of horse-racing generates income for the town, creates employment in the stables, grounds, catering outlets and so on, and affords invaluable work experience in various disciplines.
Today being World Cancer Day, it is interesting and a pleasure to note that Ayr racecourse has in the past supported race days for the local hospice and, I am sure, will do so in the future. It is also a changing venue. It holds ladies’ nights and special themed days for families, and so on. It has become a very enjoyable day out.
Scottish Racing’s economic impact study in 2016 established that more people went to racing than visited golf tournaments and rugby matches. The total attendance at Scottish racing in 2016 was over 300,000, with almost a third attending Ayr racecourse. Ayr racecourse generates more than £25 million per annum for the local economy—not an insignificant sum—and supports a significant number of local jobs in the community.
My constituency has a proud sporting tradition. Annually, we host the bowls Scotland national championships at Northfield and there is Cambusdoon cricket club, a very healthy cricket club. Former England cricket captain Mike Denness was from Alloway and educated at Ayr Academy. Ayr United football club is currently excelling in the league, although its pursuit of the Scottish cup came to an abrupt halt when a healthy and robust local junior team, Auchinleck Talbot, knocked them out—a wee red face for Ayr United, but well done to Auchinleck Talbot!
We also have golf, not least Turnberry—now known as Trump Turnberry, after its famous owner—which held the 1977 open championship and its famous “duel in the sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. We have a healthy rugby scene in my constituency, at Cumnock and Millbrae and Ayr. I commend Carrick Academy, in Maybole, for its range of healthy young rugby teams, covering all ages and genders. I give full credit to that school for bringing on the young ones in sport, particularly rugby, a sport that, through the British Lions, brings our UK nations together every four years to tour Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
My constituency also has swimming. Cumnock pool, New Cumnock pool, Britain’s newest, finest and warmest open-air pool, and Girvan and Ayr pools have gained popularity with locals, and it is a lovely area for cycling, too, while Scotland, being quite unique, also has curling, a sport suitable for all ages and genders. As a Scot, it would be remiss of me not also to mention the successes of Andy Murray, an exemplar in the field of tennis. Along with, I am sure, the whole House, I wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Such sports give people an ideal opportunity to engage with each other at a time when Governments and the NHS fear that some sections of the population are becoming insular and isolated to the potential detriment of their health, not least given the challenges of obesity.
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up.
Let me begin by mentioning a great sports club in my constituency, Glasgow Warriors, which is currently second in the Guinness Pro14 League. No doubt it will take the top spot very soon. It shares its ground at Scotstoun, which is round the corner from my house, with Victoria Park athletics club. Both clubs are involved in great schools outreach activities in an attempt to engage young people who would not normally have experience of their sports.
I am now going to make a rather controversial statement which may cost me some votes: I am not a fan of football. There are many reasons for that, but one thing that bothers me is the reporting of it, which dominates television and the print media. I heard a Member say earlier that 10% of written reports were about female sport. I find that hard to believe, because I regularly look through the sports pages just out of principle to see how many articles there are about women. The reporting is pretty much all about football, and it is almost entirely male.
That has serious implications for the health and wellbeing of girls in particular. We know that teenage girls are far more likely to drop out of sport than boys. They are not seeing role models. They are not seeing girls like them succeed in various sports. It is great to hear about the increased participation of women in, for instance, football, rugby and cricket, but more traditional girls’ sports such as gymnastics, dancing, swimming and athletics do not receive much coverage.
Many people will not know that I was a gymnastics coach for a number of years, and coached at elite level. The hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) spoke of the difficulties experienced by those who did not have support. That is absolutely true: without parental and financial support, it is almost impossible for young people to participate in elite sport. They need their parents to run them to the venues, and to pay the costs of lessons and competitions.
However, there is also a big role for recreational sports, and sports for people with additional needs. As the Soviets knew when they were great at gymnastics, the more people participate in sport, the more excellence rises to the top of the pyramid, so we need to increase participation. There is a very special club in my constituency, the Glasgow Eagles sports club in Drumchapel. Its specialities are basketball and table tennis, but it is a club for people with additional needs, and it has done a great deal of work with autistic adults. It deals with mass participation, but the mass participation of people with special needs.
I think it is important for us also to recognise the dark side of sport. We know that in the past paedophiles have used sports coaching to groom young children. I urge every Member to support the Close the Loophole campaign by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is ensuring that 16 and 17-year-olds are given the same protection as younger children, particularly in areas such as sport, in which relationships can develop over a long period.
Sport has always been an integral part of my life, and I hope that I have passed that on to my children. I first picked up a tennis racket when I was 11, and I hope that I will play until I am 80. That is one of the great aspects of such sports.
In the few minutes available to me, I want to focus on women in sport. For too long, women have been the underdogs. In schools, boys got all the glory—the blazers, the badges, the awards—but I am pleased to say that that has started to change. Women’s participation in the Olympics increased from 23% in 1984 to 46% in 2016. In Rio, women won more medals in a great many sports than the men, including, rowing, swimming, taekwondo, field hockey and judo. Winning gold in the women’s hockey in the London 2012 Olympics gave a huge boost to women’s hockey. Taunton Vale hockey club is testament to that. It is the eighth largest hockey club in the country, with six women’s teams. The talented women in our UK netball team, by winning gold in the Commonwealth games in 2018, have stimulated women to play netball: 130,000 women have taken up netball since April 2018, which has led BBC and Sky to announce a deal to broadcast every minute of the world cup. Taunton boasts a very good netball club—Taunton netball club—which I cannot let pass without a mention.
I was extremely heartened at a recent meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on cricket, of which I am a proud member, to hear Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, say that women’s cricket is the biggest growth area in cricket—howzat, Mr Speaker! I have a daughter who played for Somerset, so I have spent a great amount of time following cricket. Well done to Clare Connor, director of England women’s cricket, who really is proving that we can move on in this area.
I am very proud to say that Somerset county cricket club will host the women’s Ashes this year. All my colleagues are invited, but I would particularly like to extend an invitation to the Minister. The matches will bring untold riches to the economy in Taunton Deane, and introduce many more people to the amazing style and performance of the women’s game.
I must not forget rugby. Taunton Titans have a growing girls’ sector. Women’s rugby has been helped by the announcement by the Rugby Football Union of the first full-time professional contracts for the 15s side. That is a big step forward, and will help to achieve a pipeline of players from now into the future. Staging women’s rugby internationals on the same day as the men’s has increased audiences, but I have been told that to go to the women’s match, spectators have to buy a ticket for the men’s match first. Is that fair, gentlemen colleagues? Perhaps we should do it the other way round. The gentlemen should buy a ticket to the women’s match, then get the men’s match free. That would entice them to watch the women. We have a long way to go, but we are definitely on the way. We need to give people the choice of buying a ticket for a women’s match on its own.
I want to give a big nod to the professional reporting in media coverage of women’s sport, with people such as Gabby Logan and Sue Barker. It is unbelievable that it was not until 2018 that we had the first female commentator for a live TV World cup match broadcast in the UK. The position is improving, but we have much further to go, as with equal pay.
To sum up the value of sport, particularly to women, according to the World Economic Forum, girls who play sport stay in school longer, suffer fewer health problems, enter the labour force at higher rates and are more likely to land better jobs. I call that ace, Mr Speaker.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I am going to do something completely different from all the other speakers and speak about country sports and shooting. That is the subject that I want to put on record in Hansard.
As well as supporting those sports, I am a dedicated conservationist. Back home on the family farm, I am always thinking of new ways to conserve the habitat. I have planted over 3,500 trees, and dug two duck ponds. There is a purpose in that, to be honest, and we also maintain the hedgerows. Not only does that maintain the natural habitat but it encourages new habitats. In the past few years, we have seen the return of the yellowhammer, a bird that is much sought after in the UK, and birds of prey.
Surprisingly, shooting is worth £2 billion to the UK economy and supports the equivalent of 74,000 jobs. In these uncertain times, it is a sector that is proving its popularity and it is important to participants. It is estimated that shooters spend £2.5 billion each year on goods and services, and shoot providers spend around £250 million each year on conservation. People who participate in shooting manage 10 times more land for conservation than the country’s nature reserves. Undoubtedly, for many people, country sports play an integral part in society.
In Northern Ireland, we excel at many sports, but at two in particular: boxing and shooting. I am never sure why that is—perhaps it is because they are contact sports, but perhaps it is for other reasons. I am proud of the shooting sports in the UK and of the benefits that they bring for individual discipline as well as for group participation and team building. Shooting is not only a hobby but a necessity for many jobs. It is also a competitive sport for the shooters from the UK who take part in a variety of domestic and international competitions. At least 600,000 people in the UK shoot live quarry, clay pigeons or targets every year, including some 280,000 people who take part in clay pigeon shooting and 168,000 people who take part in small or full bore rifle shooting. They are a tremendous group of people who enjoy the sport and the community of being involved in the sport together. I often feel that many people do not give the sport the respect that it deserves. My local shooting club, at Carrowdore in my constituency, hosts a charitable event called the Swaziland cup, where amateurs and professionals come together to win the cups and raise hundreds of pounds for the children of Swaziland. The club also hosts the little choir when people come for an afternoon of safe fun and good food. I have never won the Swaziland cup, but maybe next year I will.
There is so much good being done by the shooting community and the sport is a way of keeping body and mind healthy and together. I recently read an article that listed some of the benefits. For example, it builds core strength. The Minister said earlier that sports can make us physically fitter and more mentally alert. Shooting builds core strength and helps us to build our centre. Adjusting our body weight to the balls of our feet and remaining still in our shooting stance is great exercise for our core muscles, which support proper posture. Arm strength, mental processing and efficient problem-solving are major components of shooting. It encompasses all the things the Minister referred to, including adrenaline, mental focus, stamina, running through stages, carrying heavy gear and often navigating over uneven terrain with challenging props. Practical shooting requires fitness and stamina to run between arrays, to focus on our front sight, to think about our trigger press and to control our breathing. Stress relief and a vision training mindset are all things that the Minister referred to in her introduction, and they can all be achieved through participating in shooting sports.
Shooting is certainly a sport at which we can excel. Northern Ireland does well in it, as do Scotland, Wales, England and the Isle of Man, when given the opportunity. I want to use this opportunity to express my disappointment that shooting was not included in Birmingham 2022 as an essential part of the Commonwealth games. Shooting is a great sport, whether out in the countryside or at a range, and we must send the message to the Commonwealth committee that its inclusion is vital to the integrity of the Commonwealth games.
In 1979, David Jones, the janitor at St Cadoc’s Primary School in Newton Mearns, coached his team of 14 primary 7 schoolboys to the first of three consecutive mini world cups at Overlee playing fields in Clarkston. That was the beginning of a remarkable local legacy, which over the next 20 years saw the team grow to include around 50 pupils from three year groups. By 2004, teams included all seven years of the primary school. A couple of years later, the primary school team had evolved into a local club, with more than 250 registered players from over 10 different schools. Continuing its growth beyond those foundations as a school football team, the club converted to a registered charity, whose aim is
“to encourage public participation in sport”.
As of December 2018, 900 registered girls and boys now play netball or football for the club each weekend. Recognising the value of sporting activities to local kids, fees are kept as low as possible and the club also operates a hardship policy to ensure that every child can participate, no matter what their family circumstances might be.
Backed by an incredible team of volunteers, the club continues to go from strength to strength. St Cadoc’s is an incredible example of a small school team growing into a true community-wide organisation benefiting hundreds of local kids each week, but it also needs a bit of help. It has exhausted local facilities and, with its size and ambition, it has reached the limit of what is possible. This has meant putting on hold its community outreach programme, which it had hoped to launch as soon as possible. The programme will take St Cadoc’s to the next level in its work in the community, providing wheelchair football at the local special needs school, walking football for the elderly, and specialist sessions for children and young adults with Down’s syndrome.
On 28 April 2019, the club will attempt to complete 5,000 miles in 12 hours at Eastwood high school in Newton Mearns to raise the money it needs to deliver its outreach programme for the entire community, and that is where I and—whether by agreement or force—my wonderful constituency office team will be helping out, completing a few miles ourselves to help the club to reach its goal. St Cadoc’s youth club rightly has a place in the heart of the East Renfrewshire community, and in my view it is precisely the sort of grassroots club that underpins the health and wellbeing of our young people, and the success of our great nation in sport.
I would also like to take this opportunity to mention an important professional sporting event taking place this week. For the first time in 26 years, Great Britain will host a home tie in the Federation cup, the women’s equivalent of the Davis cup tennis competition. The team of Jo Konta, Heather Watson, Katie Boulter, Harriet Dart and Katie Swan, captained by former British No. 1, Ann Keothavong, will compete against seven other nations between Wednesday and Saturday this week at the fabulous facilities at Bath University. With a dozen top 100 players competing for their country, this is a fabulous opportunity to witness world-class tennis. I am sure that the whole House will join me in backing the Brits and wishing Team GB every success in their bid for promotion to the world group.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), and may I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) how much I enjoy watching him perform his duties as an assistant referee? We are very proud of what he has done to carry Scotland’s saltire into international arenas. I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that that is also true of Opposition Members.
It is an enormous privilege to be the Member of Parliament for Stirling, and that privilege takes on even more gloriousness when we consider the contribution that Stirling makes to the sporting life of the United Kingdom. We have already heard about Sir Andy Murray, but Stirling has also produced other great competitors, such as the legendary Billy Bremner. Who can forget how fierce a competitor he was in football? We also have Gary and Steven Caldwell, the famous brothers—by the way, we bought their parents’ house from them. We also have the renowned jockey, Willie Carson, who is also a star of “A Question of Sport” and “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!”
Anna Sloan is also from Stirling, and she is Scotland’s pride in curling, which I am glad to have heard mentioned so often. The Scottish National Curling Academy is based at the Peak in Stirling and has produced Olympic and Commonwealth gold for Team GB and for Scotland. The Stirling Smith Museum has the oldest curling stone in the world, dating from 1511, and we also have the oldest football in the world, which was found in the rafters of Stirling castle and dates from the time of Mary Queen of Scots.
That is the history, but Stirling also has a proud football tradition. We have Stirling Albion and other great clubs, such as Milton football club, which is based in Bannockburn and plays in the Scottish Amateur Football Association’s Caledonian League and does fantastic work with the community.
When it comes to swimming, Stirling is a superpower. If Stirling had been a country at the Commonwealth games, we would have been in the top five for medals in swimming and 17th in the overall medal table, ahead of 23 other countries.
Basketball has been mentioned a few times. The Stirling Knights have won 19 national titles and produced 30 players for Scotland. They are winners. They have won the Scottish cup, the league cup and a youth tournament in Spain.
Stirling County is an incredible rugby club with an incredible legacy and tradition. It has produced great players for Scotland and has a big Scottish cup game with Hawick, I think, a week on Saturday.
Let me pause on Stirling county cricket club, because I have an affection for that particular institution. My son Jared played cricket for Stirling county. I pay tribute, as did the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), to the people who make sport happen in our communities. I want to mention specifically Raymond Bond, who for years and years nurtured the talent of young people in Stirling to play cricket. It is people like Raymond Bond whom I pay tribute to in my speech tonight. They are the people who make this country the superpower that it is when it comes to sport. We should nurture that in our constituencies.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about people who volunteer and get things going. Will he also congratulate Ammar Ashraf, the community engagement co-ordinator for Cricket Scotland, who is doing an awful lot to bring people into the sport in communities?
Cricket is a fantastic sport for developing so many of the qualities that one needs to be successful in any avenue in life, so I am only too happy to join in that tribute. We should celebrate those who make sport happen—the volunteers, the coaches, the people who give selflessly of their time and their talents in order to foster the talent and enjoyment of others in sport.
I call Kevin Foster, who must sit down before 9.48 pm.
That is noted, Mr Speaker. Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, and it is a pleasure to have a short time to make some observations about the varied role of sport in Torbay. Sport is the life of the constituency I represent.
It is worth starting with Torquay United who, bluntly, after some rather lean seasons have recently been enjoying more pleasant times for them and their fans. A potential move from Plainmoor—the historical stadium still has a terrace, on which I sometimes stand—to a new stadium is being debated. One thing that disappointed me when we met the club, which will be of no surprise to anyone at the local paper, is the lack of even the most basic details about exactly what it plans to do. It is right that the council has indicated it will engage constructively, but councillors have been right to resist a formal agreement until the plan is much clearer on a range of issues, including whether the indicated site, Nightingale Park, can be built on. Surprisingly, that issue has not yet been rectified.
Speaking of new stadiums, the Minister will know that my background is in Coventry, where the Ricoh arena was built. I have heard the comments this evening about whether people should again be able to sell alcohol in the stands at football matches, or whether we should revert to new forms of standing. I would give the cautionary tale that many Coventry City fans will recall an infamous FA cup fixture at Hillsborough a couple of years before the disaster that followed. Many of those fans feel they had a pre-experience of the disaster, and the lessons were not learned. Any changes to the rules that were brought in after the disaster must be carefully considered and evidence-based—we should not just debate what might sound good on the Floor of the House. I am confident the Minister will follow the approach I suggest.
I have a great deal of time for a raft of voluntary sports clubs in Torbay. Paignton rugby football club, the Cherries, are doing a great job of getting more youth teams playing and getting involved in rugby. Cary Park tennis club is doing a lot of work on the intergenerational experience of sport by having days for grandparents and grandchildren to come and play on its new facilities. The clubhouse has been expanded, and the club is making tennis very accessible. I am sure the club would welcome you, Mr Speaker, if you fancied popping down for a game.
We have Barton cricket club, where Agatha Christie kept score under a tree that we have sadly lost in storms over the years. The club is still there and is still playing a vital part in the local community. The former editor of the Herald Express, Jim Parker, has dedicated decades to supporting the club.
When most people hear about rowing, they will instantly think of a lake, but the guys and girls at Paignton and Torquay rowing clubs go out on the sea, which is a remarkable spectacle.
Finally, I pay tribute to the army of volunteers across Torbay who help to make many of these clubs function by giving up their time to help people develop towards their goals, and only for the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference to local people. Without them, the sporting life in our bay would be a lot less and our community would be a lot poorer.
I congratulate the many Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to such an important debate. On my own side, my hon. Friends the Members for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), for Keighley (John Grogan) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) each gave heartfelt speeches focusing in particular on giving a bigger voice to fans and on equalities issues in sport, from pay to participation.
I cannot take part in this debate without mentioning Crystal Palace football club in my constituency. It is known as a club that reaches out and plays a full part in the wider community. This winter, with homelessness soaring to record levels and temperatures plunging below freezing, Crystal Palace have opened the doors of Selhurst Park to provide food and shelter for people sleeping rough, which shows us that our top clubs offer much more than just sport. They are part of the fabric of our society, and they deserve recognition for that fact.
We have heard much this evening, and rightly so, about the importance of grassroots sport and sport for all, yet this is an area where funding cuts have had the greatest impact. ITV News reports that local authority sports funding is down by £400,000 in London alone over just five years. Councils are struggling to cope with Government funding cuts of up to 80% since 2010, at a time when demand for high-cost statutory services like social care is rising, the result of which is severe cuts to non-statutory services, including grassroots sports.
The Government’s latest plans to remove deprivation levels from what they are, I presume, ironically calling the fair funding formula will slash what remains of grassroots sports in our most deprived communities. These are the communities where violent crime is rising fastest. There is ample evidence that diversionary activities for young people prevent those most at risk from getting involved in crime, yet this Government run the risk of further driving up violent youth crime with a perverse approach of targeting their harshest cuts on our very poorest communities.
Towards the end of last year, the Government trumpeted their new loneliness strategy. Sports are some of the most effective ways to tackle loneliness among young people, yet grassroots sport funding is facing yet more cuts. The simple truth is that the Government will not make any impact on issues such as loneliness if they keep cutting the very things that allow communities to tackle loneliness.
Last summer, the Government published their obesity strategy. The King’s Fund points out that about a third of children under 15 in the UK are overweight or obese. It tells us that children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer and that children from lower-income household are more than twice as likely to be obese as those in higher-income households. The Government’s reaction to that so far has been negligent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting has previously pointed out, in the past two years alone, Government cuts have seen 100 swimming pools drained, 12 athletics tracks closed, 350 sports halls shut and 800 grass pitches sold off. How are we, as a country, to tackle this health and inequalities crisis if the Government allow grassroots and community sports to disappear at this rate?
Sport has the power to tackle some of the great challenges of our age, whether loneliness, obesity or mental ill health, yet the Government have chosen to cut sport to the bone. Sport can help to prevent these problems. Spending on grassroots sport is not money down the drain; it is a sensible investment that saves money in the long run by keeping people healthy and bringing our communities back together. The Government need to match their warm words tonight with action. They need to get serious about the power, impact and importance of sport for all of our communities.
Has the hon. Gentleman finished his contribution?
I have, Mr Speaker.
It was very brief. I call the Minister, who need not feel obliged to speak until 10 o’clock, as I know she made a very full contribution earlier.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members and friends from around the Chamber for their contributions this evening. We heard 36 contributions, excluding those made from the Front Bench. I know some were very full, but I felt, three months into the job, that they were important in putting matters on the record, and I took 21 interventions. I hope therefore that Members will feel that they have had a chance to participate this evening.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) rightly pointed out the need to focus on school sport, and our new school sport plan will look at the quality and quantity of sport in schools. The Government give £320 million a year to the PE premium to support PE and sport in primary schools. I want to make sure that that is used well. We also heard about the closing of swimming pools and facilities. Facilities are extremely important, and Sport England is investing £40 million in its strategic facilities fund and £15 million in its community asset fund to help local communities and local people find the facilities they need. She mentioned our Foreign and Commonwealth Office colleagues and the concerning issue regarding Hakeem. FIFA, too, has expressed concerns, and I know that we will be working with colleagues to hear these worries about his treatment.
Concerns were raised about gambling advertising, and I want to address this very broadly. Since I have taken on this role, I have had roundtables with both the banks and gambling industry, and I have met the Gambling Commission and Gambling with Lives. We are making sure that a responsible gambling message runs through all our messaging, so we make sure we are protecting our vulnerable people and make sure the industry listens and works with us. We have seen that with the whistle-to-whistle changes. The Gambling Commission has toughened up and will be using sanctions. It does have the teeth and needs to use them. We have had several conversations about that.
The SNP’s retired rugby man, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), talked passionately about not only the power and value of sport but what happens in retirement. That is very important. I had the pleasure of meeting Lizzy Yarnold earlier this year. It is important that such ladies come back in and use their power. Dame Katherine Grainger’s role at UK Sport is also important. The hon. Gentleman also talked about perhaps our greatest ever sportsman, Sir Andy Murray. If retirement is where he is headed, we wish him well, but I am sure that he will not be kept quiet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) spoke about the power of sport and physical activity and the good that they can do for mental health. Sport England has funded the Get Set to Go programme, in partnership with Mind, and it has received £3 million since 2014. We also launched the mental health and elite sport action plan last year to help to bolster the support for our top-level sports people and allow them to think about their future. I will be part of the Bring it to Burton campaign, because I will be coming to Burton, as requested.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the importance of country sports and their practicality and about how we can all excel at sport. That just shows the power of sport: there is something there for everyone, and we should not rule anything in or out. Give it a go, because we do not know what we do not know. It is absolutely right that we talk about the whole breadth of sports in the UK.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) told us about the superpower of swimming and about Stirling Knights basketball club. Again, that shows how, up and down the land, we demonstrate all different powers and abilities through sport.
I could go on, and I will, because I feel it is important. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) talk about the importance of body image and thinking beyond that to the power of sport for women and girls. I have previously spoken about the need to focus on opportunities for those with special needs and autism, and I will be taking action on that in my new role. She also mentioned the concern about predatory behaviour. I opened my remarks on that issue and I salute the NSPCC campaign. It is absolutely right that we keep sport safe and enjoyable.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) about her love of tennis and what sport can do for women who get involved. I have the Vipers cricket team near to me, and I know that Somerset does its bit. Sport for girls equals success. Those points were incredibly well made.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) made some key points about the stadium in his area and the fact that inactivity in rural areas needs to be tackled. I will continue to encourage developers to work with Sport England and my Department on a robust business case for the needs in his area. There has been some positive discussion, and I am delighted that we can build on that.
Members have talked about how important it is that broadcasters and sponsors give women’s sport the profile that it deserves, and I will work on that. Women’s sports’ media profile has grown since London 2012, but we all acknowledge that there is more to do.
The hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan) was an active participant in the discussion about free-to-air coverage. On the possibility of the 2030 World cup being broadcast free-to-air, the process is in its early stages, but we are an active partner in that bid and any related discussions.
We have heard how sport absolutely has the power to change lives up and down the land. We have heard how important it is in different ways. We have heard about our local heroes—our referees. Without our officials and volunteers, how do we inspire? Volunteers absolutely do that work at the heart of our communities up and down the land. We have also touched on the serious side to sport and talked about some of the issues. We need to make sure that sport is run with safety and fairness at its heart. We have spoken about sport at the top level, and we should be very proud of our sporting successes. In the coming years, we look forward to welcoming sports fans to all the amazing events that we will host here in the UK. Ultimately, as I said, sport needs to be fun. It needs to continue to bring people together, and I look forward to working with all Members to help more people to enjoy the benefits of being active.
Finally, let me touch on loneliness. Some £11.5 million has been given out to all different types of groups across the land to tackle loneliness and keep connectivity. Sport absolutely has the power to reach all communities. I will keep the remarks made by the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) under review, and I absolutely concur with him on the need to make sure that we support all sports and ensure that activity is there for everybody, young or old. That is my absolute priority in this role.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered sport in the UK.