rose to call attention to the local and national role of sport; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion gives me the opportunity to underline the importance of sport in this country. It cannot be overstated. In my 37 years in this House and the other place I have long argued the case for higher government priority to be given to sports policy. Britain, after all, has a rich sporting heritage. We invented many of the world’s great sports—football, cricket, tennis, rugby, golf and many others. Each year more than 20 million adults and 7 million children take part in sport or recreation, and even more people watch sport. Just think of the millions who watch football matches every season, and that is just one sport. On top of that, UK sport is thought to generate about 2.5 per cent of GDP, to say nothing of the tangible benefits per se to those who take part. Sport also plays a useful part as a social tool helping to address serious challenges facing us in delivering the education, health and social inclusion agendas. These benefits are disproportionate with huge dividends resulting from relatively modest investment. This is the sort of thinking that I and colleagues helped to build in Labour's sporting manifestos in the 1980s and 1990s.
When this Government came to power in 1997 the situation was far different from what it is today. There was, for example, a decline in school sport. The number of PE teachers had been almost halved. Every free-standing PE college had been closed. Some 5,000 playing fields had been sold off and another 260 were under threat. Many of our athletes were denied adequate funding to attend the Atlanta Olympic Games despite Labour’s calls for a change in the lottery funding regulations to assist to that end. Angling, the country's most popular participatory sport, was not recognised as such by the then Sports Council. Happily, it now receives £315,000 per year via Sport England. I could go on, because there are many other examples.
What has happened over the past 10 years? After all, talk can be cheap, especially in the period running up to a general election. As the author of Labour’s sporting manifesto in 1997, Labour's Sporting Nation, I am proud of the achievements since then. Of course much more has to be done, but since that time our record has been very impressive by any objective judgment. On school sport, £750 million has been invested in community facilities for schools in the UK—£581 million in England alone—through the new opportunities funding for PE and other sports programme funding. The 2005-06 school sports survey demonstrated that 80 per cent of children aged between five and 16 have participated in two hours of high-quality PE in school sport, exceeding the Government's own target of 75 per cent. All of that is, as I say, a far cry from what the Government inherited in 1997.
In Labour's Sporting Nation we said that we would pitch for the Olympic Games, and of course we have succeeded in that. I will return to that in a moment. We have also had a successful Commonwealth Games, and thanks to the new Prime Minister we are pitching for a future soccer World Cup.
People play sport primarily because they enjoy it. People run sports clubs so that they and others can enjoy the benefits of sport that such clubs can bring. Clubs can enrich people’s lives and, for many, bring about personal fulfilment. That is why community sport deserves recognition both for its own sake and for the part it plays in the life of the nation For those at risk of exclusion, sport can be the hook that reignites interest in education and brings people back into the mainstream. For instance, volunteering to help in the running of a club or captaining a team can help to build confidence and develop the sense of belonging. It can also help to develop the social and communication skills and sense of responsibility that are so valued by employers. It even provides the opportunity to gain qualifications such as coaching awards that can lead directly to employment, to say nothing of the teaching profession which is now recruiting more PE teachers than ever before.
More than 600,000 people work in the active leisure and learning sector. Sport and recreation is the most dominant subsector accounting for some 57 per cent of overall employment in the sector, and is expected to see the greatest growth rates in the future.
For sport to function properly at both the local and national levels, I am sure the House will agree that all those working in the sector—coaches, gym instructors and teachers—need to be adequately skilled. The Department for Education and Skills recently endorsed the latest round of proposals for new national skills academies which deliver the necessary skills in each sector. I am delighted to be able to say—the Minister has said this—that the sport and active leisure sector is about to have its own academy to transform access to learning for those hoping to forge a career in the world of sport.
Skills Active, the skills council for the active leisure and learning sector, is doing a great deal of excellent work in this area. It will lead the reforms around the academy, which is an exciting prospect for the sector’s workforce, and will both increase participation in sport and help to meet productivity challenge.
Another valuable initiative in this field is the advanced apprenticeship in sporting excellence—the AASE—designed to meet the needs of young people who have the potential to make sport their main career goal while continuing with their education. The AASE programme has flourished over the past few months. Golf and football have seen the first completions and other sports such as cricket, tennis, rugby union and water sports have recently been enrolled in the programme. Skills Active is also developing the sport and leisure diploma in consultation with employers, schools, colleges and training providers. Currently in the planning stage, the diploma will be on line by 2010.
The work of Skills Active shows that the backing is there from employers to improve skills within the sports sector and from this will flow increased participation, more engagement of young people, a more productive workforce and, of course, a healthier nation. As we all know in this House, building a healthier nation has never been more important than it is today. Given medical advances and today’s standard of living, it is regrettable that we face so many challenges in the field of health, none more so than child obesity. When my right honourable friend—I was going to refer to him as the Minister for Sport; that was the case this morning but I understand that he no longer holds that position—addressed the all-party parliamentary sports group, he described obesity as a ticking time bomb, comparing it in importance to climate change. I share his view.
The predicted prevalence of child obesity for 2020 is over 50 per cent. If we do nothing to stop this problem, it will be compounded with high incidence of obesity carrying over into adulthood, with all that means for long-term medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity-related costs are estimated to be about 5 per cent of the total National Health Service budget and are increasing every year. The cost of obesity today is estimated to be £7.4 billion a year.
The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children and young people should achieve a total of at least 60 minutes of moderately intensive physical activity each day and that at least twice a week this should include activities to improve bone health and muscle strength and flexibility. This can be gained in one session or more or through several shorter bouts of activity of 10 minutes or more.
We need look no further than these recommendations for the strongest endorsement of the value of sport to the health and well-being of the nation. Here again I take pride in what the Government are achieving. If all the attainable benefits of sport are to be delivered, it is crucial that we begin at the beginning and get things right at the grass roots. Participation is all. Nothing is more important therefore than school sport. We have got to get children active and interested in keeping active long after their school days are over.
Many of us in this House are of an age to have been lucky in the provision of sport at school. I certainly was. We had built in to the curriculum sessions in the gym—I would never have become a colonial boxing champion had I not done that—and there were organised team games for a full afternoon every week and matches at weekends. We must return to that ethos and practice. This Government’s commitment to ensure that schools offer children a minimum of four hours’ sporting activity a week by 2010 is therefore a hugely important policy announcement.
In looking at the Government’s commitment to sport that I referred to earlier, I must touch on the biggest success of all in the past 10 years—indeed, in our sporting lifetime. I speak, of course, of hosting the 2012 Olympics in London. Staging the Games and the Paralympics will bring fantastic opportunities to the whole of the UK. The Games are the biggest sporting event in the world and will provide an unparalleled opportunity for organisations of every size and nature to contribute to the UK’s sporting, cultural, economic, social and environmental services and objectives.
London 2012 offers the country the best opportunity we have ever had to motivate a generation of young people—and, I believe, as a result, successive generations—to take part in sports in the years ahead. Hosting the Games provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch Team Great Britain on home soil. The build up gives us the opportunity to enhance participation in sport across the country and place sport high on the social and political agenda where it belongs. Sport England has a target of getting 2 million more people participating in sport by 2012. Just think about what an achievement that would be and what benefits it would bring.
Others are waiting to make their contributions to this debate. Therefore, I close by pointing to just one more outstanding success story of the past 10 years. I am proud to be able to declare an interest because I speak of the Football Foundation, of which I was the first chairman, and am now its president. A partnership between the Government, the Premier League, the FA and Sport England, the Football Foundation was launched at No. 10 Downing Street in July 2000 by the then Prime Minister, myself and ministerial colleagues, and has proved to be hugely successful. The foundation has funded 2,700 projects with over £500 million, 3,500 new local sports facilities and 1,300 community schemes, which use the power of football to tackle issues such as obesity, crime and education. Participation has increased by 21 per cent on average at every facility which has been upgraded. The foundation is a model for other sports and is regarded as a blueprint for public/private partnerships in how to target funding effectively.
Only this month the foundation’s chief executive, Paul Thorogood, addressed a conference of European Football League representatives, suggesting how they might replicate its success in their countries. The Football Foundation has received endorsements from the highest level. I should like to quote but one from our new Prime Minister, who has gone on record as saying:
“With the Government’s backing, the Football Foundation is leading the way in harnessing sport as a force for good within society”.
I hope that I have been able to demonstrate that sport has a hugely important part to play in our lives, both locally and nationally. It will be a lasting legacy of this Government that they recognise this fact and have developed sports policies in that light. There has been more participation, more sport in schools, more playing fields, more facilities everywhere, the birth and successful early years of the Football Foundation, and greater investment through Sport England and the Sports Lottery Fund. If we add to that our victory in winning the opportunity to host the Olympic Games, it does indeed make a golden decade. With the sporting baton now passing from one Prime Minister committed to sport to another, we can look forward to a further 10 years of success. The future of UK sport has never looked brighter. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I shall be brief because, until an hour or two ago, at this time I was due to meet none other than Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport. Therefore, I did not expect to be here but I got a message at about 12 o’clock saying that there was no meeting. I cannot quite work out why, but things are changing around this place.
I take this opportunity to thank my very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for initiating this debate. He and I have debated sport together for as long as we have been in your Lordships’ House, and I have always enjoyed it. He has done a great deal of work, both long before I came here when I worked at the Sports Council for Northern Ireland, among other things, and when he was the Minister for Sport. His life has been tied up with the subject and he has promoted all sorts of things, and, for that, we thank him. I have tried to follow him in some ways.
I do not necessarily go along totally with his eulogy of what the Labour Government have done for sport over the past 10 years, as I think that there is still a great deal to do. Certainly, we were successful in bidding for the Olympic Games, but that was a joint party effort. We were delighted to support the Government in that and it was, indeed, a wonderful achievement, but we now have to see that achievement turn into something very special. Although I shall not talk about the Olympic Games today, I have considerable concerns about certain things that are—or, rather, are not—happening. When we debated the Bill, we warned of the dangers of too much bureaucracy and too much oversight and of taking too long to make the commercial decisions that need to be taken sharply and quickly on the ground. There has been too much interference from government and I hope that, under the new regime, we can look forward to some streamlining and speeding up.
Today, I want to talk about the younger section of our communities—children and young people. That came to my mind when I was in the City at a charity do for the Voices Foundation, which is run by a very forceful and competent star called Lady Eatwell. The charity goes into schools and gets all the schoolchildren singing. It teaches the teachers and head teachers how to get involved with the children and it gets everyone to sing together. We were greeted by a large group of young coloured children from a north London school and it was all very impressive. Lady Eatwell said that she had been in something like 25,000 schools. The charity’s objective is to stop what I suggest is one of the greatest social ills in this country—indiscipline in schools. I refer to children who do not turn up for school and to the fighting, stabbing and other horrible things that go on in too many schools.
No doubt like the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, I was fortunate in that, when I was at school during the war, there was plenty of space. In the summer, we had an old tennis ball, a stick and a bit of wood that acted as a cricket stump and space to hit the ball, run after it, catch and throw it. In the winter, we had space to kick footballs around in the open. Having spoken in the past to people such as Freddie Truman, I know that in the inner cities and urban areas, the streets were empty. They were not full of cars or people and there was less chance of breaking glass. Children hit cricket balls in the streets outside their homes and they kicked footballs. They had freedom to express themselves and space to play.
I believe it is time that the Department for Education and Skills, in particular, got its act together. I have spoken in a different vein in different debates about trying to get cross-governmental initiatives going, linking the environment, schools and parts of the Home Office. That has not happened, and I have not read a single thing to suggest that it is even being thought about. We could even take sport into prisons. Now that prisons are overcrowded, I suspect that the inmates are having difficulty in finding a lavatory, let alone kicking a ball, and that is not good.
On the other side of the coin, I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, said about having more play areas than we had 10 years ago, but those are formalised play areas and they do not provide the same freedom. They are tightly controlled because of health and safety laws and because people are frightened of taking chances and letting children climb on apparatus when there is a risk of them falling. The same applies to taking children out into the mountains. I spent several years teaching young people to climb and live in the mountains. I taught them to rock-climb, cave, abseil and so on. In the event, it did not happen but, if one of my chaps had slipped and broken his leg, I would not have expected to have a court case brought against me for ignoring rule this, that or the other. In fact, I wrote the rules on safety in canoeing for the services, and, to some extent, with Chris Bonington and others, I did the same in relation to climbing. People were free then to go and have adventures. That time has now gone but I submit that it must come back, and it is part of sport and games.
I move on to the subject of political correctness and the management of young people. Noble Lords will remember the teachers’ strike that occurred years ago, when all after-school games stopped. Suddenly sport was cut off from all schoolchildren. We still do not have serious commitment on a large enough scale from the Government. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, say that under this Government 80 per cent of children now have two hours of PE a week, but what good is that? I agree that the situation is a lot better than it was. When we debated this a year ago, I think that the figure was around 50 per cent, but it is still at nothing like the level that we would like to see. Kids should be playing games and sport every day. They should be having five or six hours of PE a week, with opportunities on Saturdays for club games at a junior level. That does not happen in this country, although it does in others, and there is a great need for it.
We also have sport for disabled people, which is going well. It has a huge impact on the disabled society and, hence, on their carers. I declare an interest as chairman of the Paralympic World Cup, which takes place once a year at the Commonwealth Games facilities in Manchester. This year, more than 400 athletes will be competing from 44 countries. It is fantastic to see these disabled people playing wheelchair basketball, riding bicycles in a velodrome—racing at over 60 miles an hour on tandems with a visually handicapped person on the back—swimming or running in athletics with one leg and a stick. We need much more of this and we need more input from government. At the meeting that I was due to have with Richard Caborn today, I intended to get him to push the BBC to underwrite more coverage for us, but the BBC is pulling back and reducing what it does for disabled sport. Where are we going on this? I am sure that Richard would have helped me if he had been able to attend the meeting.
I do not have time to go on to my last point, so I shall sit down.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has set us all a very good example. I feel that the debate is already going downhill in that I am following a former boxing champion and a former winter Olympian. We now have someone who used to be on tenterhooks on Friday evenings waiting to see whether he had been picked for the college’s fourth team in football. Fortunately, there was a fifth team, so it was not too bad.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for making this almost an annual debate, but none the worse for it, and for his wider contribution to keeping sport on the public agenda. The All-Party Group on Sports has developed into a powerful forum in this House, and the noble Lord is the driving force behind it. As the love of my life, Blackpool Football Club, is a beneficiary of the Football Foundation, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s work in that area too.
In many ways, as has been hinted at, this debate is a natural follow-up to the earlier debate on skills. Indeed, my starting point is to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, said about health. The Economic and Social Research Council’s 2007 report, State of the Nation, said that obesity was rapidly overtaking smoking as Britain’s single biggest cause of disease and premature death. The need for children to remain active and energetic has never been greater. Although the Government recommend that every pupil does at least two hours of sport at school each week, not all are achieving it, as has been said, and the problem seems worse for girls. Many teenage girls admit that they do PE only because they are forced to. They are self-conscious about their bodies in PE lessons and think the games kit is ugly.
At the previous meeting of the All-Party Group on Sports, we were addressed by Dr Pat Duffy, chief-executive of the Sports Council UK. He outlined the initiatives taken by his organisation to promote good coaching for children, for general participation, for developing talent and for providing the right kind of coaching for the elite in each particular sport. What he had to tell us seemed to press the right buttons in a number of the areas to which I have already referred: good coaching can make sports fun and can address particular problem areas, such as the early dropout of girls. The right pattern of recruitment into coaching can provide the role models and mentors in areas of wider concern, such as the alienation and underachievement of black youth. One has only to watch most professional sports to see how black talent has forced its way to the top. But beyond the elite are many other black sports men and women who could be encouraged to see sports coaching as a professionally regulated vocation and who could then be employed in schools, social service departments, youth offender institutions and sports clubs.
The noble Lords, Lord Pendry and Lord Adonis, mentioned initiatives linking sport and training. I recently visited Oaklands College for further education in St Albans, where I found a range of study courses available, from the BTEC Foundation First Certificate in Sport through to a Foundation Degree in Sports Studies. In addition, the college has established academies linking up St Albans City Football Club, of which I am vice president, Boreham Wood Football Club and Saracens Rugby Club, providing courses that deliver first-class coaching and training, an opportunity to shop-window your talents at a high level and a chance to remain plugged into education. That is an important asset that sport can bring. Young people who might otherwise drop out of education could be encouraged to stay in further education by sports and education-linked courses.
We all know that sport is brutal in sifting out the very good from the elite. Indeed, many soccer clubs and other sports clubs have a trawler effect, bringing together large numbers of young people, most of whom will never make it to the top of the professional sport. But if imaginative courses linked to sport can keep young people involved in further education, sports studies skills, both educational and social, are transferable to other areas. For example, I wonder whether it is possible to recruit the male black teachers for whom, we are told, there is a great need in sports studies departments and academies.
The Oakland College experience also points to the benefit of close co-operation and sharing facilities between education-based and club-based sport. I have always stayed well clear of the politics of sports administration—it has always struck me as far more vicious than the politics of Westminster—but I think that the general approach should be to foster and reward close co-operation between schools, colleges and clubs, a matter close to the heart of my noble friend Lord Addington.
I belong to a generation, as the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Pendry, hinted, where the local youth club was a focal point for a range of social and sporting activity. Sadly, the youth club is often a first candidate for closure when budgets get tight, just as the school playing fields become a prime source of cash injection when the property developer calls.
Apart from the general reluctance of the taxpayer to fund public expenditure, our feral media are always willing to present the provision of sports and leisure facilities for actual or potential young offenders as being soft on crime. We have all seen stories of young offenders being taken rock-climbing or canoeing where that is presented as rewarding bad behaviour.
However, study after study and pilot project after pilot project show that sporting initiatives can have an impact on youth offending. Studies show that it is worth while targeting local hotspots with attractive and positive activities for young people. Such initiatives have been shown to help young people to resist pressures to take part in harmful or anti-social behaviour and increase self-esteem and organisational and social skills. Yet studies also show that short-term funding means that projects often do not last long enough to have a meaningful impact, and last-minute funding often leads to projects that are disorganised and lacking in focus. Nevertheless studies by Sport England, local authorities and academic sources show that sport can play a decisive part in cutting youth offending and putting young lives on a positive course.
Following the example set by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I shall miss out a marvellous section in my notes linking sport and tourism. But I want to finish with a plea that the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Pendry, both made. I hope that, despite a proper concern for how it is organised and financed, we get behind the 2012 Olympics. Sometimes our national sport, and certainly our national sports media’s sport, is enjoying losing penalty shoot-outs. Winning in Singapore was a great triumph, and we should enjoy it as a nation. The Olympics are, in the jargon, a challenge and an opportunity. Given how successful host cities such as Barcelona and Sydney still bask in the glory of their Olympic success, this is an opportunity that we should all get behind. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for this welcome debate. As it unfolds, it will demonstrate that sport is not just about sportsmen and sportswomen but has a wider impact throughout society.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Pendry on initiating this important debate. Noble Lords may be surprised that my short contribution will be based on 45 years of interest and involvement in greyhound racing, particularly at my local stadium of Monmore Green in my old constituency of Wolverhampton, where I have spent many happy hours in the company of my constituents.
Last year, Westmead Hawk won the Greyhound Derby for the second year running. It was an amazing feat and he nearly went on to a hat trick this year, coming back from injury and stud duties. Alas, it was not to be, and we will instead be watching his progeny with interest in the coming years. What made Westmead Hawk special was his satellite navigation-like track craft and his ability to thrill the crowds that came to Wimbledon to watch him run, often with a last-to-first victory. His semi-final win from a near impossible position behind the rest of the dogs will be remembered for a very long time by anyone who saw it that night.
When there are great dogs, there are usually great connections behind them, and the Hawk was blessed with a great trainer, who also bred him and his line stretching back for many generations. Nick Savva is the trainer and he is a legend in the sport. His legacy in the breeding of the greyhound from his Dunstable base will be felt for ever. The majority of greyhounds are bred and reared in Ireland, so his British-bred status made Westmead Hawk very special. I congratulate Nick Savva on his achievement.
There have been many great dogs in the past. In recent years, there has been Rapid Ranger, and many will remember Ballyregan Bob and Scurlogue Champ in the 1980s. We can go back to the very start of the sport for the first canine superstar, Mick the Miller, the dog that really set out the sport and put greyhound racing on the map in the 1920s. Times have changed, but there is still something very special about the Greyhound Derby, which was won twice by Mick the Miller. This Saturday is the semi-final of the Blue Square Greyhound Derby, so all roads lead to Wimbledon, and not just for tennis. The final is a week later and I urge any Members who can to attend and sample the wonderful atmosphere of what is a true and fairly undiscovered sporting gem. They should make the most of it, as greyhound racing is starting to market itself, as it should. It has changed from a spit and sawdust sport to a modern and vibrant leisure option for people of all ages. I assure noble Lords that Mick Hardy, the general manager, will give them a great welcome.
There are currently some 30 stadia up and down the country that race under the rules of the National Greyhound Racing Club and are represented by the British Greyhound Racing Board, which is chaired ably by my noble friend Lord Lipsey. My noble friend—some noble Lords will remember that he has his own beloved pet greyhound Zak—joined the BGRB from very much a welfarist standpoint. He helped to speed up what was already at work—a very altered and positive attitude to the dogs by the majority of people in the regulated side of the sport. His work in the past few years has looked at improving the already high standards for the racing greyhound and, perhaps of more interest to most noble Lords, at improving the number that are being successfully rehomed as pets. Those who do not know should not fall into the trap of thinking that our wonderful canine thoroughbreds require special care or lots of exercise; they are generally rather lazy and sweet-natured. Most can make the transition to life as a pet extremely well.
Any noble Lords who wish to find out more about the sport and perhaps attend a race meeting should get in touch with the All-Party Parliamentary Greyhound Group, with which I have been involved for many years. I am sure that your Lordships will be pleased to hear that the all-party greyhound, the aptly named Go Running Whip, was successfully retired and is now home with our administrative secretary and her cat. She tells me that the cat rules the roost. I should also mention other famous parliamentary greyhounds, such as Division Bell, Honourable Member and Parliamentarian, to name a few.
The bad press given to greyhound welfare because of one individual in County Durham last summer—the story was widely reported—unfairly negated much of the positive work being undertaken by the regulated side of the sport. My noble friend Lord Lipsey and the BGRB have worked closely with Defra on the development of animal welfare, including on the Animal Welfare Act, over many years. They are now discussing a range of secondary legislation that will impact on greyhound racing. I refer to some of the tracks that race outside of the rules of the NGRC, called “flapping” or independent tracks, which will be much more impacted by legislation. Not all of them have vets in attendance at race meetings, which is already a prerequisite for all NGRC stadia.
As I mentioned, there has been a sea change in attitudes to the welfare of greyhounds in recent years. The Retired Greyhound Trust, the national charity dedicated to rehoming ex-racing greyhounds, is now rehoming nearly 4,000 dogs annually nationwide, with more than 70 branches throughout the UK. It is supported in funds and in kind by the sport. I am delighted that one of the volunteers who work so hard to honour this wonderful breed was mentioned in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list just this month: Johanna Beumer of Muswell Hill, London, was awarded an MBE for her efforts in caring for greyhounds at Waltham Abbey in Essex for more than 40 years. Johanna and her team help to prepare the dogs, which are incredibly versatile, for life in what can be a busy family home with vacuum cleaners, stairs and widescreen televisions—all items that dogs do not come across in their racing kennels. The former teacher, now in her 60s, says:
“When I first set up the kennel, a lot of greyhounds were being discarded. They weren’t being considered as pets and an awful lot of them were being put down”.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for initiating the debate. He is a great ambassador for sport and is widely recognised as the best Minister of Sport that we never had. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I am impressed by the experienced athleticism of most of the speakers; I even feel quite virtuous myself, having cycled to the House and then completed a one-hour session in the gymnasium earlier this morning. Although I cannot continue with the greyhound theme, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilston. Before his appointment to this House, we spent many hours discussing Refreshment Department issues, such as the cost of food and drink and ownership of the Churchill Room and the Pugin Room. Sadly, his views prevailed, although he may now have changed his mind.
The debate has a wide-ranging title and I hope that I will be permitted to comment—as might be expected—on some of the health aspects of exercise and sport. I had considered making a short speech on Rugby Union, but I am not sure that rugby is always good for your health. I hope that my ex-captain in the Lords and Commons rugby team, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will mention this wonderful team game in his speech at the end of the debate.
Britain has a significant health problem and sport is part of the solution. Most people would wish to prolong their lives, and there is evidence that those who take regular exercise stand more chance of remaining healthy than those who do not exercise. Although the incidence of heart disease is improving, we are still very near the bottom of the EU league table, with about twice the incidence of heart disease as the French. Regular exercise can halve the rate of heart disease and stroke. About 30 minutes of good exercise five times a week should keep the average person in good shape, but complex lifestyles and long working hours deter many people from taking regular part in sport. Good habits must be promoted from the earliest possible age, and I recognise the efforts that the Government make to focus resources on primary schools. However, some schools do not take sport seriously, and many children are more likely to play on the computer or watch television than to engage in sporting activity.
As the noble Lords, Lord Pendry and Lord McNally, said, about two-thirds of men and women in the UK are now classed as overweight or obese. The level of obesity has tripled in the past 20 years and is still rising. It is predicted that, by 2010, 12 million adults and 1 million children will be obese; that is, 19 per cent of boys and 22 per cent of girls between two and 15. The newly created Minister with responsibility for fitness, Caroline Flint, said that she wants to build physical activity into daily routines to create a healthier nation. I hope that that target will remain a priority for Ministers in the new department.
For these reasons, and while declaring my interest as a member of the all-party parliamentary group, I believe that cycling is an activity that has the potential genuinely to change the lives of individuals and to improve society. At the same time as improving health, easing congestion and lessening traffic pollution, the bicycle offers a powerful way to tackle many of the challenges that we face. The Active England survey rated cycling as the fourth most popular form of exercise, but for some reason did not include non-recreational cycling. In fact, cycling is regularly rated the first or second most popular out-of-school activity, and most young people own bicycles. Despite the current successes of the British cycling teams and many brilliant solo performances, cycling still does not receive sufficient promotion or funding. The Government have allocated funding to ensure that 50 per cent of children receive cycle training, but for a total outlay of about £15 million training could be made available for all pupils. I am sure that that should be a priority.
Cycling is the only sport that contributes to our transport and environmental agendas. Today, only 1 per cent of journeys in the UK are made by bike, but 39 per cent of car journeys are less than three miles, which is the same distance as the average cycling trip, while 25 per cent of all trips are less than two miles and 20 per cent of all trips are less than one mile. These figures demonstrate the enormous opportunity that exists to increase the levels of cycling and, in doing so, to make a positive difference to individuals and society.
Because it can be built into everyday routines, cycling supports government efforts to create a fitter, healthier population that has greater mobility in an improved urban and rural environment and can play a major role in helping the Government to meet their targets on health. More than 110,000 people die each year as a result of coronary heart disease and problems that are directly attributable to inactivity and 40,000 deaths per year are due to physical inactivity alone. People who are physically active reduce their risk of developing major chronic disease by up to 50 per cent and their risk of premature death by 20 per cent to 30 per cent.
The use of the bicycle can be promoted as one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to create a fitter, healthier nation. With only 2 per cent of secondary school children and 1 per cent of pupils overall cycling to school, there is real potential to help our children to lead more active, healthier lives through making this form of transport safe and more attractive. Cycling England, the national body appointed by the Department for Transport, is creating and co-ordinating a coalition of cycling organisations that, with local authorities and the Government, are working to break down barriers to cycling. It has pointed out that cyclists can expect to live for at least two years longer on average than non-cyclists.
The DCMS is missing opportunities to promote cycling as a sport that is also a non-sport. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that his department will take opportunities such as the Tour de France and the world mountain bike championships in Scotland in September to encourage cycling for tourism and visiting the countryside. The DCMS recently addressed the issue of access to the English coast. Although access is very satisfactory for ramblers, no account has been taken of cyclists or horse riders. This is surely a missed opportunity for introducing cycling and riding to tourists and the general population.
Occasional and regular cyclists enjoy a level of fitness equivalent to being between five and 10 years younger, and cycling as part of normal daily activities can yield much the same improvements in physical performance as specific training programmes. The Health Select Committee in another place has said that meeting the Government’s cycling target would do more to tackle childhood obesity than any other measure. The challenge of creating the behavioural change to get more people cycling more safely and more often is considerable.
My Lords, as a result of his work in a wide range of sporting activity over many years in your Lordships’ House and another place, the name of my noble friend Lord Pendry has become synonamous with sport to many Members of both Houses. Therefore, it is particularly appropriate that he should have sponsored this afternoon’s debate. I commend him for doing so.
My noble friend Lord Pendry and other noble Lords have commented on the wide-ranging benefits of sport in terms of tackling obesity and general well-being. That is something to which I would very much subscribe. In my contribution, I want to turn slightly from the question of the role of sport to that of national identity. A former Member of another place once bemoaned the tendency of Scots to adopt the persona that he described as “90-minute nationalists”. That revealed two things about Mr Jim Sillars: first, he did not know a great deal about the rules of rugby; and secondly, he appeared to have developed remarkably little understanding of the Scottish psyche.
The contradictions inherent in the Scottish character are as clearly displayed in our political judgment as in any other facet of our lives. To Sillars's understandable disillusionment, in the Scots' tug of war between their nationalist Scottish heart and their rationalist UK head, the latter—the results of last month's Scottish Parliament elections notwithstanding—usually wins out. In the sporting arena, however, the opposite is true and this represents the third revelation in Sillars's remarks: he did have an appreciation of the extent to which international sport involving Scotland not only grabs the attention of many Scots but resonates with them because, to a large extent, they feel a part of it, even if only from the comfort of their armchair.
Sport clearly does mean a great deal to the average Scot. Hundreds of thousands rose at 5 am to watch Scotland's do or die confrontation with Fiji in the rugby world cup in Australia; still more tuned in after midnight one evening in February 2002 to see the UK curling team—Scots to a woman, it should be said—win the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Canada. The latter example is particularly telling, because curling is very much a minority sport even in Scotland and is certainly not a spectator sport. But the opportunity to witness history being made in the form of a uniquely Scottish triumph on the world stage drove more than half a million Scots—that is 10 per cent of the entire population—to break with their normal routine. That was a classic example of sport providing us Scots with a badge, which we could wear proudly and which exemplified our ability at certain times to embrace sport and to use it to embody our Scottishness.
Those examples do of course characterise passive involvement in sport. Any man or woman representing Scotland at sport is an ambassador for the country and doubtless derives huge pride in doing so. But in the context of the sports that attract large numbers of spectators, it provides a means of parading that Scottishness particularly, though by no means exclusively, when England provides the opposition.
Yet, this involvement with sport contains contradictions. Sport by definition is about people competing with their peers on the basis of skill and determination, allied to stamina and a degree of physical fitness. Yet to a large extent those most likely to attend a Scotland international football match are often those least likely themselves to be fit enough to play the sport, even at the most modest level. That said, they are the very people who support club football across Scotland week in and week out, so they clearly see their involvement with the sport, while passive, as being to a certain extent competitive.
The same may be less true of rugby international matches, where the crowd typically contains a fair proportion of club players, but peculiarly they are joined by many more who attend only these major matches and rarely, if ever, visit their local club ground, even as spectators. Clearly, for them the thrill lies in donning the tartan scarf and tammy and joining the throng in support of the national team. Again, it is a means of expressing their Scottishness, something that we have relatively few opportunities to do, other than in the sporting arena. Realistically, apart from donning Highland dress, what alternatives are there?
The rich diversity of Scottish culture is another means of demonstrating the best that Scotland has to offer. This contains a mix of the historical and the contemporary, from the literary excellence of Burns and Scott, to the accomplishments of our national orchestras, together with Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the National Theatre of Scotland, or the best of our folk music and the traditions of the Mod as well as the many young Scots who make their mark on the contemporary music scene. All have the ability to project Scotland in a positive manner as a country of culture in both meanings of the word but, valid as these are, for the majority of Scottish people, they will never supplant sport as the favoured means of expressing what it means to be a Scot.
In The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, one of the most thought-provoking books I have read, Carol Craig urged Scots to take a look at ourselves from a distance,
“tae see oorsels as ithers see us”,
as Burns opined in “To a Louse”.
One of the main themes she examines is the low level of self-confidence prevalent throughout our small nation. To those who claim this is due to three centuries spent as a northern outpost of government from London and that the reintroduction of the Scottish Parliament will change all that, Craig is not impressed. She believes that that lack of self-confidence is such a challenge to Scotland that the Parliament will not eliminate the problem, although she maintains that it can make a contribution.
Improbable as it may sound, England played a major role in allowing Scottish identity to flourish on the international sports stage, because the Act of Union made specific provision for Scotland's distinctive religious, legal and educational systems to remain after the formation of Great Britain 300 years ago. They continue to be quite different to this day, and their role in preserving a conscious difference in the minds of Scots—as well as those from the other parts of what is now the United Kingdom and further afield—should not be underestimated. There was no competitive sport in 1707, but as its popularity developed in the latter half of the 19th century, it was seen as logical that there should be separate sports governing bodies for Scotland. It is not often referred to, but sport's role in maintaining a distinct Scottish identity from the rest of the UK over the past 150 years should be neither overlooked nor undervalued.
Scottish representative teams in many sports have contributed to that, but football is, perhaps obviously, the greatest example—largely because, unlike other sports, it has produced more high-profile performers. There has been a plethora of supremely talented individuals over many years, but Scotland's club representatives in European competitions have often punched above their weight, as has the national team—alas, all too rarely and not too recently.
The boxing analogy is not inappropriate because in the pantheon of that sport there have been many fine Scottish exponents of the ancient art, but the overall effect has been that, through the medium of sport, the rest of the world has remained conscious of Scotland's distinct identity, even though it has dealt at the political level with Scots only as representatives of the UK. Thus, in status terms, not being part of a GB or UK team—apart, of course, from the Olympics—has been a great benefit to Scotland and demonstrates the role of sport in projecting the country's image worldwide.
Sport could be the key to breaking the “fear of failure” straitjacket which, again according to Carol Craig, seems to hold us back too often. The more people are involved in sport in Scotland, whether participating by playing, by coaching others or just organising it for others, the more likely people are to gain first-hand experience of coming to terms with the lack of success and using it to fan their determination to do better next time or the time after that, until success is eventually achieved.
If sport can make that kind of contribution to Scotland’s future, in the long term it will be worth much more than a gold medal, a championship trophy or even a victory over the auld enemy.
My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Pendry has secured this diverse debate, and I thank him again for his robust support for sport.
I want to focus on sport as an opportunity for lifelong fitness and for what it brings to human relationships and communication. That is not to belittle the importance of competitive sport or the great national and international sporting occasions. Competitive sport is wonderful—I used to enjoy it myself very much, and still enjoy watching it—but it is not the whole story. These days, when we are concerned about childhood obesity and lack of exercise, we need to look at what helps people to be fit and active. Being fit and active has also been shown to increase academic performance.
I shall in particular refer to initiatives which are encouraging young people to be involved in physical activity. I shall talk about the Youth Sport Trust and the Chance to shine cricket initiative organised by the Cricket Foundation. Both are supported by the Government and business. It is also good to see other initiatives focused on communities, such as leisure trusts, which trade for a social purpose and reinvest in local communities and new sports and leisure facilities; for example, GLL in Rochdale. Children can be encouraged to be active even if they do not enjoy competitive sport. They can walk, cycle, dance, and so on. Some may enjoy yoga, Tai Chi or boxing. It does not matter, as long as they do something.
I was very encouraged to see Dame Kelly Holmes interviewed by Andrew Marr on his programme the other Sunday. She is the National School Sport Champion, managed by the Youth Sport Trust. She emphasised the importance of schools providing a variety of activities for young people to enjoy, such as dance and rock climbing—not at the same time, of course. She has launched a drive called GirlsActive, which aims to get teenage girls involved in some kind of sport and is sponsored by Norwich Union. The investment in school sport is paying off. Participation has increased, and school sports co-ordinators are linking sports colleges with the community to encourage after-school activities and sports clubs. I hope that this offers some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.
The Youth Sport Trust emphasises encouraging participation and reaching out to other initiatives, such as Sure Start and special education and disability programmes. It also focuses on elements of general fitness, such as healthy eating. It has, for example, established links with Healthy Schools teams, rewarding pupils for taking part in out-of-school learning activities and for buying healthy food. Outcomes have been positive for both staff and pupils; participation in sport has increased, and GCSE results have improved across the curriculum. Dance was used to raise pupil self-esteem in the Corby school improvement partnership. One hundred and fifty boys and girls took part in a dance programme organised by Northants Dance, the borough council, the county council, and community arts. Training and support were provided in nine primary schools, and a final performance was staged. This helped the various agencies to form strong links, and has resulted in the wider community being involved.
The Youth Sport Trust has a talent ladder website, which gives access to information, advice and support for gifted young sports people. It covers news and developments, competition frameworks, resources, contacts and a section for parents. The ladder is a component of the National Programme for Gifted and Talented Education, which forms part of the Government’s Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links strategy. Perhaps the Minister could say more about this strategy, as it is very important. The School Sport Exchange is a resource for those who work in specialist sports colleges and school sport partnerships. It provides case studies, a discussion forum, a document bank, news and events, and other supportive materials.
The Youth Sport Trust has many examples of local initiatives, such as the ones that I have mentioned, and a young leaders’ programme in east Durham, through which a junior sports leadership award has been introduced to year 10 students in all the partnership’s six secondary schools. This includes mentoring and an annual summer camp. The Youth Sport Trust website is well worth visiting; it is an excellent example of the Government encouraging initiative and imaginative partnerships at a local level, with help from business, to help young people not only to be active but to relate positively to each and to their schools and communities.
Chance to shine is another initiative. It is specific to cricket, about which I am passionate. I declare an interest as a Lady Taverner. It was launched in May 2005 to encourage competitive cricket in state schools. An appeal aims to raise £25 million in five years, and I understand that the Government will match this sum pound for pound. Perhaps the Minister could confirm this. Independent schools are being involved, which is another good example of partnership. In 2006, the first operational year of Chance to shine, 100 projects were delivered to schools, and 400 coaches delivered more than 20,000 coaching hours. More than 26,000 boys and 18,000 girls participated. Ten per cent were from ethnic minorities, and 1 per cent were disabled. More than 5,000 school matches were played. Funding for the initiative is allocated to county boards and focus clubs, and it is hoped that the legacy will be the engagement of 5,200 primary schools and 1,500 secondary schools. In 2007, 10,000 school matches were played.
The examples that I have described briefly today give rise to enormous optimism that sport for young people at a national and community level is developing strongly. It is to be hoped that this and successive Governments will continue to emphasise sport for young people. Sport for young people has wide ranging benefits for communities and for improved performance at a national level.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for this very timely debate. I listened with great interest to his speech, although there may be parts with which I did not entirely agree.
On 22 May an article in the Guardian entitled, “Raising the Game”, reported on how a primary school in east Lancashire had, under the leadership of the head teacher, managed to see SATs results increase from 30 per cent to 90 per cent just by reorganising the school day around physical activity, which she called a brain gym. The school is in a poor socio-economic area, with high unemployment, low skills and low expectations, and resources are limited. However, by ensuring that the children were properly hydrated and had enjoyed a good breakfast club in the morning, the day is worked around several breaks for physical activity. This fresh way of getting improvements in physical and intellectual well-being was shown to work. Talented and enthusiastic youngsters are identified and channelled into after-school and local sports clubs. Parents have become more involved and low expectations have changed to confidence and aspiration. The head teacher believes that this approach is creating pathways to lifelong learning and a natural interest in sport.
Sport crosses all cultures, classes and backgrounds, and has the great ability to bring together a unique sense of camaraderie. Only a few days ago I spoke to one of Britain’s sporting legends, Tessa Sanderson. We discussed the very positive outcomes that can be achieved, particularly in achieving discipline, focus and direction among boys and young men by using sport. Dame Kelly Holmes, the double Olympic champion wants to see a real change and more children taking part in sporting activities. She said:
“We need to be a sporting nation and for that to happen we have to inspire, motivate, encourage and capture the imagination of all our young people, so that sport becomes a part of their day-to-day lives”.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised an important point about getting more people from the black community involved. Sadly, many organisations still fall short of addressing diversity issues and stamping out racism. We must ensure that sport, whether at a local or a national level, receives support first and foremost in the school structure, and that everything is done to encourage parents to support their children—children from all backgrounds.
The Government recognise that there remains a shortage of PE teachers. Recruiting and retaining, especially male teachers, remains a problem. Teachers are the key to engaging and motivating young people, especially young men, into sport. Has that problem eased? Sports and leisure clubs, and the leisure industry, have a big role to play with the onset of so many facilities across our towns and cities, and a real demand on the nation becoming fitter. Greater partnerships must be developed and the fitness industry must be encouraged to work with local schools and colleges. Affordability and access crucially remain the main barriers for people from low socio-economic groups.
I have had the privilege of meeting and knowing Rachel Hayhoe-Flint, an icon of women’s cricket, who drew me into enjoying cricket—be it women or men playing. I have become hooked on Twenty20 games. I am privileged to belong to a city with an excellent sporting history, Leicester. We have football, rugby and cricket. All have excellent facilities and are working very hard in their bid to host the Special Olympics. However, in the ever-changing demographics of cities like Leicester, we must recognise that those sports clubs and others have to work harder in attracting audiences that reflect the make-up of their cities. If they do not, sadly, there will be empty seats and loss of revenue for those clubs.
I recently had a meeting with the chairman of Sport England and I raised those concerns. With the 2012 Olympics, it is crucial that everyone feels that they have a part to play in celebrating this great event in our country. Preparation for the 2012 Olympics really gives us an opportunity to look at how we address the issue of sport and its widest possible reach to people from all groups. Organisations such as Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust recognise the importance of sport working with corporate partners, schools and voluntary groups. It is for the Government, however, to ensure that resources are secured and available.
We must recognise the many extra benefits that come from sport: healthier and fitter people, and the positive social and community benefits that participating in sports can bring. The Government must look to supporting the proposal that much more time should be dedicated to PE lessons in schools, and ensuring that schools are properly equipped to reflect the demands of the different types of sporting activities that take place today.
My Lords, I am delighted to join other speakers in congratulating my noble friend Lord Pendry on securing this debate. As others have said, he has a long and distinguished record in promoting all sorts of sport in all parts of the United Kingdom. We have benefited from his wisdom and knowledge today. I enjoyed every minute of his speech. In the time available, I intend to concentrate on just one sport. While I am tempted by some of the contributions made by other noble Lords, I shall talk about the sport that is rightly regarded as our national game, football.
This debate is timely because it is being held just two days before the summer meeting of the Football Association. At that meeting, a number of momentous decisions are likely to be taken. The most important of these relate to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report prepared for the FA by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It has taken the FA quite a while to get to this point, but once its shareholders had passed the necessary resolutions by a three-quarters majority at the meeting they held in Wembley last month, the way was clear for the FA to establish the level and structure of regulation which I believe the game so desperately needs. Just how much needs to be done, I shall explain in a moment.
Some of the changes are straightforward and are examples of the Football Association coming to terms with the 21st century. The FA Council has long been unfairly derided as “white middle-aged men in blazers”. The reality is that they are in the main dedicated people who have huge expertise and experience, and who give their time cheerfully and uncomplainingly for nothing, except perhaps the odd invitation to a grand event. That is rather like the Members of your Lordships’ House, who also give their time and get nothing back except the opportunity to be invited to great occasions.
Now the FA Council is being expanded to reflect better the diversity of the game, with added representation for players, managers, referees, women’s football, ethnic minorities, disability football, supporters and the senior levels of non-league football. There will be fewer committees and the FA Board will have a new independent chairman. This is a huge a step forward, and in my view it reflects very well on the current FA chairman, Geoff Thompson. He is not a flashy individual from a glamorous club, but a hardworking, decent and honest man who has devoted his life to the game. He was recently elected the British vice-president of FIFA, the world governing body. I think that he will represent the game in all parts of the United Kingdom with distinction and integrity there.
The reform by which I set the greatest store is the establishment of a new Football Regulatory Authority. This is something I supported as vice-chairman of the Government’s Football Task Force and which was a central recommendation of the final majority report. I remember that we warned then that if the game could not sort out its problems for itself, the pressure for an independent government-appointed regulator would become irresistible. That is still my view and recent events have confirmed it. There is a desperate need for consistency in the way that the game is regulated, particularly when things go wrong. If rules are broken, or clubs are forced into administration, or the wrong sort of people motivated by the prospect of personal gain are attracted into the game, the need for there to be in place firm, fair, consistent and proportionate sanctions to deal with them is paramount.
I do not have the time today, nor indeed the information, to enter into the world apparently described by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, in the report by his company, Quest, to the Premier League, on alleged corruption in transfer dealings. I say “apparently” because so far the Premier League has declined to publish the full report. My one observation is that I hope that in future investigations such as the one conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, are commissioned by the FA’s Football Regulatory Authority and not by the individual leagues, which clearly have a conflict of interest when the investigation takes place.
The regulatory authority also needs to take on responsibility for strengthening the “fit and proper person” tests governing who should and should not be allowed to own and run football clubs. There is much concern about the increase in the number of foreign owners of Premiership clubs, now up to seven and more expected. It is not surprising that the attempted takeover of Manchester City by Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, who is accused in his native Thailand of a variety of corruption charges, is seen as particularly worrying. The now former Minister for Sport, Mr Caborn, said in the other place at Questions on Monday,
“we must make sure that the premier league does not turn into a billionaire’s playground”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/6/07; col. 5.]
He is absolutely right.
The lack of transparency in the financial affairs of Premier and Football League clubs is the subject of an Early Day Motion tabled by Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, in the other place. Mr Willis and his co-signatories are particularly concerned about the goings on at Leeds United, whose problems and failings are so complicated that they would take an entire debate—possibly even a Select Committee inquiry—to describe and unravel. The EDM makes a number of very serious allegations and effectively criticises the administrator, KPMG, for failing to discover who are the beneficiaries of two overseas companies which agreed to write off more than £15 million in debt between them, and then voted to keep the people who had taken the club into administration in control on the basis of a payment to creditors of just one penny in the pound. The club was able to avoid any Football League sanction for going into administration—normally a deduction of 10 points—by doing so right at the end of the season when relegation was certain, and so the 10-point deduction was meaningless.
Even more contentious, and very much part of this debate, is the football creditor rule, the arrangement by which all money owed to those in the game, such as players and other clubs, has to be paid in full, whilst all other creditors must take their chance in a creditors’ settlement. So in the case of Leeds United, for example, former players were able to claim almost £850,000, while creditors such as Leeds City Council, Leeds Metropolitan University, the West Yorkshire Ambulance Service, a window cleaning company, gas, water and electricity utilities, local schools, hospitals and even the St John Ambulance Brigade, which gives its services free and only claims expenses, will all get no more than one penny in the pound.
HM Revenue and Customs is owed almost £7 million in unpaid tax and VAT. Up until 2002 and the passing of the Enterprise Act, the Revenue would have been a preferential creditor. But the Act changed that and the Revenue has to take its chance along with everyone else—except those in football, of course, who have retained this super-creditor status. The all-party football group, on which I served, brought out a report in 2004 which proposed that this special creditor status should be removed. It commented:
“the best antidote for a club going into administration is a chairman and a board that prudently refuse to spend more than they can afford”.
I suspect that the game will need more common sense like that and I hope that the FA’s new regulator will be able to provide it.
My Lords, as always, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, who regularly brings the subject of sport to the attention of Parliament.
Politicians are probably the last people who should debate sport because they are only the group I know who would rather discuss their poll returns than the score of their local football team. Politicians do not often get involved for the simple reason that when everyone else is watching or taking part in sport, they are attending branch and ward meetings and going out delivering leaflets. It is one of the reasons why we often do not connect with them so, by bringing the subject of sport to the attention of the House, the noble Lord does us a service. Those of us here today are probably in a minority among our colleagues.
People cannot ignore the idea of sport as a function of society. Even if they are not that interested, they must be aware of it. While scanning through a paper for articles which other people will not read, they will find a great chunk of the back pages given over to sporting activity.
Sport must be brought into other fields of interest, such as health. Obesity is one of the great watchwords of our health agenda at the moment, and how the two correlate must be obvious to everyone involved.
I am not exactly sure who the Minister is today. Today is a bad day to be the duty Whip and speak in a debate to find out exactly who will be dealing with the answer. However, any Minister—and I believe that we now have a Minister for Fitness—will have to see the correlation between physical activity and health and the problem of obesity. We now live in a society where it is possible not to walk or cycle anywhere. I will not talk too much about rugby, but the parliamentary rugby team will have the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, back any time he wants. The parliamentary rugby team is rather like a methadone programme for players who are too old.
If we take the obesity issue and the idea of physical activity together, we get an idea of what can be brought together and what we can achieve. We must get people taking part in recreational or health activities. It is a lot easier to do if they have a tradition—I believe the technical term is muscle memory—of physical activity in the first place. If you get people who have been actively involved in sporting and physical recreation early in their lives, they will find it easier to carry on with less intensive activities later on. They will have a better idea about what to eat and what not to eat because they will know what it does to them.
Also, we must try to get more rationality about what happens when we consume food. I have heard some very odd things in this Chamber about the consumption of food by the body, such as the idea that you can burn up fat and protein only when you are actually taking part in exercise and not when your body is rebuilding the muscle that you have broken down over the course of exercise. The fact that some of our colleagues do not actually understand that is rather worrying. A hamburger is apparently poison and not a pound of ground up meat held together with some egg. That is what I have heard in the Chamber. A degree of awareness is required by those around us and outside. Physical activity can develop that awareness.
What can we do to achieve that? We must try to get people actively involved earlier. I have flogged to death the analogy of bad coaching from the film “Kes”. There is a famous football match in that film where people stand around freezing while the games teacher goes off on an ego trip fantasising about being his favourite sports star. I took that a stage further when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was sitting where the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is now. After a couple of looks from him, being a non-sporting person, as he put it himself, I extended the analogy to describe a person who played on the wing at rugby, freezing cold and not involved, but this time terrified that the ball would come anywhere near him. Bad coaching is probably the greatest enemy of an effective sporting culture. If you do it badly initially, you will stop people altogether.
So what do we look for from our schools and our teachers? We must make them be involved. The sad fact of the matter is that early years teaching is dominated by women, who have the highest drop-out and non-participation rates in sport. No matter what you do with teacher training, you cannot make up for the lack of 13,000 years’ experience, or whatever it was, as Pat Duffy pointed out to us in one of the most recent meetings of the All-Party Parliamentary Sport Group. A group that does not have the experience of exercise, training and coaching is probably the worst group to give that experience to somebody else. They do not know what they are doing and do not have the enthusiasm; you are effectively asking somebody who is bilingual in English and French to speak Spanish. You are asking them to do too much. We must bring in special coaching and support, which means getting coaching and support into an area where it has not traditionally gone—the early years of education.
The Government have undertaken a great deal of activity to correct the hole left in the sporting structure as the unintended result of education reforms under the previous Conservative Government. However, let us not kid ourselves that what they got rid of was that great; indeed, they may have done us a long-term favour, because the natural fourth team touch judge being put in charge of the lower third second XI may not have been the best scenario for avoiding that “Kes”-like football match. But it was what was there and when it went there was nothing. Then we undervalued the sporting structure that went with it, such as the playing fields. The current Government may have stopped and even slightly reversed that process now, but they took their time. Fair’s fair—and now we are taking the situation seriously. But are we going to invest in coaching at the early years, by bringing in specialists? Are we going to ensure that participation coaching is available in the club-school link? That is very well established; it has to be there and everyone is agreed that it has to be there.
What are we asking for here? As I have said before in this Chamber, what are we doing to ensure that training is easily available in participation coaching, junior level coaching, and coaching for adult teams? We forget that if you invest in school sports education, you should ensure that people carry on playing into adult life. We often forget that having 13 year-olds running around looking enthusiastic on an afternoon does not really matter much if by the age of 17 they have stopped. It may be easy for them to pick it up again later on but, if they do not, you have still lost your health investment and the long-term costs to the NHS are still going to be there. Why are we not making sure that colleges are getting a benefit from the Department of Health or somebody else to ensure that courses are available for coaching for which people do not have to pay? These have been cut back because the priority is on qualifications to get people into jobs. There has been a great deal of pressure in this area over time, so why are we not addressing the matter more keenly now? Will the Minister give us an idea of how this is developing? That pressure has been recognised, so can we make sure that we have development in coaching going the whole way through education?
Education about the health benefits of sporting activity is vital. Parents should be reminded again that their children getting a cut knee is not fatal and that healing is pretty universal. Children will develop and go on, so parents should not be frightened of them getting the odd bump and bang. If serious injury can be avoided or the risk of serious injury can be cut down to an acceptable minimum—and we should remember the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on this matter—they will be healthy, stronger and fitter for the rest of their lives. They will have a chance to benefit from the social inclusion of sporting activity later in life and a chance to mix with adults. If we can do this and support them, we will go on, but we have lost a degree of infrastructure and have to reinvent another. The state will have to pump-prime this—and I would hope that when the Minister responds to this debate he will give us a vision of how we are going to guarantee that the activities of his Government and the voluntary sectors are carried on to the next stage. The emergency repair work may have been done, but we must take it on to the next level.
My Lords, I join in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for introducing this debate, and for the many pertinent comments that he and other noble Lords have made—though it was rather a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, was not able to mention the Waterloo Cup. I must declare interests. I am chairman of the National Playing Fields Association and the Castle Rising Football Club, president of the Castle Rising Cricket Club and consultant to Wicksteed, a manufacturer of children's outdoor play equipment.
Many noble Lords mentioned the benefits that sport brings to the nation, especially in health and education, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Verma among others. One benefit not commented on, which some noble Lords may not be aware of, is the benefit to the environment of playing fields. Grass is one of the largest producers of oxygen. Two and a half acres of turf produces more oxygen than two and a half acres of forest. One natural grass football pitch can provide enough oxygen for 120 people per annum. Two and a half acres of turf fixes between 6.5 and 8.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.
Given the benefits we all recognise from sport, it is a pity that there should be so many obstacles to its enjoyment, imposed by government both directly and indirectly. I hope that the Minister will listen today and take steps towards removing impediments to providing sport in the nation. Small clubs do not usually have large financial resources; they tend to exist from hand to mouth, with a large part of smaller clubs’ income coming from bar profits. The Licensing Act 2003 has affected them. It is no use Richard Caborn saying that fees can easily be absorbed. In many cases, especially of those struggling the hardest to make ends meet, the extra costs simply cannot be absorbed; for example, Headcorn Football Club’s licence fee went up from £25 per annum to £900 per annum. Could the Minister listen to his friend in another place, the former sports Minister Kate Hoey, and,
“initiate action to take sports clubs out of this net”?
One of the problems mentioned by my honourable friend Hugh Robertson in another place and by my noble friend Lord Glentoran this afternoon is the problem of rules. The endless succession of new regulations and guidelines has created, and continues to create, unnecessary barriers to the teaching and promotion of sport to the young. To give just one example, on 1 May a rule came into force that an adult may take only two children to a public swimming bath. Ministers tend to dismiss the negative effect of these regulations, but if the Minister agrees that it would be better to see more participation in sport, he should see what he can do to assist in the removal of at least some of these obstacles.
While he is at it, could the Minister do something about those two insidious diseases, over-direction and political correctness? When comments are made about the problems and delays in distributing funds allocated for sport, the reason is always the same: compliance with an endless succession of criteria with no purpose or merit except to pander either to political correctness or to an absurd level of direction down to the smallest minutiae.
On a subject that I have some knowledge of because of an interest I declared earlier, at the end of 2005 the Big Lottery Fund announced that £155 million would be allocated for children’s outdoor play. So far, £27 million has been given out, but £15 million—the major part of the money distributed—has been given to bureaucrats so that they can develop “play strategy”. Local authorities, the principal appliers and users of these funds, know perfectly well what strategy will best suit their area without the need for outsiders to give them this sort of advice. Out of the £155 million, only £12 million has been used for its intended purpose, the provision of outdoor play. Why? Because the set of rules governing the application is so ludicrous that less than half of local authorities have bothered to apply. September, only two months away, is the final date for applications under this scheme. The Big Lottery Fund has refused to extend the date. Is it all a Machiavellian plot to deliberately not make the money available so that it can be diverted for other purposes, for example the Olympic Games? Or is it terminal incompetence on such a scale that the Big Lottery Fund cannot even give the money away? Whichever it is, can the Minister tell the House what will happen to the undistributed funds when the scheme is closed down?
In 2002, £750 million was allocated to sport, but by 2004 only £8 million had been given. How much since then has actually been given, as opposed to allocated or assigned? It is difficult to ascertain, but if the rate is the same as for the first two years, not a lot will have been given out. I am not as familiar with the detail of this as I am with outdoor play, but it would appear that, again, it is the bureaucratic and regulatory barriers which are creating problems.
The prevention of sport because of the dislike of there being a loser—as happens all too frequently—is absurd. Losing is a part of life, and it is misleading and bad for children not to learn about that. Indeed, it is arguable that the children who suffer in school sports are the winners. They learn about winning, and we all know that you do not always win in life.
Having drawn the Minister’s attention to these problems, I am sure that he will do something about them. The only reason he might not be able to is because he will shortly receive a well deserved promotion, in which case he will, of course, be able to set his successor on the right path.
My Lords, I am grateful for that last remark, but it is quite untrue. I hope to continue in the humble role that I occupy, but that is in the lap of the gods—or the nearest thing to them, which is, of course, the Prime Minister.
Like everyone else who has participated in this debate, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Pendry not just on introducing the debate and producing an excellent speech, which covered the wide range of the Government’s achievements and aspirations with regard to sport over the past decade and where we go from here, but on his signal contribution to the policy of my party on the development of sport. I also congratulate him on his continuous efforts to ensure that we remain constructive on this very important topic.
I came to this debate fairly well briefed but I have very little to say about curling and even less about greyhound racing; therefore, I am grateful that my noble friend Lord Bilston is not present. I am probably breaking House protocol by referring to his speech, but I think that we all enjoyed the sheer enthusiasm that he expressed for the sport. That is one great element about sport; it engages the community. As all sportsmen and those who love sport know, sport generates enormous enthusiasm. That is why we want to proselytise and to achieve greater participation in all sports. In many ways, the more active that is, the better.
I was grateful that my noble friend Lord Pendry identified the health benefits of sport to the individual and wider society. Those were reinforced in other speeches. The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord McNally, referred to the growing problem of obesity. There is no doubt that exercise is the best way to tackle that problem.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, also referred to social inclusion. There is no doubt that young people who are well motivated, occupied with sport and integrated into sports clubs are far less likely to engage in arid pursuits of a criminal kind which cause difficulties for their communities. Therefore, sport can play a part in that.
I shall come on to the subject of football in a moment because I cannot ignore what my noble friend Lord Faulkner, from his authoritative position, referred to as the sport of the nation—indeed, it is. I am surprised that no one referred to the manifestation of football clubs in the concept of Kickz, which seeks to relate football clubs more closely to their communities. In many cases, football clubs are located in the most deprived communities, and they play an important role in bringing youngsters into the world of sport because their heroes are close at hand. In the past, those heroes have been close at hand but socially distant from the communities. It is good that a large number of leading clubs now ensure that they relate to these communities. They send out their footballers, who speak with authority and have a command over youngsters’ attention. That is of great benefit, and we should salute football in those terms. I shall come later to the criticism made by my noble friend Lord Faulkner.
I think that I heard grudgingly from the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, and slightly more generously from elsewhere in the House—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was slightly more positive—that there has been some improvement with regard to school playing fields. Some improvement? The Labour Government have stopped the destruction of school playing fields through selling and closure, which was a marked feature of the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, they are now bringing back school playing fields and are increasing the number available. Therefore, although the Opposition may have some general points to make about our sports policy, I am afraid that it is best if they keep off this area, where they were so conspicuously negligent in the past.
We have made great progress on school sport. There is no doubt that it is not just a question of playing fields, although they play their part, but of increasing facilities more generally. The school sports strategy has already guaranteed youngsters in schools two hours a week of high-quality PE and sport. I was enjoined by several noble Lords to say whether we are building on that. Indeed, we are. We intend that young people will have four hours of sport and PE a week and are working towards that. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said that there are some pressures with regard to PE teachers, and there are. If one is embarking on expansion and increasing opportunity, there will be a problem with the number of trained teachers available to make that possible. We are concerned about the position to which the noble Baroness referred, but they are the problems of ambition and growing success and not the problems of failure.
Likewise, we have been concerned to forge the relationship with clubs which was enjoined by my noble friend Lord Pendry, who covered almost every aspect of important policy, and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. There is enormous strength in the private clubs of this country and the opportunities for sport that they present, but they have not always been at their best in tapping into local talent. The young person has to volunteer and make the effort to go to the club rather than have the club approach the young person, but young people may feel that certain aspects of sports clubs and their organisation are difficult to breach.
We have been concerned with the whole range of sports. There is no better example than the area to which my noble friend Lady Massey referred, a “Chance to shine” in cricket. It provides an opportunity in that very important sport, which was showing a real decline in schools, for clubs to get close to schools, to provide the necessary coaching and to establish the link that young people need if they go into club sport after they leave school.
One of the great features that everyone in the House will recognise is that, even with the best schools programme in the world—we are far from the best at present, but we are improving our position so well that even the Australians are looking to us as an example of how to promote school sport—the problem is obvious: an awful lot of people drop out of sport when they leave school. That is why the clubs are so important, and the link between them and the schools in the community is important. We have put in resources. It will be recognised that we have given clubs advantages such as rate relief to encourage them to recognise the crucial role that they can play in these communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was not the only one to voice the important point about the need for good coaching, which generally can only be provided by people who actively play or who have recently participated at club level. That is why clubs have to be so close to education institutions; the amount of professional help within the school is perforce bound to be limited. The access of young people to good coaching will depend crucially on links with the clubs.
My noble friend Lord Watson sought to bring in the Scottish dimension to the debate. He will recognise that, on the advances we have made in the education system, I can talk only about England and Wales. I cannot talk about Scotland because of its devolved nature. My noble friend identified the challenges of sport in Scotland, which are issues that need to be tackled elsewhere in the United Kingdom with the same vigour. He is absolutely right that, although the rest of the country might have difficulty remembering all our achievements in curling, they certainly are aware that Scottish football is an important part of Scottish life, as it is for the communities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I want to emphasise the extent to which we have provided additional facilities. Local authorities invest around £1 billion in sports services, and they will get resources for that over the next three years. Our increased educational facilities in schools often means a significant enhancement in sports facilities. There is increasing pressure for educational facilities to be owned jointly with the community—not just the education authority as such, but for community use on a wider level. The Government’s enormous investment in education is producing an obvious spin-off in sports facilities.
The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, identified a sport that needs relatively little provision, except velodromes at the very highest level. As he rightly says, cycling is a very active community sport, with a high level of participation. It is our ambition to make cycling safer to encourage people to engage in it in their everyday pursuits. One of the advantages of cycling over many other sports is that supreme achievements can be achieved at a very high level. We have Olympic champions among men, and a female Tour de France winner. So we have exemplars of achievement, which encourage young people to follow.
If school sport is one pillar, and community and club sport, with coaching within that framework, are the second pillar, the third pillar is elite sport. We are bound to talk about sport at the very highest level, because that is where achievement is communicated through the mass media, particularly television. When people talk about sport, they are much more likely to talk about national sporting achievements. We have the particular challenge and success of hosting the Olympic Games. We had the successful bid. Among the many tributes paid to the outgoing Prime Minister this week was the recognition that Tony Blair played a critical role at a critical point in the bid process in Singapore. Bringing the Olympic Games to London is a very great advantage to our community.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, emphasised that the Government should expect to be criticised about the Olympic Games. Performance is enhanced through constructive criticism; and we always get constructive criticism from the opposition Benches. I am grateful that the noble Lord emphasised that we should recognise that the Olympic Games belong to all of us; they require all-party and, in fact, no-party support. These Games can be the greatest ever, and that would be to the credit not just of London but of the whole United Kingdom. They will bring enormous benefits. Despite all the reservations expressed and the problems over the budget, the Olympic authorities, after their recent visit to London, consider our progress on the Games as further advanced than any that they had seen in preparation for previous Olympic Games. Although we all enjoy the stimulus that the critical press provides to all of us in our constructive efforts, let us not talk down too much the conscious efforts of London and of the nation as a whole to guarantee that the Games will be a great success, to the benefit of us all. They will provide an opportunity to set sport before the nation in a very glamorous and compelling way. The Olympic Games these days are so all-encompassing that it is difficult to think of a sport that does not rate as an Olympic event and for which medals are not contested.
The coverage that is bound to follow the development of the Olympic Games, not only in the build-up but when they take place, will make a great impact on the nation. We need to be in a position to encourage all those, of whatever sporting ability, to respond to the stimulus of the Games and to see the advantages of participating in sport. For every Olympic winner, you need a large number of competitors who do not succeed. Sport has got to be for those who do not do particularly well; mass sport is exactly that. Of course there are heroes at the highest level, but mass sport is about the large numbers of people who participate at very mundane levels, coping with their own inadequacies but loving the game and deriving the benefits that sport provides: exercise, sociability and increased fitness.
The noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Addington, often make the point that not only are the Olympic Games about the supremely fit but in the Paralympics they are about those carrying disadvantages. We should recognise the enormous achievements and the confidence that the Paralympics bring to a large number of our disabled fellow citizens, who can see what can be done to triumph over very real difficulties. We are putting £29 million into helping our Paralympic athletes train for the Games. We want them to do well, but we also look upon that as an example of inclusive society and the belief that even people with difficulties can achieve a high standard.
From his informed perspective, my noble friend Lord Faulkner criticised certain aspects of the Football Association, how the Premier League is currently run and so on. They are well made criticisms. We all ought to be concerned about administration of our major sports. An awful lot of people give a great deal of voluntary time to the rather arid business of administration. Nevertheless, it is also important that they get it right. Maladministration of our sports is catastrophic for our community. We need public debate on the aspects of our national sports that are not well run.
The departure of Richard Caborn, who was responsible for many of these achievements in recent years as Minister for Sport in another place, is lamented, on my part at least. His attempt to offer good offices to the football authorities on their present problems, which seems to have been rebuffed in some quarters, was made with the best intent. The football authorities need to realise that, when the Government offer to help in those terms, it is not to come down with a heavy hand but to show that wider society needs these problems tackled seriously. I give my noble friend that assurance on our part.
This has been an interesting debate. I am sure that it has advanced the cause of sport and that no one has participated in this debate without that in mind. The expansion and development of sport can bring enormous benefits to wider society. We have one glorious opportunity before us in 2012. There is a lot of work to be done before then, but I hope that we go forward together and seek to raise the important dimension of encouraging that aspect of sport which brings wider benefits to society.
My Lords, I agree with the Minister that this has been an interesting debate. I began by saying that I regretted the fact that, over the years, Governments have not given a higher priority to sport. Since delivering my speech, however, I have heard that my successor as Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde has entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. James Purnell is a keen and active sportsman. He has one drawback, he is an Arsenal supporter, but I do not hold that against him. One can say that more sport will be heard around the Cabinet table as a result of his being there.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, a sparring partner of mine over many years, is not a fellow boxer but certainly always had a lethal punch, which he now and again displayed in the debate today. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave his usual constructive speech, but there have been so many speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, could have made his speech from this side of the House, because of his praise of the Government and what they have done for cycling during the 10 years I referred to.
I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bilston and Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I am pleased that she raised “Chance to shine”, which we should all herald as a great success. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, also gave a constructive speech. I particularly liked the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. I think that most football supporters in the country will echo his words and support what he has been saying. He is a great champion of football.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, always brings a fresh and often original aspect to our debates. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Howard and Lord Glentoran, that we are getting too soft. We are not adventurous enough in sport. We should not be a nation wrapped up in cotton wool; we have gone too far in that direction.
I thank the Minister for his constructive reply to the debate. Thanking everyone who has taken part, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.