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Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What are their targets relating to the number of people participating in sport and physical activities.

My Lords, the Government’s existing targets are to increase the number of adults from priority groups participating in moderate intensity level sport at least three times a week by 3 per cent by 2008; to increase the percentage of schoolchildren in England doing a minimum of two hours of high quality PE and school sport a week to 85 per cent by 2008; and to get 2 million more people more active by 2012.

My Lords, after the resignation of Derek Mapp as the chairman of Sport England, the Government’s plan for a sports and activity legacy for the 2012 Olympics appears to be in some disarray. Sport England is now no longer concerned with achieving the challenging target of 2 million people indulging in greater physical activity which the Minister mentioned. Who will take this forward? Is there a cast-iron guarantee for funding from the Department of Health or from the Department for Children, Schools and Families? Given the resignation, it is important that we should know.

My Lords, we all pay tribute to Derek Mapp’s contribution to sport over the past few years. I do not think that too much should be read into this matter. If resources would be a real consolation to the noble Lord, the strategy on that front and with regard to that target will be led by the Treasury. It will co-ordinate the work of other departments to hit that target. I do not think the House will find a better place to locate that responsibility in terms of resources.

My Lords, in addressing these targets, what are the Government doing to co-ordinate their efforts to tackle obesity, particularly among young people?

My Lords, that is a real issue which will be taken into account with regard to the third target that I mentioned. The noble Lord will appreciate that a number of departments have a keen interest in obesity, predominantly led by the Department of Health. As I have indicated, however, the overall strategy on this target will be under an official from the Treasury, with participation from the Department of Health and others with a keen interest in obesity, such as the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is no age limit on physical activity? Some hospitals—I attend the Chelsea and Westminster—have excellent activity classes and groups for older people. I am by no means the oldest in the class. This is of great benefit in keeping people more active and mobile. That presumably comes out of the health budget. Does it?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point out that one of the best ways of safeguarding the health of the elderly is their participation in exercise. Very many of our fellow citizens do so. However, as I said in my reply to the earlier question, obesity among young people and those who need to correct their strategies early is most worrying for the Government. That is why there is great concentration on that. However, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for drawing attention to the priorities for the elderly.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that setting an example is important in this respect? I am sure he goes to a gym elsewhere. I have not seen him in the Westminster gym. It is a pretty good gym near Portcullis House. Will he urge as many Members as possible to take their exercise there as a way of setting an example to the rest of the country?

My Lords, I am all in favour of encouraging Members of both Houses to participate in the Westminster gym. However, I hope that registration there does not consign the rest of us to the scrapheap of fitness. Many of us take regular exercise but not under the auspices of the Westminster gym, meritorious though that body is.

My Lords, one of the issues that we are seeking to confront with the new strategy is cycling that needs to be encouraged in order to perform well at elite levels. We have high hopes for our cyclists at the 2012 Olympics and at the 2008 Olympics. In addition, cycling is an exceedingly healthy exercise and ought to be a safe one as well. That involves consideration of others.

My Lords, I was interested in what the Minister said initially. Can I take it that the Treasury will be making sure that local authorities that do not invest in enough space for recreational activity will do so in future and will reactivate stuff that has been set aside so that it can fall into disuse and be sold off?

My Lords, local authorities will also play their full part with regard to elite sports. I hear what the noble Lord says about the necessity for a co-ordinated approach with regard to the demanding target in 2012. It is the one that brings the greatest overall benefit to the nation, and the Treasury will need to take into account the points that the noble Lord has made.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the cheapest forms of exercise is walking? It requires no capital expenditure and can be done by anybody until a great age.

My Lords, that is so. A combination of walking and running up Tube escalators is an excellent form of exercise.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us today when the Government intend to publish their obesity strategy report? Does he accept that the approach in terms of the Question asked is about exercise and diet?

My Lords, it certainly is. The fitness of the nation depends on both factors. It will be recognised that my department is primarily interested in the fitness regime. The report is to be produced in the near future. We are all too well aware of the interest that has been stimulated by a series of indices over the past year. The House has had debates and Questions on this matter, which the department takes very seriously.