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EUC Report: Grass-roots Sport

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 10 November 2011

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on Grassroots Sport and the European Union (16th Report, HL Paper 130)

My Lords, as London and the UK gear up for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and with the EU year of active ageing rapidly approaching, the publication of the EU Committee’s report, Grassroots Sport and the European Union, makes this debate timely. When the Social Policies and Consumer Protection EU Sub-Committee, which I chair, began its inquiry at the beginning of this year, it was not immediately obvious to all of us that the EU had any specific locus in the sporting arena. Your Lordships may be aware, however, that the Lisbon treaty, which entered into force at the end of 2009, granted the EU a formal competence in the field of sport for the first time. This now permits the EU to support, co-ordinate and complement the actions of member states, which retain primary responsibility for sports policy. To this end, the Commission published a communication on developing the European dimension in sport on 18 January 2011. It was this document that prompted us to conduct the inquiry.

The report considered how the new competence could best be used to support grass-roots sport by extending the benefits of participation to individuals, teams and communities. It focused on grass roots rather than on professional sport in light of the fact that one of the reasons for developing an EU sports policy and therefore introducing a competence was recognition of the social significance of sport. While it is fair to say that there was a degree of scepticism among some members of the committee at the start of the inquiry, we heard powerful evidence from a range of stakeholders that convinced the committee at an early stage that sport can make a valuable contribution to policy areas in which the EU has a stake. For example, we heard from volunteers of Street Games who run sports projects in disadvantaged communities where they have reduced anti-social behaviour and brought together diverse or fragmented communities. As part of its inquiry, the committee visited Swiss Cottage School in Camden to learn first hand how disabled children and young people in the area are benefiting from being involved in grass-roots sports. In addition, we heard about projects that are helping people into education, employment and training by developing skills such as team work, as well as confidence, and other initiatives that aim to reduce social isolation among elderly and migrant communities.

Sport alone will obviously not solve these complex social problems, but the committee became convinced that it is a powerful tool which policy-makers should use. The committee’s report recommends ways in which the EU and the UK can exploit the full potential offered by a sport through mainstreaming it into their policy-making and using it to deliver their objectives in a broad range of areas, including health, education, social inclusion and equalities. Increasing the participation of underrepresented groups such as older people, the unemployed, disabled people, migrant communities and other disadvantaged groups, should be a particular priority, as well as recognising the importance of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

The EU can also affect sport in a number of less obvious ways, and it is here that the committee considered that the new competence could be particularly helpful in ensuring that sport is taken into account. For example, EU legislation on the single market and intellectual property can ultimately affect the amount of money available for grass-roots sports projects. Our reports suggested ways in which the EU can avoid placing unnecessary regulatory or legislative burdens on sport, particularly when they affect volunteers, who are essential to grass-roots activity. In this respect, we recommended a review of EU legislation by the Commission, similar to that recently undertaken in the UK to identify regulatory burdens and ideally remove them in due course.

Although there have been signs that the Commission is starting to integrate sport into policy-making and funding programmes, we did not consider that it was taking place consistently enough. We considered that the EU could adopt a more focused role through the Commission’s sport unit in making a more compelling case for the integration of sport in a wider range of policy initiatives. This could be effected through data collection and research, for example, particularly with regard to the evidence base for the social outcomes that sport can facilitate, through improving mechanisms by which member states and grass-roots organisations can share best practice, making funding available through truly transnational projects via a dedicated sports programme and through recognising that more general EU funding streams, such as the structural funds, can also offer significant potential to grass-roots sports. While we accept that resources for any funding streams specific to sport are likely to be small, we are still hopeful that the matter will receive the attention that it deserves during the current negotiations in Brussels regarding the next multi-annual financial framework for the period 2014-20.

The redistributed revenues from the broadcasting of professional sport also provide a significant source of funding for grass-roots sport. The treaty now allows for the specific nature of sport to be taken into account in the assessment of commercial arrangements, such as collective selling and territoriality, that had previously come under scrutiny for their compliance with EU competition and internal market legislation. We welcome the Commission’s recognition of the benefits to be derived from collective selling. However, the uncertainty over what the specific nature of sport entails has been a long-standing concern of stakeholders.

Your Lordships may be aware that this matter received media coverage last month as a result of court action taken by a UK publican, Karen Murphy, who has been fighting for the right to air Premier League games using a Greek TV decoder. The European Court of Justice, which took note of the new article in the treaty and the requirement to recognise the specificity of sport, ruled that national laws which prohibited the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards were contrary to the freedom to provide service. While not providing an absolute green light for publicans across the land, especially regarding copyright issues, this decision could nevertheless have major implications for the Premier League and lead to cheaper viewing arrangements for foreign broadcasts. The implications for the funding of grass-roots sport from broadcasting revenues are far from clear, particularly as lower subscriptions may, of course, increase the volume of subscribers.

Digital piracy of sporting events is another issue of increasing concern, and our report recommended that sport be included in the Commission’s work on the digital agenda. Similarly, we recommended that any work resulting from the Commission’s Green Paper on online gambling takes sport into account. We heard divergent evidence on whether the gambling industry should be required to pay a fair return for the use of sport’s intellectual property. This is a complex issue, and we recommended that the Government and the Commission analyse the French levy and consult more widely on the issue.

Lastly, we concluded that the Commission needed to do more to ensure that the voice of grass-roots sport is sufficiently heard. Dialogue between the Commission and sports stakeholders is currently dominated by professional sport, particularly football, and is therefore not truly representative. Our report recommended that the Commission should put in place enhanced measures to inform grass-roots organisations about work being undertaken at the EU level and the opportunities available to them. The EU Sports Platform, as chaired by the ex-Taoiseach John Bruton, should help with this.

We also suggested ways in which the EU working groups, which progress many of the EU’s initiatives in this area, could be more productive and focused, including making use of smaller grass-roots organisations with expertise in specific areas where appropriate. In the UK context, we considered that Sport Northern Ireland, sportscotland and Sport Wales should be invited to join the DCMS EU Sport Stakeholder Group, which is currently only attended by Sport England.

Hugh Robertson MP, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, wrote to us on 22 May this year to set out the Government’s response. There is clearly a lot of common ground between our views and those of the Government on the issues we dealt with in the report. We welcome in particular their commitment to ensuring that the contribution of sport to other EU policy areas, including the Europe 2020 objectives, is recognised in the work plan for sport for 2011-14, as well as being mainstream throughout the EU’s broader activities. We also welcome their commitment to increased participation, including through volunteering, and in line with their London 2012 Singapore promise across government departments and building on their existing engagement with the devolved Administrations.

The Government were less persuaded of the committee’s recommendation to establish an EU sport programme as a specific funding stream under the next multi-annual financial framework, which we note does not form part of the Commission’s recent proposals in this respect. However, the Government did support the committee’s recommendation that sport should be mainstreamed through other funding instruments, including the structural funds, and they undertook to promote such opportunities to the UK sports bodies. However, the Government did not indicate whether that policy would be integrated into the UK’s negotiation stance in the next round of structural funds. We look to the Minister to tell us more about the Government’s intentions in that regard.

The Government also supported the committee’s recommendations on the need to address the digital piracy of sporting events in work on the digital agenda, as well as accepting the committee’s conclusion that too often EU legislation in unrelated areas unintentionally adversely impacts upon sport, particularly on volunteers. They also accept that there needs to be better vigilance and better use made of the impact assessment process. The EU’s impact on grass-roots sport would surely pass unnoticed without adequate dialogue between the Commission and the sports organisations on the ground. In this respect, the Government support our recommendations on the need for such dialogue to be more representative and outcome-based and for the Commission to communicate better, particularly to smaller organisations, the opportunities available to them at EU level.

We also received a response to our report from the European Commission in September this year. We were encouraged to read that the Commission was largely supportive of our report’s conclusions and recommendations, although it also suggested that financial constraints may prevent certain measures being adopted to improve dialogue between it and sports organisations.

The committee understands that the Council will adopt further conclusions on the role of voluntary activities in sport in promoting active citizenship and, in the wake of the recent international cricketing no-ball controversy, on combating match-fixing and promoting good governance in sport more generally. In similar vein, the Commission is currently developing its approach to online gambling following the publication of its Green Paper, and the committee will look forward to considering any proposals that may result from that process.

Since the responses from the Government and Commission were received, I have also had the pleasure of giving an address about our report to a conference in London that was organised by one of our main witnesses during the inquiry, the Sport and Recreation Alliance. The Commission and the European Parliament were also involved in that event, so it provided an excellent opportunity to make the committee’s views known on this matter.

I hope that my remarks today have demonstrated that the EU’s new competence potentially offers real benefit to sport and the millions of people who enjoy participating in it across Europe. The committee is hopeful that the competence will be used to ensure that even more people can reap the benefits of doing so, and we expect that the EU’s work in this area will only develop further over time. As sport is truly international, it seemed only reasonable that the EU should have a strong role in that context, as long as grass-roots activities at the local level continue to receive the support that they require and deserve. In that respect, we are hopeful that the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will provide a lasting sporting legacy without taking much needed funds away from grass-roots sports. I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords, and of course from the Minister on behalf of the Government, regarding this important matter. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is a fascinating report and a particularly worthwhile subject to investigate. Sub-Committee G has produced a paper to the expected high standard, ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey. I should add that while I am a member of the committee now, I was not in place during the course of the report.

The committee has looked at a subject that requires, and has been given, in-depth investigation. I look forward to the response from the Minister, particularly in response to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The European Union has the ability to develop and make a difference to the success of grass-roots sport. It will be able to integrate sport into policy-making and funding streams and to encourage more member states to improve their own performance, both on the playing fields and in letting grass-roots sport thrive.

The great benefits of grass-roots sport and taking part stand repetition. As the noble Baroness mentioned, sport is good for health and education. With regard to health, as we all know, we are in the midst of a massive obesity epidemic in this country that is creating a population with a high incidence of type 2 diabetes. This, I might add, is costing the British taxpayer almost £1 million an hour. I am not, of course, saying that grass-roots sport is a cure-all for all things obese, but it can certainly help. I also mentioned education. There is the physical side, including fitness and skills, and there are the social skills. Something that is often forgotten in competitive sport is that playing as part of a team is a great thing for the young of this country to take part in.

We cannot look at grass-roots sport without also looking at major sporting events. It would be difficult for one to exist without the other. Major events rely on the grass roots to buy tickets, shirts, scarves and other goods; and to watch pay-to-view terrestrial or satellite television. The grass roots also rely on funding gained from these major events. This is particularly poignant at the moment when we look at the enormous sums of money that have been mentioned in some sports, such as salaries and transfer fees. Money can trickle down to grass-roots events. The holy grail, though, is the sporting legacy from these major events. This is also the basis on which competing nations have won the right to hold events such as a world cup, championship or the Olympic Games. This is an area that appears to be difficult to achieve; therefore co-oordination from the European Union can possibly help to extend this sporting legacy further.

A study from the University of Kent was highlighted in the Guardian about six months ago. It looked at the sporting legacy from the Greek Games held in 2004. It found that there was a short-lived boost in sporting activity of 6 per cent in 2003-04. Five years later this dropped by 13 per cent. What made this more depressing was that over the same time Greece won the European football championship, so there was a big push on sport in that country. The legacy is not there now. The data and the study show that a broader strategy on active lifestyles must be implemented when these major events take place. I hope that the European Union will help to put that in place. This of course can be implemented on a pan-European basis.

Two countries with a sporting heritage, admittedly outside the European Union, are Australia and New Zealand. Australia held the Sydney Olympic Games, which were another successful major event. Once again, no noticeable legacy was found. More recently, we have had the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. We have yet to see what the sporting legacy will be from that, but in a country of 4 million, with every one of them wearing an All Black shirt, there were 120,000 visitors to the country and 1 million tickets were sold.

When the Rugby World Cup comes to England in 2015, I understand that we aim to sell 3 million tickets. Let us hope that it will produce a pan-European sporting legacy and stretch even further and be long-lasting. By then, I hope, a number of European countries will play in that World Cup.

So now we look to 2012 and how the sporting legacy will be achieved. We have the capital projects, the creation and improvement of stadia that will be used for the event, and the upgrading of thousands of local sports clubs and facilities. We should also not forget the protection and improving of sports fields across the country. These will have a long-lasting use after the event has ended, but we must ensure the legacy also brings more people to take part in sport.

The European Union has the opportunity to co-ordinate and to oversee progress. However, I make a sincere plea, along with the noble Baroness, not to overregulate areas where it is not required. This is so important. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, the European Union Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, are to be warmly congratulated on producing this excellent report. Not only does it inform and update us on the role of sport in the EU, but it points the way to the future, where grass-roots sport can take its place at the centre of people’s lives.

It is a particular pleasure for me to talk about sport in such a context. In the 1990s, when I was a Member of the European Parliament, I wrote and spoke constantly of the need to reflect the importance of sport in member states, and urged the Commission to provide legislation to reflect that. I was secretary and, later, president of the European all-party committee on sport, which undertook numerous reports and hearings that provided an opportunity for important debates. None was more so than when a Belgian footballer made his way to my office in Brussels to explain his predicament and his dispute with the football club for which he played. I almost said “which owned him”, since that was the nub of the case.

Little did I realise at that first meeting that the Bosman case, as it became known, would have such a fundamental effect, not only on football but on all professional sport. It changed for ever the rights and entitlements of individual players. I well remember telling the player that his case, within the existing legislation of the single market, was strong. I urged him to take it forward; he did and the rest is sporting history. Despite this and other controversial cases, the Commission refused to incorporate sport into EU legislation. Therefore, its inclusion in the most recent treaty—the Lisbon treaty—is welcome, if long overdue; sport is now recognised.

As with many good ideas, timing is everything. With economic chaos across Europe, the likelihood of generous funding—a strong, separate budget line—would appear to be a forlorn hope. What is to be achieved in the current situation? The report gives us good pointers. It reminds us of the scope of sport within society, notably in health, social and educational spheres. It highlights the role of volunteering, which is so crucial to both professional and amateur sport, and asks for recognition of this. Here in the UK we are focusing on volunteering in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. Thousands of people have already signed up, with many more to follow.

By taking evidence from a wide range of sources, the EU Committee provides us with an excellent overview of where we are now and where we can be in the future. Not only does it look at the implications of the single market, it focuses strongly on intellectual property rights—all of which is aimed at protecting sport from negative factors and promoting good practice. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, the failure to take sport into account in the formation of legislation has caused significant problems.

What, in reality, can we hope for in the future? The Commission is now a paid-up member of the sports lobby, promising to include sport in all future policy areas and quite rightly granting it its proper status. The benefits for member states are highlighted in the EU work plan for sport. With better EU data collection, member states will be able to measure themselves against others. There are huge discrepancies, so the comparative performance data will enable member states to learn from each other, stimulating Governments to match up, either through better funding or better structures. No sporting body ever wants to be at the bottom of the league table.

The breadth and sources of submissions to the EU Committee are impressive. The Sport and Recreation Alliance made a strong case for the benefits of participation and the active notion of sport for all ages and standards, which is of course the hallmark of grass-roots sport. It also reminded us that sport and physical activity have a positive impact on educational attainment—a fact which sadly seems to have eluded Mr Gove with his dispiriting educational proposals. The point was strongly made that sport must be mainstreamed in structural funds if disadvantaged and unrepresented groups are to be helped.

Sport England highlighted a number of concerns, not least the sadly small number of women participating in sport compared to the number of men. Oh, for some form of Title IX across Europe—the USA really did get that right in the 1980s and Europe should be encouraged to follow suit.

My suggestion for enhancing sport in an economic downturn is based on co-operation. My inspiration comes from comedian and writer Tony Hawks, a committed and, indeed, good tennis player, who for the past seven years has founded and promoted Tennis For Free. For most of that time I have encouraged and supported him and lobbied for him with the LTA and with governments, until recently with scant success. His formula is simple. A charity, Tennis For Free, uses his local park courts at the Joseph Hood Recreation Ground in Merton, for a weekly free coaching programme on Saturday mornings. It is amazing. The courts, though pretty rundown, are packed, with mums, dads and kids all being coached, provided with racquets and balls and coming back week after week. It is all made possible by the far-sighted Merton Council, which has decided that the court should be free all week and the pay-and-play charges have been removed.

Now Tony has moved further. Councils up and down the country—most of them cash-strapped—have signed up for a similar package. There is no requirement for expensive upgrading of courts for Tennis For Free; as long as the courts are deemed to be safe, they are deemed to be playable. Some 80 councils have now signed up to that project; it is truly amazing. At last—at very last—Sport England has come online, recognising that this is a unique way to foster grass-roots tennis. It is funding eight new centres so that the basic cost for coaches, racquets and balls can now be met.

This I believe is a formula that could work for most sports: a charity employing coaches, a local authority giving its facilities free of charge and seed-corn funding from the Sports Council. It is a formula that could be used across all member states.

I thank the European Union Committee for opening up this debate and I thank all who contributed to the report. Let it be the first of many.

My Lords, on 22 November I shall be taking over as chair of the Volunteering Development Council, following in the footsteps of my noble friend Lady Hanham. It is a great honour to have been asked to chair the council, because it represents the opinions and interests of the millions of people throughout this country who contribute to the daily life of our nation by volunteering. I would like to use today’s debate as an opportunity to say a few words about the relationship between the EU and grass-roots sports and volunteering.

First, may I place on record my appreciation of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her chairmanship of EU Sub-Committee G. She combines incisiveness and understanding of whatever subject is in hand with great good humour and a collegiate approach, and it is genuinely a pleasure to serve on the sub-committee. We are also, as ever, served very well by the staff of this House and in the case of this inquiry by the specialist adviser, Professor Richard Parrish.

Our report highlights the importance of volunteers in sporting activity and notes that, for example, the average football club will involve some 21 volunteers. Indeed, the Football Association estimates that there are more than 400,000 volunteers involved in footballing activities alone.

Why do they do this? For some, it is the love of a particular sport that stays with them throughout their lives. For others, it is drawn from a commitment to their local area and the role sport can play in cementing that sense of local community. My home town of Needham Market has a thriving and very successful football club that was first established in 1919. It has a number of teams and a record of success that is the envy of far larger towns. Over the 30 years that I have lived in Needham Market, I have seen hundreds of young people commit their time and energy to the club. There are currently some 130 young people active in football in the town, which has a population of only 4,500.

Other people become drawn to volunteering in sporting activities because of the many benefits that sport can bring to people who are disadvantaged in some way. We had powerful evidence from Street Games and the Prince’s Trust, among others, about the role that sport can play, not just in providing meaningful activity but in teaching leadership skills and providing a route to recognised qualifications. The RNIB, for example, explained how physical activity can improve balance, mobility and co-ordination for those with a visual impairment, and locally I have seen how the bowls club often brings great social as well as health benefits to older people.

All these activities depend on volunteers, and one of the great things is that much of the interaction goes across the generations in a way that few other activities do. Volunteering of any kind is and should remain essentially a local activity with support from local councils and national Governments. The European Union-level dimension to grass-roots sport and volunteering is hard to establish at first sight. Indeed, a very recent communication from the Commission spoke about having a legal framework for volunteering. Even as a Europhile, I would need some convincing of the need for that.

However, as our inquiry went on, it became clear to me that there is a role for the EU in grass-roots sport, although it is limited. First, many witnesses highlighted regulatory burdens as one of the great barriers to volunteering. The experience of the English Federation of Disability Sport was that,

“even small increases in administrative burdens can have a devastating effect on a club’s ability to recruit and retain volunteers”.

While I accept that it is often difficult to sort out the truth from myth about EU regulation, I would support the Sport and Recreation Alliance in its call for a review of EU regulation as it impacts on volunteers. A number of witnesses told us that both sport and volunteering are vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences as a result of EU legislation in other areas. The Sport and Recreation Alliance told us how regulations about working at height and on the use of open water had had serious adverse impacts on climbing and water sports. With the coalition Government committed to reviewing domestic regulatory burdens, perhaps it would be a good idea, before we end the EU Year of Volunteering, to begin to carry out a parallel exercise in EU law.

In an ideal world, impacts on volunteers would be considered pre-legislatively, rather than afterwards. Our evidence suggests that despite the coming into force of Article 165 of the Lisbon treaty, which, as we have heard, has given the EU a legal competence in sport, the procedures within the Commission are not giving sufficient weight to the opinions of the sport unit when looking at how other policy decisions might impact. There are certainly many formal channels for dialogue between policy-makers and sporting organisations, but our evidence suggests that these are dominated by elite sport and big money, especially in football. An MEP who is an expert in this field highlighted the lack of a real grass-roots voice in EU policy-making in sport.

We definitely detected among our witnesses a real appetite for the strengthening of pan-European networks between grass-roots organisations, especially for using the benefits of modern technology in the exchange of best practice. I note that the Minister was reticent about this, but both Street Games and the Football Foundation pointed to the success of their websites’ pages that detail case studies, briefing papers and best practice.

Marginalisation of grass-roots sports organisations extends to the funding programmes. The chief executive of Street Games told us that the application procedures are simply too complex and bureaucratic for small organisations. At this morning’s sub-committee meeting, we looked at a mid-term evaluation of the Europe for Citizens programme, and it is shown that of the €215 million budget for its projects only €1.16 million has come to the UK. This is a significant under- representation in a programme that ought to be of great interest to the UK, and which includes sport.

Although it is tempting just to blame the bureaucracy, the fact that other countries are finding a way to get through the bureaucracy suggests that we have a particular issue. I certainly undertake to work with the current Government, if they wish, and with the volunteer sector to find out exactly why we are so poor at accessing this money. I look forward to the Minister's response.

My Lords, I very much welcome the debate today, and I start by declaring my interests in sport, which are many. I am a board member of the London Marathon and UK Athletics, a trustee of the Sport for Good Foundation, which is part of the Laureus World Sport Academy, and an ambassador for International Inspiration. I sit on several committees of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and I am chair of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation’s Commission into the Future of Women’s Sport. We are investigating areas such as commercialisation, investment, leadership and profile, which all have a massive impact at every level, and ultimately affect how sport and physical activity is run in the UK.

This is a very positive and important report and it makes a lot of sense about the power of sport. As others in your Lordships’ House have already said, sport teaches young people about rules, life skills, discipline, and working as a team—all things which are important in society. I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on the report, because it strongly highlights that those who currently do the least have the most to gain. That is very simple, but oh so important.

In a visit to Rwanda with the Sport for Good Foundation, a couple of years ago, I saw at a very practical level how sport was being used to bring together and provide support for those who had been affected by the genocide. I have been fortunate enough to make visits with both the Sport for Good Foundation and International Inspiration to see that in other parts of the world.

I very much like chapter 2, which is summarised in paragraph 27, where reference is made to the groups who can benefit, which include women, an area of particular interest to me. I also very much welcome the highlighting of those areas and the positive response of the Minister for Sport and the Olympics in the other place, Mr Hugh Robertson.

It is important that more support is given to those groups and organisations that promote the inclusion of underrepresented groups. I emphasise that work is needed not only across Europe; there is a still a lot to be done in the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, mentioned the lack of participation among women. It is important to emphasise not just that women participate in sport much less than men, but that, in the UK, 80 per cent of women and girls do not do enough physical exercise to benefit their health. That has major long-term implications for the health of our nation.

From recent research from the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, published last week, we also know that the amount of money that goes into men’s and women’s sport varies considerably. That impacts on participation and the interest in sport for women. If we look at the commercialisation of sport, 39 per cent of money goes into mixed sport, which include sports such as tennis and golf, which are relatively equitable, but also rugby and football, which are not. An average contract for a woman who plays football for England is £16,000 a year, plus a club contract of around £20,000 to £30,000.

If we look at where the rest of the money goes, we see that 60.5 per cent of it goes into men’s sport. That leaves a scant 0.5 per cent for women. That figure will be pushed up by the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year to around 1.5 per cent but is likely to drop afterwards, and is still shocking. We are therefore stuck in a closed circle. With fewer women participating now, there is less interest in the commercial side of sport, and therefore less media interest. In an average year, only 2 per cent of media coverage is devoted to women in sport. In the UK, we need to break this cycle if we are to change the pattern.

If we see more women doing sport on TV, that encourages more women to do it. The myth that people do not want to watch women play sport is simply not true. People who like sport want to watch women play sport. In the last women’s World Cup semi-final, 1.6m people watched England play France.

What about some solutions for the UK? What I believe is needed is for the sports sector to take a radically different approach from that it is used to. Rather than just opening the doors and expecting a different mix of people to come through, sport needs to adopt basic business techniques of identifying a target market, developing an understanding of what that market wants, and then delivering sport to meet the needs and preferences of that market.

There are a few good examples. England Netball’s Back to Netball campaign has allowed thousands of women to play regular netball without having to join a club or pay an annual membership fee. Other national governing bodies are also trying. It would help considerably to keep up the pressure on national governing bodies that take public money but fail to succeed in increasing participation among underrepresented groups. I ask the Minister for continued support in this.

Many national governing bodies could benefit from looking at how private sector providers, such as military fitness or Zumba classes, develop markets and deliver their offers. There is definitely more to be done in schools, too, and the latest research from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation shows that girls leave school half as likely to meet recommended activity levels as boys. The introduction of the School Games and the current review of the PE curriculum provide a good opportunity for schools to redefine and redesign competitive sport so that it encourages all pupils to be active regularly, rather than just those who make the first team.

Paragraph 42 talks of the need to share best practice across Europe. I should like to suggest that British national governing bodies look at how the commercial sector operates in order to make real improvements. I also suggest that they use their own networks across the European international federations to share this best practice.

Paragraph 48 of the report identifies the need for more wide-scale research into the societal and personal benefits of sport. This is very important, and further work must be done—not because we are unsure whether sport for women has a value but because, as a sector, we need to be much better at turning anecdotal evidence into hard facts which will convince potential funders of the value of sport. I suppose that the flip-side is that we spend too much on research and monitoring, and then the amount of cash available for the delivery of projects diminishes, but there is a balance to be struck.

Box 4 on page 24 of the report highlights the case study of the Women’s International Leadership Development Programme and the links that this can provide to the wider gender and diversity equality movement. It is useful in ensuring that British national governing bodies have the chance to consider the opportunity that having a more diverse leadership would offer them.

Again, figures from the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport show that only 20 of the national governing bodies’ board members are female and that eight national governing bodies, including the Football Association, have no women on their boards at all. The lack of diversity on the boards of national governing bodies is perhaps the biggest single factor that stops these NGBs achieving their potential in terms of participation growth and elite success. Such a change is completely within their own grasp.

Finally, I realise that what I have said may be seen as all doom and gloom, but there is some exciting work going on and we have a chance to really make a change. Rather, the areas that I have covered should be seen as an opportunity to do things differently and to do them better. We owe that to the young women and girls in our society. This report makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the wider context.

My Lords, I am pleased to participate in this short debate and I congratulate the committee on its report. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for introducing this discussion.

Three or four themes have come out of the contributions. Clearly, health and the role that sport plays in improving not only the nation’s health but individual health, particularly in the context of diabetes, is an important point. Another is the requirement on all of us to think again about how sport can help with social inclusion and other areas by reaching out to groups that are currently under-represented, making their lives more meaningful and helping them to engage and participate.

Despite the fact that we are living in difficult economic times, there are still some practical steps that can be taken, and there were some very good and interesting examples from my noble friend Lady Billingham, as well as from the volunteering sector. I hope that the Government will take up the offer of further discussion to see in what ways we can build up from the real grass roots and get rid of some of the problems caused by regulatory and other areas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, as usual, made some very important and telling points from her good and significant experience in this area. The phrase that she left us with was, “Those who do least have most to gain”, which is something on which we should all reflect. She pointed out the incredible disparities that exist in the contributions made by government and other sources to the male and female sides of the sport. The fact that 80 per cent of us do not take enough exercise somehow summed up the points that others made in the debate.

Like my noble friend Lady Billingham, I should like to make a few general points, particularly with reference to grass-roots sport, and to draw attention to how things stood when we left office. I do so not for a party-political reason but because I think that it provides a good baseline for assessing how we respond to this debate. The report and the comments that we have heard reflect the fact that work done in the UK in recent years is well regarded across Europe. In truth, our model for sport is admired across the world.

During our time in government, we increased participation in both activities and competitive sport. We did this through three tiers: the Youth Sport Trust, dealing with school sport; Sport England, working at a community level with sport governing bodies, and UK Sport, financing the elite who are moving towards gold medal standard at the highest level. This model, in its totality, moved us from tenth in the world in 2004 to fourth place in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, behind China, the USA and Russia. That was an amazing achievement for what is really a very small country. Our target is to do at least as well in London in 2012.

Given that, it is somewhat odd to read in the Secretary of State’s recent blog:

“I can sum up our sports policy in three words: more competitive sport”.

If that is the case, why was a cut of £162 million for School Sports Partnerships announced without consultation in October 2010? If this is indeed the sports policy of the Government, why is there still no long-term strategy for increasing competitive sport in schools? We understand that DfE funding of £32.5 million is planned to stop after 2013 and there will be no more beyond that. The contributions of £11 million each from DCMS and the Department of Health stop after 2015. Sport England’s lottery funding, which is £4 million until 2015, stops after that. A further £72 million has been cut from Whole Sport Plans. There is no long-term certainty and there does not appear to be a strategy. I would be interested to get the Minister’s response to this.

It is worth putting on record that in 2006-7, 35 per cent of pupils in years 1 to 11 took part in inter-school competitive activities. By 2010, this figure had risen to 49 per cent. In 2006-7, 58 per cent of pupils in years 1-11 took part in intra-school competitive activities, and by 2010 this had risen to 78 per cent. In these competitions, 77 per cent of girls and 79 per cent of boys participated. That was a pretty good record, and should be the standard against which we judge what is going forward.

I would like to highlight three of the recommendations in the report, some of which were brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. To recommendations 120 and 121, the response from the Minister for Sport and the Olympics was:

“Domestically, increased participation in sport is a key priority for all the Government across the UK both in terms of health and social outcomes, and specifically in answering London 2012’s Singapore promise to inspire a new generation to play sport”.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, in response to a Written Question from the Shadow Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Mr Clive Efford, Mr Hugh Robertson said earlier this week:

“We are determined to get more people playing sport as a legacy from London 2012 and we will continue to hold national governing bodies to account for the delivery of their whole sport plans. I am confident that with the inspiration of the games in 2012, and a new approach with a clearer expectation of concrete results in return for Government investment, we will see the benefit at grassroots level”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/11/11; col. 91W.]

Determination is good, but as for the rest, they seem to be relying on something turning up. I do not think that is good enough. As we heard today, notably from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, there are some very good and persuasive reasons for believing that sport is a really good way of bringing the benefits to disadvantaged groups I was talking about earlier. It is to be hoped, therefore, that there is something to back up the aspirations of Ministers. Can the Minister help us out here? Can she provide some details to flesh out Mr Robertson’s confidence about concrete results? Indeed, what are the Government’s targets now in this area?

In response to recommendations 122 to 124, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics says:

“Despite its importance, all too often sport has suffered unintentionally due to policies in other areas”.

Can the Minister give us some examples of this and tell us what the Government are going to do to remedy this situation?

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics goes on:

“There is already good cross-departmental work taking place—for instance, with the DH and DfE in relation to grass roots participation”.

Again, can the Minister help us on this? What good work is going on and what are the expected outcomes?

Finally, in relation to recommendation 126, there is a great deal in the report about the potential of sport in delivering social objectives, much of which has been touched on already. In his response, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics gives some interesting comments about the relationship between sport and social returns. He says that young people who do sports at school benefit from wider academic achievement, compared to similar young people who do not. There is also a suggestion that taking part in sport can result in tangible savings to the economy. He says:

“Regularly playing badminton can save around £11,000 per person in their lifetime, comprised of savings to the health system and the value of increases in their quality of life”.

Is this plan B? Is this the way in which the Chancellor is going to revivify the country’s economic situation? If so, how may badminton courts will be required to be plastered across England, Wales and Scotland in order to achieve that?

To be serious though, will the Minister point out what research is being commissioned by Her Majesty’s Government on this topic, as the way in which sport enhances social achievement and reduces cost is at the heart of a lot of what we have been saying this afternoon?

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to an initial scepticism in the committee when it started its work, yet she also drew attention to the fact that this changed during the process of its deliberations. Reading the report and listening to the debate today should have convinced even the most hardened sceptic that this new competence is a useful part of the EU framework, and we support that. Lest your Lordships have any doubt at all, I would like to share with you an e-mail that pinged into my inbox as I was finishing off my notes for today. It came from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and was advertising an event that is taking place shortly. I was invited by the CPA to,

“score a goal for development by participating in its parliamentary penalty shoot-out for the Millennium Development Goals”—

which I am sure we will all be rushing out to do—

“taking place on Speaker’s Green”—

if I can continue my small advertisement for it—

“on the afternoon of Wednesday 23 November”.

See you there. The e-mail continues:

“With sport increasingly recognised as a viable and practical tool to assist in the development process, international and premiership footballers with an involvement in development initiatives will attend the event. You will have a chance to drop in over the course of the afternoon to test your skills against the professionals and discuss the contribution that sport can make in promoting global solidarity and development”.

I rest my case. That shows that the idea that sport is somehow a part, and not a separate aspect, of the work that we all want to do to improve society has reached the CPA and become part of the common discourse. In that sense, it reflects what is said in the report.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for leading this afternoon’s debate on grass-roots sport and the European Union. We are grateful to her and her committee members for launching the initial inquiry that led to their report, published in April this year. The debate is particularly timely as we approach next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.

We all know that sport is firmly ingrained in British life. People of all ages, abilities and backgrounds from across the country take part regularly. That participation comes in a variety of ways: there are those who are active sportsmen and women; those who give their time voluntarily to support sporting activities; and the many millions who just enjoy watching sport. However, as we have heard today, compared to the significant amount of media coverage that professional sport generates daily, grass-roots sport often remains in the shadows. As the committee’s report recognises, grass-roots sport makes an important contribution to British society, but we are also looking at the role that the EU has to play.

As we have heard, sport became an EU competence with the ratification of the Lisbon treaty two years ago. Since that landmark moment, the European Commission’s work has progressed and, throughout this time, the United Kingdom has continued to be fully engaged, ensuring that the UK’s voice is clearly heard in Brussels and beyond. We want our relationship with the EU to be about maximising benefit for the UK as we work with our EU partners. We make no apology for that. Where there are changes that can add genuine value, or which will help our sports do even better, then we will willingly support them. However, where there is duplication, unnecessary regulation or overspending, then our job is clearly to say so and to negotiate in the best way to protect our interests. We have heard from my noble friends Lord Courtown and Lady Scott and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, of the difficulties posed by overregulation in trying to encourage grass-roots sports.

The Government presented their response to the committee’s report in June, setting out their position. As we have heard, we welcomed and supported a number of the report’s recommendations. I shall comment on some of the developments that have taken place so far. The European Commission’s first sports policy document since the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, Developing the European Dimension in Sport, set out the Commission’s work plan for sport through to 2015, listing actions for both the Commission and member states. The European Council of Ministers subsequently adopted a resolution on the associated European Union Work Plan for Sport, 2011 to 2014, in May this year. It was intriguing to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, of the work that she had been involved with as an MEP in the 1990s, urging the Commission then to support sport. Some things take rather a long time to come to fruition, but we seem to have made progress since those days.

We fully recognise the importance the committee placed in its report on ensuring that sport is mainstreamed effectively both at the European Union level and at the national level. Despite its importance, sport has from time to time suffered unintentionally due to policies in other areas. We are encouraged that, at the European level, following strong UK interventions, the work plan now makes explicit reference—as we have heard—to the need to take sport into account when formulating, implementing and evaluating policies and actions in other policy fields, with particular attention to ensuring early and effective inclusion in the policy development process. Ministers and officials will continue to use each appropriate opportunity to ensure that this commitment is fulfilled across government departments.

Participation in grass-roots sport is a high priority for the Government, particularly as we look to leave a wide-ranging sports legacy from London’s hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year and from Glasgow’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2014, as well as from the various other major sporting events in the UK in the coming years. We are therefore pleased to see that participation is one of the key priorities in the communication.

As we said in the Government’s response to the committee’s report, we are encouraged that one of the new expert groups set up under the work plan is focused on sport, health and participation and will be charged with producing recommendations on promoting physical activity and participation in sport. The UK is already playing a key role in this expert group, having put forward two expert representatives from Sport England and sportscotland as members. A number of noble Lords stressed health in their speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, my noble friend Lord Courtown and a number of other contributors all stressed the part that sport can play in having a healthy community.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, my noble friend Lord Courtown, the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, and others challenged the Government as to what we are doing to increase participation at a national level. In England, last November the Government launched Places People Play, which is a £135 million mass participation legacy programme. In the past six months, under the places strand, we have launched the £50 million Inspired Facilities fund and the £10 million Playing Fields Protection fund, which acknowledge the importance of having the right facilities in place to support grass-roots sports participation.

In this the EU Year of Volunteering, my noble friend Lady Scott and the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, drew attention to the important contribution of volunteers to grass-roots sporting activities. As an example, for the 70,000 places available for the London 2012 Games makers, we received around 250,000 applications. Under the people strand, the £4 million Sport Makers programme launched last month will capitalise on this by training the next generation of sports volunteers to organise and lead grass-roots sporting activities, creating sporting opportunities to give everyone the chance to take part. The enormous number of volunteers for those posts is an indication of just how enthusiastic the British population are about volunteering to contribute to sport.

The committee’s report recommended a focus on groups whose participation rates are lowest. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, said that we need to concentrate more on particular groups in society. To give one example of action being taken in this area, £8 million is being ring-fenced to support a legacy to inspire disabled people to take part in sport. This is currently under development. Disability groups are being consulted and the programme is due to launch in the new year.

In addition, the English Federation of Disability Sport has been awarded £1.5 million in Exchequer funding to accelerate its strategy to work with national governing bodies to make grass-roots sports more inclusive. For the first time, Sport England is making funding available specifically to create opportunities and accessibility. We are committed to securing a lasting legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We aim to drive forward wider attitudinal change towards disability sport, for example; and, through the School Games, to provide increased opportunities for all pupils—boys and girls, from all backgrounds and of all abilities—to compete at local, regional and national level. While we have been concentrating on the young in a lot of these debates, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, highlighted all ages and the importance also of making sport accessible for older people, and the ways in which that can contribute to their quality of life in later years, as well as in younger years.

The UK has played, and will be, playing an active role in each of the six EU expert groups on sport, through putting forward strong sectoral expert representatives. As evidence of that, the UK has secured the chairmanship of three of the expert groups—those on education and training, good governance and sustainable financing.

The UK has a good story to tell on good governance, an issue mentioned, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The current Polish presidency is also putting forward Council conclusions on match-fixing; again, trying to tackle aspects of sport that go wrong. The draft text of that is being discussed at official level, and the UK is working to ensure that the proposals are not watered down and are as strong as possible, and that there is real integrity in sport.

One of the concerns raised by the committee was that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were seen to be excluded in EU sports policy discussions. Ministers and officials have been proactive in consulting their counterparts in the devolved Administrations on EU sports policy matters. In addition to sportscotland providing one of the UK experts on the sport, health and participation expert group, the Scottish Sports Minister will, for the first time, be joining the UK delegation later this month to attend the European Council of Sports Ministers meeting. However, I should stress that it is the responsibility of our devolved Administration colleagues to cascade any information from the UK Government to their own relevant stakeholders, such as their respective sports councils.

The UK has many examples of the positive nature of grass-roots sport participation and will share these with our EU colleagues. For instance, this summer, we hosted a delegation of MEPs from the European Parliament’s culture committee. They visited a tennis project in Haringey that has completely revitalised the local community and heard from Tottenham Hotspur Football Club’s foundation about the positive work it is carrying out in the area, including the Premier League’s Kickz programme. The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, has told us about the Tennis For Free programme, and there are other examples of this happening throughout the country.

The UK also recently hosted the European Women and Sport Conference. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, commented on the lack of women on sporting boards and generally participating, and the disparities in funding for women’s sport as against men’s. I am quite sure that the lack of women on sporting boards will be something that my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone, the Minister for Equalities, will be looking at to try and ensure that sport does not suffer from the lack of women in those positions of responsibility.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned the structural funds. The decision on whether to fund a sports programme is part of the wider discussions of the future EU budget, the multiannual financial framework, which will of course include the structural funds. Discussions have taken place in friends of presidency meetings, but I believe that so far they have centred on technical clarifications. However, discussions on the EU budget, the structural funds and a future sport programme are of course linked, and the Government will be making the case for sport whenever opportunities present themselves in negotiations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lady Scott mentioned the importance of Street Games. Obviously we recognise that Street Games can play a vital part in fragmented communities and in other communities, and can give examples of participation, of teamwork and of reaching across boundaries to a whole range of young people in those communities. My noble friend Lady Scott asked whether there would in some way, through the volunteer section, be a route to recognised qualifications through sport. We will be looking at that to see that people have recognition for their achievement in a formal way as far as that is possible. My noble friend also mentioned the fact that the UK is not applying for EU funding streams to look at volunteering. The Government would very warmly welcome her offer to look more closely at ways in which the UK can take advantage of the available funding streams. We heard from my noble friend Lord Courtown on the sums of money at the top of professional sport and the disparity between the vast sums that professional sportspeople seem to have at their disposal and the grass-roots fund, which is constantly looking for fairly modest sums of money. That is something the sporting community is looking at and will take forward.

I have touched on the issue of diversity on boards. On the participation of schools, there will be an increased focus on competition as part of the curriculum review. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has obviously been looking at the Secretary of State’s blogs. On the importance that he puts on competitive sport, we will find that there is cross-departmental work going on between the DfE, the DCMS and the Department of Health to try to ensure that those departments work together to encourage more sport in schools and to see that funding is made available through the different streams that are around at the moment for that purpose.

I may have missed some of the points that noble Lords have made. If so, I will write to them afterwards. To sum up, we are still in the early days of the development of the EU sports policy, but the direction of travel so far has been encouraging. The UK has uniquely positioned itself to be as influential as it can, both in our own interests and those of EU sport, through sports bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will continue to be fully engaged in developments and take advantage of opportunities for the UK within an EU context. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and her committee for taking a proactive interest in this area and for producing such a valuable and wide-ranging report and recommendation. Indeed, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to today’s debate as we embark on a high-profile time for sport in the UK. We can see from this report and the debate that the United Kingdom is well placed to make the most of the new EU sport competence.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in today’s debate. It has been most stimulating. It is particularly gratifying to hear some sort of endorsement for our report from those who have been participating in sport at a very high level indeed. I am particularly pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, and my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson were able to participate this afternoon. I am also grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, who, as a new member of the committee, made a very important contribution, I think, when he raised the issue of obesity and the potential for sport to be used to address that, among other things. He also pointed out the difficulty of ensuring that that legacy actually happens and gave us some examples.

Going back to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, I think she pointed out some of the challenges in thinking about a new area of competence in the current economic situation. It was also very useful to hear about Tennis For Free. It exemplifies the kind of work that can be carried out quite effectively with little or no money to push that kind of initiative through a whole range of different sports activities; and I know that there are other initiatives like that going on.

I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, is aware that Street Games is an organisation. It visited the committee as part of its submission to the inquiry. It was notable that it brought along two volunteers who had formerly been involved, shall we say, in local activities that were not steering them in quite the right direction and who had ended up working with Street Games to great effect with their peers. They also gave evidence to the committee.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, a dedicated member of Sub-Committee G, who focused on volunteers. As we all know, they are the absolute bedrock of grass-roots sport, as they are in other areas of activity in this country. She emphasised the regulatory burden particularly on smaller groups and the lack of representation, a point to which virtually all noble Lords referred.

My noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson raised the important issue of the participation of girls and young women in sport—perhaps I should say the lack of adequate participation. The lack of attention given to women’s sports was also raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and I discussed that as we came over to the House today. If one looks at most newspapers and television, one would not even know that women play professional sport in this country. That matter needs to be addressed if we are serious about getting more girls and young women to participate in sport. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, recognised the potential of sport to do that and the way in which it can contribute to a wide spectrum of policy objectives, not only domestically but internationally.

I thank the Minister for reiterating the need to overcome regulation, among other things, and for her encouraging comment about continuing to push in negotiations around structural funds, the ESF and so on to embed sport in those discussions. There is a danger that either the area could be hived off into one corner with the thought, “Okay, we have dealt with sport now because we have put it in a kind of box and therefore we do not have to try to embed it elsewhere”, or it will become so thinly spread that people will not know where it is or what its specificity is. Somehow we will have to steer a course between those two extremes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson raised the issue of women on boards. It might be useful to look at other areas, such as the arts, where there have been quite a few initiatives that have had effective campaigns and mechanisms to broaden the membership of boards in the arts and the cultural sector.

In conclusion, I acknowledge absolutely the efforts of my fellow members of Sub-Committee G and I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his place. He was a member of the committee which carried out the inquiry, although he has now sadly left us for other pastures. There was much questioning and reflection, and a good deal of openness. As I said at the beginning, people were a little worried about where this might take us but in the end we were convinced of its worth.

I should also like to thank Professor Richard Parrish, who was our specialist adviser for the inquiry. I also want to record the contribution of clerks and special advisers, which we should never take for granted. I should like to acknowledge Talitha Rowland, who has moved on to other work within the House, and Alistair Dillon and I thank them for their work on the inquiry and the report.

This has been a particularly stimulating debate. We have covered a wide range of areas and issues in a relatively short time. I am very glad that we were able to have this debate on the Floor of the House. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.39 pm.