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Sport: Women in Rowing

Volume 760: debated on Thursday 5 March 2015

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage women to participate in the sport of rowing at every level of ability.

My Lords, on 11 April, Oxford and Cambridge women’s crews will race over the Putney/Mortlake 6.8 kilometre course for the first time ever. When in 1927 the first women’s race between the universities took place at Oxford, large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath to protest. It was conceded that it was unladylike to row side by side, so the crews competed on time and style. Oxford were quicker but some of the umpires thought that Cambridge were more stylish.

Prejudice persisted. In the 1960s, a Cambridge college captain—male, of course—objected to women racing altogether. He complained:

“It is a ghastly sight, an anatomical impossibility and physiologically dangerous”.

By 1973, male attitudes had not improved. In the race that took place on the Cam, the boats nearly collided when a male spectator trumpeted the “Last Post” at the start. Talking about press coverage, the Times correspondent in 1973 thought it right to refer to the fact that the rowers had ankles, thighs, biceps and, most shockingly of all, padded seats, and that the winning crew had celebrated on beer and sang bawdy songs in a Cambridge curry house afterwards.

The times of patronising women’s rowing have long gone. It is a sport that has earned the right in this country to be treated with equality and parity. At Sydney in the 2000 Olympics, the GB women’s four gained silver medals for the first time, and they repeated that success at Athens and Beijing with rowers of the calibre of Katherine Grainger and Debbie Flood. Bronze medals were also won in the double sculls. In London in 2012, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, both graduates of British rowing’s Start programme, unforgettably began a haul of gold medals in the coxless pairs. Katherine Grainger with Anna Watkins won gold for the first time in the double sculls, and Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking romped home in the lightweight pairs. In the Paralympics, golds were won by Pamela Relph, Naomi Riches and Lily van den Broecke. What those outstanding athletes did was to inspire women of all ages and abilities to take up the sport.

It is not all about the Olympics or university sport. In 1927 the very first Women’s Eights Head of the River Race took place over the tideway course, with just two clubs competing. As late as the 1980s, the event attracted only 50 crews—but in 2013, following the Olympics, the 73rd race attracted 320 entries and some 2,880 active women participants. A week on Saturday next, for the 75th race, there will again be in excess of 300 crews on the river. The competitors range in age from 15 to 70-plus—from beginners to international competitors.

Last weekend, I was able to talk to the captain of the Grosvenor Rowing Club of Chester, Louise Tobias. She epitomises the women who are now attracted to the sport. Louise was a hockey player, but, in her mid-30s, at the time of the Beijing Olympics, she was inspired by the British women rowers in action and decided to have a go herself. She joined a Learn to Row course and was soon into competitive rowing. She enjoys the elation in winning and the devastation of losing. She and her family revel in the strong social side of the sport. Last June, Grosvenor Ladies won the Leicester cup for coxed fours at the Henley Women’s Regatta, with two of the crew coming to rowing for the first time through Learn to Row courses on the River Dee.

However, if there is a drive for more participation, it has to be backed up with support both in the clubs and by funding. It is not expensive for the individual but it does collectively require expensive equipment—although boats and oars can be used over and over again with proper timetabling.

I turn to access. Of the 43,000 miles of inland river and canal waterways, 2,800 miles are currently in use for rowing. The potential for shared water use is considerable. Chester Royals, founded in 1838 and one of the oldest clubs in the country, have initiated a proposal for the development of a new water sports hub at their boathouse on the Dee, in conjunction with West Cheshire and Chester councils. Incidentally, like nearby Grosvenor, their captain is a lady, Jane Sweeney, the first to be club captain in the Royals’ 177-year history. I declare an interest as president of Rex Rowing Club, which rows nearby.

I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm the Government’s commitment to initiatives of this nature. However, last November, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Rowing Group, I wrote to the Secretary of State, Mr Javid, and I regret that I have not, as yet, had a reply. I drew attention to the plight of the Hillingdon Rowing Club, which was set up in 2012 with post-Olympic enthusiasm and is the only rowing club with many women novices in the area to the north-west of London. Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre caters for a number of water sports and accommodates rowing on a course of about 700 metres. Unhappily, it is on the route of the HS2 railway. The club’s proposal to relocate to nearby Broadwater Lake, where there is a stretch of some 1,200 metres, has been met by opposition from Natural England because of the number of waterfowl on the water. Rowing ought to be accepted as a natural and beneficial use of our waterways.

Volunteering is crucial to successful rowing. Coaching is key, and regrettably there is a dearth of women coaches. I am grateful to Lisa Taylor, an experienced coach who has written a thesis on the subject, who pointed out to me that lack of coaching may put off underconfident women. It may also have an impact on the retention of newcomers, because more ambitious athletes may feel unable to progress without a higher coaching input. Coaching is like lining up eight golfers on an expanded golf tee and requiring each to swing in time and in harmony so as to hit the sweet spot on the ball at exactly the same moment, and then to repeat the stroke up to 30 times a minute for 20 minutes. Those who want to see poetry in motion will no doubt watch the House of Lords crew next July as they shoot under Lambeth Bridge. There are no stars. Teamwork is about getting the best out of every member of the crew. To meet the demand for coaches, I invite the Minister to consider whether employers should allow volunteers one or two paid days off a year to attend accredited coaching courses.

I turn to identifying talent. British rowing has honed its talent identification process of the past 15 years or so. It has had immense success with the women’s squad. British rowing in 2013 implemented a new programme led by England Talent Pathway coaches, whereby a performance coach in a particular area trawls local clubs and schools for juniors with potential and develops them along GB best practice lines. They educate the clubs and coaches so that they can keep nurturing talent when they have it—a sustainable pathway rather than a stop-gap. This scheme is in its infancy, but it should be extended to adults for the benefit of women who take up the sport at a later stage in their lives.

The Government’s Women and Sport Advisory Board is tackling the emotional capability and opportunity barriers preventing women taking part in sport generally. I hope to hear more of its work in this debate.

On 11 April, thanks very much to the investment and support of Newton Investments and BNY Mellon, women’s rowing will gain a massive new television audience for their Putney to Mortlake race. I wish both crews as much enjoyment out of the event as no doubt those pioneers of 1927 achieved in the teeth of male chauvinist opposition. I hope that the raised profile of the sport will attract many more women to find the camaraderie and companionship of a crew in this country’s leading Olympic sport.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate and that speeches are limited to 5 minutes. When five minutes shows on the screen, those minutes have elapsed.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for securing this significant and timely debate. As a swimmer, I have always had more than a passing admiration for rowers. As we splash around in the pool, they seem to be able to glide gracefully on top of the water, clearly as a more evolved species.

It was women’s rowing, as already mentioned, that started the gold rush in London 2012. I was lucky enough to be at Eton Dorney that day and what a moment it was. How significant it was for Glover and Stanning and for the sport of rowing—but it was even more significant for Team GB. There is nothing more important than the first gold medal for a host nation at their home Games. It was followed by tremendous performances on the water and demonstrated that rowing is now not just a sport for the boys; it is very much for the girls.

There is no question that Sir Steve Redgrave is Britain’s most successful and prolific Olympian of all time—five Games and five gold medals. But ever since the late 90s, it is the girls who have come through and shown, in tremendous gold, silver and bronze performances, that this is a sport that everybody can participate in, perform in and excel at. When rowing was introduced to the Paralympic programme—an excellent sport to be added to the programme—for the Beijing Games in 2008, it was Britain’s Helene Raynsford who steamed through to win gold, the first Paralympic gold on the water, in the single sculls by over 12 seconds. That is a sporting performance. That is impressive rowing.

It matters what happens at the high end—at the Olympic and Paralympic Games—not just for those performances, for the nation and for elite sport. It matters because role models are so important to driving participation and opportunities for people throughout sport. There are so many impressive programmes from British rowing, not least the Sportivate programme inspired by London 2012—female participants now make up 49% of its rowing element. It is a similar situation with the Start programme—the talent ID programme already mentioned by my noble friend. Before London 2012, the ratio of men to women was 4:1 on the talent programme. Now it is almost equal. That is impressive progress.

The great thing about rowing is that it is not just about the athletes and participants. It is a great sport because it has developed and believes in an inclusive culture right through the sport—whether you are an athlete, a volunteer, coach, official or an administrator, there are opportunities for anybody, whatever your background and wherever you want to go in the sport. That is because it has been led right from the top. The chair of British rowing for 20 years was Di Ellis: a tremendous performance. She has now been succeeded by Annamarie Phelps, who is doing a phenomenal job. She comes from a rowing family that is so tied to the Thames. I would not say that they have webbed feet, but I can imagine that their semi in Chiswick could certainly be called The Boathouse.

Such leadership is required in sport if you are truly to develop an inclusive culture. Electing Debbie Flood as the first female captain of Leander and Sophie Hosking as the first female captain of the London Rowing Club is groundbreaking stuff. This is a great time for girls and women in sport, including across the sport of rowing, from the boat to the boardroom. To anyone who has children who are girls, I say, “Get them into sport”. There is no better time—and rowing is a pretty good place to start, with fantastic opportunities right across the water. To those at the higher level looking to the world championships and to Rio 2016, I say, “Good luck, we support you, we salute you and we look forward to celebrating your future successes”.

My Lords, I would like to focus my remarks on both ends of the age scale. Perhaps I should start with older women. I started rowing at the age of 60 and still do it occasionally. I would probably do it more often if it did not entail getting up so early in the morning. I have also been a member for several years of your Lordships’ House’s mixed-gender eight for the Lords and Commons boat race on the Thames. This has been a mixed experience since the Thames can be like the North Sea in a storm when the wind is against the tide. However, on the whole it has been an enjoyable and certainly a sociable experience.

Rowing, I am told, is very good for me because it helps to strengthen the core muscles, which get weaker as you get older. I know of an all-women crew in Australia called the Ancient Mariners, two of whom are over 80. I relate these facts in order to emphasise the fact that you do not need to be either young or an elite athlete to enjoy rowing and benefit from it. It is one of those sports that you can take up at any age and do either for enjoyment or take it right to the top level. What is important is that we make provision for girls and women of all ages to row.

The Olympic legacy has brought about a tremendous increase in interest in women’s rowing, to the extent that some adult clubs simply cannot cope with the demand for Learn to Row courses. It is a great pity if women are put off by having to wait many months for such a course and find a different sport where participation is easier. If we are going to develop the Olympians of tomorrow, we must nurture the grass roots of today. Is there anything the Government can do to help here?

At the other end of the scale there are girls who would like to take up rowing at school. Many independent schools offer this facility, with boats, coaches and accessible water, but what about young people at maintained schools? Apart from the excellent Westminster Boating Base which caters for many disadvantaged young rowers, it is often difficult for schools to find coaches and the money for boats. I therefore endorse the call of my noble kinsman Lord Thomas of Gresford for employers to consider giving volunteers time off to train as rowing coaches as part of their community service programme.

Whatever the reality, there is a perception among pupils and others that schools care more about, and spend more money on, sport for boys than for girls. I would not want to add to bureaucracy, but the decline in girls’ participation in sport is sufficiently serious for there to be a need to ask schools to focus more attention on girls’ sport. It has been suggested that this might most easily be done by an amendment to the public sector equality duty for schools. In the United States there is a thing called Title IX legislation, which makes it an offence for publicly funded institutions to discriminate in funding between boys and girls or men and women. That may not be appropriate here but we need to find a way of achieving the same result.

I was very interested in the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on girls and sport. It is concerned about the lack of communication and co-operation between government departments, which it thinks presents a serious obstacle to delivering the Olympic legacy. It recommends that the DCMS, Department for Education and Department of Health publish a joint annual report to Parliament on school sport, focusing on participation levels, the availability of different types of sport, partnerships with clubs and charities, and training for teachers. Perhaps such an annual review would force departments to work together and pool funding to achieve better value.

Sport England is doing a lot, in particular with its This Girl Can initiative, though I am delighted to see that many participants were girls many years ago. Also its place-based pilot launched in Bury is an imaginative initiative, involving local authorities and many partners in taking account of women’s real lives and bringing sport to them. I did not notice rowing in the list of sports but, if the scheme is rolled out across the country, does the Minister know whether rowing will be included wherever there is a suitable body of water? Can he tell us whether the initiative has yet been analysed and what plans there are to roll it out? Will women’s rowing benefit?

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has been able to secure this debate today. Rowing is a fantastic sport with many fans. I am one of them. Apart from the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Boat Race, there have been limited opportunities to watch this sport on TV. We should be very proud of the institution that is the Boat Race. It has a very special place in the hearts of the British public.

I found the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, quite amusing when he explained how it was considered unladylike to race side by side. I am very glad that in my own sporting career I was never marked on the skill and grace of my performance. I looked far more like somebody from the This Girl Can campaign: red, sweaty and snotty. I would definitely have been considered unladylike, and I am very pleased about that.

Having the women’s Boat Race on the same day as the men’s is a major step forward, but we must not forget that the women’s race has its own very proud history. Many casual fans might not know that the women’s race exists, but it is not a new invention. We should thank all those who got the race to where it is now. Many women, and men, campaigned for it. Credit should be given to Helene Morrissey, CEO of the sponsor and a Cambridge graduate, but not a rower. She is well known for her work on encouraging women. Money makes a difference to what we are trying to do. Annie Vernon wrote about Miss Morrissey and said:

“She refused to listen to excuses that women could not cope with negotiating the tides and bends of the men’s 7000m course”—

so in many ways it is remarkable how far we have come.

However, it is important that young women know a bit of the history—and are slightly horrified by it. In the Chamber this morning, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said in the International Women’s Day debate that she did not want still to be talking about how far we have come in 20 years’ time, and that is very important.

If we look back at the history of the Boat Race, in 1927 there was much discussion about whether the women should be allowed to wear shorts or more demure gym tunics. One of the Cambridge rowers had to sit on a stool in front of university staff, simulating the action of rowing, to ascertain which clothes best preserved her modesty. Even in 1985, there was a picture in one of the papers, which is shown on the BBC website, of the women’s team in their gowns and fishnet tights, showing their legs. I hope that we have moved on a little from that.

For a bit of context, while we may consider some of these views slightly idiosyncratic, in my sport of athletics, it was only in 1984 that women were allowed to compete in the marathon and a very few distance races. Even in Moscow, the longest race women were allowed to do was the 1,500 metres, which was introduced only in 1972. Before 1960, it was considered safe for women to run only 200 metres. It took until the 2000 Games in Sydney for women to be able to compete in the pole vault. The excuse given each time was that it would have a detrimental effect on their ability to bear children. Tell that to Paula Radcliffe or Yelena Isinbayeva.

Looking back at 2012, it is hard to imagine anybody being hostile towards our amazing Olympic and Paralympic athletes. I cried when Katherine Grainger won—actually before she started. Ten strokes in, I knew that she was going to be fine, and it was good. I am very proud that Kat Copeland, who is also a gold medallist, lives in Ingleby Barwick, very close to where I live in the north-east of England. I drive past her gold postbox most weeks. That is an amazing inspiration for women who live around the River Tees, who can see rowing as an option for them going forward.

There are questions we still need to answer. As rowing is a sport which is deeply entrenched in the university structure, this is perhaps a place for Title IX to make the most impact. At Oxford this year, not only are the men’s and women’s races being held together for the first time but the men’s and women’s teams will be together at the post-race dinner. Well done, Oxford; I hope that Cambridge will follow next year.

We should also be very proud of Helene Rainsford, who other noble Lords have mentioned. She put women’s para-rowing on the map. In the interests of equality, in the mixed coxed team of Pam Relph, Naomi Riches and Lily van den Broecke, I will mention the two men in the team, David Smith and James Roe. I wonder how they feel—is it how women feel most of the time, being mentioned last? It is a little bit of a change around.

There are many challenges along the way for Paralympic rowing, including accessibility. Rivers are not the most accessible places for wheelchair users to be, but when I watch my daughter kayaking along the River Tees I am frequently asked by members of the rowing club whether I would like to join in. I very politely refuse, because I do not like moving water—but perhaps I could offer my services as a cheerleader for the Lords team. I will very happily sit and cheer from the terrace; I hope that that is an appropriate place to be.

There are also challenges with sponsorship. Women’s sport is an excellent opportunity to get involved in terms of branding, return on investment and encouraging people to think differently. Within our celebration, we must not forget that, back in 2013, British rowing carried out some research that was presented by Dr Alison Maitland, which showed that the traditional clubs value men’s events and achievements above women’s. For example, the Henley Women’s Regatta, which includes para-rowing, is not as valued by clubs as Henley Royal Regatta, which has no women’s club events, only open and elite events for men. So perhaps investment by clubs and schools in women’s equipment, programmes and coaching does not have a high enough priority. I hope that having the men’s and women’s Boat Race on the same day will change this.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, on securing this debate. Indeed, I am delighted to participate. Sports governance is an issue very close to my heart, especially when we are talking about celebrating women’s participation and trying to raise awareness of how we can improve it. I stress that I am not a rower myself but, according to the British Rowing Association, rowing,

“is a low-impact sport, suitable for all ages and abilities and with strong female representation across all types”.

So I will just say at this point, “Never say never”—I may join the team at some point.

Despite not participating myself, the exploits of British rowing have by no means passed me by. One of my abiding memories of watching Britain compete in the Olympics has been our extraordinary exploits in rowing. I first remember Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent winning gold after gold in their amazing partnership, which almost ended prematurely with the final gold at the Atlanta Games in 1996, when a seemingly exhausted Sir Steve gave his interviewer, and indeed anyone else watching, permission to “shoot” him if he went anywhere near a boat again—only for him to return four years later, thankfully unscathed, and sporting another gold medal in Sydney.

But at London 2012 it was the women who stole the show, from Heather Stanning and Helen Glover in the coxless pairs winning our first gold of the Games, to the looks of utter surprise, bewilderment and joy on the faces of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking in the lightweight skull. Finally, there was Katherine Grainger—what a story. In her fourth Games after three successive silver medals, she persisted, with the kind of grit and determination that I so admire. She came back again, redoubled her efforts, and this time it was gold for her and teammate Anna Watkins in the double skull—Britain's ninth medal in women’s rowing since 2000. Nine medals since 2000, with three golds coming in 2012, cannot be a coincidence. This unprecedented success has been underpinned by a club network with impressive stats on women’s participation.

In a nutshell, we want that success to be made permanent. So how does it look for women’s rowing? Numbers from the British Rowing Association make for excellent reading, and it sounds as if success in the London Games is being translated into more women getting involved. Noble Lords before me have mentioned various impressive statistics. A point very well made is that not only are more women getting involved in the sport but leadership positions in rowing are increasingly being held by women. As has been said, there has been a female chairman for the past 27 years, Dame Di Ellis, and now we have chairman Annamarie Phelps, making a great impact. But we must keep pushing.

I commend a piece of research by Dr Alison Maitland of Brunel University, which concluded, among other things, that barriers to increased participation include a lack of opportunity at suitable times of the day and a lack of female coaches. As someone who is committed to empowering women, particularly working mothers such as myself, to achieve their business goals, I can see that some of the same challenges might apply to rowing. Providing weekday time slots is key to allowing for greater participation, but this is when only paid coaches are likely to be available, rather than volunteers. British Rowing could look at repeating what it did at Walton Rowing Club. It provided a paid coach to run an adult improver programme, which attracted more women to row.

Just as in business, so in sport; we need to encourage more women to have confidence to come forward and volunteer in an environment they may not be familiar with. With the help of British Rowing, clubs should provide more support and training to get women into volunteering and coaching roles, which in turn will lead to more female rowers. As has been said, we must also praise schemes such as Women on Water and This Girl Can, which encourage all women to get involved in sport.

I am delighted to say that the future looks bright for women’s rowing. We must ensure that the governance arrangements, the volunteer network, the facilities and, yes, the funding, continue to be there to deliver the pipeline of talent needed to build on the success of 2012. Just as they were at Eton Dorney, I want to see more women atop podiums in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Tokyo in 2020 and beyond. Let us do everything we can to make that happen again.

My Lords, I must declare one interest. I am the third member of the House of Lords boat to be here. I am afraid I have to say to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford that it is his fault, because I could not row before I got in there. I can now row badly. My other sporting claim to fame is that I am what is left of a rugby player.

In talking about the esteem that women’s sport has to be held in, the Boat Race is important. It has become something that conveys esteem. Until very recently, it was probably the only rowing that anybody had ever heard of. It was the time when the Thames became full of people having a pint and occasionally seeing a boat go past. Now, as we know, it is part of a huge international sport built upon the success of the Olympics. I hope that we will put this to use and make sure that the esteem of the sport is seen, worked into government and supported.

To take a slight diversion into my original sport of rugby, I hope that my noble friend the Minister can point out that esteem has to be carried in a message. I have given him notice of this point. When England’s men won the Rugby World Cup, they all got honours. When England’s women won the Rugby World Cup, which they did as amateurs and not as part of their professional lives, only two got honours. It is not the same sport but the message of esteem has to be there. There may be a good reason but it does not smell good. I hope that we will hear why that occurred and have it put it into context. I will leave that one where it falls.

As has been said, general congratulation to rowing has to go forward, given that rowing now has to turn away people from its clubs because it cannot deal with the great demand to take part. At the bedrock of any sport is the participation level. We have already heard from numerous people that you have to build capacity. We will be able to continue to build that capacity only if we make sure that people can open new rowing clubs. At all amateur clubs, somebody goes out as the missionary and says, “Let’s do something new”, inspired by a great vision that this sport should be played—or having fallen out with the people at the club they were at in the first place. It does not matter; they are still doing it. That is what is required to build capacity. Every time somebody does this, they have to take on a series of bureaucracies that are national, local and internal to the sport. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us what the Government are doing centrally, and encouraging locally, to make sure that those people go out and form a club. All political parties should look to this.

Do we remember the idea of the big society? I know that is an election ago now, but amateur clubs in sport are probably the epitome of that. If you take on a public good, you make sure that you can do it properly. You bring in bigger organisations and build a social background to it. Making sure that this can happen is incredibly important, and what the Government do is vital. I spoke to new rowing clubs in Oxford, Leeds and the Lake District. All said that their relationship with government was slightly patchy. Going north, they were Cheney Falcon Rowing Club, Leeds Rowing Club—there had been no rowing club in a city of that size—and Lakeland Rowing Club. All had a mixed bag when it came to dealing with local bureaucracy—and, indeed, the bureaucracy with such things as universities and centres. Clubs with people who knew how to fill in forms did better. That is a lesson which all sports can carry forward.

Trying to address this in order to allow people who are doing a good thing to do it better is something that we should expect of government. Doing this—not just funding but making sure that people can access and get the best out of systems—is something which those of us in power should be encouraging. I hope that this will be a central thrust of everything we are doing here.

My Lords, it is most unusual for anyone in this House to hear me say anything derogatory about the Member of Parliament for West Worthing—but on this occasion I feel a need to do so. There are magnificent rowing clubs in Worthing and I salute and pay tribute to them, but my condition for getting married was that my husband would come to Henley, because I come from a rowing family. My son is a member of Leander, my father was a member of Leander, my great-uncle rowed in the Blue Boat, my nephew rowed in the Blue Boat. This was a very important matter and his rowing is quite appalling— shameful. He swims well, he has joined British Canoeing, but rowing is not him. When I was first in the other place I rowed once in the parliamentary eight, but had to abandon it because there was no way I could row in the boat which would not encourage him to do so—and then there would be more ignominy on the way.

I am an oarswoman. Coastal rowing is me; the Seaview regatta on the Isle of Wight. I have won skulling races, particularly randan races. That is a very exciting form of rowing, with three of you in a clinker-built boat. I have even rowed in the Great River Race, which is an incredibly long distance. I fear that we have a stranger in the Room who should not have been here. I have identified a very poor rower in this Room. Nevertheless, be that as it may, I then discovered recently, preparing for this critical debate, that my cousin rowed in the women’s Blue Boat in 1941. When I put this to my male relations, they all denied all knowledge of it. There is a long-standing problem in the relationship of male oarsmen to very distinguished female oarswomen. Penelope Poulton, now aged 92, is delighted that she is being mentioned here today. Similarly, my wonderful colleague, Clare Glackin, won in the Cambridge Blue Boat on two occasions in 1992. So this year is a triumph. It is quite a dilemma as to why it has taken so long for the women’s Boat Race to row on the tideway.

With others here I pay the warmest tribute to Helena Morrissey. She has been such a force. In the Chamber we have been debating female empowerment. I have already spoken there, as has my noble friend Lady Brady, and we paid tribute to the voluntary movement—not quotas—that has resulted in the quite extraordinary increase of women on boards, so that we are now in a very good place indeed. Helena Morrissey is entitled to a great deal of that credit. She founded the 30% Club and she said the other day, very interestingly, that,

“the relatively low proportion of girls participating particularly in team sports at school has a bearing on many aspects of how women’s lives develop—not just our health but our careers, too, and in business. It’s all part of a continuum that starts very early in life, leading to different experiences and expectations for women compared with men … the importance of learning to be part of a team, depended upon and depending on others, playing to personal strengths and respecting the complementary skills of others”.

Sport teaches people,

“to deal with performance nerves, to overcome disappointments, to have the strength of character to carry on when losing—and to enjoy victories. If girls have less opportunity to develop these skills, that surely puts them at a disadvantage in many other situations”.

From my perspective, rowing, of all sports, is the ultimate team game. There is no space for a prima donna at all. However good your stroke is, if it is not in time with the next person’s stroke, you are out of the boat. The other reason why I particularly enjoy rowing is that it is the one very competitive, very intense activity where you spend all of your time going backwards—totally trusting your future to the cox at the other end.

Good points have been made about the importance of coaches. I am particularly pleased that my local rowing club at Guildford has done a lot of work on encouraging volunteers to have more knowledge and information. People who do not feel that they understand the sport do not know how to be a volunteer, but the club has shown some wonderful examples.

I will quickly speak about Hull—because rowing is not just a southern, elite sport. As chancellor of the university, I pay tribute to Matt Evans, who is on British Rowing’s Young Person’s Panel. He is very involved in the Hull University Boat Club, where there is a great deal of enthusiasm and a growing participation by women. Similarly, community rowing in Hull is equally important. Of course, they could do more and I shall be writing about them getting a lottery award in the near future.

April 11 will be a wonderful day. The best person in my family at the moment is our son who has bought a house exactly on the finishing post at Mortlake. He is having a tremendous party to celebrate the women rowing down the tideway—and no male rowing supporters will be admitted at all.

My Lords, I cannot pretend to be either an expert or an enthusiastic rower. The extent of my involvement has been to use the machine in the gym. I seem to have more things in common with the noble Baroness’s husband—apart from being in the same trade union branch, which I was very proud of. Clearly, we need to balance this debate in terms of the sides. I suggest that the rowing team contact my noble friend Lady Hayter, who was a rowing blue. She could be another recruit to the team.

Compared with many other sports, rowing has an impressive record in both changing attitudes to, and increasing the participation level of, women. The Olympic effect on rowing was enormous in 2011 to 2013, and I suspect that it will still be evident. As a direct consequence of UK Sport and National Lottery funding, women rowers have won, as we have heard in the debate, nine Olympic medals since 2000, including three golds. That Olympic and Paralympic success has inspired girls to take part in rowing. Prior to London 2012, uptake for the Start programme had a ratio of 4:1 male to female participants. Since 2012, the ratio is almost equal.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, clubs were delighted that the profile was so high—but, sadly, the majority were unable to cope with such a huge influx of beginners. I know this first-hand from my niece and nephew who live in Chertsey, an area where you would expect to be able to row. But local Learn to Row courses were massively oversubscribed even before the Olympics. Clearly, if you drive up participation, you need to back it up with support in the clubs. British Rowing is doing some of this, but clubs need to make it a priority.

British Rowing now has 31,000 members, of whom 43% are female, compared with 38% in 2009. In the year following London 2012, 50% of new members were under 18 and 48% were female. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, British Rowing is committed to promoting equality within the sport, setting an example for other national governing bodies, from grass roots to Olympic and Paralympic rowers. I read in the briefing provided by the noble Lord that the Lea Rowing Club is a great example of where attitude change produces results. The focus on men’s and women’s rowing there has shifted in the past few years to the point where they have an entirely equal focus. The women’s eight won the intermediate level competition for clubs at women’s Henley in 2013. That result demonstrated that a club could achieve results on a national level with women who were recruited as beginners.

British Rowing and Sport England research suggests that barriers to women’s participation include a lack of local access, a lack of opportunities at appropriate times of day, a lack of daytime rowing and a lack of female coaches. Again, that is an issue that can be replicated in other sports.

British Rowing works with other water-based sports for joint use of facilities. That is important, but the support of local authorities is critical. Will the Minister assure the Committee that this will be further encouraged? British Rowing staff deliver and support indoor rowing competitions at schools and universities. I have heard what has been said about universities, but for me, it is also fundamental to start early—and that means starting in schools, which is why I very much welcome British Rowing’s work.

Many clubs are supported through British Rowing with leadership and coaching support, and more clubs and centres are now offering Learn to Row courses, and adult and youth recreational rowing activities. The results of the programmes will be measured after 10 years in 2019, which is the time BR believes it will take to change the culture of rowing clubs. I hope that it will be faster than that. The programme is clearly something that other governing bodies could emulate. I, too, look forward to seeing the final report of the Women and Sport advisory committee, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, is a member. I would like to hear from the Minister about his plans to ensure its final implementation.

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for securing this debate. The Government are absolutely committed to increasing women’s participation in all sport, including rowing, at every level of ability and age. I was very struck by my noble friend Lady Walmsley’s expression of the great enjoyment that rowing provides. My noble friend Lady Bottomley spoke about teamwork. The essence of what we all try to do in different parts of our lives is so much more positive when we work in a team. I have to say to my noble friend Lady Bottomley that my sympathies may lie with the honourable Member for Worthing when it comes to prowess in rowing ability, although I think that this debate has produced some enthusiastic volunteers for my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford’s team.

This country has an outstanding reputation for being at the forefront of rowing at the elite level. Over the last 20 years, Great Britain has won 23 Olympic rowing medals, 39% of which have been won in women’s events. Since para-rowing was introduced in 2008 in Beijing, Great Britain has won four medals, 50% of which have been won by women. My noble friend Lady Brady and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson—I would like to call her my noble friend—both spoke of the great national pride there has been and will continue to be in these exceptional achievements.

UK Sport is investing £36 million in rowing and para-rowing through this Olympic cycle. It is the highest-funded Olympic programme and it continues to yield success. Some 41% of rowers and 31% of para-rowers on the World Class Performance Programme are women. This great sport has given us some outstanding role models—your Lordships have highlighted a number of them. We all remember those huge successes of 2012. It would be invidious to seek to name-check them all but we are fortunate to have them. My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond spoke of the emotions of being there and of the inspiration that those extraordinary and exceptional rowers provided. They were not only an inspiration for rowing but for our country as well.

Sport England is providing more than £8 million of funding to British Rowing during the 2013-17 whole sport plan period to do exactly that: to increase participation. As part of that funding, Sport England is working with British Rowing to encourage innovative ways of delivering rowing which might appeal to new participants, particularly women.

We know that there are various obstacles, both perceived and real—the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, spoke of them. They may be emotional barriers such as low body image and self-esteem, capability barriers such as fear of not having the right skills, and practical barriers such as cost or lack of time. We need to break down those barriers. It is why, pan sport: This Girl Can. I say in answer to my noble friend Lady Walmsley that, at this early stage, the sports that have been chosen are on demand and those which have come forward from the demand do not as yet include rowing, but I encourage rowing to seek that demand. However, the situation is constantly evaluated. We want to engage with 14 to 18 year-olds and lower socioeconomic groups who, so far, we think need the most encouragement.

Sport England is working with the national bodies to help design and market sports in a way that overcomes these barriers and taps into what women want from sport. It may be about rethinking and redesigning sport to appeal to women and to fit in with their lives. In the case of rowing, joining a boat club and committing to training every week might not be feasible for all women. Alternative formats of rowing, located in different environments, may appeal. That is why 5% of British Rowing’s funding has recently been redeployed to initiatives that promote indoor rowing, in the hope that this will do for rowing what spinning has done for cycling.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, spoke of participants. Almost half the participants in the School Games indoor rowing programme are girls.

Sport England is also investing more than £300,000 in the Rowability programme. This aims to get more disabled people rowing and includes beginners’ rowing right through to those who aspire to compete at the top level. At this high level, UK Sport is investing almost £4 million in para-rowing during this Olympic cycle. Additionally, through its Get Equipped fund, Sport England is investing more than £120,000 in adaptive rowing equipment to help disabled people get on the water.

British Rowing has also recognised the value of networks for sharing information and supporting others. Women on Water is an online community that aims to bring together women rowers to connect with each other and activate the rowing community.

As my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and other noble friends have already highlighted, the profile of women’s rowing will be raised even further next month, when for the first time the women’s Boat Race will take place on the same day as the men’s Boat Race on the tideway. Additionally, the BBC will broadcast the women’s race live, as it does the men’s race, putting the women on an equal footing with men for the first time in history. Frankly, I am amazed that this has not been done before, because the Boat Race is watched by more than a quarter of a million people live, while television audiences in the UK are upwards of 7 million people and more than 100 countries request rights to screen the race live or as a highlights package.

A key factor in achieving this success has been the investment in the women’s team by Newton Investment Management. I am so glad that my noble friend Lady Bottomley spoke of the CEO of Newton, Helena Morrissey, who sits on the Government’s Women and Sport Advisory Board. She is personally committed to women’s sport and recognises the commercial opportunity that it offers. I want to acknowledge some of the other high-profile sponsorship deals for women’s sport; for example, Investec sponsors women’s hockey, while Kia Motors sponsors women’s cricket. We want other brands to capitalise on the commercial opportunities in women’s sport in the same way.

As well as through sponsorship and media, it is important that sportswomen are recognised in other ways, too, and I was glad that my noble friend Lord Addington spoke about honours. I am pleased to report that one of the five key factors on which the Women and Sport Advisory Board focuses is recognition and honours. The board has pushed for more women to be nominated in the honours process. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport writes to sports bodies twice a year urging them to nominate more women for honours. Since London 2012, at least 30% of sports honours have gone to women each year.

My noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lady Brady were right to emphasise the importance of volunteers in sport. Last month, Sport England launched Club Matters, a £3.6 million programme to support community sport and volunteers at grass-roots level. Club Matters also supports people to set up new clubs, which my noble friend Lord Addington was absolutely right to raise. There is a whole range of resources available online to help those at the very start of the journey—for amateur clubs, as well as for more established clubs. As part of the Olympic legacy, Join In has continued to increase its pool of volunteers. It now has more than 250 local leaders trained, enabling more people than ever to become involved with grass-roots sports clubs through the 30 established local networks.

At the other end of the scale, UK Sport encourages all its funded athletes to give five days a year to volunteering. Through that programme, those world-class athletes have given back more than 10,000 days to schools and communities since London 2012. Many organisations already allow their staff days off for volunteering as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy, and I encourage that. For example, many departments in the Civil Service offer up to five days a year for volunteering, recognising the benefits for employees and recipients of their time.

My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford raised a number of issues regarding specific boat clubs. I know that Sport England is familiar with the proposal from Chester Royals and is supporting the club as it develops the idea for a water sports hub on the Dee. I was very sorry to hear that my noble friend has not received a reply about Hillingdon Rowing Club. I will of course look into the matter and report back to him.

The Minister for Sport has done something extremely important in establishing a Women and Sport Advisory Board. The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, mentioned that. It will be focusing on increasing women’s participation in sport, improving the media profile of women’s sport, increasing commercial investment in women’s sport, improving women’s representation in leadership—my noble friend Lady Brady mentioned that in particular—as well as representation in the workforce, and a greater recognition for women’s sporting achievements. A final report will be published this month and will give suggestions for future action on women’s sport, which I believe we will all welcome.

British Rowing, with the support of Sport England, is initiating innovative ideas to increase participation. We wish to encourage sport, including rowing, to be enjoyed at all levels and by all abilities. I think that we all wish rowing every success, and may it continue to flourish.

Sitting suspended.