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Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Will the Secretary of State publish the terms of the review headed by the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)?

Mr. Smith: Yes. I shall ensure that, when we publish full details of those who are to assist my right hon. Friend in the review, we also publish the exact terms of the task they are being asked to perform. Through a press notice, we have already made public the basic purposes of the review.

We expect that the early introduction of services and the continuous development of facilities at UKSI network sites over the next two years will enable the UKSI to contribute progressively to the development of our talented athletes and to improve performance. We have made a commitment to ensure that the UKSI is fully operational by the summer of 2002.

Recruitment of the key staff of the UKSI central services team has been completed. From this month, sports will have access to the technical, operational and programme support provided through the team. Already, across the UK as a whole, the athlete career and education programme is up and running, providing personal development courses to athletes to meet their individual needs, as well as a high-performance coaching programme, which has been introduced to provide a range of sport and coach-specific personalised programmes, from information technology skills to specific training sessions.

The establishment of the English Institute of Sport--the English element of the UKSI--moves on apace. The badminton centre in Milton Keynes, the aquatics centre and velodrome in Manchester and the ice centre in Nottingham are already available to athletes. In May-June this year, the water-based hockey pitches in Birmingham and Cannock became among the first completed new projects. Detailed designs and project development work have been undertaken for the network sites at Sheffield, Manchester, Bath and Loughborough. The stage 2 lottery application for athletics, judo, netball, table tennis and general facilities at Sheffield has already been approved.

I concede it has taken longer than we originally hoped to begin establishing the UKSI, but, at the outset of our Government, we took a hugely important decision, which was that--unlike the previous proposal--the UKSI should not be entirely concentrated in one central location, but should be based at 10 or 12 regional sites, forming a network throughout the country. That was the right decision. It was pressed on us by athletes and sports men and women themselves, and we are now in the midst of ensuring its delivery.

To date, more than £50 million of new lottery funding has been committed by Sport England for additional facilities for the English network. It is expected that the majority of the remaining lottery applications, representing more than £60 million of further investment in network facilities in England, will be made in the next six months. Once the full building programme has been

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completed, more than 80 facilities will make up the English Institute of Sport network. In terms of the services to be provided through the English network centres, interim arrangements are planned to be in place this month, with the full service becoming available by April 2001 in the majority of the regions.

The UKSI Scottish Institute of Sport, funded by Sport Scotland, has been established and operating for 18 months. The Sports Council for Wales has been operating and developing UKSI Cymru for some time. Both have been providing a range of services directly to athletes, including technical training and support, conditioning guidance and supervision, preventive and reactive sports medical support and sports science.

The Sports Council for Northern Ireland has identified the university of Ulster as its preferred partner to develop in partnership the UKSI network for Northern Ireland. Initial principles of agreement have been signed by both parties, and work is under way to identify the most appropriate format to operate the network centre.

I am the first to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by our athletes' performance in Sydney. All the experts were telling us that the real benefits of the investment from the world class performance programme for the development of the UKSI would not be seen until the 2004 games at the earliest. However, individual athletes excelled themselves and built on the modest support that was already available to them. We now want to improve that modest support. The experts are right when they say that developing excellence in sport needs a long-term commitment.

It was with a view to the long term that we published our sports strategy document, "A Sporting Future for All", in April this year. There we set out a comprehensive vision for the future development of sport in this country. The document sets out the changes that we think are necessary to improve performance at the top level, but it emphasises the need to strengthen sport at every level. Our Olympic competitors stand at the tip of a pyramid that is made up of millions who take part in sport just for fun, who take part in representative sport at local or county level, or who are just beginning to progress to representative competition. What ends up on the Olympic podium starts in the local park, recreation ground, club or school.

A first requirement is to increase participation in all parts of the community, with a special emphasis--it must be a special emphasis--on school sport. That is worth doing in its own right. Taking part in sport brings a range of benefits to physical and mental health, it helps to integrate people into their communities, it teaches valuable life and social skills, and not least, it is a source of great enjoyment. Increasing participation also increases the size of the pool from which we identify those with the talent to progress further.

For most of us, our attitude to sport is shaped at school. It is there that we get the first chance to try out a range of sports, there that we receive our first coaching in the skills and tactics of the sport of our choice, and there that we first have the opportunity to take part in competitive matches--or it should be, and it used to be, but for too many years now competitive sport in our schools has been allowed to decline.

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Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does the Secretary of State recognise that the main reason why competitive sport declined was that so many Labour party activists said that competition in education was bad? [Interruption.] It had nothing to do with policies on the sale of school playing fields. The main reason was Labour activists saying that competition is bad for children. I know that the Government have rejected that now, but it was the main reason.

Mr. Smith: No, I do not agree. There were two main reasons for the decline in school sport. One was that, under the previous Government, school playing fields were sold off at an enormous rate.

Mr. Hawkins: By Labour local authorities.

Mr. Smith: Prompted by the issuing of circulars by the Conservative Department of the Environment, which effectively instructed local authorities to sell them off.

The other reason why competitive sport in schools declined was that, when the teachers were in dispute with the then Government back in the late 1980s, and the Government failed to resolve the disputes that they had with the teachers, many teachers throughout the country withdrew from taking part in after-school and weekend sporting activity. That caused a real decline in inter-school competition. We are trying to put that right.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Smith: I shall give way in a moment. Let me finish with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) first.

Those two facts do not excuse a number of daft people from all political parties who have said at various times in the past that competition was somehow bad for children. That denied children opportunities that they ought to have had. There is no excuse for that, but it is not the main reason why school sport went into such decline.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Given the Government's pledge to end the sales of school playing fields--sales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) rightly points out, that were overwhelmingly undertaken by Labour local authorities--how does the right hon. Gentleman justify the fact that, in the 15 months to 6 January this year, the Government had approved 101 out of 103 applications for the sale of school playing fields? Does that not prove that in this, as in other matters, the right hon. Gentleman speaks with forked tongue?

Mr. Smith: No. I shall deal with the specific point in a moment or two. The figures show that, under the Tory Government, the rate of sales of school playing fields averaged 40 per month around the country. It now averages five per month. That is still too many, and we are still not doing well enough, but it is a dramatic improvement on the previous situation.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): Does the Secretary of State agree that, in addition to the two reasons that he identified for the decline in school sport, there is a

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third--the Government's over-emphasis on academic achievement in schools, which is cutting out time for sport?

Mr. Smith: No. The Government are rightly putting a special emphasis on the development of numeracy and literacy skills. That emphasis is showing through in remarkably improved results for both literacy and numeracy in our schools. However, that must not diminish pupils' sporting and artistic activity. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment confirmed within the past few months that physical education, as well as music, drama and art, are part of the statutory curriculum which must be taught to children in every school in the country.

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