Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 640 - 664)



  640. But, very often, the argument for selling is that the quality is poor and they are underused, whereas, instead of selling them, a little bit of investment, you have suggested maybe a bit of it might be sold to invest in improving another part of it, but, very often, playing-fields are sterile areas which are of low value and interest and underused. Is there some sort of survey of how they might be more effectively utilised, and a little bit of investment?
  (Kate Hoey) There is also going to be some money available through the New Opportunities Fund Green Spaces Initiative. Actually, one of the things we fought very hard for was to allow some of that money to be used to buy back and to prevent the sale of some of the best playing-fields. But there is no doubt about it, that some playing-fields now, because of the way the nature of sport has changed, there are more choices for people, different sports that people now get involved in, and there will always be, I think, some kind of playing-field that, even with the best will in the world, is not going to be able to be used to its full capacity. But I think local authorities are much more careful now about coming up with plans to sell, because they know that because the system is going to really put the onus totally on them to say why it should be sold, and, all the restrictions against selling, there would have to be a very strong reason to be allowed to sell.


  641. If I could offer a practical example of a concern in my own area about the issue that John has just raised, and I am very interested in `A Sporting Future', your policy document, it talks about tighter regulations, planning guidance on sales of playing-fields, etc., which is very, very welcome, but I have a practical problem and I am wondering whether your joint group would look realistically as well at further education? Because within Wakefield there is a very important playing-field, which I used to play on many years ago, and many local people have done, where the College, it is disused, they have not maintained it, or rarely maintained it, cut it once a year, I think, and they are wanting to get permission to sell this, and they have got it from the FEFC, I wrote to the FEFC and they are prepared to block this. I have a letter here from Tessa Blackstone, and she talks about, "The Government is unable to intervene. It is our policy that FE colleges should have the freedom to make the best use of their assets, including the sale of land and buildings. Wakefield College is free to dispose of its property if it believes it to be in the best interests of the college and its students." That does not seem consistent with what your very laudable objectives are. Does the FEFC have any involvement in this joint departmental group on playing-fields?
  (Kate Hoey) No.

  642. Could it have?
  (Kate Hoey) I think you have raised a point that we could certainly look at. This was not happening a few years ago, but now, the way they have complete control over what they do, yes, it could be an increasing trend.

  Chairman: I do not want to pursue it now, but we can look at it later on.

Mr Gunnell

  643. The Public Health White Paper, the one entitled `Saving Lives', talks about a "marked growth in the number of people taking part in sporting activities." I wonder whether such a marked growth has actually occurred. I think the Yorkshire Post produced some figures which might challenge that. But, if it has occurred, can you point to the evidence which shows it, and indicate whether that growth that has occurred has occurred reasonably evenly across different sections of society?
  (Kate Hoey) In our Department, we use very much as our kind of Bible on this, for want of anything better or more recent, the Sport England survey, `Young People.1999', their survey into young people's participation in sport, and that did show increases on the proportion of young people who were actually participating in extra curricula sport and recreation, that had gone up from, 1994 was 33 per cent, 1999 was 46 per cent. That is really the latest survey. The emphasis, I have to say, in all of this, has been on young people, because that is, again, as I said about what was happening in schools, I appreciate that the targets and the amount of sport and recreation that older people are taking part in is not so clearly defined. But, our own Department, as part of the Government's Public Service Agreements, we have got a target to raise significantly, year on year, the average time spent on sport and physical activity by those between six and 16, because the survey also showed that, at the moment, it is 8.5 hours per week, and the target is to raise it to nine hours by the end of 2004, when the next survey will be taken by Sport England, but we have asked them actually to come back to us in 2002 with an interim survey. And, clearly, an awful lot of the work that we are doing across the country is about how we improve participation of young people in sport, and there are a number of things that can be done; some of it takes place in school. And the work that has been going on with the school sport co-ordinators, the specialist sports colleges, the raising of the standards generally of physical education in school sport, trying to get more competition back into the playing of sport; that is one way of doing it. Also looking at, after school, the sports clubs, who have been doing a great deal of work on this but have not really linked in with schools, how we can get the sports clubs to play more of a part in the schools, so that it is not that big gap when you leave school and do not know where to continue playing a sport. The other area that concerns me a lot is the position of young women and girls, where, clearly, a lot of young women and girls do drop out round about that 12, 13, 14 age. The Youth Sports Trust did a very interesting pilot, backed up by Nike, which surveyed and asked a lot of these young people in schools why they were dropping out and why they were not interested any more, and it threw up a whole number of reasons. And now they are piloting that, to look at how we can listen to what they have been saying, and lots of very obvious and simple things, like the sports that were being offered were not necessarily what some of the young girls wanted to get involved with, but also things just as simple as how they had to dress, and showers. Times have changed since I was a physical education teacher and I was doing PE; these days, young girls are much more aware of their own bodies and their self-esteem, and all of that. So there is a whole range of things. There has not been a huge amount of money spent on research into this, a lot of it is commonsense, but also this Nike report has thrown up some good things. So, in certain areas, there definitely have been increases, but there are still areas we need to be concentrating on and finding ways to see what the problem is. And then, of course, there is the whole other area of facilities, access to facilities, how far people have to travel to find a good sports centre, a whole range of issues. None of this is very simple and none of it will be changed overnight.

  644. It may be that some of the contrary evidence which we have had is because people are talking about different groups, so that the Yorkshire Post, which I think would challenge the view that there has been a marked growth in the number of people taking part, may be talking about a different section of people from the one that you have talked about. And the Health Development Agency, similarly, have suggested that "the overall prevalence of physical activity is low with only 37% of men and 25% of women [meeting] the current guidelines." Now they, again, may be talking about a much wider age range there than you have spoken about?
  (Mr Reeves) You are quite right, in that you can pay your money and take your choice of definitions of sport, in these surveys; and also a great deal depends on your base year. We, in DCMS, use a very wide definition of sport, which includes something like walking two miles, that would count as sport, and if you have done that then you have taken part in a sporting activity in the last month. If you look through the nineties then, I think it is probably true to say, it would be an exaggeration to claim a marked growth in physical activity, there is a slight growth. But, to answer the other part of your question, Sir, was it evenly spread around different groups of population, the answer, very definitely, is no. A very big increase in participation in things like local gyms and health centres, which are, of course, only accessible to people with relatively high incomes; not nearly so good a picture for a lot of disadvantaged groups, and this is one of the things that we are concerned to address. As the Minister has said, our first priority at the moment is to get it right with children and schools, but we fully recognise that it cannot stop there.

  Mr Gunnell: Thank you.

  Chairman: You have taken us on to children now. Can I bring in Siobhain there.

Siobhain McDonagh

  645. We have already touched on this, about how you get more sporting activity amongst school-age children, and forgive me if I am wrong, but it seemed to focus on improving facilities and coaching; but will those measures actually be something to compete with the increasing sedentary lifestyles of young people, or will they still not prefer to watch the TV?
  (Kate Hoey) It is fairly obvious that young children now have a lot more things to do than when we were young, Siobhain, well, certainly me, and we did not have computers, we did not have access to television, we did not have all of those things, and those are all things that, certainly after school, are a big draw for young people. The key to a lot of this is getting youngsters engaged in something they are enjoying, as early as possible, which is why the work with primary schools is particularly important, because in many of our primary schools children were not getting decent quality physical education, they might have been allowed to run around the playground at lunchtime, but that is not a quality physical education. And the work that is going into increasing the training and helping improve the training for teachers in physical education is going to make a difference. I think the National Fitness Survey said that an active child is ten times more likely to be an active adult. So part of this is not about saying "You can't use computers," or "You can't do all these other things," it is about getting the youngster to enjoy things so much that they are wanting to continue it. Which is why how it is offered and the kinds of things that are offered and the ability for the schools to deliver good quality, which is where education again fits in, because it is absolutely crucial that teachers are properly trained and that there are new and imaginative ways of encouraging youngsters to participate; and then you might hold them, so that they will continue to do it after school, and not just want to be a couch potato.

  646. Which leads me to my next question, which had the most debate earlier on. And that is, is it realistic to increase the amount of PE, or even desirable, in the school curriculum, in the light of other performance indicator pressures on schools?
  (Kate Hoey) I think we are all conscious of the pressures on schools, and recognise the dedication of teachers to deliver what they have to deliver at the moment. But what we are looking for, and there is always this debate about should it be two hours, should it be three hours in school, how come some schools get four hours and some get much less than that; one of the things that we have tried to address is, what I have just been talking about, quality. Quantity in itself is not necessarily the right thing, if it is not good quality. And, also, there is this sort of almost a kind of myth now, argument, about within the curriculum and outside the curriculum; and, more and more, we are talking about school days, where what is in the curriculum day and what is outside the curriculum day is going to be more blurred, because if you want to take part in a proper cricket match, or a proper Rugby League match, you cannot do it within a 45-minute period, anyway, in a school, so an awful lot of good sporting activities have to take place after school. And that is where, again, the role of the school sport co-ordinators, working with the coaches from the sports clubs, who are going to be able, more and more, to come into the schools and help out and work with them, all of this is linked together. In other words, what I am saying really is that no longer can it be left only to the school to deliver all the sporting opportunities, the school has the most crucial part to play but there are other agencies that we have to work with. So I think that, if we continue to improve on the training and the time that is spent, which is being looked at by the DfEE, of how physical education teachers are trained, and we improve the quality of that, then within the curriculum of the school generally, and, remember, physical education is one of the few curriculum subjects that has defined an amount of time that it has to have, it is actually laid down that they must have an aspiration and now an entitlement to two hours. So I do not take such a negative view that some people do about what is happening in schools. I think there is a recognition that we were going too far one way and now we are reversing that balance.


  647. Can I sort of throw a damper on that last comment. From my own practical experience, as a parent; when my son, several years ago, moved from primary to secondary school, he was at that point involved in amateur Rugby League club training twice a week, and had to pull out because of the amount of homework he was getting in the new school. The homework, compared with what I used to get, and probably my generation, is much more intense, much more extensive now. So I certainly see, in my own backyard, my own family, a good example of where somebody who would have, in my view, and every dad says this, some sporting potential has dropped out by virtue of the pressures of academic study at school. And John mentioned the Yorkshire Post campaign. What struck me about that campaign, they call it `A Sporting Chance', was that it rang true with my own personal experience, not just with my own children but also what I see of colleagues' and friends' children, and people in my locality. I do not know whether you have received the evidence that was given to the Committee from the Yorkshire Post, but they did this very detailed survey that John referred to, of some 400 PE teachers within the Yorkshire area, a very confined area but I do not think it is untypical of the rest of the country, and 55 per cent said they were either pessimistic or very pessimistic about the future of their subject. And the issue of the pressure, academically, was crucial; 88 per cent said pressure on curriculum time, because of the emphasis on maths and English, was a major factor in the subject's decline, and 76 per cent said the current time allowed was not enough to give children a proper grounding in sport and PE. That is a very recent survey that was done, I think quite a credible survey, that reinforces what I am seeing. You have got your dialogue with the Department for Education and Employment; are you in any way addressing this kind of issue, which is coming over loud and clear to people like myself, and to papers such as the Yorkshire Post?
  (Kate Hoey) That is exactly why, because all these things were around, and that may be a fairly recent survey. I think, actually, it was taken before the changes back again to allow the extra time that is being spent on numeracy and literacy in primary schools. So all the other subjects that had been squeezed out for those two years were back in. But, clearly, we were picking up—

  648. Do you think the picture for this term, or this academic year, may be more favourable than the paper picked up?
  (Kate Hoey) Yes, I do; and I think, you see, the other thing that is happening now, with the specialist sports colleges, that again, this is really DfEE who are in charge of but we have been very involved with the setting up of specialist sports colleges, because those are ordinary secondary schools who are getting extra money to become a focus for sport, but not just about sport. And the important thing about what we are beginning to do, all of us have always said it, but a lot of other people have not, the idea that if you have actually got a good sporting school and young people are getting all these opportunities and doing well, a school that is excelling in sport is very likely also to be excelling academically as well, it does raise education standards. And you can see it; you ask a teacher about a group of young people who have not been behaving particularly well, and, very often, if they have gone out and they have had some really worthwhile, enjoyable physical activity, they will come in and they will not fall asleep, they will actually be much more interested in what is going on. And there is no doubt about it that there is no conflict between extra time and money on sport and physical education and academic standards, I think the two things are absolutely linked, and the evidence will show that, more and more, when the specialist sports colleges have been up and running for a little bit longer.

John Austin

  649. Can I turn to your strategy document, `A Sporting Future for All', because within that strategy you seem to be aiming to combine the social exclusion agenda with the pursuit of sporting excellence; and I would like to ask you whether you feel these two aims are mutually compatible?
  (Kate Hoey) Absolutely; absolutely. It is sometimes asked in a different way, it is whether you can combine excellence with mass participation; now mass participation is social inclusion, because it is actually bringing everyone in, and all the people, and the inequality that is there at the moment. It has to be said that, of all the money that goes into sport from Sport England, two-thirds of it is actually for community and grass-roots, and one-third goes to what would be seen as the elite end. But I see it in a very simple way, as a pathway; you do not get people rising to the top and achieving and becoming Olympic champions, or you will not get many of those, unless you have as wide a base as possible, at the bottom. So it is the old-fashioned way that we have all talked about, pyramid, where the wider the base the higher the top. And there is no doubt about it that the motivation that it gives to youngsters when they see sports people winning, in whatever sport, is a huge attraction, and everyone will tell you, in practically all the schools that you go to, just immediately after the Olympics, the enthusiasm and interest there was; and the important thing is now we keep that going, and that has to be addressed. And if I do my usual bit about how the media has a role to play here, because the media tend to focus only on many of those sports at an Olympic Games and then forget about them until the next Olympic Games, and I think that is very sad. So I am absolutely clear, we have to ensure that our elite athletes are funded properly, we have to ensure that we have got all the back-up support that increasingly they have in sports that is needed, if you are really going to be at the world-class level, and we have to do that without stopping the investment that is needed at the grass-roots to get participation, to improve the facilities. And the thing that really comes across more and more is that in this country, and it is not a party political issue, it has probably affected all the parties in the past, there has not been an acceptance that sport is important enough to invest in, and we have not invested enough in sport; we are now beginning to address that. It is not going to happen overnight, but there has been huge amounts of extra money gone in this year, and that is only the beginning, we have got to sustain it.

  650. Can I go on to the issue of inequalities in participation; you were talking about wider participation, but there still appears to be a tremendous difference, if you look at both social class and ethnicity, in terms of involvement. Can I ask what your Department is actually doing to address those inequalities?
  (Kate Hoey) A lot of it we have talked about already. The emphasis on nearly all the funding streams is for areas where there has been a lack of sporting facilities, which has meant that some people who have not had the money to go and pay to get into some of the private facilities that we were talking about, hopefully, the facilities will change. But on the inequalities to do with women, I think I have already mentioned, I will not go over that, I think there is an awful lot more we can do. Questions of inequality for people with disability. All the funding through the Lottery is very much linked into an equity policy now, and groups that get Lottery funding have to show that they have taken all these things into consideration, that they are open and accessible to all people in the community, whatever their background, colour, disability, and so on. But, again, these things will take time, they are not going to happen just suddenly, overnight; and we have to look at the reasons why, in some areas of the country, some sports are played a lot, and others are not and other people do not get involved in those kinds of sports. So there is a whole range of issues here. It is very much to the forefront of what we are doing, and our involvement in producing the PAT 10 report last year. This again, was about how we can make sure that the inequalities in participation and in involvement are addressed. It is one of the things that we looked at. There is nothing we do in our Department that does not involve looking at we are going to make a difference and to get people who are not involved or those who feel excluded, included.

  651. In terms of your influence on other Departments, and the Chair has raised the issue of the FEFC appearing to be out of sync. with your overall strategy, but if we look at the social inclusion agenda, if we look at, say, higher education, and those young people going to university, who by and large will be the socially included, will have a whole range of free, accessible, sporting, recreational facilities available to them; whereas the school-leaver, or the 18 year old, jobseeker, in my patch, or your patch, who may or may not be accessing training at the FE college, or wherever, has no such access to those kinds of facilities. Is it time we addressed those kinds of inequalities?
  (Kate Hoey) We will not get into a debate about what is free at the universities; and, of course, part of the Government policy is to improve the numbers of people going to university.

  652. I am not interested in what is free at universities, I want it to be more universally available?
  (Kate Hoey) Yes; and I think it is an area that actually we should be trying to use the university facilities much more, and there is a whole debate going on there about how we can get them more involved and working closely with their communities and with their schools, and so on. But—I have forgotten your question; maybe you could just summarise it.

  653. I was just saying that, by and large, those who have access to higher education, the socially included, have a whole range of facilities at their disposal; whereas those in the disadvantaged communities are less favourably provided for?
  (Kate Hoey) Some local authorities, of course, have made provision for people to pay less to get into their local authority centres, if they are unemployed, or are on a low income, and we are looking at the idea of a card, again a card, that would be used that would give access to people with less income. Harry, do you want to come in?
  (Mr Reeves) There are a number of strands to this, and certainly local authorities are a key provider of opportunities to the whole community but particularly to those less well able to afford to pay for commercial sports facilities. I think the other strand of our work planned is to try to get some of the key providers of sporting opportunities, namely governing bodies of sport and sports clubs, to strengthen the equity policies that they have, and to be more aware of the need to provide opportunities for the whole community, and using the funding conditions that are attached to the grants that they get through Sports Councils as one of the levers to encourage them to do that more thoroughly.
  (Kate Hoey) But, again, I was just thinking, you talk about your constituency, and I know about mine. Some of the problems for young people being able to participate is actually the cost of hiring the facility, and the local authority is reluctant to give a free booking, because, of course, within the way it all works, they have to account for the money. And I think sometimes we need to find ways of using the local authority, accepting that there is a pot of money there. I have a very good example, and I will give it to you, because I think this is a classic example, I do not have an answer to it myself. A school in my constituency is right beside a very nice, local authority, all-purpose weather playing pitch; that school cannot actually afford to use it, because of the changes by the local authority. I have tried to say, "Well, look, the local authority has taken the money from the school, the local authority involves the school, it is not being used; why can't they just use it for free, what is the problem?". And you get into all the questions of which department and budgets, and so on. And those are actual concrete examples. And I do not have the answers. But, clearly, if we think that young people actually are being prevented from being able to participate, because they cannot afford to do so, then we have to find a way of addressing that, and part of it is giving cheaper access, but it is only one aspect of it; and it is a big, big issue, this.


  654. But is not one of the problems, with public health as a subject, that the results of any public health policy are not seen until a long way down the road? And I could see us making a very strong argument that your kind of problem, of that nature, which clearly happens all over the country, could be resolved by looking at the health impact of those youngsters using that all-weather pitch; but the health impact will only be assessed probably when those youngsters are 30 or 40 years older, the impact of their involvement at that stage. And it is how we can somehow look much longer term than we do, in all Governments, I am not criticising this Government or any other Government, we look short term but we need to look longer term, and plot in somehow the funding arrangements to bring about resolutions to that sort of problem?
  (Kate Hoey) You are absolutely right, and it is what I said earlier about investment. You do not see the benefits of investment overnight, even in a year, sometimes, two years, ten years; and it is not just on the health side but on all of the sides. Spending money on sport actually will save us money, not just on the health budget but in terms of truancy at school, drug abuse, crime, all of these things, it is so obvious, and we are beginning to address it, we are beginning to work together to recognise that. But everybody needs to be saying it, and so your Committee is going to be extremely important in what you say.

John Austin

  655. You have just prompted me to think of something else, which I think is very positive; if I dare mention the word Dome in front of the Chairman here. One of the most positive things that I saw at the Dome was one of the commercially-sponsored events, which was the Our Town Days, where every education authority in the country had a day in the Dome to put on a portrayal of their town. I think they were all given ten grand by the sponsor, most of the engaged professional choreography, etc. And I was probably a more frequent visitor to the Dome than most people, because it is on my patch, but I saw a number of education authorities, kids performing on that stage, mostly involving really energetic portrayal and dance, etc., with such verve and enthusiasm, and I talked to the teachers afterwards, and they were saying exactly the kind of things you were saying, about the positive benefits that spin off from that. And I think, since there was every education authority in the country involved in that, it may well be worth actually looking to do a post-event evaluation and ask those education authorities and schools what the long-term positive impacts of that were. Do you think your Department might be willing to do that?
  (Kate Hoey) I am always reluctant to take on new duties for my hard-working staff. I think it is also worth pointing out that some of the governing bodies of sport obviously are well aware that if they do not get young people involved and interested at an early age, they are not going to get them, there are so many other things for children to do. And I just would like to say what happened at the end of the Test Match this year, cricket, at The Oval, when they let in all the children free, and they have now decided to do that on the last day of all Test Matches, we might hope that the matches last the five days. So everybody who is involved has a responsibility to see how they can do maybe sometimes by very little things, but just make a difference, to get people who would not normally be involved, or be able to afford to be involved, to be involved.


  656. Do you think that professional clubs connect in that way? You know my sport, and I can go back to a time, we are of a similar era, when my school teachers were involved in manning, and it was manning, the gate at Wakefield Trinity, and they took the money from school kids going in, and that money from that gate went back into schoolboy Rugby League. And those connections in sport seem to have gone. I know I am talking sort of 30-odd years ago. And can we recreate them in some ways, which ties in the schools element, which is so worrying, to professional sport?
  (Kate Hoey) I think, again, it depends very much sometimes on not just governing bodies but individual clubs within governing bodies, and we know that St Helen's is doing some good work on the health side, I am not sure I should mention St Helen's, but there are also governing bodies that I think probably could do more. And I think what we have seen in some of the Premier League clubs, in football, and at Durham Cricket Club, for example, is the use of their facilities for a lot more of the after-school homework clubs, and all of that. And, again, all of these things link in with lots of different Departments, and each club and each organisation will come up with different things, a judo club will have a different way from a cricket club of trying to involve young people. But the more we can make use of the facilities in a sporting environment, and that is again where the specialist sports colleges have shown that, in all aspects of the curriculum, whether you are teaching maths or teaching science, sport, if someone is engaged in that, can be used as the tool to get the person interested in the other subjects. Darts, for example, I was talking to one of our famous darts players, Bobby George, at the weekend, at the World Championships, and he was talking about numeracy in primary schools and darts, and all these ideas and initiatives about we could actually get young people to add up better by using darts. It is those kinds of things that we will just have to keep plugging away about.

Mr Gunnell

  657. I know you have done a very good job, Kate, in using the Olympics to promote sport and to get participation in it; and it struck me that, in a sense, we saw something similar on our visit to Cuba, because they made it very clear to us that their success was, in a sense, that much more than others, and certainly more than ours, because they pointed out that they had the same number of medals and they had a small proportion of our population. And it seems to me that that is partly because sport and exercise have a different place in their culture from the position they have in our culture, where they lie outside the main stream, but it seemed very much the mainstream part of the way they were thinking and the way they developed their sport. I am not suggesting that we would we would want to copy them necessarily, but I think we could learn something from them and from the intensity which they brought to that?
  (Kate Hoey) Yes. It is similar to Australia itself; you visit Australia and the whole nation is involved, in one way or the other, with sport, all sports, it is the whole culture of it. I last visited Cuba in 1968 so I am not sure how it has moved on from then. You are absolutely right, we call ourselves a sporting nation, but actually we are not, in the true sense of being a sporting nation, because it does not reach into the whole fabric of our nation, and we have not seen it in the central way that it can change things, that it can really make differences to people's lives. Now the whole way that it impacts now on the social inclusion agenda and all the things that I have talked about are beginning to be recognised. And if you talk to any sports development worker, or go to any amateur sports club in the community, and talk to the people who are running it, they could have told us all this, because they see it happening, how it changes young people's lives, how it makes them better citizens, how it gives the discipline, all of those things. So really this is not any new science, we are talking about what sport can do and how we can get sport to be seen, right across Government, as a very, very important method of delivering what we all want to do in improving health, or decreasing the numbers of people who are involved in crime and truancy, and all those other things. So it has taken us a long time to get there, but we are beginning to realise, I think, that this all does knit together.

Mr Amess

  658. A couple of quick things, I was going to say, to stir things up, but I think you have made a number of statements which are interesting. Just to recap, the link between physical education and health and your own previous responsibilities in the Home Office are very, very clear; this Government specialises in its expertise in public relations. I think everything you have said and indicated, with your small staff, the way the Departments link together, is that clearly you feel undervalued. Now you and your predecessor, very different styles but very effective communicators, I recall, my former colleague, Edwina Currie, although everyone did not agree with her message it certainly was widely reported. What needs to be done then to raise your profile within Government, to get you taken more seriously, given that this Government, particularly, likes to be successful and is very keen on public relations?
  (Kate Hoey) I hope I am valued. I have to say that we doubled the Exchequer funding for sport this year, which was the first time ever, since Dennis Howell was Sports Minister, we got anything more than inflation; so I think the Chancellor recognised the importance of sport. It is a very significant investment of extra money to double the amount that is going in. I have to say that I do not have this worry. Lots of people write about this, about the Sports Minister should be more powerful, or whatever; actually I feel that what is really important is what is happening out there. And when I go round the country and see some of the good things that are happening, in spite of all the difficulties, then I do not have a problem with my job, my role, my position, because, in many things, it is how you influence, it is not really the power you have, it is actually how you can make things change. And you make things change by making sure, as I have done, which perhaps did not happen so much in the past, that our Department is represented at and attends these various Cabinet cross-cutting committees, because that is actually where you influence other Departments, and that is where the real influence is, in terms of changing things. That is how I have tried to work. And also to make a very strong statement that all sport matters, and it is not just about one or two sports.

  659. I am sure that Number Ten will be very pleased now, when they read the report; but it still seems to me that everything you said was that it was a Cinderella Department. The other thing I wanted to explore just briefly with you, success is so important, this is the incentive to young people, the Olympic Games, marvellous success, the Australians did it far better than the Americans, and it seemed as if they did not spend as much money, and I was so pleased that rowing and sailing, very interestingly, did particularly well. But, Minister, our national sport is football. I am a lifelong West Ham supporter, and, of course, a Southend United supporter; what incentive is there now to our young people when we all know that the Premier League clubs are absolutely stuffed full of overseas players, I think Chelsea have got only one home-grown player, where is the incentive now to all our youngsters to participate more and more in football, when the whole thing is driven by big money now and all the players seem to be coming from overseas? Surely, you, as Sports Minister, tying it in with the health of our nation, could be proactive in this area?
  (Kate Hoey) It is a long way from health.

  Chairman: I was trying to relate it to public health. But you did slightly get around to getting youngsters involved. It is engaging youngsters; it is a fair point about that, yes.

Mr Amess

  660. Yes, that is the point, engaging them?
  (Kate Hoey) Every sport and every governing body has to be thinking of the long term, and has to be looking at decisions they make, as to "whether this is actually going to help our sport over the next ten, 20 years," which is why some of the decisions in the past which have been taken about, for example, choosing not to be on terrestrial television, and so on, for example, rugby, they made a real, real mistake there, and they know that, but we will not go into that. I do not run football in this country, the FA is the responsible governing body for football, and the Premier League have power to do, in a sense, whatever they wish to do. But I think that there are many people within football who do realise that they have to be thinking of how they make sure that our young people get the opportunities. Now the academies that have been set up at many of our Premier League and other clubs actually have helped to give young people opportunities, and, at the end of it, we have got some very successful teams, with many, many overseas players in them, but we have got some successful teams that do not have many, the team that is second at the moment has not spent huge amounts of money.

  Chairman: Who is that?

Siobhain McDonagh

  661. Sunderland.
  (Kate Hoey) Ultimately, it is up to football to sort it out, they decide how many overseas players they want to have. And my view is that it is important for all football clubs that they are ensuring that young people in their areas are getting the chance, and that they are given that chance, and, ultimately, I think that will happen. I think this may well be a trend that we will begin to see reverse, as a miracle does not happen when you put 11 overseas players in a team, as has happened with one team in particular, it does not necessarily mean you win everything, and, ultimately, that is up to the club to decide.

Mr Amess

  662. It is just, Chairman, simply, I feel, and I understand the points you are making, but the link between physical exercise and health is proven, the younger that we get people engaged the better, and if only we could see more of our youngsters playing football and then they will see, ultimately, that it leads to success, and whether it is girls, with tennis, where are the Virginia Wades and the other successful players that we have? And I just think it is a great shame that somehow we cannot do more to give some sort of direction. I know what you are saying, it is a bit hands-off, you are going to say the Lawn Tennis Association runs tennis, it is not down to—
  (Kate Hoey) The Lawn Tennis Association actually is putting huge amounts of money into grass-roots now; and, again, developing tennis players who can win Wimbledon takes time, and until we have a British champion winning Wimbledon people will say nobody is doing anything about tennis. But, in fact, there is an awful lot going on and a lot of money being spent, and tennis and rugby and cricket are putting substantial percentages into grass-roots development, and Rugby League, it is only more recently that football got all the publicity for that, and we welcome very much the Football Foundation, where they are putting 5 per cent; but rugby, cricket, tennis and Rugby League have been doing this for some time. And that is the way; you cannot have success at the top unless you are ensuring that there is real support going into the grass-roots. But, you are absolutely right, a successful England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland football team is a huge incentive for young people to get involved in sport.

John Austin

  663. I was just going to comment that Mr Amess mentioned Edwina Currie. I shared a tandem with her recently, and Members might be interested to know that she is about to cycle across Africa for charity. But can I go back to John Gunnell's earlier point about the elderly. We were talking, in the earlier evidence session, about the value of exercise and a non-sedentary life, particularly for the over-50s, and we were talking about encouraging people in exercise, but is there not also a value in encouraging people of my generation to take up sports, for sport's sake, because it can be enjoyable? And I am interested to know to what extent your Department does have a policy of trying to encourage older people to take up new sports, or take up sports they have not played before?
  (Kate Hoey) I think the Sports Council has put substantial amounts of money into activities enjoyed by older people; something like £33 million has gone into it. And I do not want to associate elderly people just with bowls, but it is a very popular sport, recreational activity, for elderly people, and the Sports Council has really targeted a number of initiatives for elderly people. We are actually meeting DSS officials later this month, our officials, to talk about the potential for some new sports initiatives targeted at older people. But there is no doubt about it that the emphasis and the priority, and I do not deny it, in the last year, has been on school sport.


  664. Are there any points, Minister, you want to add, before we conclude?
  (Kate Hoey) No, thank you very much.

  Chairman: If not, can I thank you both for your very helpful evidence. We are very grateful that you fitted in to your busy schedule coming along here this morning. Thank you very much.

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