Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), whose speech displayed an excellent grasp of all the issues affecting his constituency and obvious dedication to it. I wish him well in his future political life in this place.
I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and the whole Olympic bid team on their hard work and determination in bringing the Olympics to London. There is nothing like an international race involving the French and the Brits to get the heart and lungs pumping. We were a little late out of the blocks but still took the winner's tape, which shows the mettle of the British team.
Along with the rest of the country, my constituents have welcomed the decision to bring the games to London in 2012, because they recognise the prospects for the whole country. Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I have been amazed by the reaction from children and young people. On numerous occasions when I have visited the schools, clubs and colleges in my constituency, they have shared with me their hopes and dreams of success in the future, focusing particularly on 2012 as the culmination of all of their ambitions. Imagine the effect on all those hopes and dreams when Conservative-controlled Dudley council announced plans to close Brierley Hill swimming baths, a facility that serves my constituents and those of the
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Minister for Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson). Many of my constituents from Brierley Hill, Amblecote and Quarry Bank learned to swim at Brierley Hill and many children still receive their lessons there. Local schools use the baths and the leisure centre is home to the Brierley Hill and Stourbridge swimming clubs and to the Dudley Dolphins diving club. In addition to competitive sport, the baths and the rest of the leisure centre provide local people with opportunities to improve their fitness and to relax.
The decision to close the baths is in direct conflict with advice from Sport England, whose survey proved that Dudley as a whole has poor provision of sporting water space. Our club swimmers and juniors have great prospects for achievement in 2012, but no hope of assistance due to that short-sighted council decision. The blow was all the harder to take when the first citizen of Dudley, the mayor, added his vote to close the baths. The local newspaper, the Stourbridge News, which serves Dudley, South and my constituency, has launched a campaign with SOSSave our Swimmingto retain the baths, or at least to encourage the council to find an alternative piece of land for a replacement facility, to provide a venue for learning vital life skills and for maintaining the fitness and health of all my constituents, as well as developing the talents of young swimmers and divers in Dudley and Stourbridge.
I hate to be the spectre at the feast, but my constituents voted for me to protect their interests and to champion their rights. They have the right to good health and good local council services and, most importantly, my younger constituents deserve the chance to dream and to achieve. All that will be harder to attain in the light of that short-sighted decision. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to join me in condemning that decision, to add his name to the petition to save the baths and to use his good offices to prevail on Dudley council to reverse the decision.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I apologise for the fact that I was unable to be in the Chamber for the first few minutes of the debate, especially as the whole debate has been so positive and enjoyable. Such a spirit of celebration and consensus is particularly appropriate on the day before the recess.
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) on an excellent maiden speech. He knows, probably better than most people, that Patsy will be a hard act to follow, but I am confident that he will do well. I welcome him to the House.
I feel that the debate would benefit from a Scottish perspective. As many Members will know, there has been much support in Scotland for the London Olympic bid. The Scottish Executive supported the bid team, and many polls conducted among the Scottish public have shown a high degree of support. Generally, certainly in the House, there has been cross-party support among Scottish MPs, with the possible exception of the Scottish National party, although perhaps, as we heard earlier, even the SNP may yet be convinced of the benefits to Scotland. I am certainly convinced that Scotland will benefit greatly from the Olympic games in London.
As Members may know, Hampden will be one of the locations for the football tournament. Glasgow is ideal for that, as there is intense passion for football in the
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city; Rangers and Celtic matches always provoke a lot of cheering and high spirits. Indeed, Scotland would be an ideal location to kick off the football tournament, which will be held before the main opening of the games. I hope that the organisers will consider that option.
Scotland has hosted other national sporting tournaments. The special Olympics were held in Glasgow in early July and were a great success, partly because the city has a reputation for being friendly and good at hospitality. Scotland also has a national treasure in the tartan army, which is famed for travelling round the world to support our team; the army was much loved by the French people during the World cup in 1998 and is held in great affection. However, at the last World cup, people were unable to see the tartan army in such large numbers, as unfortunately Scotland did not qualify. However, we Scots have also learned to lose with good humour. It is important to be able to do that in sport, and certainly in many cases the taking part and the enjoyment are also important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned the way that sport can unite the nation, and I was reminded that even sports that are not usually on the front or back pages of newspaperssports that do not usually get a lot of publicity and generate a lot of interestcan unite the nation. I recall the winter Olympics, when, like many others, I went into the office to work the next day and found that everybody had been up until the small hours of the morning watching the curling team's victory. That is not a sport that one would usually expect the masses to be interested in, but it provides an example of how sport can unite people and get their enthusiasm going.
Obviously, huge economic benefits are likely to be experienced across the UK. David Williams, chief executive of Events Scotland, has estimated that that benefit will run into hundreds of millions of pounds for Scotland alone. Obviously, that will involve training camps being set up, attracting teams to come and prepare for the games; Scotland is well placed to do that. Sports facilities of international standard, such as the Scotstoun stadium, which has international standard badminton and athletics, Strathclyde country park with its rowing lake, and even the Tollcross Olympic swimming pool over in Edinburgh, will, I am sure, act as great attractions. Indeed, in my constituency we have a £14 million world-class training complex for a range of football clubsMurray Park, based in Milngavie. So Scotland has world-class facilities, up to international standards, and I am sure they will help Scotland, through the London Olympics, to attract teams from around the world to benefit the economy.
As other hon. Members have mentioned, the games are also likely to act as an inspiration to achieve sporting excellence within the UK. Not all Members can claim the experience of my fellow Scot and right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) of participating in an Olympics as a competitor, but I am sure we all share the desire to see young people raise their ambitions to become Olympic champions in 2012.
Last week, in fact, two young constituents of mine, David and Stephanie, visited the House with their parents. After the tour, when they had learned all about the history, I was chatting with them outside and they were saying that they were keenly interested in sport. Of
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course the conversation turned to the Olympics and the excitement that if they persevere and train hard, it might even be possible that they too could compete not just in the Olympics, but in the Olympics in the UK. That thought acts as a wonderful motivation for young people taking part in sport. Indeed, Andy Murray, who is fresh from doing Scotland and Britain proud at Wimbledon, has said that the thought of playing Olympic tennis at Wimbledon with the backing of the crowd would be perfect, and I too think that would be perfect, especially if it put us in with a shot at the medals in tennis.
In addition to the economic benefits that would surely arise from the training camps, there is the issue of tourism, which needs to be looked at seriously. We must be careful to ensure that strategies are in place to encourage people to use their visit to London, perhaps for the Olympics, as a starting point for a visit to other parts of the UK. The central belt of Scotland is just five hours on the train from Londonor an hour on the plane, even if that is a slightly less environmentally friendly way to travel. It takes a little longer to get to the north of Scotland or the wild westthe highlands and islandsbut it really is worth the trip, and many areas of the UK would fall into that category.
We need to get better at stimulating tourism across the UK by visitors to London. When I was studying in London, sharing a flat with students from America, south-east Asia and around the world, I often felt like an outreach of the Scottish Tourist Board. Often the attitude was, "I have seen London so I have done the UK." We need to open up people's horizons and say, "London is fabulous but actually there is so much more on offer in the regions of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland." We need to ensure that we are very much on the ball with encouraging that. The UK is a diverse, rich network of communities and there must be some new, inventive ways in which we can spark interest in tourism to other areas.