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17 Jan 2008 : Column 331WH—continued

As well as encouraging good health and cultivating skills for later life, sport and physical activity is also a great social institution. We need to invest in it if the next generation is to form a nation of participants rather than spectators. That is why, in the children’s plan, published at the end of December last year, we committed £225 million of investment to provide safe places for children to play and to pursue outdoor
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physical activities, often with supervision by trained staff in certain areas. We committed a further £160 million, in addition to the £60 million announced in “Aiming High”, to improving youth facilities. Last month, my colleague Beverley Hughes, who is in charge of our youth strategy, allocated a £420 million fund for the continuation and expansion of the positive activities in the young people’s programme and in the youth opportunity and youth capital funds, which will provide yet more places to go and things to do for young people throughout the country.

Being involved in sport does not always mean participating directly. Sport is the lifeblood of our voluntary sector; nearly 2 million volunteers give at least an hour a week to sport, and sustain more than 100,000 affiliated clubs, serving more than 8 million members. The sporting sector makes the single biggest contribution to total voluntary effort in the country.

In the 2012 Olympics, there will be a great many roles behind the scenes, as well as in the arena. It will be an exciting time for the UK and for our younger generation, whose talent will come under the international sport spotlight. Preparations have already started, and last week the second national talent orientation camp concluded, which gave young athletes the chance to learn what it takes to compete at the highest level. My colleague Jim Knight has been discussing with the regions how the structure of planned opportunities such as the Olympics can reflect local creativity and imagination.

I do not know whether other hon. Members have met any of the young people in our network of young ambassadors, but they have been acting as role models to inspire other young people and to help promote opportunities in schools in connection with the Olympic games. I have attended events with them, including a recent one sponsored by Sky; those young people are admirable and impressive and are doing a wonderful job in mentoring others.

In this Olympic year, we must fix our sights on the next Olympics in 2012. We must try to increase young people’s enthusiasm and ability to participate in sport and give every young person the opportunity to go for gold—and not only the talented young athletes in the Olympic arena. Britain has a proud sporting legacy. Before Sir Steven Redgrave, the greatest British Olympian ever, we had Paul Radmilovic, from Cardiff. He won four Olympic gold medals before and just after the first world war. He would have one even more had not the great war intervened. He won in the sports of swimming and water polo.

We have a great sporting tradition. I have every confidence that it will be continued by the next generation, partly because of the policies that the Government are following. I am proud of our record, and of the quiet revolution that we have started, which is transforming school sport for the better.

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): We in the House have traditions, too, Mr. Brennan, and the Chairman of Ways and Means would not forgive me if I did not remind your staff that even when Ministers are talking about colleagues, they should be addressed by constituency or title and not by name. But you did it only twice; a third would get a gold metal.

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2.58 pm

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I appreciate being given the opportunity to participate briefly in the debate. I usually find myself squeezed in at the end of debates and have to rush what I want to say, so in many respects, it is pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Minister. [Hon. Members: “Pace yourself.”] I will have to pace myself. I want to make similar points today to those that I made last week in the debate on obesity, but I had to be squeezed in on that occasion.

My hon. Friend rightly said that, as individuals, Members know that we need to keep fit, particularly in this post-Christmas period. Inquiries for gym membership rocket in this early part of the year, and everybody has the sense that they need to be doing something. By February, however, that has all gone. My hon. Friend said that he wishes to do even more, but turning those who are willing into genuine participants is difficult. That is part of what today’s debate is about. It is about setting up the structures, ensuring that the investment is there and talking about coaches, facilities and volunteers.

An important area, in which we need to do a lot more research, is changing social behaviour. A big time factor is involved in helping individuals to change their entire behaviour and their work-life balance, as opposed to just setting up the structures. Setting up structures that meet people’s modern and daily lives is one of our challenges. These days, 65 per cent. of people work an atypical working week. A minority, rather than the majority, now work the nine-to-five working week.

As my hon. Friend knows, I regularly play rugby. I will be playing a game tomorrow. We will have the traditional 2.30 kick-off, because it is the middle of the winter and we do not have floodlights. If we do not kick off then, it is dark by the end of the game. In many cases, that probably would make no difference to the standard of play. In fact, our standard might actually be better. Like many junior clubs, we have struggled. Over the 25 years that I have been playing, we have regularly turned out three teams. Of course, people now work on a Saturday morning as well as during the week. The idea of being able to commit to every Saturday afternoon—I am as bad as everybody else—from September to May is no longer a reality for many people. There are those who are really committed and have understanding families and partners who allow that to happen, but the reality for many people is that 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon is an increasingly difficult time. The national governing bodies and others are reacting to that situation, but they have to think in a wider perspective about what they do.

My hon. Friend talks about the quiet revolution, and it is worth setting the scene: about seven years ago, school sport had fallen to a really low point. We can be reasonably happy with the progress that we have made in the past decade. The Government got off to a slow start. They did not take the matter seriously enough for the first two or three years. It is only in the last few years that we have started to make up the lost ground. However, we must not be complacent; there is always more to do.

The five-hour offer is welcome, but it is a massive stretch target and will be difficult to achieve. Success comes down to the balance of sport that is being offered
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inside and outside the curriculum. We understand that from the way people’s lives work. That is the situation in my experience. My son is reasonably keen on sport—he does not have any choice from my perspective—and many of the activities that he undertakes occur outside school hours. That works fine for us, but it does not necessarily work for everybody, particularly if the sporting facilities are not available locally.

Returning to the vital subject of coaching, it is about getting coaches to people rather than getting people to facilities. In that way, we will change the mindset. It is important to recognise where we have come from. The national school sport strategy has transformed the way in which school sport works. It is also important not to eulogise countries such as Australia. As my hon. Friend said, Australians are now looking at how we are developing school sport. A great myth exists that, somehow, every other country has got it right and we have got it wrong. Actually, as my hon. Friend knows, obesity is increasing in Australia at equal if not faster rates than in the UK. The Australians are very good at supporting their elite level. If someone is reasonably good at a particular sport, they will be fast-tracked and given every opportunity to compete for their country. Australia loves to win gold medals and championships. Ironically, though, for every £1 we spend at elite level, Australia spends £7. Yet the other way round, at school sport level, for every £7 that we spend, Australia only spends £1. From a national perspective, it looks good to win gold medals, but it does not necessarily help to increase participation locally. Australian participation rates are slightly better than ours because of the enthusiasm for sport, the climate and a number of other factors. However, we have got our strategies and delivery largely right at school level. I think that, by 2010 and 2015, we will be pretty satisfied with what we have achieved.

My hon. Friend is also right when he says that changes are taking place in traditional areas. His school was rather limited in its choice of sport. At least we had rugby and football during the winter, and then athletics and cricket during the summer, so we had four activities to choose from. From what I understand, there is now an average of 21 sporting opportunities available in each of the school co-ordinated areas. That is important because we have seen a decline in traditional sport. Many people want to take part in other activities. That is important if we are going to extend the core of people doing sport.

My hon. Friend said that 25 to 30 per cent. of people will always do sport. They are mad keen and will always do it whatever they are offered. There is then 40 to 50 per cent. in the middle who, given the right opportunities, will participate, and then find that it becomes habit forming. Those people might take up activities such as skateboarding, rock climbing, walking, dancing or aerobics. It is the other core that I worry about, and I am sure that Sue Campbell has raised that matter with my hon. Friend as well.

We call the last 10 to 15 per cent. of people the hard-to-reach group. In a recent presentation from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, I heard one of the chief medical officers say, “We find them hard to reach, but quite often drug dealers, alcohol advertisers and others don’t.” There is obviously a disconnect between us and that group, but
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not with other people in society. However, they are not always such people. They can also be young Asian girls who have cultural barriers to participating in the sport that is provided en masse in school. Also children with special needs and learning difficulties are still poorly catered for in many areas. The Youth Sport Trust would be the first to admit that more work needs to be done in that respect.

We need to make more special interventions at that level, so that we can make an impact on those people who have not been given the opportunities that they want. We can deliver on that 25 to 30 per cent. who always want to do sport for its own sake. We need to do a lot more in building up the school-club link. By 2010, we will have driven up our participation rates—probably 85 per cent. of people will be doing up to five hours of sport a week—but what happens when they leave school? Are the clubs ready to take on that level of participation? At the moment, I do not think that they are.

The other group that is a worry is young girls, for whom the fall in participation rates starts much earlier. There is a dip at about 12, 13 and 14. Some 70 per cent. of girls at that age drop out of sport. Therefore, we need to take another look at how on earth we can respond with activities that will attract young girls to stay. As my hon. Friend knows, most of the research shows that it would not take an enormous change. We need to see a slight change in attitude and to address the barriers that some girls may face. For example, we need to look at the type of activity that is offered, the changing facilities and what they are asked to wear. Those minor issues represent small barriers to what they do. In every other walk of life, there are examples of best practice in which schools and others have responded to those challenges. They have offered girls all the things that are required to remove those barriers, and participation rates then increase. We need to roll out that best practice right across the country, rather than writing about it and shelving what we have written somewhere in the Department. That could make an enormous difference to obesity among girls.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, will he not agree that young women may be put off sport because the right activity has not been identified and because of the experiences that they may have with the coach? Very often, it could be a case of finding another coach to teach the same sport or identifying an alternative sport that they would feel comfortable with.

Mr. Reed: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. There is an array of reasons why people do not participate in the first place. When they do participate, they are quite often put off. That is why professional coaching is crucial. The coach will understand the group or the individual that they are working with, and they will be as professional as they can be. At elite level, that will mean working with a national team. However, working with a group of young girls requires a specific set of skills.

My hon. Friend’s comments about role models also relate to the media. A really positive role model can make an enormous difference, and Dame Kelly Holmes
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is a perfect example. However, our national media promote so few role models, and we do not read about them or see them often enough. Yesterday, I joined the Morgan inquiry, which is looking at youth volunteering, and the point made by young people and particularly—I hate this term—the hard-to-reach groups is that they want to see people like them, rather than just elite athletes, volunteering and participating in sport. In that respect, Dame Kelly’s story and where she came from are important, and people need to see more role models, so that they can relate to sport and so that sport is not just on the back pages of our newspapers or just about the glamour of football. Lots more is going on that is much more important to people.

Everything comes back to three elements, one of which is coaching, and I have changed my mind about it over the years. The enormous amount that we have spent on facilities has not been successful. Although lots of national lottery money—about £1.5 billion—has gone into facilities, participation rates have not necessarily increased as a result. I should therefore like the figures in the coaching strategy to double or treble from 3,000 to nearer 10,000, because that is where we will make the difference.

The facilities will then need to follow, because what people will put up with has changed, although it does not always feel like that: in some of the rugby club changing rooms that I change in on Saturday afternoons, I am lucky to have cold water at all, let alone a hot shower to get the three inches of mud off my legs. However, people’s expectations have rightly changed. The David Lloyd centres and others have moved gyms and changing rooms up a notch, and even local authorities have had to respond. Clearly, however, it is difficult for everybody across the board to raise their game at the same time.

As I said, therefore, we need the coaches and the facilities. However, we also need the volunteers, and this is where I declare my interest as the chair of the National Strategic Partnership For Volunteering In Sport. My hon. Friend rightly acknowledged that the biggest group of volunteers are sports volunteers, and 26 per cent. of all volunteers volunteer in sport. They do not necessarily regard themselves as volunteers, but as helpers who are helping out, but they are the vital cog that enables our grass-roots sport to function day in, day out. As somebody who brings in the post pads at the end of the game and organises things, I know that we can all make an enormous contribution by doing just a little, rather than leaving things to the club secretary and everybody else. We must get those things right; we must increase the number of coaches and continue to invest in facilities. That is why my hon. Friend’s work on building schools for the future is vital.

We need to ensure that the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we have to provide facilities is not lost. Many of our facilities are very good—they are fantastic for school sport—but if they are to make a real contribution in terms of contiguity, we must ensure that they are also good for community use. One criticism that I have heard of some of the early designs of facilities—I hope that the problems have now been ironed out—is that they are great for school sport, but that they will have to facilitate community use, too, if we are to use them post-school. Just adding a couple of
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badminton courts is not good enough, and that goes back to the need to have not only coaches, but suitable facilities that are comparable to those in the private sector.

The debate is entitled “Participation in Sport”, which is an important subject, but it needs to be linked to the definition of our requirements in terms of core physical activity. I will have to stop playing rugby at some stage; indeed, my wife wanted me to stop 10 years ago, so I will have to stop. However, I want to continue doing something that at least helps me to do the four or five activities a week and the 30 minutes of moderate activity that the chief medical officer says that we require. Doing an activity five times a week is sometimes difficult, however, even in this job. People therefore require the right mindset and they need to make doing an activity a priority, but it is not possible for everyone to do so.

At the heart of the issue is the need for genuine joined-up thinking to respond to the potential epidemic that faces us. If we do nothing now, 50 per cent. of women and 65 per cent. of men will be clinically obese by 2050. We cannot let that happen, and that will require not only an enormous response from the Minister’s Department, which has made the initial change in terms of education, but an effort on the part of other Departments to step up their game and to take the opportunity to focus on sport presented by the changes taking place in Sport England. I hope that my hon. Friend will use his ministerial influence to ensure that that happens.

In particular, we require local government and the Department of Health to be the drivers of the physical activity agenda locally. For years, I have been advocating that Sport England should concentrate on doing what it says on the tin and focus on sport, which it can do really well, but now is not the time to let the physical activity agenda slip through the net. As I said, I believe that the Department has got things right. We will be churning out youngsters who have formed the right habits and who want to participate in sport or physical activity. However, we must be ready out there in the community to pick them up, because if we are not, they will be lost.

We know how easy it is to give up once we have stopped. I have found it difficult to make up for the December excesses in this place and for family breaks, and the first two weeks in the gym have been really tough. I have been measuring my performance every day, and I can assure my hon. Friend that it always takes twice as long when people get to my age to undo the harm that they have done in the month before. Part of the problem for those who stop doing physical activity is that the first steps back are very difficult, and we need to ensure that primary care trusts and local government offer a set of activities that meet the needs of such people. If we do not do that, 50 per cent. of the country’s people will become obese, and we cannot afford that.

As I said in the debate last week, we often think that obesity will kill the next generation, but the people from NICE told us in a recent presentation that obesity is actually a really inefficient killer. All that it does is make us really unwell for a long time and make us an enormous burden not only to ourselves, but to the rest of society. Obesity is one of the greatest health
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challenges that we face, and we must design different ways of working in local government and planning terms to redesign the way that we live our lives. We have heard all that before, and as my hon. Friend said, we should take the stairs, not the lift when we walk into a tall building. All too often, however, they are the ugly bits tucked around the back as a fire escape, but they should be the central features in the way that the glamorous lifts are, and we should always know that they are there. That is a minor change, but it is a change in perception and in the way in which we respond to these issues.

We face an enormous challenge, but we have come a long way, and if I were asked whether I would prefer to be where we were 10 years ago, the answer would be no. We have come an enormous way, and I am pretty pleased with what we have done, but there is a lot more to do. The 2012 Olympics give us a golden opportunity to inspire a generation, and anyone who talks to schoolchildren, as I am sure that hon. Members do, will know that they are inspired by 2012, which has given them a new hope and a vision. However, we still need some clarity about how we turn that enthusiasm and focus on 2012 into genuine, increasing mass participation in sport at grass-roots level.

As the chair of a county sports partnership, I can come up with lots of ideas, but there will be no money to deliver them, so we are talking more about using the Olympic dream to gold-plate all the things that we have. We can do that, but we need to be realistic about how we might deliver things if we do not have extra resources. There might be some underachievement in respect of the most important issue to come out of the games: increasing grass-roots participation in sport.

There are lots of challenges, and I honestly believe that my hon. Friend the Minister is up to them. I have worked with him in the past, and he is one of those Ministers who actually gets what he is supposed to be doing, so we do not need to convince him that sport is good. To go back to the point raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about our experiences, people have all too often hated cross-country running and have decided to take it out on sport for the rest of their lives. However, I have seen the Minister playing in the parliamentary rugby team, and he is certainly full-on and gives it his all. I hope that in responding to some of the points that have been raised, he will not rest on his laurels, but make this golden opportunity to increase sports participation a reality.

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): I thank the hon. Gentleman for a very thoughtful contribution. May I just offer him a bit of advice as somebody who was daft enough to play rugby until he was in his 40s? If he is having to scrape three inches of mud off his face, get rid of the ball earlier.

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