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17 Jan 2008 : Column 351WH—continued

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough made a good point about the community use of sports facilities, and the subject was also raised by other Members. It is absolutely the intention of the extended schools and building schools for the future programmes that there should be community use of such facilities, and all the guidance in respect of building schools for the future encourages early engagement with Sport England to ensure that any new sports facilities are suitable for community use. That should now be built into the system, although I take
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my hon. Friend’s point that during earlier stages of some of the programmes it was not happening as routinely as it should be happening now.

I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington for his gracious comments, at the outset of his remarks, about my involvement in sport. Although it has been extinct—perhaps I should say dormant—for some years, I have a qualification to teach PE at subsidiary level in secondary school. He was right in what he said about obesity and its importance. There is no single cause of obesity in children and tackling it is complex, as I mentioned earlier. No other country in the world has yet managed to push back the tide of obesity. We have recognised that difficulty. When I came into this post I looked at the matter early on and realised that there is a bigger challenge than people had realised; it is a new challenge for us all.

Clearly, primary responsibility for children’s lifestyle in normal circumstances lies with their parents in their family life. However, although it is not our role as a Government to tell people exactly how to live their lives, the public expect the Government to help them make healthier choices and provide a framework in which it is possible to make those choices, so the Government are committed to helping families eat better and lead healthier and more active lives—hence the school sport strategy and the school food strategy.

As I said, yesterday I visited a school in Hackney. In a deprived area, serving food under the new guidelines, we have achieved a 40 per cent. increase in the take-up of healthy school meals, with more than 50 per cent. of those meals coming from organic sources. We also managed to get involved in the Olympic programme. We need to hold up that beacon as an example of what we in government can do in relation to the matter. However, a broader cross-Government response is needed in response to obesity and the challenges that were outlined for us so clearly in the Foresight report at the end of last year.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of youngsters. As a parent I am often aware of the difficulty of encouraging youngsters away from computer screens. Perhaps we should consider persuading manufacturers to build in an automatic switch-off for some computer games after a period of time, or at least the ability for parents to activate such a thing in computer games to try to get youngsters off them.

Tom Brake: It’s called a plug.

Kevin Brennan: It is called the on/off switch, but if it happened automatically it might help.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned mental health in relation to physical health. Some of this is not exactly new. The ancient Greeks knew the truth about a healthy body and a healthy mind and perhaps we are having to rediscover it. I have been impressed by the “Social and emotional aspects of learning” programme that is taking place in 60 per cent. of our primary schools and is being introduced in our secondary schools. A school in Bethnal Green and Bow that I visited recently—again, in a deprived area—has achieved remarkable results from that programme in terms of better behaviour and better physical health. Head teachers, teachers and the young people themselves attest to the success of that approach.

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The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Olympics. I remember participating in the debate about whether we should put in our bid for the London Olympics a few years ago. The late, great Tony Banks, a former Minister for Sport said in that debate that it was all very well Members supporting the Olympics then, but he asked how many of them would still support the games and how many would be crying foul when the going got tough and difficulties were experienced along the way, as happens in every Olympic journey from the inception of the bid to the games. He was right to say that, because it is all very well being a fair weather friend at the start of a difficult journey, but when the going gets tough we have to remember why we are there.

It is right to scrutinise the Olympic preparations and to hold the Government and other bodies to account for their pitch for the Olympics, which was based on young people and the legacy of increased participation in sport that we want. That is what won us the bid and why the Government are committed to continuing with their programme of trying as much as possible—for example, through the young ambassadors programme I mentioned earlier—to spread participation through the Olympic message.

We want to use the Olympic games in 2012 and the Paralympics to lever the strategic system and try to achieve the behavioural change that we need to transform young people’s participation in sport and physical activity and, at the same time, identify more of our talented and gifted young athletes through the education system and get them into that elite performance. Many initiatives, including UK School Games, the young ambassadors programme and the annual summer camp, which I mentioned, deal with that aim. Trying to get the whole country involved in gaining the benefits of the Olympics is important: that is what their success will be judged on.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sport England. During our short break I had a quick word with the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who assured me that the current review will be a short one and will be reporting, we hope, in March. He said that community and grassroots participation in sport remains vital in the Government’s focus on the matter. The Sport England review will feed into the wider cross-Government work led by the Treasury, creating a physical activity strategy to be published by the end of March. Both reviews are meant to provide clarity about the roles and responsibilities for all the key organisations to meet the Government’s aim of getting 2 million more people active by 2012. I am sure that my hon. Friend will say more about that in the near future.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked me about the Department of Health and its continuing involvement. The Department will be working across Government. It is currently working with us in the Department for Children, Schools and Families and with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Transport to ensure a joined-up approach to obesity. We will hear more about that in the near future when the Government publish their cross-governmental obesity strategy. The Department of Health is seized of the new responsibilities that are coming its way as a result of the changes that are going on.

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I am glad that there is finally broader recognition that the bad old days of the sale of playing fields are over, although that line is still repeated, glibly and unchallenged, in the media and we should all take the opportunity to challenge it from time to time. However, it is not just simply a matter of having playing fields: they need good drainage, for example. In respect of modern facilities, in many cases, all-weather surfaces and floodlit surfaces are needed if we are to attract young people into sport. If we are to have community use, those facilities must be usable in the evening, so it is about investment as well as protecting playing fields. However, since the end of the 1990s we have had much greater protection of playing fields.

Although there are cases of disagreement on the panel that comes to me, as Minister, to make an adjudication in any dispute about whether a playing field meets the criteria and whether appropriate compensatory playing fields are available, in recent years net figures for the number of playing fields have been rising rather than falling, which is welcome. I heard the point that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington made, which was clarified by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, about the little planning anomaly. I will look at that. I suspect that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington may be right: it might be one of those wicked, difficult issues to unravel. However, if there is widespread evidence on the ground of real abuse, it would be useful to know about it. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of that I should be pleased to hear about it.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned links with local sports clubs. He is right: it is vital that we make such links. That is the territory of the DCMS, but if the five-hour offer for students is to be in place, it is vital that links with sports clubs in the community are built up, because we will need their participation for the initiative to succeed. Work is ongoing at the moment to try to build up and improve the links between sports clubs in communities and our schools to achieve the five-hour offer. That has been helped, as all Members who participated in the debate generously acknowledged, by the community amateur sports club rate relief arrangements.

I remember that, during my days as a chair of finance on a local authority, we regularly had to decide on a discretionary basis whether we could grant rate relief to clubs, and it seemed silly that we were doing that when the benefit that they were bringing to the community was obvious. On 31 October 2007, 4,524 clubs were receiving rate relief and other benefits that effectively amount to an additional £21.5 million going into grass-roots sports since that scheme was introduced.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to learning disabilities and participation in sport, and I am very much aware of the issue. I undertake to raise it again with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to find out whether we can obtain an update on where we are. It is sad that that abuse should have led to this situation. Clearly, I am aware of the need for us to look at greater participation by youngsters with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, in UK school sports and games.

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The hon. Gentleman’s final point concerned premiership football. He ranged fairly widely, although he was careful to sweeten his comments with a reference to the need for a new stadium for Portsmouth, and it is testimony to his political skill that he managed to do that. It might be a little beyond my powers directly to do much about the cost of tickets, although I acknowledge his point. My love of sport and of watching it came very much from the schoolboy tickets that used to be available to watch Wales at Cardiff Arms Park when I was a youngster growing up in south Wales. That was an important part of building up sporting heroes, in the way that he described, so I take his point. However, premiership football is a private business, although we see it in a different light from other businesses. As he knows, it has huge costs, such as players’ salaries, and it is a global sport when the best players come to play in this country. If the Government decide to nationalise Northern Rock and we have “HM Government” printed on the front of Newcastle United shirts, we may be able to do something more directly about prices at one club, but I want to make it clear that that is a light-hearted remark.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent brought his expertise to the debate, as did the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent made some interesting and enlightening observations about his experience when visiting Australia. I have not had that privilege. Ministers do not always get to venture as widely as Opposition spokespersons—the furthest that I have been in my job so far is Telford—but it might happen one day, who knows?

The hon. Gentleman made some valid points about physical literacy and the need to engage the youngest of children in physical activity at an early age and before they get into competitive sport. Our play strategy—we announced that we will develop it in the children’s plan—will have something to say on some of those issues, and I would welcome any contribution that he might want to make to the consultation on that strategy.

The hon. Gentleman was right to point out the effect of the 1980 teachers’ strike. I was working in schools at that time, and it was unfortunate that relationships had become so poor that teachers withdrew their outwith-contract activities and withdrew from school sites at lunch time and after school. It was a sad period, but I am glad to say that a social partnership between the Government and teachers has now been in place for a few years, and with the new investment in school sports, we are no longer in that state. But the strike had an impact for many years after it ended.

The hon. Gentleman was also right to point out the effect of the sale of playing fields and the crowding out of physical education in the curriculum, although I acknowledge that it was put into the national curriculum during that era. A silly and daft ideological, anti-competitive view in some areas did not help matters, but we are well beyond that now, thank goodness, and in a new era of school sports.

I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Australian Sports Commission and Ministers. We have a dual-key arrangement—perhaps it should be
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a triple-key arrangement—after the machinery of government changes last year, and Ministers are working closely together on delivering our broader sports, obesity and physical activity strategy. We work together regularly and pool budgets to achieve some of the targets, but the hon. Gentleman’s observations on what they do in Australia were interesting.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the picture is complex below Government, including the fact that, in the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own sporting national bodies, and rightly so. Given that diversity, it is important to ensure that we do not lose the synergy that can be created by being in the same boat and rowing with the same rhythm, because that is important. The Government are trying to play their role in bringing people together, rather than leaving them in their silos, in which case we would not make progress.

I heard with interest the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions about gift aid and corporation tax, and I am sure that my colleagues in the Treasury will read them with interest. The Chancellor will no doubt consider those proposals when thinking about the forthcoming Budget.

The hon. Gentleman referred to some of the concerns about the lottery. No existing lottery project will be affected by the Olympics. Sport England, for example, should still have about £40 million of new lottery money between 2008-09 and 2011-12. We will continue to work with DCMS and Sport England to ensure that the 2012 games are not just about London, but about the whole country. Sport England is working with the sports sector to ensure that an Olympic legacy of community sport is delivered, as the hon. Gentleman emphasised it should.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the need for facilities to be available to the community, to which I have referred, and the need for recognition in the curriculum. I thought his point about awards and recognition for schools that are doing well in sport was well made and one that we should ponder to see how we can take that forward.

The hon. Gentleman discussed teacher training places, and it is true that they are planned according to pupil numbers and need. There will be tens of thousands fewer pupils in schools in years to come, and planning for teachers across subjects must take account of that. There are shortages in some subjects, as there have been in science, but there are signs of improvement. There is no shortage of PE teachers, and vacancy numbers are not a cause for concern. However, we have been careful when planning teacher training numbers to ensure that the new responsibilities and the additional competition managers and so on, which may draw into that area PE teachers who may then want to return to become heads of department or whatever, have been taken into account in planning for teacher numbers in years to come. We are confident that there will be a fairly healthy market in PE teachers, and a fairly healthy work force available to teach PE in schools and to deliver the aims that we have talked about today.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about primary schools, and the need to ensure that teacher training is sufficient. His point was important, and we should
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consider it carefully to ensure that trainee teachers receive sufficient training to teach in primary schools. He also emphasised the importance of ensuring that our extended school provision is used to the full. That initiative has also brought great benefit.

We have had a very useful debate this afternoon. I thank hon. Members for their participation and for their constructive ideas and thoughts on the issue, and I look forward to discussing it further in the near future. In particular, in this Olympic year, I look forward to the inspiration that we can expect from Beijing before London 2012.

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Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): I should like to thank all the hon. Members, including the Minister, who participated in the debate—they were few in number, but the quality was first class. The debate was very interesting. For the second day running, there has been a consensus across the Chamber about the importance of the issue under discussion and a lot a common ground on where we are going, which is very useful.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Five o’clock.

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