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29 Oct 2008 : Column 946

I have not got time to go into all the problems with the current scheme and the fact that UK Sport does not necessarily have many rights that it can put out into the market. I simply urge the Government—I hope that I am being helpful in doing so—to ensure that there is something to take to the Treasury to ensure that the situation is sorted out. I was involved in trying to secure the £300 million in the first place, so I am delighted that we have got it, but this other money is crucial. How sad it would be if, by Christmas, we were cutting programmes after we have all just celebrated some fantastic victories.

Many of those victories originated in Loughborough. I have mentioned often enough the contribution that Loughborough makes, so I can skip over it now and not upset the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), but it is in places such as Loughborough that the nations and regions will benefit from what is happening in 2012. Many of the leading nations have visited and have subsequently made decisions; I hope that a nation such as Japan will perhaps base its team at Loughborough. What a fantastic cultural Olympiad that would bring—an event with flavour and a difference. I believe that about 150 international athletes are on campus at Loughborough university, so bringing an international flavour would be fantastic.

The other area that I wish to discuss is volunteering. I have the honour of chairing the Strategic Partnership for Volunteers in Sport, which is the national voice that speaks up on behalf of the 4 million to 5 million sports volunteers who ensure that community sport is delivered week in, week out right across our nation. Without community sport and, in particular, without those volunteers, many of the aspirations about which many hon. Members have spoken just would not be realised. We may sometimes say platitudes about the value of volunteers—we all say that we know how valuable they are—but if we look around in our communities, we see the contribution that people make, week in, week out, to their community sports clubs. That is absolutely phenomenal, and without such people, none of this would happen.

I would like to say a lot about nations, regions and strategies. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics knows, I am very disappointed with the legacy action plan—I have written to her several times over the past few years and have tried to hold meetings about it. However, I have got to the stage where I do not care about whether strategies look good or how many action plans there are; we just have to get on with it in the nations and regions. The reality is that not much new money will be coming our way, but we have many existing schemes to work with, so rather than just moaning and whinging, it is down to each of us, in our own constituencies, nations and regions, to get on with delivering the soft legacy. It is a tall order, but because of our great sporting tradition, the army of volunteers and the people totally and passionately committed to sport in this country, we can be the first nation to deliver a soft legacy.

I urge the Minister to respond to some of the points raised today, especially the one about the £100 million; the issue is potentially a disaster. Many jobs in my constituency depend on funding for elite sport through the English Institute of Sport at Loughborough university, and it is also in the nation’s best interests to sort the matter out as quickly as possible.

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3.29 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I had the honour of chairing the Committee stage of the London Olympics Act 2006, when the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) was a sports Minister. I congratulate all those responsible on bringing the Olympic games to this country, and I very much hope that we will all be alive in 2012 to enjoy them. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) on initiating this debate and the positive way in which he made his points. I agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about this being an important matter, and it is a shame that it has been left to the Opposition to raise it.

Issues have been raised about who closed sports fields and what left-wing councils thought about children playing games. However, I was here when the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 was debated, and I do not recall unanimous support from Labour Members for the lottery. I pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, John Major, for the way that the lottery has turned out. There is no doubt that the money channelled into encouraging young people to enter the Olympic games has paid off.

It is a shame that the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) is no longer in his place, because I agreed with everything that he said about football. Some premiership footballers are overpaid and under-perform, and it is an absolute disgrace that we did not have a team in the Olympic games—we must have one in 2012. The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) will know that I am a West Ham boy, and I am very proud that some of the Olympic games will take place in West Ham. As a product of St. Bonaventure’s grammar school, I endorse entirely all her remarks about West Ham’s legacy opportunities.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey had the opportunity to visit Southend and will agree with all my points. Southend wants to be at the heart of the Olympic games celebrations. Although we are just on the cusp of London, the games present us with a real opportunity, and I was glad to hear what the Minister for the Olympics said about the opening and closing ceremonies. Southend has the longest pier in the world, but she will be aware that we have had three fires and that we are desperately engaged in its restoration. Sir John Betjeman once said:

It is a grade II listed building. We do not need to compete with Beijing—we will not need to bus people to the various events, because they will flock there in their thousands and millions to enjoy the activities—but will the Minister help Southend restore the pier? The opening and closing ceremonies could be a spectacular opportunity for it.

The Secretary of State mentioned swimming and spoke about gentlemen swimming once a month and ladies twice a month. I am delighted to say that a swimming pool will be built in Garon park, with 95 per cent. of the cost borne by Southend council tax payers. I am very grateful for the support from Sport England, but we would like a little more. The swimming pool will be used as part of the training ground, and I am very pleased that some Paralympic events will take place there.

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I am delighted that Essex county council has splendidly grasped the opportunity to participate in the Olympic games. The biking event will take place in an adjoining constituency, and Southend council—my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey mentioned this when he opened the debate—is very concerned about the tourism legacy.

I am delighted that Southend council has had discussions with Newham council about having a sort of river-bus service between our two towns. If there is something that we should celebrate, it is the River Thames. This is a wonderful opportunity for us fully to utilise the river.

I had a very long speech prepared, but I shall simply say that we have two living examples of sporting prowess in Southend. Katrina Hughes, an 18-year-old product of the excellent Westcliff high school for girls, is one of the elite athletes in sailing. Of course, Mark Foster, who was educated and born in Southend, was waving and carrying the flag at the opening ceremony.

The Secretary of State tried to savage his opposite number, but I did not feel that he was entirely successful. He will recall from when he was a member of the Select Committee on Health our inquiry into obesity. Trying to engage more people in sport and activities must be another lasting legacy.

We will not argue about who was responsible for bringing the Olympic games to London in 2012. I congratulate everyone involved in that process. We want to ensure that we grasp this golden opportunity to celebrate the sporting prowess that we have in the UK. Let us encourage all our young people to get cracking to ensure that they are on the rostrum in 2012, beating the 47 medals that we got in the Olympic games this year.

3.36 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I congratulate Team UK on its fantastic performance at the Olympics. I also want to state how proud I am of David Weir, a double gold medallist and wheelchair athlete from my constituency.

I welcome the focus on the sporting legacy and want to raise a couple of points. First, I want to encourage the Government to talk to the Swimming Teachers Association, which feels excluded from discussions on swimming. I think, too, that the Government need to look at the fact that the funding package is for only two years, which is causing local authorities some concern.

On the subject of branding, there is still concern among local authorities that the Inspire programme might not be sufficient in raising the profile of what they are already doing in their constituencies and boroughs.

On the subject of an infrastructure legacy, we have already referred to the North London line. I hope that it is secure and that it will remain as a long-lasting feature of the transport system in London.

On the subject of the additional legacy, I know that Ministers are aware of the proposal from the Field Studies Council for a London education centre based in the Olympic park. That is certainly worthy of further investigation. I know that the Government are considering it, and I hope that it will come forward as a concrete plan in the not too distant future.

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Finally, on the subject of the sporting legacy, a couple of subjects have not been mentioned at all in the debate, the first of which is the legacy for people with learning disabilities. Post-2012, there must be something in place to enable that group, who are perhaps the most disadvantaged of all, to access sport and to participate fully. There needs to be a legacy for them. I want to encourage the Government to do everything they can to secure that legacy.

Finally, post-2012, there is the issue of the legacy for UK Deaf Sport. The focus on the Olympics and Paralympics has meant that that organisation has not received much support. Post-Olympics, the Government need to come back to that.

That is all that I can say in the time available, but I want to echo the words of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). The different criticisms that Members have made were not about nit-picking, but about trying to make the games even more successful in 2012 than we hope that they will be.

3.39 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): I have always thought that one of the most striking things about the Olympics is that the term “Olympic legacy” means so many different things to so many different people. Today’s debate has entirely reflected that and, I hope, has highlighted the need for a further debate in Government time on these important issues.

During the course of the afternoon, we heard from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—Bath is the host of the UK school games—and the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who spoke rightly of her pride in the fact that her borough will host the Olympics. We share that pride.

We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the Chairman of the Select Committee, and I congratulate him on his report. In addition, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) deserves to be congratulated both on her initial report, “Raising the Bar”, which, as she correctly said, formed the basis for the development of sports policy, and on the work she does in London: we look forward to her report in the new year, and the action that will follow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) spoke very well about the Olympic legacy for his constituents, while the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) raised the important issue of the missing £100 million. He also spoke about volunteering, and I thank him for his work in that regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) spoke absolutely correctly about the impact that the lottery has had in this area since it was introduced in the mid-1990s. He also described the legacy for his constituency, with the restoration of the pier at Southend. Finally, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) spoke briefly but well about swimming and branding.

Right at the outset, it is worth saying that there are substantial areas of the Olympic project where we as a party support the Government. We share the Olympic Minister’s determination to deliver London 2012 on time and within the main public sector funding package
29 Oct 2008 : Column 950
of £9.3 billion, and it is important that the wider Olympic movement understands that. In the current financial situation, there can be no further public money.

I believe that that understanding is important for our national reputation for delivering major infrastructure projects. It will also enable us to scale down the Olympic budget in such a way that parts of the world that have never dared bid for a games in previous years can have the confidence to do so in 2020, 2024 and beyond. However, at the core of the motion is the question of sports legacy, and I pay tribute to the report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that has driven this debate.

London’s pledge to enable young people through sport was at the heart of our bid. Pitched to an audience of former Olympians and sports administrators, it is probably the single biggest reason London is the host city in 2012. The challenge before us today is to fulfil that promise to the International Olympic Committee, and to do whatever is necessary to enable us to benefit from the surge in enthusiasm, interest and inspiration generated from London 2012.

What needs to be done? As always with sport, the task can be divided into three main areas: elite and high-performance sports, school sports and mass participation. Let us take the elite and high-performance area first. There are three main issues that need to be tackled. The first is the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Loughborough—the missing £100 million from the private sector that was promised by the Prime Minister in his March 2006 Budget when he was still Chancellor, but not yet delivered.

I always thought that that was going to be an extraordinarily difficult commitment to fulfil. Even before the current economic crisis, LOCOG, the BOA, sport governing bodies and individual athletes were scouring the market looking for private sponsorship. I always doubted that a private company would pick up what many consider to be a Government funding shortfall.

However, UK Sport planned, perfectly reasonably, for the full £600 million. As the hon. Member for Loughborough said, it would be disastrous if, in the aftermath of our most successful Olympics ever and before our own home Olympics, there had to be cuts in elite athlete training programmes. In my view, the Prime Minister’s promise must be kept, and that amount paid in full.

The second issue affecting elite and high-performance sport is the funding of the new National Anti-Doping Organisation. That has not been mentioned this afternoon, but I do not think that any hon. Member, of any party, would say anything other than that doping arguably represents the single greatest threat to Olympic sport. It is vital, particularly for us as the host nation, that we have the highest possible anti-doping standards in place.

The Conservative party has always argued for a fully independent anti-doping agency, as highlighted some years ago in the cross-party report from the hon. Member for Vauxhall. I am delighted that the Government have reversed their previous opposition to such a body, and I urge them to agree the necessary funding as a priority. While they are about it, the logical next step is to put the sport dispute resolution service, Sport Resolutions, on an independent statutory basis to give it the teeth that it needs to tackle sports disputes.

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The third element in this area is the legacy for individual Olympic sports.

Mr. Raynsford rose—

Hugh Robertson: The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) jumps to his feet at that, but it is difficult to be absolutely clear about that legacy in advance of the publication of the KPMG report due out next month. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) said earlier, it would be a tragedy if each individual Olympic sport did not receive a tangible benefit from London 2012. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree with that.

If there is to be a legacy for school sport from London 2012, it has to be in two areas: more pupils should have the opportunity to play sport at school, a point the Secretary of State touched on at length, and, crucially, fewer of them should give up when they leave school at 16. It is to our shame that over successive years—indeed, over successive Governments—the UK has had one of the worst post-school drop-out rates in Europe.

I pay tribute to the work of the Youth Sport Trust, and completely support the drive for more competitive sport in school, but four areas need greater attention. The first, which we must make an absolute priority—almost a crusade—is to reach the 10 per cent. of children who do not have the basic two hours of sport at present. There can be no excuse whatever for that, particularly as 78 per cent. of schools already provide it as part of their in-curriculum PE lessons. We must put that right.

Secondly, we must take a more considered look at sports provision in primary schools. One of the flaws in the existing strategy is that it concentrates too much—at least in my view—on secondary provision, by which stage it is too late. If we can enthuse pupils at primary school it is likely that the love of sport and exercise will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

The third area is inspiration, which is a constant theme when people talk about London 2012. There is an important role in that regard for the British Olympic Association as the guardians of Olympianism. We need to inspire all 450 school sport partnerships with the spirit of 2012. I want Olympians in every school and school games in every county. It is an organisational rather than a funding challenge, and the results can be spectacular, as those of us who saw the Kent school games this year are aware. I was lucky enough to open the games with Kelly Holmes. Kids from every school sport partnership in the county took part in a competitive county sports day; it was fantastic.

Finally, there is mass participation, or community sport, which is central to the London 2012 vision and has been the area of greatest concern, as was highlighted in the Select Committee’s report. Cuts to lottery funding, constant changes of strategy at Sport England and increased bureaucratic overload have contributed to the damning statistic that in a decade of lottery funding there has been no meaningful increase whatever in the number of people playing sport.

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