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22 Jan 2009 : Column 315WH—continued

3.14 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Let me start with two apologies. First, I did not intend to speak, because I cannot stay for the debate’s entirety. However, given the somewhat limited turnout, I thought that rather than intervening, I would explore a few of my points in more detail. My second apology is because although I would probably be able to get back in time for the wind-ups if the debate runs its full course, I might not be able to do so if they take place earlier than anticipated.

I have been scribbling a few notes—I have to rise to the challenge of attempting to read my rather poor handwriting. My contribution relates mainly to sport. I know that this is an overarching debate, but my particular interest—notwithstanding some of the other issues that have been mentioned—is sport, especially for young people.

I will not spend time rehearsing the advantages of sport. We are all well versed in the arguments about the need to promote health, particularly when an increasing number of young people do not participate in sporting activities and we have challenges, such as that of obesity, to address. From my experiences as a parent and by observing young people who participate in local sport, I know how important sport can be in developing confidence. My two sons are now in their teens and they are both particularly shy. By engaging in sport, playing and performing well before their peers and in a team context, they have developed a degree of confidence that no other aspect of their lives would have enabled them to develop.

We are well aware that local community sports clubs play a key role in helping to divert young people away from less-sociable activities. My concern is to ensure that we promote participation at a grass-roots level across the board, and the Government are rising to that challenge. Without participants, and without enthusing young people, all sports will wither, from a grass-roots to a national level. Today’s young participants are not only the players of the future, but the coaches, team managers, organisers, ground preparers and all the people who are essential if sport is to flourish.

A statistic in the annual report claims that

That looks an impressive figure but, unless my arithmetic is wrong, it boils down to about 260 adults per constituency. If I were to do an audit or calculation off the top of my head for the number of adults who participate as volunteers in my constituency, it would be well in excess of that figure. If that is a robust figure, it means that in some parts of the country, a considerably lower number of people participate as volunteers. Volunteering is an important element of any sports development strategy.

Coaching is probably the single most important investment that we can make for the development of sport. I have made that point to the Minister on numerous occasions, and I know that the Government are doing a great deal to fund and promote coaching, but perhaps we could do even more. Without coaches, we cannot generate the enthusiasm and passion for sport that is essential.

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In particular, we need to promote the involvement of young women in sport. Figures demonstrate that although we can engage young women at primary school level, we lose them in large numbers as they get older and go to high school. If the Minister wants a good local example of how to engage young women in sport, he need look no further than the Airedale and Wharfedale junior cricket league, which now has a thriving women’s section. Clubs have invested time and effort in organising and managing teams and putting the league together, and female coaches have gone into primary schools and engaged with young people—young women in particular—which has developed their interest in the sport. If that can be true of cricket, it can be true of many other sports.

Following on from that, and the support that the Government could give to community amateur sports clubs, I note that the CCPR—it never seems to call itself the Central Council for Physical Recreation—has successfully conducted a campaign over the past few years to persuade the Treasury and the Government to give tax relief to sports clubs generally. That has been a great advantage. Some sports clubs in my constituency have been able to take advantage of it, but it does not push the boat out as much as we would hope when it comes to tax concessions.

The current “Subs for Clubs” campaign is about giving tax relief on junior club subscriptions. Given that it represents a fairly small amount of money, and given the impact and advantage that it would give clubs, particularly as we are entering a recession and it will become increasingly difficult for voluntary bodies such as sports clubs to generate funding, I hope that we will be pushing at an open door. I hope that the Minister constantly reminds his Treasury colleagues what a good idea it would be, and that it would be a natural corollary to what has already been agreed. I hope that we can make progress on that front.

My next point relates to specialist sports colleges. If there is one thing that the Government could rightly and legitimately hold up as an example of what they have achieved with the funding that they have put into the development of sport, it is the foundation of community sports colleges. It may be because I come from a somewhat unreconstructed, oldish Labour background that I had misgivings about the idea of specialist colleges, whatever their specialism.

The two specialist sports colleges in my constituency— St. Mary’s school at Menston and Priesthorpe school in Pudsey—have completely dispelled any reservations that I may have had about schools pursuing a specialist remit, especially given the resources that accompany it. They have made tremendous strides, and have a great record of achievement by cascading their resources, their sports co-ordinators and their other expertise to scores of surrounding high schools and junior schools. I believe that their contribution to promoting grass-roots sport will stand as one of the Government’s achievements.

One thing concerns me, however. There does not always seem to be the degree of joined-up thinking necessary to promote sport through sports colleges, or to promote the partnerships that the colleges can develop with the local community, amateur sports clubs, local authorities and other key players. One point is continually reiterated to me. When schools qualify for Building Schools for the Future funding, they are not always able
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to say, “We are a sports college. Can we factor in the need to develop our sports facilities not only for our students, but for the partnership, to which we are central?” Until now, the answer has generally been that it is not part of the process. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will put pressure where it is needed—on colleagues in other Departments—to ensure more joined-up thinking on that front.

Whether sports facilities are paid for through BSF or other funding, there is nevertheless a tremendous shortage of facilities for sports colleges and community sports partnerships to draw on. In my area, for example, which is covered by Leeds city council, an audit has been made of pitches and sports facilities. Not surprisingly, it found a tremendous shortfall in football, rugby and other pitches. I wonder whether more scrutiny needs to be given by the Government and the Minister’s Department of how resources that are meant for the development of sport—not just in schools but across the wider community—can be brought together more effectively by local authorities. I am not sure that Leeds city council necessarily distinguishes itself when drawing on the tremendous expertise, the voluntary support and the enthusiasm and energy that the community sports partnerships are able to provide, with the sports colleges being at the forefront of that for areas such as Pudsey and Leeds. I would be interested to hear my hon. Friend’s comments on that.

The report speaks of some of the developments at sport’s elite level. As the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) pointed out, the nation needs to celebrate that. However, I return to one of my main themes: when encouraging new people to participate at the elite level, we are not always careful enough to ensure that we take a clear view of their personal welfare.

Without going into detail about the personal circumstances that led to that observation, whatever the sport, elite groups are probably funded from the lottery and other sources. As a result, the young people participating in them are under enormous pressure. That is understandable. If they want to achieve at the highest level, they need to make that commitment and be prepared to put in the time necessary for coaching, competitive participation and fitness. However, I sometimes worry whether sufficient scrutiny is applied to the operation of those regimes.

It is tempting for young people—and sometimes their parents—to play through or to carry injuries rather than letting the side down or running the risk of losing their place because they cannot participate 100 per cent. of the time. That is always a worry. I do not suggest, in any way, shape or form, that we are going back to the sort of extremes that used to characterise the countries behind the iron curtain; we know that many activities took place then that never featured in the promotion of sport in our country. However, we need to scrutinise the child welfare issues more acutely, not always leaving it to those who are responsible for developing elite sports people because they themselves might be under pressure to turn a blind eye to such problems.

My next point in this ragbag of points relates to the television coverage of sport. My hon. Friend will know that, along with many colleagues in the House, I still
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have a bee in my bonnet about sports that are no longer included among the so-called crown jewels of sport. The best example is cricket. It is probably clear to everyone that the massive opportunity generated in 2005 by the successful Ashes series has been lost. That happened for a number of reasons, and I do not want to make a detailed analysis of it. One reason is that the national side has failed to perform particularly effectively since then.

I and those to whom I speak are convinced that another reason is terrestrial television’s loss of live test match coverage. We heard that the England and Wales Cricket Board received a huge amount of money, and that it was essential for the continuation of the sport. However, before being convinced by those arguments, whether from the ECB or other governing bodies, we should audit how much of that money goes to grass-roots sport.

I am not sure that we necessarily do that, and it is a trade off. If we are convinced that the money is going to grass-roots sport, we might be persuaded that there is an argument for such contracts. Until then, however, I remain of the view that many young people whose parents, for whatever reason—whether income or principle—are unwilling to subscribe to companies such as Sky, will be deprived of the opportunity to watch their sporting heroes and heroines. Psychologically, as we all know, that is one of the main ways to generate young people’s passion for sport. It is certainly what generated my sporting passion, and I am sure that that is true for many here today.

For my final point, I break away entirely from sport, and I am prompted by the hon. Gentleman’s comments on marketing and tourism. I do not regard this as a great attribute, but I have not taken a holiday outside the UK since 1989. Some people might regard that as sad, but I do not, because there are so many places in this country worth visiting, as he said. I could spend a lifetime going on holiday and still not visit them all. I endorse all his comments, therefore, about promoting tourism, and of course I make a special plea to promote tourism to what the Minister will know is God’s own county—Yorkshire—in which both our constituencies are located. Many of the attractions of that great county can be seen in Leeds and Bradford without even having to go out to the Yorkshire dales or the seaside towns. Given the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman went through in some detail, and which I shall not reiterate, the promotion of tourism in the UK is a crucial part of the Department’s role and strategy. It needs to boost the industry and give people access to holidays that perhaps they could not afford elsewhere given the economic situation.

With those apologies and longwinded comments, I shall sit down. As I said, I will have to leave almost as soon as I do so, and I cannot come back for about an hour. I hope that you will accept that apology, Mrs. Anderson.

3.31 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): It is wonderful to see you in the Chair, Mrs. Anderson, and it is particularly wonderful to follow the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell). Given that he must leave in a second, I want to say now that I endorse every remark that he has
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made. In particular, I welcomed his reference to the importance of sport volunteers. I suspect that he would join me in going further in saying that many of our other cultural activities benefit from the tremendous work done by many volunteers.

Also, I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the urgency of the work of the committee set up to look at the list of those sports that will appear on free-to-air television. I welcome the fact that the Government have set it up, and I join him in saying that, of all the sports that need looking at very carefully, cricket is the most important. He was right to say that we should not dwell on the history, but it is worth reflecting that a deal was struck between Lord Smith of Finsbury, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the England and Wales Cricket Board. When Lord Smith agreed to take cricket off the list, it was meant to ensure that there would still be a lot of free-to-air viewing. Sadly, that deal does not appear to have been stuck to. I hope that we will consider carefully whether cricket should go back on the list, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s valid points about the issues that need to be investigated to ensure that the grass roots of sports benefit either from more free-to-air viewing or from television receipts.

The Minister began with a paean telling us how wonderful the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) then pointed out one or two areas of failure, and I intervened pointing out that the Minister ought to be taking some of those failures more seriously. I hope to give the Minister the chance to do that by picking up some of the points made already and adding one or two others. However, he is right to say that there have been some fantastic successes in the areas covered by the DCMS.

None of us could give such a list without beginning with the tremendous success of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes in Beijing. As the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East has said, along with many others in recent weeks, it was a fantastic achievement that sets the bar very high for 2012. That is definitely the pinnacle, but there have been many other great successes. The Minister was right to praise Liverpool for the fantastic achievement in being chosen as the capital of culture and for the wonderful events that have taken place.

In an intervention, I managed to squeeze in a reference to the UK school games, which took place in Bath and Bristol. They were a fantastic success, which was down to the efforts of a large number of people who made it happen, including many volunteers who made a huge contribution. I wish those taking on the baton in Wales this year all the success in matching, and possibly even bettering, what we achieved, although that will be very difficult.

No mention has yet been made of the fantastic success of our film industry, and we should all be very proud of our public sector broadcasting. With the BBC, the multi-award winning Channel 4 and so on, we are the envy of the world. We just hope that some of the deliberations currently under way, to which I shall make brief reference later, will lead to a sustainable future for public service broadcasting to ensure that we remain the envy of the world while developing the range of services that the people of this country increasingly want as we go digital.

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I welcome, of course, a number of the Government’s initiatives. One could cite some of them, but to pick one at random, I refer to the additional support being given to seaside towns, which is urgently needed. In other areas, I welcome, if not what is happening on the ground, at least some of the language being used by the Department. I welcomed the commitment of the “Creative Britain” initiative to what we hope will be achieved in that area, although I confess that I am not as sanguine as the Minister about the success of the initiatives so far proposed. As we have praised the volunteers, it is important to praise the many organisations, whether sports clubs or theatre and education groups, doing tremendous work helping to make all these successes happen.

The Department is very important, but it does not get the recognition that it deserves in this place. It is disappointing that relatively few Members have turned up for this important debate. Whatever we think of the Department at times, it reaches into more parts of people’s lives than any other Department: whether through voting in “Strictly Come Dancing”; attending sporting events; going to the cinema, theatre or an art gallery; visiting the pub, bingo hall or the bookies; handing over money at the Tote; or going on holiday. All those things, which are really important in people’s lives, are determined in large measure by decisions made within the DCMS. It is a really important Department, and I am grateful for this opportunity to deliberate on its annual report.

I shall turn to some of my concerns, which will to some extent replicate the comments made by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East. The Minister was glowing in his tribute, but the hon. Gentleman picked up on some of the Department’s targets. I have been reading through the Government’s report. The Minister has said that he is sceptical about some of my figures and will challenge me later. However, let us not disagree about what it actually says in the report. After that, we can come on to some of the details.

The one outstanding public service agreement from the 2002 spending review is referred to on page 29 of the annual report. Of that target, it simply says, “Slippage.” We then come to the 2004 spending review and PSA1, which the report says is “ahead” of its target. We welcome that agreement on getting youngsters in school to take part in two or more hours of physical education a week, and I shall return to that later. We are told that PSA2 has “not yet been assessed”, which is not surprising, because the final figures are not expected until 2010. We could not, therefore, have expected too much data. However, page 33 tells us that we have some data for earlier years, which seem to indicate that the percentage of obese young people is stabilising. I am enormously worried, however, because it says that the figures are estimates going back a number of years and that they are subject to “sampling error”. If we are being told that we cannot rely on the figures at the start of the period because of the possibility of a sampling error, I wonder whether we can rely on whatever assessment is made at the end of the period of time.

With regard to the next set of targets, PSA3, which is about participation in art and sport by people in priority groups, we are told that overall, there has been slippage. The overall summary is then broken down into sports, arts, museums and galleries and historic environment, all of which suffered from “slippage”.

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When we come to PSA4, which is about improving the productivity of tourism and the creative and leisure industries, we are again told that there has been “slippage”. That is it; there are no more PSA headlines. The vast majority of the PSAs say “slippage”. Therefore, the Minister should have come to us with a bit more humility than he did in his opening remarks.

The Minister will be aware—because he is the Minister with responsibility for sport and studies these things in detail—that the targets are broken down into sub-targets. With regard to the findings on participation, he will know that the four targets that I have mentioned are broken down into 20 different sub-targets. Of those 20 targets, 16 have been missed. Every single one of the sporting participation targets for people in priority groups has been missed, and there has been a decline in the number of people in some of the groups. For example, 241,000 fewer people with limiting disabilities now take part in active sport. There has also been a 2 per cent. drop in the proportion of women taking part in active sport.

The interesting thing that is not covered by the report is the deeply worrying fact that the Government could not have claimed success in many of the targets because they do not collect the data that is necessary to assess them. We know that until the introduction of Sport England, which I welcome, data on the money that goes to groups that help the disabled, women or people from black and minority ethnic groups were not even collated. Therefore, it would not have been possible for the Government to claim any success in those areas, because they did not have data. That is almost more worrying than the slippage on the targets. If the Government say that those matters are important, then one has to ask how serious they are if they do not even ensure that the necessary data are collected.

Sadly, the same is true in relation to the sub-targets on art participation. Five out of six of the arts targets were missed. There were some 195,000 fewer adults participating in the arts, yet the Minister concentrated on the issue of getting young people involved in schools and the two-hour target. I accept that we are ahead of target there, and I welcome the growth in the number of people who are going forward. However, may I say to the Minister that I hope he will acknowledge that that still means that three quarters of a million children are not participating in two hours of sport? May I also ask him to look again at the details of this scheme to see whether research can be conducted into finding out how much of that two hours is taken up with changing time as opposed to physical activity? Currently, changing time is included within the two-hour target, when it should be excluded. We have much work to do to get young people to continue participating in sport after they leave school. Well over 50 per cent. of young people drop out of involvement in any physical sporting activity.

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