3.12 pm

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I start by drawing Members’ attention to my declaration in the register. I thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies): his enthusiasm for this topic, and for Wales and everything it has to offer, is contagious. It is great to debate this topic—in this Chamber at any rate—as it joins so many people together in a common cause.

Much as I am delighted to see the Minister in her place, this debate could have been answered by the Department of Health, the Department for Education, the Treasury or a number of other Departments. Each has a real interest in this, both economic and social. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that this subject is inter-departmental. Every Department should look at this as an opportunity to improve its performance, rather than as something it needs to acknowledge in a token fashion.

I will concentrate on the benefits of outdoor education and learning for children in particular. It worries me that only 10% of children ever get to play outside these days, whereas 40% of their parents used to. One in three of our kids have never climbed a tree; one in 10 have never ridden a bike; remarkably, 42%—including me—have never made a daisy chain. That may seem an irrelevant contribution, but it demonstrates that we are talking about not just fitness, but culture, heritage and opening the eyes of people who might not have a daily opportunity to have their eyes opened to the extraordinary enrichment to their lives that just a few short hours out in the open air and the countryside provide.

A few Members might read that great magazine Country Life. A wide-ranging survey it carried out—a few years ago now, it must be said—asked questions of a number of schoolchildren aged between about six and 12. In answer to the question, “Why is it important to close gates when you go into the countryside?”, a worryingly large number replied, “To keep the elephants in.” When asked a question about what the greatest advantage was about living in rural areas, the answer came back, “Because there aren’t so many coppers.” This should demonstrate to us that, despite all the progress that has

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been made, there is still an awful lot we need to do to normalise life outside our urban areas.

Other Members have touched on the health benefits of outdoor activity. I like statistics, but it is still a very worrying situation that 28% of children are obese or suffer from obesity at some stage in their early years. That is partly because of the relatively small number who do one hour of vigorous exercise a day. That is all that is needed: one hour of vigorous exercise a day.

A number of excellent organisations have been mentioned so far. I will touch on the work of the Field Studies Council, not necessarily because it is better than other organisations, but simply because I learned an important lesson when I visited its centre in Stackpole in my constituency. It demonstrated to me something that I had not registered before. One of the values of outdoor learning to a lot of the children and young adults who go to that institution is that it teaches them that they can be good at something. If they do not function or perform to their best ability in a traditional classroom situation, there is often something they can do out there on a beach, in a forest or whatever it might be that they can suddenly excel at. When they discover there is something they can excel at outside, it is remarkable how they discover they can excel at things inside as well.

One of the things the Field Studies Council at Stackpole told me was that part of the problem was the attitude of the teachers who go with these kids. The teachers arrive on a Sunday night with no mobile phone reception, wondering what they are doing down there, wishing they were back at home, arms folded, slightly inclined to think, “Good luck. I haven’t been able to do anything with these kids, so I don’t suppose you will either.” At the end of one week at one of these institutions, they are already booking their trip for next year because they have seen, in such a short space of time, an absolute transformation in the self-confidence and ability of children who, to some extent, they had written off as failures in the classroom. Suddenly, someone who was good at identifying stars, or who learned about seashells or something like that went back to school and their performance in English, maths or history improved as a consequence. That is why I said that a Minister from the Department for Education could just as easily be sat on the Front Bench for this debate, soaking up the benefits for that Department that this kind of activity offers.

We of course hear about obstacles that present themselves; I am afraid that some of them are genuine. There is always some health and safety excuse for not doing these things: we hear long lists of reasons why “we can’t”, or “we won’t”. That is not very helpful either. There has been some progress by the Government—probably not enough—to sweep away what are, in some cases, completely unreasonable and impractical health and safety considerations that get in the way of these projects.

That is as much as I want to say. There are a few activities out there in the countryside that other Members will touch on that have social, economic and ecological benefits that are free to the taxpayer. When it comes to the departmental response—whether it is this Department or others—I hope Ministers will look at outdoor activity and recreation not as a cost but as an investment in the future health and happiness of young people in particular.

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3.19 pm

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): September is the month of fruit, foraging and field sports. As someone who represents the most rural and sparsely populated constituency in the country, I welcome the debate initiated by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and I briefly put forward everything from Kielder forest, Northumberland national park, Hadrian’s wall, the coast-to-coast cycleway, the Pennine way, the various other cycleways, the Haltwhistle walking festival and the wild heather moorlands. I could eulogise for ever—and that is just a small part of my constituency. I could mention the 50 angling groups that fish the Tyne, the red squirrels that have sanctuaries throughout Northumberland and all the individuals who make such a difference. We have not mentioned the organisations that support the rural way of life, such as Country Life, The Field, or the Moorland Association, but they should be supported in the House.

I cannot stress enough the economic impact, eloquently set out by the hon. Member for Ogmore, that country life makes. In my constituency, we have the best cycling, fishing, shooting and hiking in the country, and three of those activities provide the rural economy with hundreds of jobs, while shooting brings thousands. It is impossible for people living in southern Northumberland or north Durham, or the Tynedale and Weardale valleys, to survive without the thousands of jobs that the relevant organisations bring.

I want briefly to focus on fishing. There are more than 50 angling clubs, and the Tyne is probably the most successful salmon fishing river in the country at present. It is a matter of concern that the Environment Agency has authorised north-east coastal net fishery licences. In the past year, 56,000 fish were taken off the coast of the Tyne, and that is having a massive effect on the angling industry and support for fishermen. I urge the Minister to take that point up with the appropriate Environment Minister. I am grateful to the Northern Farmers and Landowners Group for making me aware of the problems.

Shooting is a sport that brings in £2 billion to the British economy. Anyone in doubt about it should read the excellent research of Public and Corporate Economic Consultants, which put out a massive questionnaire in the past year that showed more than £2 billion a year going to the UK economy, with 74,000 full-time jobs. That should be supported.

I am a massive supporter of the work of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. For example, I very much support its campaign on lead shot. However, its chief executive was woefully wrong when he called for moorland regulation. I take issue with that and the rather surprising approach of Marks & Spencer, which decided not to stock grouse although it will happily stock farmed salmon, battery chickens and driven pheasants. That seems illogical and wrong. In reality, the people who look after our moorlands—the owners, keepers and people who work there—are the custodians of the countryside.

I welcome the new chief executive of Natural England and hope that his new broom will bring a change of approach. It is embarrassing that a Government quango such as Natural England has so little comprehension of the countryside and the way moorland is supported by its custodians.

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The Sport and Recreation Alliance report that the hon. Member for Ogmore has referred to cites parts of Northumberland where one in five people are directly involved in outdoor sports. I disagree; the figure is more like one in every two or three. Without them, the rural economies of my area would wither and die. We all know that tourism is the sixth largest industry, and we welcome many people to south Northumberland to enjoy its pleasures. We need to make the case for what is an opportunity for the taxpayer, rather than a cost to the taxpayer, and we should support and encourage it.

3.23 pm

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): It is a pleasure as always to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on securing this important debate. My interest in the outdoors and sport goes back to my childhood. I am part of the pre-console and pre-computer generation, who spent their entire time outside, playing in the fresh air. In fact, I had to be dragged back inside, most evenings, to do my homework or eat my tea.

I grew up in Hythe, near the Kent coast. On one side of the house, there was a canal that we constantly tried to cross using items from the garage. An area of hills called the Roughs was an adventure ground for us. It is also a military training site, so we spent most of our time picking up empty shells and wondering whether they were dangerous. We were close to the sea, and the entire estate where I lived was a huge playground. I learned to play football, cricket and American football. In fact, I was a happy, healthy tomboy.

The upside of being part of a pre-computer generation was that we were outside all the time. The downside was that many of the clubs and organisations that exist today to support youngsters did not exist when I was growing up. As many hon. Members know, I am the manager of a girls’ football team. I am proud to have been involved with Meridian girls football club for the past eight years. That kind of network of grass-roots support was not there when I was growing up, and we should be grateful for the important investment in sporting facilities that we now have. It is a fantastic legacy of the national lottery started under John Major’s Government and expanded under the Labour Government. It is important to protect such investment in sporting facilities.

The freedom of the outdoors lies not just in the fact that people can go out and explore their environment, but in the fact that it costs little to do so. I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). She will know that I agree with much of what she said, not least because I serve on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which produced the report on women in sport. However, women are as likely as men to take part in outdoor recreation. Getting out into the environment, exploring villages, paths and hills, is an activity accessible to everyone, and it should be encouraged.

I am proud to be a Kent girl, and now represent an area of Kent quite far from the coast but that has a wonderful river running through it. It borders the Minister’s constituency. We have an excellent pathway, which will be upgraded thanks to a recent South East local enterprise partnership decision. We will have a full cycle path from Aylesford to East Farleigh. That will be a brilliant opportunity for people to get out along the river and see

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the fantastic wildlife. We also have a project called Medway Valley of Visions, which has opened up the entire Kent area of outstanding natural beauty for people to walk or cycle in and experience the benefits of the outdoors.

We have an excellent ramblers association, with 115 members in my constituency, and they have invited me to go out on many occasions. Unfortunately, they go out on a Sunday when—guess what?—I am standing at the side of a football pitch with my young girls, so it is not always possible for me to accept. However, the North Downs way and Pilgrims way run through my constituency.

When I was in training for the expedition—one that has nearly killed me—that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) mentioned, in which I participated with the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), going up Cotopaxi, one of the world’s highest volcanoes, I got into training by just going out of my door and hill walking. Hill walking is very different from mountaineering, and I intend never to do the latter again, despite what I am sure will be the best efforts of my colleagues. I will stick to football, rather than mountaineering.

There are nevertheless many opportunities out there, and we must protect and invest in them. That is why I wanted to speak today. I was touched by the key proposals sent to us for Government action on the outdoors. I do not think that they are necessarily politically controversial. As someone who grew up outside, the idea of increasing young people’s opportunities to get outside seems to me a no-brainer. Being outdoors, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) said, enables people to concentrate in class and gives them educational opportunities.

The hon. Member for Ogmore set out the six principles well, and I want to talk about planning. In my constituency, we have a planning application to build 500 houses over the Capstone valley. The valley is an area of outstanding natural beauty; it is a green lull between the Medway towns and Maidstone. It would be a desperate shame if we started to build on that and interfere with our wonderful outdoor environment, which serves our ramblers and conservationists, people who are interested in the wildlife and those who simply want to go for a run around the perimeter. We need to look at planning guidance to ensure that we protect areas that actually bring in an income through the fact that people are getting out there—tourists and people spending in the local economy—because they are using what is in essence a free asset for society.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of such issues. It is important that she takes a co-ordinated approach across central and local government. If we do not do something to protect things, the £91 million that the NHS spends every 24 hours on lifestyle-related chronic conditions will merely increase. The health and economic benefits are obvious. Not everyone wants to do sport—I get that. I want to do sports; I am a sports fanatic, but outdoor recreation is something that is open to everyone and something that they should have access to now and in future generations.

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3.31 pm

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on securing the debate.

I am the Member of Parliament for High Peak, which, as I often say, is the most beautiful constituency in the country—that will be disputed, but I have not had an intervention yet—and the outdoors is what we do. I am a little older than my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), but I echo what she was saying. I grew up before computers and—

Tracey Crouch: TVs.

Andrew Bingham: Not quite before television. I might look that old, but I assure the Chamber that I am not. I was going to say that we were the “jumpers for goalposts” generation, when we were always outside, playing football in winter and cricket in the summer. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) that I have indeed made a daisy chain as a small boy, but I will not embarrass the young lady I gave it to by naming her. We used to do so much outside, whether collecting frogspawn or climbing trees and things like that. Consequently, we were healthier for it. That is why the outdoors is so important.

High Peak is a beautiful area. In many respects, we can be the playground of the nation. I am lucky; I live in Chapel-en-le-Frith; I open my front door and I see hills and green fields. Custodians of such fields were mentioned earlier, and they are incredibly important. Fields and outdoor areas do not simply happen; we have to thank the custodians and the farmers for doing what they do. It is a huge playground that people can use and that is completely free. That is such a benefit.

Among the outdoors pursuits that take place in High Peak was the Tour de France, which touched my constituency recently, creating a huge increase in cycling, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley). On the subject of my hon. Friend, he accompanied me down a pothole in my constituency recently. I proceeded to get stuck briefly, but having lost a bit of weight, I am sure that we could go down again and I will slither easily through that tight gap. Potholing and caving also bring huge numbers of people into High Peak. They come to High Peak; they spend their money; they benefit the economy; and more than that, they benefit themselves. Anyone who takes part in outdoor pursuits is the main beneficiary, because of the health that they bring.

Two weeks ago, I undertook to hike around the boundary of my constituency, which is approximately 65 miles, which I did over a few days. The highest point that we got to was about 1,700 feet above sea level; the highest point in my constituency is Kinder Scout at 2,088 feet, so we were not quite at that height. We crossed the Pennine way, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) walked last year or the year before. The scenery and the fresh air are so good for people, but they also bring them to my constituency. I go to areas such as Castleton and the Hope valley in the summer and everywhere there are people with maps around their necks, the big boots and

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what I call the speckly socks, all coming to the Peak district and High Peak to get exercise. That is the important thing.

We hear so much on the health agenda about obesity, particularly among young people. I understand the attractions of Facebook and various computer games, but we need to encourage people to get out and about. We live in a beautiful country, so let us use it and get the benefit. As I said, when doing so, we are also benefiting our local economies. We all talk about deprivation in the inner cities and so on, but I prefer to talk about rural deprivation. As a result of the remoteness, we have to suffer certain things, such as not getting the same number of buses and so on, but we have that fantastic facility on our doorsteps. We should use it to get people back to exercising. The hon. Member for Ogmore mentioned exercise through prescription by doctors and, when I served on the local authority, we used to advocate that where we could. The Government should look at the health benefits.

As has already been said, the debate could have been held under the heading of health, education or the Treasury, but we are having it under sport. There are so many benefits. I am conscious that we are running out of time, so I will not go on too long, but the benefits are immeasurable and the people who benefit the most are those who take part. As Members of Parliament representing seats that all have the benefits of outdoor pursuits, we can encourage people to take part in them.

As I said, my walk last week took me four or five days and touched most parts of my constituency. The interesting thing was the difference in the scenery and the terrain, whether the steep hills coming up over the Snake pass and down into Glossop or the valley of the Goyt. Everywhere we looked was a photograph in the making. As others have said, the air was clear and the weather was reasonably good, which was quite helpful, because we can get a little rain in High Peak. The benefits were immeasurable, and we should try to share them with as many people as possible. The Government should do what they can to encourage people to use what I described before as the playground that we live in. It is there; it is healthy; it is beneficial; and it is free. No one can be excluded from using it; we need only encourage them to do so.

3.36 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I reiterate my congratulations to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on his excellent speech, which framed the debate. I want to add my thoughts. Part of what we need to do and what we are trying to achieve is to bring everything together. There are such wonderful initiatives going on and I, too, have wonderful areas in my beautiful constituency. The Leeds country way, the Meanwood valley trail and the Ebor way all run through my constituency. I have bouldering on the Chevin and walking in Golden Acre park or Woodhouse ridge in the south.

We must not forget about urban walking, and I tabled an early-day motion in support of Living Streets national walking month, including the walk to school week and the walk to work week—important initiatives. I also support the Britain on Foot initiative, which I am sure has had a huge impact since its launch, with all the organisations behind it.

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I have had an interest in the outdoors for a long time, through my father and mother taking me out for walks. I joined the Long Distance Walkers Association when I was 15, although it took me all the way until 2009 before I finally did its 100-mile walk, which is quite a challenge to do in one go. That organisation, for example, has 1,400 trails and paths—78,000 miles—all downloadable as a database from its website. Other organisations are the same.

I am extremely grateful to the people who supported the Cotopaxi expedition, which has been mentioned, for the Royal British Legion’s Battle Back centre. That was a remarkable thing to be part of, with my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). We learned an awful lot through our experience in the outdoors with servicemen and former servicemen who were injured and have become ill through their service to our country. We saw how they were rehabilitated through the Battle Back centre and its incredible work with adventurous training and outdoor activities.

I pay tribute in particular to the Carnegie Great Outdoors faculty of Leeds Metropolitan university, or Leeds Beckett university as it is becoming, in my constituency. Dave Bunting, who led the Army’s west ridge of Everest expedition, was a wonderful leader, but the three former and serving soldiers, Lyndon, Paul and Luke, really made the team. That is what it was about; that is the power of the outdoors.

In my constituency, the Otley sailing club does wonderful work with sailing for the disabled. I was delighted that Norman Stephens from the club got the Leeds sports awards volunteer of the year award this year for that amazing work. The constituency also has the Yeadon sailing club. That is an outdoor pursuit that I have not yet tried, although I am sure that I will. We also have cycling, with the incredible Tour de France and the local hero in Otley, Lizzie Armitstead, who has just won a gold medal at the Commonwealth games to add to her Olympic silver medal. She is an inspiration to local people, especially young women, and it is important to get more young women involved in sports. Triathlon is a wonderful sport. This is not all about walking: it is sometimes about running, swimming and cycling all together. Locally, we have the Brownlee brothers as inspiration. It is a matter of pulling all these great initiatives together. I hope that we hear from the Minister that we will have a national strategy. Let us all urge all parties to have something about the outdoors in their manifestos.

3.40 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, for what I think is the first time. I congratulate all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and the hon. Members for Macclesfield (David Rutley), for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), for Hexham (Guy Opperman), for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland). They all raised similar issues, which I will try to deal with as I go through my notes.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore made a passionate opening speech, entreating all of us to get out there and enjoy the countryside. He has a great deal of experience in sports and physical activity: he has been employed in the industry and is an enthusiastic participant and organiser. It is a tribute to his work that we have had this debate and that so many people have taken part.

My hon. Friend talked about the benefits that people can easily derive from outdoor activities. The “Reconomics” report points out that outdoor activities are often free and easily accessible, and that many of the barriers to taking part in physical activity are removed when enjoying the outdoors. He is absolutely right to highlight the benefits of investing in outdoor activities, and the report demonstrates that there is a payback.

Although such investment creates jobs, benefits businesses and is an extremely good way of bringing economic activity into rural areas where it can otherwise be difficult to generate—many Governments have struggled with that—that payback is not just economic; as my hon. Friend said, there are also benefits to the individual, including health benefits. Outdoor activity helps people be healthier and feel better in themselves, and an increasing amount of evidence and research is demonstrating that investing in outdoor activity and encouraging people to become more active has a positive impact.

Many hon. Members spoke about the cost to the economy of inactivity. People refer to obesity, but that is not the only issue. It is possible for people who are overweight to be in better physical condition than someone who does not seem from their weight to be suffering from the consequences of inactivity. It is important to encourage people to be aware of that and to be more active.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire said that we should encourage young people to get involved in one hour of physical activity a week, and I would like to achieve that goal, starting with my own children—believe me, I consider myself a complete failure in that regard. My wife and I have run the London marathon and recognise the importance of staying active, but we are not successful in getting our children to be active, so are not great examples.

I am aware that nagging people does not work and so we need to be aware of other ways in which we can encourage people to be active. Inactivity is an issue, so we need to make sure that we focus on that first, from the very earliest age. I passionately believe that we need to equip young children, from the earliest age, to have confidence in their bodies, their core physical strength and their physical literacy, so that they can access not just sport but the sort of recreational activities that hon. Members have spoken about today.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I have a suggestion for my hon. Friend: I found locking the children out of the house and pointing them in the direction of the hills worked. On a serious point, will he also speak up for the importance of spreading room on the coastal paths that we have talked about? That is important for people interested in mountaineering and so forth. We need not just tracks and trails—the narrow two-metre paths—but wide spreading room, albeit with due attention to the needs of landowners, so that people can do other activities.

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Clive Efford: Absolutely—that is important. Many benefits come from investment in coastal pathways and the kinds of pathways that the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford talked about, which link up through her constituency. Many other hon. Members made similar points. The rural economy benefits from people being able to access the countryside more easily.

I have a couple more points, which I will move on to. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South is a doughty fighter for women’s participation in sport, and made some important points about the lack of commercial investment going into women’s sport. Rugby is pointing the way, with full-time contracts for the women’s rugby sevens squad building up to the Rio Olympics.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to underline that we have to keep pushing: the current participation rates are not acceptable. I go back to the point I made about instilling confidence and consciousness about activity in young children at an early age. That is demonstrated by the fact that, sadly, as women get older and make choices for themselves, it is often clear that sport has not been a good experience for them, and they lose interest in it. We have to challenge that.

Several hon. Members called for a cross-Government strategy, and I agree with them. I commend to everyone the Opposition consultation document, “More Sport For All”, which we published in July. Under the heading “Why sport matters”, we refer to the “Reconomics” figures and discuss the importance of rural tourism and walking, and the need to recognise those sectors as part of not just a sports strategy but an economic one. I welcome comments from hon. Members and the Minister on that document.

Our consultation document recognises that virtually all Government Departments have a role in promoting sport and physical recreational activity. The Department of Health has a role, for example; the Ministry of Justice could, in terms of trying to divert young people from antisocial behaviour and provide them with the opportunity to experience something they might not get many opportunities to experience otherwise.

Greg Mulholland: The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is clearly another of those Departments. I was lucky to join the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association during its new Wharfedale three peaks challenge. The mountain and cave rescue services have not been mentioned yet today, but we must ensure that they are part of the thinking, because without them we would not have the freedom we do on the hills.

Clive Efford: Reference was made during the debate to safety in the countryside; that is an important issue and one we should all remember.

New technology was referred to, but in a negative way, as something that discourages people from getting involved in sport. We need to look at it as a challenge and a way to provide people with information, to enable easier access for them, whether that be to sports facilities or other services. That technology is an important tool that we need to develop.

I have one last point to make. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore for securing this debate. Some points have been made about sports facilities;

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they are not necessarily anything to do with countryside recreational activities, but I would also like to raise them. We need to ensure that the sports that are bigger money spinners put money back into facilities. I am thinking of football in particular—we need to make sure that the Premier League lives up to its promises about putting money back into grass-roots sport. If such investment goes into facilities in our communities, all sports may benefit, not just football.

There was a story in the papers today about Queens Park Rangers perhaps having to pay a £40 million fine because it broke its financial fair play rules. If that is the case and that money must go to charity, I urge the authorities to put it back not into grass roots facilities in football, but into grass roots facilities in our communities so that people can become active in sport.

In conclusion, I am grateful for this important debate to discuss all aspects of outdoor recreation and activity, and I urge the Minister to respond to the six points on the agenda of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore.

3.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): It is a great pleasure, Mrs Main, to serve under your chairmanship. I, too, thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) for securing this debate and for his contribution, and I thank other hon. Members for theirs. I have always been very lucky when it comes to the outdoors. As a child growing up on the edge of the Lake District, I was spoilt for choice with walking, kayaking, climbing and the views from Blencathra to which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) referred. It is a stunning part of the country. I then went on to become an MP and found myself in the heart of the garden of England in the beautiful Kent countryside. I drew the long straws there.

As the Minister for Sport and Tourism, I want to ensure that everyone has the chances I had to participate in a diverse and interesting range of sports and activities. Many Departments and many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), work closely together to ensure that we are all playing our part in supporting this important sector.

There is little time available and a lot to say, but I will do my best to cover the points raised. Today, many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Ogmore and my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), called on the Government to create a strategy for outdoor recreation. I am happy to look at that and at how we can bring together in a strategy all the good work already being done throughout the Government in different Departments.

Many hon. Members acknowledged that good work is being done, but asked for more to be done and for the Government to keep their foot on the pedal in relation to recreation and outdoor activity. That is certainly happening. VisitEngland has made a substantial investment in campaigns such as the Coastal Escapes campaign, the English Countryside campaign, the Rural Escapes campaign and the Active Outdoors campaign. Sport England has recently put £3 million into the British Mountaineering Council and there is ongoing cross-departmental ministerial involvement in campaigns in

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the health context such as the “Moving More, Living More” campaign, which confirms genuine support, interest and commitment in dealing with inactivity and benefiting from the various pluses of health, fun, sport and the resulting economic benefits.

The hon. Member for Ogmore, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and many other hon. Members spoke about the six key manifesto points. I have looked at them and they are all very interesting. We are already providing a lot of support for the outdoor recreation sector, but we will give all the six points due and proper consideration. Clearly, the matter is also for numerous other Departments, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Transport and the Department of Health.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) referred to the Active People survey and various concerns involving the calculation of the participation figures. I will be happy to talk to Sport England and the Department of Health about how to measure some of the recreational activities in the Active People survey.

The hon. Member for Ogmore, the shadow Minister and others referred to the “Reconomics” report and I agree that it is very good and detailed. In a good way, it pulls together existing research. Sport England and VisitEngland will certainly build on the various reports.

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) raised the important issues of women in sport, participation by women and girls, lack of commercial sponsorship and investment in those important sectors.

Barbara Keeley: In the limited time, I did not mention that there are some informal initiatives that could do with better support. In Blackburn, the Couch to 5K initiative is getting many people running. The wonderful person who runs the Twitter account, @fattymustrun, is on a mission to get 1 million larger people running. Such initiatives should receive more support.

Mrs Grant: The hon. Lady has made some good points. The issue of women and girls in sport is an absolute priority for me. It has always been a priority, even before I came to this place, and it will remain one, mainly because of what it did for me when I was growing up. It provides not just health and fitness, but self-confidence, self-esteem and the important life lessons of leadership, teamwork, discipline and respect. We all know that and I am determined to get as many young people as possible, not just women and girls, doing sport.

There is good news because 600,000 more women are doing sport than when we bid for the Olympics in 2005. However, there is no room for complacency and I accept that there is still an irritating gender gap of about 1.9 million between the number of women and the number of men doing sport. I want that to diminish. There are some excellent projects at the moment, including Sportivate, Satellite Community, sports clubs and the school games in which more than 60% of schools are participating. Interestingly, at county sports festival level, more girls than boys are competing. The school sports premium provides the opportunity to ignite an interest in sport among our children at an early age.

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In half an hour, I will meet the Woman in Sport Advisory Board. It is working hard on the lack of media coverage and commercial investment. The board includes people such as Judy Murray, Karren Brady, Helena Morrissey, Clare Connor and others who are working hard to deal with the lack of commercial involvement and media coverage, although I believe there have been improvements in what Sky and the BBC are doing. That is partly due to great leadership by Barbara Slater and people such as Clare Balding.

I know very well the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), having spent a considerable time there when I was little. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) on his major marathon walk during the recess when he raised a phenomenal amount of money for charity. Both my hon. Friends referred to the economic benefits of recreational activity. I agree that the great outdoors is hugely important for tourism and the country’s economic well-being. Interestingly, according to VisitEngland, overnight trips in Great Britain last year, including walking, hiking and rambling, resulted in a spend of £2.6 billion.

This has been an important debate and for me a very enjoyable one to respond to. Some excellent points have been made and I assure hon. Members that I take the issues seriously. Outdoor sport and recreation are key not only to our personal well-being but to the nation as a whole. I want to maintain the good progress that has been made by encouraging even more participation in outdoor sport and recreation with all the benefits that brings: a fitter, healthier and economically stronger nation.

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Deaths in Police Custody

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): We now come to the debate in the name of Shabana Mahmood on the subject of deaths in police custody. I understand that during her debate, the hon. Lady intends to refer principally to the case of Kingsley Burrell. An inquest is due to take place into Mr Burrell’s death early next year. For that reason, I expect hon. Members who speak or intervene in this debate to take care not to make any remarks which could be construed as assigning blame for Mr Burrell’s death or as expressing opinions on other matters concerning his death which will be decided by that inquest. That is on the legal advice of the Clerks.

4 pm

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I am grateful for that guidance, which I also received from the Clerks in the Table Office earlier today. I confirm that it is my intention to talk about my constituent’s case, but to do so in a way that takes account of the fact that there will be a coroner’s inquest early next year. I am grateful to have secured the debate and for the opportunity to highlight the very important issues of concern to my constituents and to one family in particular, whose case I have been working on for some months.

Deaths in police custody are an issue of growing concern, both in this House and across the country, and the matter has been raised several times in the House recently. In particular, there has been a recent focus on deaths in custody in which the deceased had a mental health illness that was not dealt with properly, either by officers or by NHS staff. I understand that the Home Affairs Committee is currently looking at that issue and took evidence on it last week. However, as I said, I will focus on the case of my constituent, Kingsley Burrell, which raises other issues in relation to deaths in custody that show shocking procedural failures, which add to the pain that is suffered by families of the deceased and contribute to an erosion of trust between the community and the police.

The facts of Mr Burrell’s death, as the Independent Police Complaints Commission found, are that on 27 March 2011, emergency services were called to a reported firearms incident in Ladywood in my constituency. They ascertained that the complainant was Kingsley Burrell and also found that a firearms incident had not occurred. Mr Burrell allegedly displayed symptoms of mental health illness and was therefore detained and sent to the Oleaster mental health unit. He was later transferred to the Mary Seacole mental health unit in Winson Green, again in my constituency. On 30 March, staff at that unit called police and reported an incident, after which Mr Burrell was restrained and taken to A and E, where he received treatment, but on 31 March, he was pronounced dead.

Those mysterious and tragic circumstances are difficult enough for Mr Burrell’s family to cope with, but the aftermath has placed significant stress on the family, and the way in which this case and others very similar to it have progressed since the deaths occurred is completely unacceptable. It adds to the suffering of these families and I believe has a wider impact on police and community relations.

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Kingsley’s mum, Janet Brown, told me about some of her experiences in the aftermath of her son’s death. She told me that the IPCC investigation into the conduct of the officers took far too long. She also told me that it was a year before the IPCC asked Dorset police to look into the actions of the NHS staff involved in Kingsley’s care. Both police and NHS staff had had contact with Kingsley in the lead-up to his death, and although the IPCC began immediately investigating the officers, it was a further year before anybody looked into the conduct of the NHS staff.

There was also a delay in receiving Kingsley’s body for burial. The family had to wait 18 months before the IPCC instructed the pathologist to take samples from Kingsley’s body. Janet also told me that the IPCC did not want to include in its investigation Kingsley’s own accounts of what took place when he was placed in the Mary Seacole unit in Winson Green. He had been logging his experiences in a diary and the IPCC’s initial reaction was that that evidence would not be included in its investigation. The family had to meet them and insist that the commissioner, Rachel Cerfontyne, insert that information into her investigation report.

It took the IPCC a year and four months to complete its investigation into the conduct of the officers who had contact with Kingsley in the lead-up to his death. The Dorset police force, which did not come on to the scene until a year after Kingsley had died—as I have said—took a year and nine months before they reported into the actions of NHS staff who had had contact with him in the lead-up to his death. The file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service in October 2013, and it was only a couple of months ago that the CPS made the decision not to prosecute any of the officers, NHS staff or other individuals who had had contact with Kingsley in the lead-up to his death. Only now do we have a preliminary inquest hearing coming up—next month—into Kingsley’s case, and the full inquest will begin in 2015, nearly four years after he died.

As far as I can tell, it does not get much more serious for the police than when somebody dies in their custody, on their watch, or very soon after coming into contact with them, but the very clear lack of a process when a death in custody occurs and the inordinate length of time that it take to investigate these matters implies—to me, my constituents, and in particular, the Burrell family—a casual and complacent attitude towards deeply serious issues of concern to the whole community, as well as to the deceased’s family. It is also deeply disrespectful. There seems to be no empathy in this whole process, or any recognition that these people are grieving, and there is no thought given to how one of us might feel if we were in the shoes of Kingsley’s family or those of other families who have suffered in a similar way.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing the matter forward for debate. She talks about other families; Colin Holt, a constituent of mine who suffered from schizophrenia, died as a result of how he was restrained by the police. Officers in that case were prosecuted but acquitted at Maidstone Crown court, where the judge, Mr Justice Singh, said—

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to return to his seat. He is making a speech, not an intervention—it should be an intervention and a

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question to the Member whose debate it is. We should have the courtesy of allowing the hon. Lady the time to speak.

Shabana Mahmood: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to put his constituent’s case on the record. Restraint methods are an issue in cases involving deaths in police custody. My focus is particularly on the way in which these investigations take place and the amount of time that it takes to conduct them.

If the process got results, answered the questions that families have and ensured that the lessons that need to be learned are, in fact, learned, I suppose one could tolerate the fact that sometimes the investigation takes a very long time. But that is demonstrably not the case in the vast majority of cases involving deaths in police custody. The process takes far, far too long and it often leaves families with more questions and much greater pain. That is not something that any of us should continue to accept.

The impact on the wider community is also very profound. Contentious deaths in police custody include an ever-increasing number of people with mental health illnesses, and a disproportionately large number of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds—and, sometimes, people from BME backgrounds with mental health issues. If those cases are not seen to be taken seriously and investigations are not seen to be conducted with due seriousness and as quickly as possible, trust in the system erodes seriously, breeding justifiable anger and resentment, and it is incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to address that.

Sometimes it does not seem that deaths in police custody are treated as cases in which potentially a crime has been committed. The starting point should always be that we simply do not know what has happened, so all possible scenarios are on the table, but many families report that that is not how it feels to them. In practice, it feels as though a judgment has already been made and an end result is already in mind, long before the investigation has begun.

Despite the more than 900 deaths in police custody and several verdicts of unlawful killing, there has yet to be a single successful prosecution—a point that the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) also raised—of any police officer involved in those deaths. Again, that does not create much confidence in the wider public that the system is robust enough to ensure that when things go seriously wrong, as they do in many of these cases, we will get proper answers and accountability. It is the lack of accountability that bothers so many of my constituents, and it is the potential for lack of accountability that is keeping Janet Brown and her family awake at night. They fear that their questions will never be answered and someone will never be held to account for the death of Kingsley Burrell.

There are other issues in relation to deaths in police custody. People would expect sensitive and thorough handling of the investigation in the immediate aftermath of a death—the so-called golden hours, which are critical to evidence gathering and setting the direction and quality of the investigation that is to follow. Again, many families report that that does not happen in practice.

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The independent charity INQUEST also tells us of particular problems in relation to IPCC material and disclosure, including ahead of inquest hearings. For a bereaved family trying to engage in an IPCC investigation, the organisation’s reluctance to provide early and full disclosure or to explain clearly, in language that ordinary people can understand—not lawyer-speak—why they cannot provide that evidence at the early stages of investigations, and when they expect to do so, fosters mistrust and is alienating and deeply unhelpful. Families often feel that they are not kept up to date and involved in the progress of the investigations. Of those who felt that they were kept involved and informed, many reported dissatisfaction because the information given to them was inadequate, difficult to obtain or delayed.

It seems to me that we have an ad hoc and chaotic system for investigations into deaths in police custody. There is no agreed method or structure and no checklist of what needs to happen and when. We need a uniform approach that allows professional judgment to be exercised on a case-by-case basis, but always in the context of a coherent and consistent national protocol for the structure of the relationship between investigating officials and the bereaved, and clear guidelines about the time frames that need to apply. That is the only way we can give the families who suffer in this way some confidence that they will at least understand the system and the process that is supposed to apply, and that they can hold to account the individuals involved.

I have mentioned the IPCC, and I believe that it has lost the confidence of the public and is not fit for purpose. It should be abolished and replaced by a new police standards authority, whose job it would be to take action and raise standards when policing goes wrong. Such an authority should be tasked with creating the national set of guidelines or protocols that should apply to the investigation of deaths in police custody, so that we can ensure that everyone knows what is meant to happen and when.

At this point, however, we still have the IPCC. I know that the Government have started their own review and it would be helpful if the Minister, when he responds to my remarks, could set out exactly what is planned for that review. But whoever ultimately has responsibility for these investigations—whether the IPCC, as now, or another organisation—its key task in the aftermath of a contentious death following police contact must be to begin immediately an independent, effective, accountable, prompt, public and inclusive investigation, so that the rule of law is seen to be upheld and applied equally to all citizens, including those in police uniform.

Young constituents of mine made this point to me only today when I was doing an interview on a local community radio station. They said, “Sometimes it feels that if you wear a uniform, you are above the law. You are there to enforce the law and to keep us all safe, but you should not be above it.” They make a fair point. It sometimes feels as if officers are not held properly to account. That relates not only to the potential for successful prosecutions and convictions but to the sense that if misconduct occurs, it will be challenged.

So often in relation to these cases, we say, “Lessons must be learned,” and we imply that lessons will in fact be learned. However, in my experience the lessons are

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not learned, because the cases of deaths in police custody that keep occurring all seem to follow the same pattern, and the same mistakes are often repeated. The families involved all report the same things going wrong in the investigations.

The experience of the Burrell family and the amount of time that it took for the investigations to conclude is very similar to that of other families who have suffered in similar circumstances. That says to me that the phrase “lessons must be learned” means nothing. Lessons are not learned, and it is about time that we started to get that right. If people are not held accountable, if there are no prosecutions and if there are no grounds for misconduct charges, at the very least we must fix the processes that apply when someone dies in these circumstances, given that we know there is a problem with them. That is one way in which we can start to give people confidence in the system again.

A few weeks ago, Janet Brown said to me that she has not yet grieved for her son and she will not do so until all her questions about his death have been answered and until she feels at peace that she has done everything she can to get justice for him. I think that making good, decent people wait so long and placing them at the mercy of a very chaotic system is a scar on our collective conscience. I really hope that the Minister, when he responds, can give Janet, the Burrell family and me some confidence that the Government understand not only the policy implications of these cases, but the emotional impact that they have, and that he and the Government will do something about it.

4.17 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, even though it is obviously enormously sad that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) has had to bring—quite rightly, in her opinion, and probably in mine—this case to Westminster Hall this afternoon.

Let me say at the outset that any death, whether or not in custody, is regrettable, and a death in custody is enormously regrettable. It must be enormously traumatic for the Burrell family, and I fully appreciate the hon. Lady’s concerns. However, I cannot agree with many of her comments, because I think that she has almost predetermined what will be in the report from the IPCC, which has not yet even been released. I know that you, Mrs Main, said that we had to be careful in talking about the ongoing case, which is going to go before the coroner’s court for the inquest. The IPCC report is not out yet. That is the independent—I stress, independent—report.

There are some areas where I do agree, so let us do the bits that I do not agree with first and then we can move on. I do not recognise, as a constituency MP, the view of the IPCC and police as being above the law. I have patrolled with the police for more than 20 years, in many different capacities, and one of the things that I have found is this. There are, clearly, bad people within the police and bad people within our community. It is our job to make sure that we get them out of the police; they should not have got there in the first place in many cases. But the vast majority of the police—I want to put this on the record—99.9% of the police in this country,

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do a fantastic job for us, keeping us safe, not just in this place but in our homes and our businesses throughout the country.

This is an enormously difficult subject. The hon. Lady used quite emotive language in her speech, and I partially understand why, but not fully. May I touch, before I make progress with some other things, on the question of deaths in custody of people from the black and ethnic minority community? When I first thought about deaths in custody, my first thought was that that meant people who were being held by police in custody cells, but that is not always what happens. It is important to put on record that a death in custody occurs where the police have come into contact with somebody, even briefly, who has subsequently died. The IPCC will immediately become involved in such cases. The cases are sometimes enormously complex, much more so than I understand, although I am not as close to the case as the hon. Lady is. The way in which the news is communicated to families and loved ones is critical, and that is something that I am interested in looking at. I will come on to the IPCC review in a moment.

I will return to the hon. Lady’s comments about deaths in custody, particularly regarding people from the black and ethnic minority community. The IPCC did a 10-year study on deaths in custody between 1989 and 2008-09, and it found that 22 of those who died during that period were black. The view expressed in the report, which is a public document, is that that was in line, sadly, with the ethnic make-up of the detainee population. In 2010-11, there were, overall, 20 deaths in custody, one of which was sadly of an individual from the black community. In 2013-14, there were a total of 11 deaths in custody; clearly that is still too many, but the number of deaths has nearly halved since 2011. One of those deaths was, in the terminology used by the report—I do not like this terminology—of a mixed-race detainee. I am only using the language that has been given to me by lawyers, and I apologise for it. I am not very politically correct myself.

To recap, in 2010-11, there were 20 deaths in custody; in 2011-12, there were 15; in 2012-13, there were also 15; and in 2013-14, there were 11. I think that the report of this debate will show that the hon. Lady spoke about “growing” deaths in custody, although I may not be using her exact words. I know that black and ethnic minority groups feel that the situation is disproportionate, but the evidence that has been presented to me does not support that view.

Shabana Mahmood: I would like to clarify that I said that there was growing concern about deaths in police custody. I was talking not about the number of deaths that occur, but about the over-representation of people with mental health issues and about how trust in the police is being eroded in BME communities.

Mike Penning: I understand the point that the hon. Lady makes, and I will come on to talk about some work that I have been doing with a Minister in the Department of Health on mental illnesses. I repeat that the evidence shows that there were 20 deaths in custody in 2010-11—too many—one of which was of someone from the black community. Of the 15 people who died in 2011-12, one was a black individual and one was from a mixed-race family. In 2012-13, there were 15 deaths, one of which

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was of someone from a mixed-race family. In 2013-14, one of the 11 people who died was from a mixed-race family. The evidence speaks for itself. I understand how the situation is sometimes perceived, but it is our job as constituency MPs to ensure that our work is based on evidence rather than perception. It is the job of the police to do the same.

I am a new Minister in the Home Office, and I make the hon. Lady the same offer that my predecessor made: it would be good to meet outside the format of a debate to discuss the issues that she has raised. It is difficult for me to comment on the case, because the inquest will soon come before the coroner’s court and because the IPCC has not yet published its report.

There is no doubt that a review is needed into the IPCC’s work. That is not a criticism of the commission, but we need to look carefully at the nature of the work that comes before it. As a constituency MP, I regularly see cases where my constituents say, “I would like this case to go to the IPCC,” but I often look at the cases and think that they should have been resolved with the constabulary, rather than going to the IPCC. I am looking at guidance on that matter at the moment, and it will form part of the review of what the IPCC should look at. These cases are often complex, as is the case that the hon. Lady has raised. Before anything could happen, it was essential to ensure that any trial was not prejudiced, which is why the Crown Prosecution Service considered the matter before it progressed to an inquest. Of course, the IPCC now needs to report.

I do not believe that the previous Administration thought that the IPCC was flawed or broken and needed tearing up and throwing away, and I do not think that either. Is the IPCC perfect? No, it is not. Do we need to do some work with it? Yes, we do.

Without going into the details of the case that the hon. Lady has raised, there is one area that we need to work on, which has been the poor relation for many years. When I was a fireman in Essex, I used to go to road traffic collisions, which used to be called road traffic accidents. If someone was badly injured in an incident, we would extricate them as quickly as we could, the medics would do their job and the person would be taken to hospital for the treatment that they needed. The simple fact is that if someone has a mental illness, invariably the police will be called and the individual will end up in a cell rather than somewhere where they can get the medical help that they need. Is that the fault of the police? No, because their job is not to diagnose a mental illness but to make sure that the individual and the public are safe.

I was on patrol in Holborn only the other day when we received a call and went out. We thought that we would be dealing with a domestic incident, but the gentleman was having what his family described as an episode. The police did everything in their powers not to arrest him, but to take him to a hospital where he could get the correct treatment. I stress that the correct treatment is important. I have been working with the Department of Health to ensure that in such circumstances, people are not simply taken to an A and E department that does not have the required expertise, in which case they will be back out on the streets again five minutes later.

My view, and the view of the Health Minister with responsibility for the initiative, is that it is crucial that people with mental illnesses are treated as well as those

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with any other illnesses. People with mental health issues may also have learning difficulties and addictions to alcohol or drugs. The police still have a responsibility, however, not only to try to understand the circumstances of people who are brought before them, but to make sure that they can be taken to trained individuals with the right expertise. There are interesting projects going on at the moment. In Herefordshire, experts in the field such as nurses with mental health experience go out on patrol, particularly on Friday nights. It is important to have that sort of expertise alongside our patrolling police, and it provides a source of knowledge to ensure that the public feel safe.

I think that there is a real problem with the public, as well. The Olympics clearly showed us that public understanding of people with physical disabilities had really moved forward. The Paralympics was a great way of showing the world the wonderful things that people with long-term conditions and disabilities can do. However, all the evidence suggests that, although people with physical disabilities have seen such benefits, people with mental health issues and learning difficulties have not. We, as politicians, should do everything we can to tackle that.

I would love to have gone into a lot more detail, but with the ongoing investigations into the case, it would have been difficult for me to do so. I have every sympathy with the family. If I was the constituency MP, I would be sitting where the hon. Lady is sitting and asking exactly the sorts of questions that she has asked, but I always stand at the Dispatch Box—or, in this case, in this wonderful room. I just managed to get here in time, even though I went to the usual one first; it is a good job I always turn up early.

We are dealing with incredibly complicated issues, which will not be resolved in a half-hour debate. I look forward to meeting with the hon. Lady, and perhaps with the family, to see how we can move forward. Let us first see what we agree on, and then work on the other issues as we go forward.

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Improving School Leadership

4.30 pm

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I am pleased to have secured this important debate on how we can improve leadership in our schools. The purpose of this debate is not to criticise any of the heads in my constituency, or anywhere else for that matter, but to explore how we can build and improve on what we already have.

Every single teacher at whatever level, from newly qualified teacher to senior, experienced head, needs our thanks, support and praise for all they do to educate our children and teach our country’s next generation of wealth creators. My remarks, therefore, are designed to be constructive rather than critical, and I hope they will be heard in the spirit of constructive joint working.

Education is a vocation, and I know of no teacher anywhere who entered the profession for any reason other than to impart knowledge and support and nurture our young people. Teachers, and I hope all those listening to this debate, recognise that education is the greatest gift we can give. We have all heard that before, and I know it sounds corny, but the problem is that it is true because, once the gift of education has been given, it cannot be taken away—it does not break and it will not fade.

Education is the foundation stone on which one’s future success is built. It is the base from which almost anything is possible and from which people can realise their full potential. All that is delivered by some truly dedicated and inspirational people who are found at every level of education in some truly excellent schools. Good education comes from good schools, which from my experience are led by good leaders.

In my constituency we are fortunate. We have some truly exceptional school leaders. Yes, it is true that education in Basildon and Thurrock has not always been as good as it could have been, but the leaders that we now have in place, and the support structures that surround them, will deliver, and are delivering, improving education for my constituents. There are too many good leaders to name them all, but I will pay tribute to a couple.

First, I highlight the extraordinary dedication of Dr Sophina Asong, head teacher of Gable Hall school in Corringham. The area is like many others in the country, but unlike many areas—where the average proportion of five A* to C grades, including maths and English, is just under 60%—Gable Hall was pleased this year to achieve 74% with five A* to C grades, including maths and English. I say “pleased” but the school was not satisfied; it knows it can do better, and Dr Asong and her incredible staff assure me that things will get better. I am sure we want to see such dedication and determination in all our schools.

Dr Asong—I hope she will not mind my saying this—is a force of nature that I would like to see bottled and delivered to all parts of our school system, but I also pay tribute to the new principal of Woodlands school in Basildon, Karen Kerridge. She took over the leadership at possibly the most difficult time that the school has ever faced. Less than a year after a disastrous Ofsted report, Karen has come in and worked tirelessly to turn the school around.

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Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. It is important that we have outstanding leaders. Will he join me in congratulating Guy Shears, who turned around RSA academy Arrow Vale in Redditch? Could such outstanding head teachers be used as mentors for other head teachers?

Stephen Metcalfe: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and add my congratulations to Guy on all his work. Yes, head teachers with such skills should be used more widely in our education system so that we maximise the potential benefit to the wider teaching community. Karen Kerridge did that, too. She came in from another school to try to help Woodlands, and it is remarkable that in less than a year she has turned the school around so that, rather than being inadequate, it now only requires improvement. That may not sound fantastic, but it is one of the fastest turnarounds of a school, and I am confident that under her leadership it may not be long before we once again have a good school, which would be entirely down to the fortitude and dedication of Karen and all her staff.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): My hon. Friend has referred to getting good advice from other schools on improving performance. Is he aware that some schools have teaching school status? I draw his attention to Shenley Brook End school in my constituency, which has been a teaching school since 2012. The school’s leadership and training centre has helped guide and coach more than 2,000 teachers from 25 schools. Such centres are a good way of imparting leadership skills.

Stephen Metcalfe: Teaching school status is an important part of improving the quality of teaching and the experience that teachers get before they go off into their own schools. That reform has been important, and it is an excellent innovation.

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I agree with everything he has said so far, which is good. Able leaders, as he rightly says, are important—I congratulate those in my constituency—and they need the best possible teams. Does he agree that there is a strong case for the most challenged schools serving some of our most disadvantaged areas to be able to pay teachers more than schools in other areas so that they attract the best to do the toughest job?

Stephen Metcalfe: I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is about the team. Successful schools tend to have a good head teacher with a good team around them, which is often down to the head teacher’s inspirational leadership. I agree that, where a school faces particular challenges, it is not a bad idea for it to be able to be flexible in the pay and conditions that it offers staff.

Speed is paramount, which is why the achievements at Woodlands school are so important. Students mostly get only one chance of an education, and for every day, week or month that they are not receiving a good education, we are doing them an incredible disservice, potentially damaging their future prospects and hampering their chances of reaching their full potential. We should celebrate the fact that Karen Kerridge has set the school back on the right path in less than a year, and we should thank her.

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I would like to celebrate all the schools that are doing well in my constituency, but I am conscious of time and I want to hear what the Minister has to say. I am fortunate to have some great leaders who are helping to ensure that education in my constituency is improving, but unfortunately that is not the case everywhere. Unfortunately, there are too many schools that may not have the right leader with all the right skills and talents to deliver the kind of education that our children need, and often that is not the leader’s fault.

More than ever before, we have to deliver a world-class education, and we need able leaders to do that. It is a tough, difficult job that is not suitable for everyone. The job is different from any other in our education system. As the system is currently designed, however, if someone wants career progression, the obvious path is to head towards taking up a management role and, ultimately, their own headship.

But, as I said, being an inspirational, dynamic and consistent head teacher is like no other role in our education system. Head teachers have to manage complex and large budgets, perhaps a large staff body, premises and a range of other challenges. They are running medium-sized businesses, and they have to be able to deal with that fairly, consistently and in an orderly and professional manner, and many, many do. Despite all the training available and all the mentoring that can be given, we occasionally find that the wrong person has found themselves in an unsuitable job.

I suspect it is a bit like being an MP. Whatever a person imagines the job to be, it is not until they are actually in the hot seat that they fully understand everything it involves and know whether they are personally suited to it. However, an MP can step down at an election and pursue a different path without it being the end of their working life, but head teachers who feel they are in the wrong role have nowhere to go, which can cause problems both for them and for the school.

There are three options when that happens, none of which is a satisfactory solution. First, if the governors recognise that the wrong person is in the job they can initiate capability proceedings, which is a painful, devastating and destabilising experience for all involved, including the staff and students. It may force out of the profession an otherwise excellent teacher, which is a loss both for them and for the wider education system. Nobody gets to be a head teacher without being a good teacher and an asset to the system, and it would be a shame to lose all their talents simply because they lack some of the talents required to do a specific job.

Secondly, there is the “do nothing” option: the school coasts along, slowly declining, because the issue is put on the “too difficult to tackle” pile. Supporters of the school increasingly have to defend the declining performance and prop up the senior management team until finally a devastating Ofsted report is published that presents incontrovertible evidence that the school is not performing as it should. Suddenly, the head teacher is vilified and forced to leave the school and probably the profession, possibly to retire. Again, the damage done can be incalculable for the school, which may have failed students for years; for the head teacher, who has left a profession they probably love; and for the community they served, which feels let down.

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Finally, there is the “hope and pray” approach: the governors hope the individual will move on or retire while they try to support those around the head until things get better. Unfortunately, that rarely happens, so one of the other options is usually adopted.

The problem with all those approaches is that even if the ultimate outcome is good, it can take years to deliver. However, there is no time to waste when delivering education. We need a system that supports great teachers, and encourages and nurtures fantastic leaders, but is fleet of foot enough to act rapidly if somebody finds themselves in a role they are not suited for and does not result in their having to leave the profession.

I turn to the role of the governors and the governing body. Having been a governor, I know how dedicated, selfless and hard-working they are. The role is becoming ever more demanding and requires a high degree of professionalism to be carried out well. Governors are the unsung heroes of our education system, and I want to thank them personally for what they do and apologise if they feel my earlier remarks were critical of them. The problem is that, as schools’ independence increases, the role of the governing body grows in importance, and it falls to the governors to hold the head and the school to account more than ever before.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He is making an important and excellent point about the impact of not taking action. I want to strengthen his point by saying that if governing bodies do not make that decision early, it becomes a much bigger problem for them, the school and the wider community.

Stephen Metcalfe: I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent point. I was just coming to that issue. He is entirely right that speed is important, but that means that governors have to make some difficult decisions.

Mr Andrew Smith: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that schools serving the most disadvantaged communities often find it hard to get the governors they need for the accountability process? One of the best things businesses can do to help our education system is to encourage more members of staff to become governors in such schools.

Stephen Metcalfe: The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. He admirably covered a point that I included in my speech. MPs have a role to play in that process. We should write to the larger organisations in our constituencies to remind them that they and the wider community benefit when they allow their staff to lead schools and play a part in the local community. That excellent point cannot be repeated too often.

For governors who lead schools that have greater independence, it is becoming harder to be all friends together. They may duck away from making tough or unpleasant decisions if they are too close to the senior management team and the head. I am not criticising governors, but I want to ensure they are equipped with the tools they need to play their important role of ensuring the leadership of our schools is the best it can be.

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The Government have done much to improve our education system, for which I am grateful. I therefore hope the Minister considers my remarks to be a useful addition to the debate that will help us ensure our schools have the best possible leaders. People who find themselves in the wrong role should have constructive options open to them that do not result in their leaving the profession. We must equip our governors with the right tools to help that change happen. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

4.46 pm

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on securing the debate and on making his case so powerfully. I agree with his points about national education policy and the importance of good leadership and governance. I am delighted that he picked today to hold this debate because this morning the Government announced a series of further measures to strengthen school leadership. He had extraordinary foresight in securing this opportunity, which allows me to put on the record some of the announcements we made today.

I am pleased to hear about the progress made by a number of the schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I join him in congratulating the schools whose success he celebrated. He mentioned Gable Hall school, which secured a good set of GCSE results this year. A signal of its success is the fact that it does not see that as an end destination, but as something to build on; it is fantastic that it still wants to aim higher. Woodlands school, which came from a different starting point, has moved out of the “inadequate” category into “requires improvement” in a short period of time. Like my hon. Friend, I wish it well in moving further up to “good” and beyond in the future. It can be a difficult and time-consuming process to take over and turn around schools in the bottom category, so it is good that that happened so quickly.

I was also pleased to hear from other hon. Friends about the progress of schools in their areas—both in Redditch and in some of the teaching schools in the country. I agree with the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) about the need to ensure that schools in some of our more disadvantaged communities have the resources and flexibility to pay more to attract outstanding leaders and teachers.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock struck the right balance when he praised the schools that are doing well. If we are to be listened to in Westminster when we talk to schools that are not doing so well and challenge them to do better, we must show that we have balance and are willing to praise success as well as pick up the schools that are not doing so well. My hon. Friend was right not to be complacent in that regard. He has many outstanding schools in his constituency, including Great Berry primary school, Lee Chapel primary school and the children’s support centre at Langdon Hills, which are all rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. However, 16, or 44%, of the schools in his constituency are in the “requires improvement” category, which used to be “satisfactory”.

My hon. Friend is right that Ofsted is sending out a clear signal, for the reasons that he gave. We no longer

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accept that satisfactory is good enough. Most young people get only one chance at education, so it has to be high-quality. Therefore, where schools could be doing better and require improvement, we should be challenging and supporting them to do so in exactly the way that he described, and that is also why we have introduced some changes today, which I will outline shortly.

I commend not only the schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency but the excellent work of schools and school leaders right across the country. Those leaders have been turning around schools with their commitment, dedication and unrelenting focus on pupil outcomes. Leading a school is a very challenging role to take on, but it is also absolutely critical. It is very rare to find an outstanding school that does not have outstanding leadership.

Great school leaders can transform schools, but they cannot do so alone. They need their staff to engage in the pursuit of educational excellence, and of course part of a school leader’s job is to motivate and inspire staff and to recruit high-quality staff. That is why great school leaders are at the heart of this Government’s education reform programme.

Our schools White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, put schools and school leaders in the driving seat of our reforms and gave them more powers and more support. It set out our vision for a self-improving school system whereby our best schools and leaders drive improvement from within, working together to spread best practice, knowledge and experience, to the benefit of all schools.

We have made good progress on that agenda and we should celebrate the incredible achievements of schools, teachers and pupils, not only in my hon. Friend’s constituency but across the country. Schools in England are now performing better than ever before. Ofsted figures show that 83% of schools in England have achieved good or outstanding ratings for leadership and management, with 80% of schools in England now judged to be good or outstanding overall.

The sophistication and diversity of school leadership across England has also grown and matured over many years, with new approaches emerging in multi-academy trusts and elsewhere. For example, sponsored academy chains are pioneering new kinds of leadership development. Schools everywhere can learn a good deal from the approach taken by chains of three or more sponsored academies, whereby they can grow their own leadership. In this type of school, middle and senior leaders enjoy more opportunities for both internal and external coaching and mentoring. These chains also tend to have a chief executive who is actively engaged with developing leaders, establishing a culture of ambition and success for staff.

At a national level, the Government have invested in professional qualifications for middle leadership, senior leadership and aspiring heads. Since some of these programmes were launched in March 2013, more than 5,200 participants have commenced the middle leader programme, and more than 5,400 participants have commenced the senior leader programme. In addition, more than 2,300 aspirant head teachers have commenced the headship programme since its relaunch in autumn 2012, with a further 640 commencing the programme this autumn. Feedback from participants shows that these programmes help to prepare our school leaders of the future and enable them to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence that they need to thrive in their schools.

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I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about ensuring that we have head teachers in place who are fully equipped to carry out the role successfully and to support all pupils in their care. That is why excellent school governance, which he also spoke about, is paramount. It is essential that school governors have the right skills and knowledge to support and challenge the performance of head teachers, which is why we are also investing in more effective school governance. Our national leaders of governance programme identifies highly effective chairs of governors, who use their skills and experience to support chairs of governors in other schools and academies, to increase leadership capacity and improve school performance.

Of course, we need many thousands of governors right across the country, which is a huge recruitment challenge, not least, as the right hon. Member for Oxford East indicated, in more disadvantaged communities, where we have to ensure that the quality of governance is very high. He was quite right to say that we need to call on businesses, other professional groups and other groups with people who have high aspirations who are willing to become governors and chairs of governors in these areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock may have seen that we have also convened a review group made up of highly respected professionals to review head teacher standards, to ensure that those standards set out the behaviour, qualities and knowledge expected of modern head teachers.

The Government also recognise that some schools face particularly challenging circumstances. This is why we are funding the Teaching Leaders charity and the Future Leaders Trust, so that they can work closely with staff in schools serving disadvantaged communities. Teaching Leaders identifies and develops middle leaders, such as heads of department or year, to improve teaching in the most challenging schools and for the pupils who will benefit most from such improvement. Owing to the impact that the programme has demonstrated, we recently expanded its provision in secondary schools so that more children can benefit from it. From this month, a new Teaching Leaders programme for the primary sector starts, which will benefit some 160,000 children by developing the skills of their middle leaders.

By funding the Future Leaders Trust, we are also developing the skills of aspiring head teachers who want to work in some of the most challenging schools in the country. So far, 85 participants in the Future Leaders programme have gone on to become head teachers in these challenging schools, many of which are outside London and in areas where other school improvement initiatives in the past have been less prevalent.

We are going even further than that, which is why I am particularly delighted that we have this debate today. Only this morning, we launched the new Talented Leaders programme, which is designed to transform the life chances of pupils in the areas of greatest need across the country, where we do not have enough outstanding schools or enough outstanding head teachers.

This new programme will recruit 100 outstanding deputy heads and heads to lead schools in some of the most challenging communities, where there is a shortage of good leadership. We are starting recruitment today, and the first placements will start in September 2015 and September 2016. Those placements are designed to

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be voluntary—we will engage the parts of the country that most need them—and to be long-term initiatives, not short-term initiatives, to grow the leaders in the schools that we put them into.

I urge hon. Friends and hon. Members who think that their constituencies are in parts of the country that have a shortage of outstanding leadership to consider applying for their areas to be part of this programme, so that we can get some of these outstanding leaders to the parts of the country where they are most needed.

Another reason why we have this close focus on school leadership is the impact that such leadership has on driving better outcomes for our most vulnerable children and young people. Great school leaders achieve great outcomes for all their pupils, whatever their background. To do that, they close the gap in achievement between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. This issue is close to my heart and the heart of the Government, which is why we are very proud to have helped to introduce the pupil premium. It was introduced in 2011 and has now risen to £2.5 billion per year, providing a massive amount of resources in schools with disadvantage, to ensure that all those schools have the money they need to try to close that gap.

The recent Ofsted report on the use of the pupil premium highlighted increasingly good practice in the schools that are using this money very effectively, to close the gap between them and other schools. We are committed to giving schools freedom in how they use the pupil premium; but through the Ofsted process, we will hold them to account, to ensure that the gap is closed. Our best school leaders are now driving improvements, which can be seen not only in the expansion of academies and free schools but in the increase in the number of schools across the country that are supporting other schools.

Teaching schools were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart). They are outstanding schools that have a strong track record of working with other schools to bring about improvement. They are the principal network through which support and development for middle and senior leadership is now being offered. Last week, my right hon. Friend the

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Secretary of State for Education announced the 600th teaching school in England, which is a fantastic milestone in a programme that is less than four years old.

As part of this morning’s announcement, which I referred to earlier, we recognised the achievements of both the national leaders of education programme and the national support schools programme. The fantastic success of those programmes comes down to the excellent school leaders who have come forward to take on roles in them, collaborating with and supporting staff in other schools that require improvement or that are in special measures, to try to help them to improve.

Today, I announced our intention to increase the number of NLEs from the present figure of 1,000 to 1,400 by March 2016, to ensure that more schools and more parts of the country can benefit from NLEs, because at the moment—sadly—there are too few of them in large parts of the country, and consequently schools and local authorities in those areas that need more support find it difficult to identify those individuals.

We also announced today a new school-to-school support fund, which will be worth £13 million over the next two years and which will help to fund those NLE deployments, so that the schools that have NLEs will receive money to help them to support other schools.

I note that Susan Jackson and her staff at the Lee Chapel primary school, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock, work in their roles as an NLE national support school and teaching school, collaborating with other schools to drive pupil outcomes. I am very grateful to teaching schools across the country, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which are doing this excellent work.

In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate, which is not only very important for his constituents but very timely, given the actions that the Government are taking. I hope that in the future we can build on this strategy across the country, including in his constituency, so that even more schools can achieve good and outstanding ratings.

5 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(13)).