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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Pendry has secured this debate today. His support for sport of all kinds is well known. Indeed, I am surrounded by a wealth of talent from sporting spectrum. Many of us have already spoken in debates about the importance of sport, and today gives us the opportunity to relate that to sport in local communities—which in turn can improve aspiration and achievement.

This morning we discussed in your Lordships' House the issue of arts and regeneration in urban settings—at least, two of us did. While sport and regeneration is not strictly on the agenda today, I should like to make a brief reference to how sport has helped to regenerate communities by bringing in new industry and new building. I am thinking in particular of Manchester, as an unprejudiced northerner; in Manchester, the new sports building for the Commonwealth Games was successfully blended with the industrial landscape, including canals, railway arches and embankments, to create a truly beautiful and impressive new landscape
 
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for the city. I hope that if London is selected to host the 2012 Olympics, the lessons will be learnt from that. The people of Manchester are proud of the reconstruction of their city thanks to sport.

I know, too, that this debate is about achieving sporting excellence, of which I am all in favour. But I should also like to emphasise the importance of sport in communities for fun, fitness and social interaction, though other noble Lords have spoken about that already. We worry about obesity and people not being fit. Everyone who does sport is not going to be a champion or play team games, but that does not preclude them from enjoying sport. Sport is important if it encourages exercise for fitness; I follow on in that from what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said—not that I would agree necessarily that learning to lose is a positive thing. I would rather that people kept fit.

Activities such as walking, yoga, pilates and so on, are increasingly offered in communities, and gym membership is increasing. It would be helpful if schools and facilities for young people, of which there are not enough, would encourage young people to enjoy some sort of physical activity, in which perhaps excellence is not achieved but being good enough is. More people taking part in sport at any level seems a worthy ambition, as well as excellence.

Sport can have a positive impact on communities in relation to social behaviour. For example, the Karrot scheme in Southwark is a crime diversion project at the Elephant and Castle leisure centre. It was piloted as a half-term sports activity programme, with more than 120 young people attending. Since the summer, regular sessions have been held for basketball, athletics, cricket and football. However, where excellence is possible it should clearly be supported. Sporting excellence starts at the grassroots—or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would say, at the bottom—which usually means in the community, be it in a school or a club. It needs facilities, coaching and enthusiasm from the community.

I want to use cricket as an example of how that excellence can be built up—and I declare an interest as a Lady Taverner. That organisation raises money for young people with disabilities to play sport. And yes, I shall be walking for the Ashes. The England and Wales Cricket Board and the Cricket Federation are carrying out specific programmes to encourage the game at all levels, for men and women and boys and girls. The England and Wales Cricket Board's strategic plan, which is called "Building Partnerships" has a key objective of encouraging participation, especially among young people. It includes commitment to delivering a centre of cricketing excellence within 30 miles of 85 per cent of the population of England and Wales by 2009. It seeks to increase the number of school and coaching sessions to 20,000 by 2009 and to implement a £5 billion England and Wales Cricket Board interest-free loan for the development of cricket facilities.

The BBC sports competitions have involved 100,000 children in 6,000 schools in cricket; more than 14,000 clubs in communities have given rise to 333 accredited
 
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trainers; £9.4 million has been invested in focus clubs to improve facilities for young people; lottery money has been put into primary schools; and the "Chance to Shine" scheme aims to regenerate cricket in state schools by providing £50 million over 10 years for facilities, equipment and coaching.

I turn to the matter of volunteers. Cricketforce was a community-based programme in which volunteers spent significant time and money—around £15 million to £20 million—to undertake major renovations of clubhouses and grounds. More than 665 clubs all over the country took part involving some 50,000 people.

Other development initiatives from the England and Wales Cricket Board involve primary school activities such as Kwikcricket, Howzat, a teaching and learning programme, and the Pride Side, aimed to encourage children aged six and over to have an interest in cricket. In secondary schools, that is intercricket (also played in cricket summer schools and coaching programmes) and a county cricket programme for disabled players that has been set up with substantial funding.

For more talented players there are 800 district squads, 34 county squads, nine cricket academies and, of course, the national academy for cricket, which has improved the game enormously. There is, thus, a pathway from grassroots to senior level. In addition, local communities organise themselves into cricket squads of various kinds.

These cricket initiatives are unprecedented in recent times and are doing much to improve performances in competitive cricket at county and national level. Getting Australia out for 79 is not a bad start. Somerset beating Australia yesterday is not a bad start either.

I believe that schools are crucial in discovering and fostering talent. Many young people would not have discovered that they had a talent for sport if it had not been for their school. So, I want to ask the Minister a general question about support for health-related fitness in schools and for the chance to play sport. Are we giving enough time and encouragement to school sport? Are we providing enough facilities and coaches?

I believe that sport and the arts—two subjects covered by our debates today—are vital to the life of a civilised society. We should encourage appreciation and participation from an early age in all communities both for their own sakes and to combat anti-social behaviour and encourage regeneration.

2.52 pm

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Pendry for initiating and introducing this debate today. His commitment to sport both in this House and in the other place is very well known to us all. His experience and knowledge are outstanding.

We have a glittering array of speakers here today, showing the strength of interest that they have in this topic. As this is a sporting debate, I say at the outset that mine will be a speech of two halves. I shall deal with the "now", both in general terms and with specific reference to tennis, which provides us with a clear
 
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model as designed by a major governing body, and then with my view of the future and how sport could and should be organised nationally.

My noble friend is so right to welcome the Government's positive commitment to the place of sport in our society. Picking up in 1997 when the profile of sport, and particularly the place of sport in the lives of young people, was depressingly low, we see a major turnaround in the importance our Government have given to the promotion of sport in its widest sense.

Perhaps all the publicity about obesity in adults and children has helped focus attention on more active lifestyles. That in turn has made us look critically at the diminished sport on offer in the school curriculum for all our youngsters. Thus health, sport and education have become inextricably linked. That development is to be welcomed.

However, whenever I speak about sport I always remind my listeners that sport is so much more than that. It can transform lives by creating a lifelong involvement in a specific activity and as such is a crucial ingredient in promoting social inclusion. And, of course, sport is fun. Thus all the initiatives that my noble friend so clearly outlined fall into context in the overall blueprint to create a sporting nation. Of course, by creating the widest possible grassroots participation we are well on course to create sporting excellence. From that success flows the spur to emulate our sporting heroes. We need those role models to galvanise future generations.

Like my noble friend Lord Pendry I welcome and acknowledge the huge injection of funds to facilitate our sporting expansion. Money for school sport, the setting up of centres of excellence and the encouragement of local clubs to become community amateur sports clubs are all invaluable and are already bearing fruit. The support for the British Olympic bid cannot be underestimated. Could there be a more public commitment to sport than a Government giving the bid the most outstanding backing from the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Sports Minister? No nation could have had more wholehearted commitment brilliantly led by the noble Lord, Lord Coe.

I turn to a sport that is close to my heart—tennis. Government thinking is being echoed by the governing bodies with shared ambition to create an inclusive, vibrant and successful sporting nation.

I start with the LTA and its determination to produce more and better players. To that end it is pledged to increase the number of juniors playing tennis by 5 per cent a year, to modernise a vibrant network of clubs and to identify, develop and support the most talented players and achieve six players in the world top 100 by 2009. That is all entirely worthwhile. Those pledges are backed by "heavy" money coming not only from the LTA's source, the All England Championships, but additionally, and for the first time, from a very sizeable injection of government money to the tune of £16.5 million over the next four years.
 
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The tennis club where I play constitutes a "village" with young and old playing side by side. It is a safe environment. Parents are assured of children's well-being. Like all habits—even good ones—the tennis habit once established can go on and on. That is why the LTA is focusing on clubs as the vehicle for development. Thus loans, grants and schemes linking clubs, schools and communities are at the top of the LTA's priorities. Alongside and additional to clubs the LTA is providing a framework for getting youngsters started. The first city tennis club in Hackney opened in 2001. There are now 28 such clubs nationwide and more than 25,000 kids a week are receiving coaching through the scheme. As has already been said, coaches are absolutely key to success. The LTA is creating more career opportunities to ensure that coaching standards rise and that all coaches are licensed to provide better protection for youngsters.

Sports colleges are the cornerstone of the Government's sporting package and the LTA has invested £1.5 million in creating indoor and outdoor facilities at those centres. Equally important is the need to upgrade tennis teaching skills in our schools. In the past academic year, 1,750 primary school teachers, 550 secondary school teachers and 750 students attended tennis courses. Their forehands can only get better.

While that LTA programme looks rosy, it is not without its critics. Tennis is still seen as a middle-class, elitist activity. So Tennis for Free has stepped into the ring in the form of Tony Hawks and his allies in a campaign to open up under-used and often run-down public park courts, refurbish them and offer coaching free of charge on a regular basis. Pilot schemes are already up and running in Merton and they are very successful. There is support from the LTA but not for the "for free" concept. That argument is yet to be resolved but as a believer in creative conflict, I know that both sides are wholeheartedly working for the better future of tennis.

I heard Billie-Jean King this morning endorsing the "for free" concept, especially as her illustrious career began on public courts in California. Indeed, here we are on the threshold of a new generation of young stars. We all looked with delight at Andy Murray last week at the Stella Artois tournament at Queen's. I am telling you; he is the real deal. He is the best technically that I have seen for years. He is also not what we are used to. He is fiery, thank heavens. As for his mother Judy, she is something else. I have known her for years and always admired her feisty play even when pitched against us at Oxfordshire at county week. Noble Lords may recall that for years Judy Murray was the Scottish number one. Well, there will be no more stiff upper lips from this tennis mum. A moment I will cherish at Queen's last week was when Andy fell down for the first time is of Judy shouting, "Get up and play!". That's my girl!

I hope that the media will treat Andy better than they have treated Tim Henman. Tim has been quite wonderful; his record of 10 years in the top 10 is unparalleled in any other major sport in this country; yet he has been derided as a loser. It has hurt the player
 
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both on and off court and it has been unforgivable. So, just in case anyone in the media is listening today, could we ask for fair treatment? Do not build a player up and then take pleasure in knocking him down. In that respect, let us become American or French; let us support and sustain our players through their highs and lows. That way, we could just have some stars in the making.

That is enough of the now; what of the future? Before making an argument for radical change in the way that sport is run in this country, I offer a few facts. Here, I echo the statistics given by the noble Lord, Lord Monro, because a good statistic is always worth repeating. In the UK, the Government spend £21 per capita; Germany spends £30 per capita; Australia spends £51 per capita; and France spends £112 per capita. The Prime Minister was quoted earlier this year saying that the Government do not run sport and nor should they. I may challenge that. The result of that strategy is that for decades successive governments have taken totally reactive responses to sport. Their strategy has been piecemeal, and the provision of even basic sporting facilities is a total lottery. Some far-sighted local authorities have taken it upon themselves to provide more than their mandatory obligations; others considerably less.

What makes a child take up sport? First, it is the introduction from family. In fact, children with mothers who take part in sport are 80 per cent more likely to take up sport themselves. An early introduction to sport through primary schools is sadly often offered by a reluctant junior member of staff with little or no physical education training. Crucially, proximity to facilities is important; living nearby within either walking or cycling distance to a club greatly enhances the likelihood of take-up. Thus clubs in urban areas, often fairly small, must be given protection from "nimbys" and encouragement to upgrade their facilities. In rural areas some parish councils take good responsibility, but the myth that children in villages have plenty of space in which to exercise and play is totally unfounded. They often have less formal and informal open space at their disposal.

I have laid out my prejudices. What proposals do I offer to the Prime Minister to transform the situation? First, let us be clear that there must be a Cabinet place for the Sports Minister, as sport in all forms and for many reasons is at the top of the agenda, the Minister must be able to influence Cabinet thinking not as some add-on later outside. Secondly, let us deal fundamentally with provision, not only of facilities but coaches, sport in schools and with volunteers within the sporting matrix. Let us take stock of the per capita funding outlined earlier. In other words, though it grieves me to say it, in this aspect France is right.

I hope that the Minister will be able to look at the responsibilities and suggestions that I have made. Unless we do so, there will be a high price to pay. For radical change to happen we must have a political consensus. I am suggesting a sporting revolution. Would one way of achieving that consensus be to set up a Royal Commission for sport? All sides of the
 
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argument could have a say and perhaps lay the foundation for a most profound change. That way forward lies our success.

3.5 pm


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