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Lord Addington: My Lords, I shall take my first comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham. This is a debate on which there is actually little difference between us when we look at what is going on. One of the most worrying things about such debates is the fact that we agree with each other. We can go back and talk about the problems and why sport is in this state today. The "he said, she said" debate with which we started does not really help us, because the fact is that in 1997 sport was in a mess. That was the unintentional consequence of certain things that happened, particularly in the schools sector under the Conservative government.

However, the development that has undoubtedly helped us to reconstruct sport—the lottery—was done under the Conservative government. It has been raided by everyone ever since. That started with the Conservatives when they expanded the initial number of causes and set the precedent. If we can all take from the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, the idea of growing up and working together because there is not that much between us, we will get a little further.

I say that in the full knowledge that the recent publication of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, was almost exactly the same in tone and emphasis as our party's recently constructed policy. That is
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probably because we spoke to the same people; much will come down to that. Also, many of the problems that it points out are ones that we experienced. Politicians are an incredibly bad group to talk about sport. We like to talk about misery, expenditure and 126 or 127 local government priorities. You cannot "coffin wave" about social services. The proposal that a group of us tried to put through, but were stopped, at our party conference was trying to link sport to health, taking the healthcare budget and getting someone big and powerful behind you to push the issue up the agenda. We should use the Westminster model of, "We want our Bill". It did not happen. There are universal problems and if we in this place are interested, we can achieve something.

Creating a great deal of fuss over the mess that sport was in has raised its political agenda. That included the arguments about playing fields. We realise that they are still being sold off and ask what is happening. But then you address the education budget and say, "Well we do not need the playing field for educational purposes, so let's get rid of it". If you are an education person, that is unarguable. I shall try to return to the subject of local sport, but the fact is that school sports fields were where virtually every amateur sports club held its first fixture. They were free of dog mess, you could play rugby on them without fear of losing an eye through infection and they were better maintained than the public park.

The public park is a second option, but is one element of an issue where everything must be brought together. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, fairly pointed out to me, as Sport England did a few months ago, that we do not just need playing fields any more, because artificial surfaces are good. That is fine until you all want to play on them at the same time. One large field can be marked out for several different sports and you can have many matches, including rugby and football, happening at different times. You cannot do that with greater investment in just one pitch. One needs an area on the ground where people can take part in organised sporting activities at a similar time.

One important factor has stopped sporting activity going into free fall in this country. Privately funded and owned amateur sports clubs have filled the gap. That is particularly true in our traditional sports of rugby, football and cricket, where a group of people have gathered together, purchased a ground and maintained it themselves. They have done that with virtually no government assistance. We have only recently started giving them taxation breaks—something that my noble friend Lord Phillips has been instrumental in—by gathering a group of us together.

As a political class, we have not taken a grip on what sport can do. We must all pay attention to it. Half of the errors in this field would not have been made if the people in political parties and their opponents had coherently, without being too partisan, pointed out what would happen. We all share blame for the problems and thus we can all take credit for a few of the improvements. If we continue to push forward on a united front, this House, whose great strength as a
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revising Chamber is dealing with fine detail, will have a greater responsibility for action in that field than even another place. We must address this as a group.

The recent publication from the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, pointed out wonderfully on page 224 how funding followed a "drunken spider's map". It is a simplified version. It looks like a madman has tried to travel between two points. Funding chases around itself for alternative sources and different departments become involved. That is without taking into account the internal politics of sport, involving the established "old boy" set-ups—the blazer brigade who defend their own territory and refuse to accept outside intervention. That world must be taken by the scruff of the neck and shaken hard.

Key factors must be addressed. One is that people drop out of sport at an alarmingly higher rate after leaving school in our society than virtually anywhere else. Part of that may be the historical problems that I have mentioned, but one of the main problems is that we have never fully developed the link between club and school. Everyone now agrees with that. The only disagreement that I have come across here in recent years is that when people say "school sport", I would say "school age sport". No single model will fit all. You should probably start by considering local circumstances.

I hope that we will always remember that the traditional second-rate public school model of playing for your school definitely does not work. It never did. As a student in Aberdeen, I was astounded by the number of ex-schoolboy rugby internationals who never wanted to see another rugby ball again the minute they got away from that school environment, because they did not want to play the game. They were just good athletes who were told that that was their prestige sport. We must ensure that people play a sport because they want to play it and we must allow them to sample enough sports within the cultural environment to find out which one is theirs.

Noble Lords have spoken about whether new sports such as tennis should be tried, as the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, mentioned. It is traditionally one of the most class-ridden sports in Great Britain. We must try to introduce that game as not being something that most people watch for, say, six weeks of the year. I was about 12 before I realised that tennis was played outside the Wimbledon forum. The sport must be made available and not be an interaction whereby you nick the balls from public parks. We must take it further and we are doing better.

Indeed, the great bug-bear for child activity is the interesting concept, the "rampant passivity" that was mentioned by a noble Lord. The flip-side of having a TV in every room is that people see other sports and realise that there are other things out there. We must maintain pressure on all the broadcasters to show that other sports are there. Ensuring that the final of the European women's final for football was on television and that women could go out there and play this game was a great achievement. The gender gap is not there. It has been knocked aside.
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What is required to achieve higher levels of participation in sport? I have no time to mention levels of excellence, other than the fact that they do not sit as well with amateur and local sport as you might think, because it may never experience excellence if that is being selected and taken away at an early age. If you know at 16 that you are a potential champion, you probably do not want to play in your local first-11 or 15, or the local tennis tournaments. You want to play with the other elite kids of your age.

We must ensure that participation levels are increased by making sure that people have access to knowledge about sports as well as playing the sports themselves—probably in that order. It must be seen as a positive model. Government must ensure that we simplify the stream and that it is more integrated into our society—either as an educational or a health benefit because sport needs something hard pushing at it. I fully accept that the arts may be similar and might achieve many of the same things in terms of social welfare. Sport has shown itself to be too diverse and inward looking to push itself to the top of the agenda.

Government must put sport into the political process so that it can obtain the prestige to bring itself to the forefront. Unless we can find a way forward, we will come back and talk again and again. It will happen every time the next fad or fashion pushes sport to the back of the agenda, or when a degree of complacency creeps in. It has happened in the past and, unless we watch out, it will happen again.

3.39 pm

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