Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Sport is a great means of bringing communities and people together and helping to improve educational attainment. It also helps to reduce anti-social behaviour and crime. We are all too well aware that young people in depressed circumstances often find that opportunities in sport can give their lives new hope and prospects; otherwise they would be led into a state of depression that is the breeding ground of people acting in anti-social ways. There is no doubt that sports clubs can be enormously important to local communities in those terms. That is why we are continuing to reform the sporting landscape. We are working closely with our key delivery partners, the Youth Sport Trust, Sport England and UK Sport, as well as many others.

We want to ensure that people of all ages play sport. I take on board the point that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was keen to emphasise about strategies for the re-entry of people into sport. There is no doubt that the drop out rate from sport when people leave school and educational establishments is very high and we have to work hard to achieve re-entry into sport. I am grateful to the noble Lord for identifying one scheme.

Lord Addington: My Lords, the scheme that I was talking about is called Play On, not Carry on Playing.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that “Carry on” was probably an unlikely title, so I am grateful to him for being specific. We will certainly look at that, but the noble Lord will appreciate that we have identified interesting developments, apart from in Rugby Union, in other sports where opportunities are developing. In fact, my noble friend Lord Rosser mentioned Chance to Shine, with regard to cricket, about the relationship between schools and cricket clubs, which helps, we hope, to prevent the break that occurs when young people leave school and ensure that they have a welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, indicated that that depends a little on what kind of welcome one gets in a club. Good links between clubs and schools no doubt ease the path so that young people feel confident when they join a club, and will help to reduce drop-out rate. They will also increase the profile of sports clubs in the community, so that we get people taking an interest in and feeling that they can happily return to sports that they might have dropped.

I emphasise that we have, and have had, tough targets to raise participation across the country. However, our work in the area gives us a strong foundation from which to make further progress. The Prime Minister’s announcement last year of an additional £100 million investment in PE and sport means that we aim to offer every young person between the ages of five and 16 five hours of PE and sport per week, with three hours of sport for 16 to 19 year-olds. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was a little anxious about progress in those areas, and he is right to chide us for the extent to which we have made progress. We now see high participation among girls as well as boys; the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, spoke

5 Jun 2008 : Column 335

about the importance of young women having the opportunity to participate and develop confidence in sport, and to continue in it after they had left educational establishments.

We are also keen to emphasise competitive sport in schools, which is why the National School Sport Week will take place between 30 June and 4 July. All round the country, in each of the school sport partnerships, there will be an exciting range of interschool and intraschool sport competitions throughout the week. We also have a brand new programme, which has already been successfully piloted in a number of areas and is due to roll out nationally from September. It will increase opportunities for children and young people aged five to 19 to participate regularly in sport in clubs and the community. Funding will be channelled through county sport partnerships and the activities themselves will be delivered through a broad range of local youth, after-school and community sports clubs, and will be determined locally by their relevance and interest to young people. I hope that meets the point of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. He gave us the well known description—it is not a caricature—of how sports bodies in the past seemed to include everyone, including the kitchen sink, and then produced little after those vast meetings had taken place. We are concerned to make sure that the operation of support for young people in sport should minimise red tape and deal directly and sympathetically with youngsters. That lesson has been learnt.

The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Glentoran, asked about those with disabilities and their chance to participate in sport. There is no doubt that the Olympics and Paralympics of 2012 will give us a great opportunity to focus increasingly on the question of the disabled in sport, but we need to take steps well before the Games hit their highest point of public appreciation. We are concerned that there be the high-quality participation and competitive opportunities for disabled young people and adults that their more able colleagues enjoy. We support the national governing bodies of Paralympic sport in their goals and will help schools to identify pupils with higher ability, through targeted continuing professional opportunities for teachers and termly “identifying ability” days. The theme behind that is that, if we can get into schools the realisation that the disabled should have opportunities alongside more able colleagues, that will translate into expectancy with regard to continuing adult life. In that area, I assure the House that the Government will not drag their feet in any way but will be very concerned to make progress.

My noble friend Lord Rosser very ably outlined issues relating to leadership in sport and volunteering. There is absolutely no doubt that volunteers always have played and will continue to play an important role in sport, with some 1.5 million people being involved. We recognise the importance of improving the quality and diversity of young people as leaders, volunteers and role models in sport. Far too few people volunteer, but we all know that clubs depend totally on a great deal of volunteer activity. We need more people to play their part and to see the sporting opportunities that they can provide for the next generation. Twenty-three national governing bodies

5 Jun 2008 : Column 336

of sport, covering all the major sports and many others, now have a volunteering strategy in place. As part of that strategy, 989 young ambassadors will help to spread the Olympic and Paralympic message and ideals within the school sport partnerships.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Pendry, who opened the debate, commented on the Sport England strategy. There is no doubt that we will shortly publish a new strategy for Sport England. Considerable progress has been made in recent years, but the strategy will now set out how Sport England will develop a world-leading community sports system of high-quality sports clubs, coaches, volunteers and facilities. It will have an investment of £250 million a year and will be able to monitor progress. That point was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, but I know that my noble friend Lord Pendry has also always emphasised that we should be able to monitor progress in relation to the government money that is devoted to sport.

The Government recognise that being physically active is important for everyone, and therefore they are keen that it should not only be the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that is concerned with the sports strategy. The House will appreciate that there is also involvement from the departments concerned with schools, from the Treasury in providing resources and, crucially, from the Department of Health, which will be the beneficiary of the end product of more successful sport and exercise participation in the country. That participation will help the department to hit its objectives. There is no doubt that people who become involved in sport and physical activity develop healthier lifestyles, and we intend to increase those opportunities.

More than half of English adults are now either overweight or obese, as is one in four children. According to research, by 2050 60 per cent of men, 40 per cent of women and 25 per cent of children could be clinically obese if we do nothing. There is therefore no doubt about the priority that needs to be attached to this strategy and no doubt about the role that exercise and sport can play.

My noble friend Lord Faulkner raised the issue of ticket-touting and welcomed the degree of progress that we have made. We are continuing to explore options for improving the market to increase affordability and access. We are all too well aware of the extent to which sports fans are deeply resentful of the way in which certain tickets for major events provide an opportunity for exploitation. We are looking at options for a voluntary agreement on tickets for certain “crown jewel” events. Those events underpin the list of sporting events that must be available for free-to-air television. However, there may be one or two additional events where voluntary agreements can be reached on how tickets are to be distributed and where controls can be put in place to ensure that the incidence of ticket-touting is greatly reduced. We want to develop a new code of principles to deliver improved access through distribution and other market-led measures that enables more fans to get tickets at source. If we can ensure that the vast majority of tickets are taken up by those with a genuine enthusiasm for the sport rather than for

5 Jun 2008 : Column 337

making money out of the opportunities that a special event provides, it would go a long way towards reducing ticket-touting. The House will appreciate that we have necessary objectives in this regard with the Olympic Games.

Finally, I come to our past success in sporting presentation; namely, the Manchester Commonwealth Games. They show how well we could organise great sporting events; they were no doubt also a factor in London’s successful bid for the Olympic Games. We are only a matter of months from the point at which Beijing hands over to London. When it does so, London and the country more widely will be vested with a tremendous opportunity to emphasise the importance of sport in our national life. Much of that will revolve round the achievements of elite athletes in the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. We want our Paralympic athletes to achieve in the Paralympic Games in Beijing at least what was achieved in the two previous Games at Athens and Sydney, when they had the second highest total of medals. We might even look at one stage above that—the top position. We would be gravely disappointed if we did not hit similar levels in the 2012 Olympics. The Olympics also provide the opportunity for the world to see the highest level of achievements. We have a clear target for our elite athletes and competitors and we want those targets to be achieved. That will require great emphasis on sport training at elite levels and the necessary investment in sport.

I assure my noble friend, who has done so much work in this area, and the House that the Government are committed to a strategy that will ensure that the nation benefits from sport, that the health of the nation benefits from the participation of our people in sport and that at the elite level London presents a superb Olympics in 2012. In addition, our elite athletes and competitors should show the kind of results of which this nation should rightly be proud.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, does he feel able to say anything on the Prime Minister’s meeting this morning about the role that sport can play in getting knives off the streets? I checked the street word earlier and it was said to me, “Turn the gangs into teams and get them to play a proper game; that is the way to do it”.

5 Jun 2008 : Column 338

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there will be several developments in the near future on the issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, raised, as regards the legacy of the Olympics. I had hoped to be explicit in this debate, but I cannot be as clear as I would have liked. There is a slight delay on the formulation of our plans in this area. As part of this general perspective on government policy, I can assure the House that the legacy of the Games and the necessary advantages to be derived for the country will be the subject of a major government initiative in the very near future.

4.25 pm

Lord Pendry: My Lords, this House is at its very best when it debates issues such as this one. I thank all noble Lords who have made contributions. The quality of the speeches made me feel that tabling the Motion was well worthwhile. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who at times could have been speaking from the government Dispatch Box, reflects the views of the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who said, last week, that if, in the unlikely event, he had the chance, he would not change much that Labour had done on sport. I am sure that the House will wish the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, the very best of luck in his ambition to play for Aston Villa. Seriously, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and the Minister for his very helpful reply. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Common Agricultural Policy (EUC Report)

4.26 pm

Lord Sewel rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on The Future of the Common Agricultural Policy (7th Report, HL Paper 54).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the report that we are debating this afternoon was published in March this year. Since then, we have received the Government’s response, which deserves full and thorough reading and, recently, the Commission’s legislative proposals on the health check. It is fair to say that anyone reading the report in the past few days would have been struck by how quickly, over the past few months, the global context of agricultural policy has changed. We are living in very fast-moving times indeed. Over the past few days, we have had the UN summit on world food security in Rome and on Tuesday the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation told heads of states and governments gathered in Rome that no one understands why rich countries have distorted world markets with the £138 billion that they spend on supporting their own agriculture, clearly to the disadvantage of many developing countries. That is a fact that we must always take into consideration.

The UN secretary-general has suggested that United Nations members should plan for a 50 per cent increase in food production by 2030. Rich countries are being urged to put more development aid into agriculture in

5 Jun 2008 : Column 339

developing countries. Things are changing and if, as a global community, we do not live up to the challenges that we face in ensuring food security, perhaps some of the social and political unrest that we have seen manifest itself in countries across the world in recent days and weeks will unfortunately become a more frequent occurrence.

Global change has created opportunities and challenges for European agriculture. The central issue is how the common agricultural policy should develop to ensure that European agriculture is best placed to secure the benefits of those new opportunities. We must all consider that point.

I turn briefly to the Government’s response to our report before considering the Commission’s legislative proposals. Let me say straight away that the Government and the Select Committee are not only in broad agreement on the general direction of policy but are also in agreement on many of the policy specifics. We both want a more market-oriented agriculture that is sustainable and makes a significant contribution to the environment, particularly in the area of climate change. I shall quote from our report. At paragraph 212 we write:

That is our guiding principle against which we will judge all future legislative proposals for the reform of the common agricultural policy. We are in agreement with the Government on the future of direct payments, moving away from the historic basis, while they exist, and, more importantly, looking forward to their ultimate disappearance.

On page 61 of our report, at paragraph 222, we write:

There is a host of other examples where the Select Committee and the Government, through their response, are in agreement, but I should perhaps identify two areas of disagreement. The Government reject our argument that European farmers should be required to produce only to the same SPS standards as their competitors exporting into the EU market. The Government take the view that the, let us face it, relatively high production standards demanded of farmers in the EU are not disproportionately costly compared

5 Jun 2008 : Column 340

to other variables that have an impact on the competitiveness of farmers. However, we take a different view on this. We take the view that the imposition of higher internal standards distorts competition. I think that ought to be recognised. On another issue, the Government do not agree with our argument that the application of voluntary modulation in the United Kingdom causes competitive distortion. We think it does. These are disagreements of some substance, and there is no point pretending that they are not. Nevertheless, they should not distract from the wide agreement between the Select Committee and the Government.

The points of agreement on the Commission’s legislative proposals are, again, easy to identify. We very much support the abolition of set-aside, we welcome the fact that milk quotas will be phased out, and we support the proposal that historical payments should no longer be the basis for single farm payments. We also welcome the simplification of cross-compliance, as we do the increased flexibility given to national envelopes, the introduction of minimum payment levels for single farm payments and the increase in the funds for rural development. On those points, we agree with the Commission’s proposals that have come out of the health check. We also strongly support the EU’s decision to commit itself to the removal of export subsidies that distort trade and particularly work to the disadvantage of developing countries. That will be a major achievement when it finally happens.

There are, however, disappointments in the outcomes of the health check. We are opposed to the introduction of additional modulation for larger farmers, which in effect is a penalty on efficiency. I am sure that in many countries in which it is applied it will only increase the income of solicitors as they try to develop means by which artificial, smaller farm units can be established. Surely that is in no one’s interests. Although we welcome the extension of decoupling, we are disappointed that it has not been completed.

Overall, what is the judgment? I suspect that the committee will take the view that, so far as it goes, the Commission’s proposals are going in the right direction, but that in terms of placing European agriculture in a position to take full advantage of the opportunities that now exist, the proposals are simply too timid. There is no recognition of, let alone enthusiasm for, the fact that to be successful European agriculture must engage fully with the market and the consumer, rather than continually reflect the interests solely of the producer.

The Government deserve to be congratulated on securing important reforms of the common agricultural policy in the past 10 years or so, often in the face of stiff opposition. For the future, we must continue to work towards the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers and always be on our guard against their being introduced via the back door. Above all, however, what is needed in the Commission’s proposals—I am afraid it is missing—is a clear signal of the end of direct payments. The time has come, the situation is right, and it is sad that the opportunity has not been seized. I beg to move.

5 Jun 2008 : Column 341

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee on The Future of the Common Agricultural Policy (7th Report, HL Paper 54).

4.38 pm

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and his committee on the thoroughness with which it has conducted its inquiries and the fund of information which it has unearthed. I have even heard some outside this building saying that it is a textbook for anyone wishing to understand what is happening in the common agricultural policy. I also congratulate him on obtaining the opportunity for us to discuss these findings today, even if he had to wait a little before it became possible to do so.

As noble Lords will be aware, it also gives us a chance to look at what the EU Commission has come up with in what it has described as its health check. It should not be surprising that it contains many similarities and enough was known about the general direction of the health check to inform some of the findings of the report. But it is very clear, all the same, that neither report has reached the point where the findings will be put directly into practice. As the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said, the EU report seems to lack a certain amount of vigour, which, in this country, we would like to have seen. Perhaps an indication of the sort of battle that is in store can be seen in a press report yesterday: in the effort to secure a yes vote in the Irish referendum on Lisbon, the Irish Prime Minister announced that he would use his country’s veto to block any liberalisation plans in the current round of WTO talks.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page