Sport and Physical Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:01 pm on 5th June 2008.

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Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour 2:01 pm, 5th June 2008

rose to call attention to the case for a new sport and physical education strategy; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I raised the important subject of sport and physical recreation in a debate in this House some months ago. I make no apologies for raising the issue again today, as sport and physical activity are so important to the nation's well-being. That cannot be overstated.

In my 38 years as a Member of this House and of the other place, I have long argued the case for a higher government priority to be given to sport and the promotion of physical activity. What has happened over the past 10 years? There have been huge advances under this Government. I was shadow Minister for Sport for five years up to the 1997 general election, and I was the author of the sport manifesto Labour's Sporting Nation. It is particularly pleasing to me, therefore, to see that so many of the commitments that we made in that manifesto have come to fruition.

I refer in particular to the pledge that an incoming Labour Government would work tirelessly to bring major sporting events to the UK; how well we have delivered on that front. We staged the enormously successful Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, and of course London won the opportunity to stage the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Only this week, we heard that the International Olympic Committee has given the preparations for London 2012 near-perfect marks following a three-day inspection visit. If we add to that the Prime Minister's personal support for making it a top priority to secure football's World Cup in 2018, it is clear that the Government are succeeding in putting this country firmly on the world's sporting map.

It is not all about elite sport and world-class events, however. Sport and physical activity are just as important at grass-roots level. The Government are well aware of that importance and have acted to secure its delivery. Increasing participation and providing high standard facilities together make the bedrock of our sports policy. We recognised in that early manifesto that the provision of school sport was vital to the nation's young people. Schoolchildren must have access to sports facilities, and the curriculum must provide time for sport and physical activity.

That is why I am so pleased that the Youth Sport Trust has revolutionised school sport and now has its sights set on delivering five hours of physical activity for the nation's youngsters. It is in that context that school playing fields has been such an emotive issue in past years. I am pleased to note that government policy ensures that access and participation are safeguarded in any proposal to develop school playing fields. That was another commitment made in Labour's Sporting Nation.

Another body that plays a vital role in school sport is the Football Foundation. Here I declare an interest, since I speak as a former chairman and now as its president. It is a partnership between government and football, and it has been hugely successful in providing grass-roots facilities in our schools and parks. Since its launch at No. 10 Downing Street in 2000, the foundation has supported more than 5,000 projects worth nearly £700 million with grant aid totalling more than £300 million. There is another £114 million-worth of projects in the pipeline. I commend the work of the foundation, and I am proud of its achievements.

Returning for a moment to the manifesto, we also undertook to tackle the issue of ticket touting. Again, I welcome the progress that has been made. I also welcome the recent policy announcement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that he wants to see more action taken against touting at major sporting events. I led a delegation to him earlier this year, when we explained the frustration that sports governing bodies have at people who rip off the ordinary sports fan. We must make sure that young people have the opportunity to see top class sporting events at prices that they can afford. I therefore urge the Minister to expedite the work that he is doing to secure voluntary agreements from secondary ticket agents. Those companies have a final chance to show that they can control the secondary market. If they cannot do so, they must understand that they face further regulation of their activities.

With that as a background, let me now turn to some of the other issues facing us. We can be proud that we have in this country a sector skills council that is a leading light in developing sport and physical activity. SkillsActive has a crucial role to play in ensuring that there are enough coaches out there to meet demand. The Government's recent approval of the planned national skills academy for sport and active leisure will assist in that aim. All of that is a far cry from what the Government inherited in 1997.

Of course, there are areas where more improvements can still be made. Participation rates are still too low. Painful as it may be, we in this House have to face up to the facts that 65 per cent of men and 76 per cent of women do not reach the government minimum for physical activity. That is estimated to cost £8.2 billion per year. The economy is further hit by £13.2 billion per year in sickness absence alone. Individuals who are active are 1.9 times less likely to have a heart attack than their inactive counterparts. I could go on, but your Lordships will be clear about the picture that I am painting.

Over the past 50 years, as a nation, we have seen the systematic removal of physical activity from our daily lives, and the cost of that is adding up. The Foresight report on future trends in obesity predicted a cost, at current trends, amounting to £50 billion per year. That is what is at stake. Make no mistake: that places an unbearable strain on our National Health Service. To reinforce that view, there are 1.5 million sufferers of type 2 diabetes in this country, and 90 per cent of all diabetes sufferers are type 2. That has a cost to the National Health Service of some £3.5 billion a year, and no lack of human suffering.

Two weeks ago, the medical journal the Lancet said that exercise lifestyle interventions over six years can prevent or delay diabetes for up to 14 years after the intervention period. We know that an active lifestyle can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by between 33 per cent and 50 per cent. Last week Cancer Research UK told us that active men are 34 per cent less likely to develop cancer than their inactive counterparts, and I have not even mentioned asthma, stroke or osteoporosis. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, up to 20 ailments and conditions could be alleviated, prevented or cured by opportunities to be more active.

We must also not forget the psychological impact. Physical activity is like fresh air to the brain. All of this is a message that can get across loud and clear, and we should get it across. Is it is not an impossible task to change a culture, and my proof is that it has already been done. We should look at Finland. Back in the 1970s it was in a similar predicament. It had among the highest rate of smokers and drinkers in Europe and the highest rate of deaths from coronary heart disease in the world. It set in place real, concerted actions around promoting physical activity. If more people are more active more often in any shape or form, more people play sport. Finland provided exercise on prescription across the country. It opened up extensive cycling and walking programmes. Look at Finland now. By 2008 there had been a 65 per cent reduction in deaths from coronary heart and lung disease—yes, 65 per cent. It now has one of the lowest rates of smoking in the world. Most compellingly, average life expectancy has increased by six and a half years on average across the population.

Just think of the effects that such a policy would have here. The British Heart Foundation says that coronary heart disease costs every single person in this country £250 per year—a total of £3.5 billion. Lives and plenty of resources can be saved at the same time. I am sure that the Government are aware of the issues that I raise and I hope that they will take appropriate action. To reinforce that view, the Prime Minister, in his speech in January, said that to ensure the future of the National Health Service, prevention has to figure higher on the agenda. As an average, 60 per cent of waking hours are spent at work, which is, therefore, an ideal place to encourage increased physical activity. Sickness absence cost the economy £13.4 billion in 2006, the equivalent of 175 million working days. Someone on incapacity benefit for six months has only a 50 per cent chance of returning to work. After 12 months off, that sinks to 30 per cent. Ninety per cent of the time, someone on incapacity benefit for between six and 12 months will end up out of employment for five years. Unless these people are provided with the opportunities to rehabilitate physically, they and their children are likely to remain in poverty—by which I mean economic, social and cultural poverty, let alone in terms of self-respect. Poverty is exactly what I mean.

One has to be reminded that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has published evidence to show that physical activity can help alleviate and prevent 20 lifestyle diseases and reduce absenteeism by up to 30 per cent. The national crisis around health and obesity requires urgent and concerted action and—credit where credit is due—the Government are aware of this need. There has been a £372 million pledge from Alan Johnson and Ed Balls to fight the problem of obesity.

Delivery needs national, regional and local impact. Delivery needs effective networks to help the hardest to reach. Delivery needs a high level of customer service. It needs consistency and reliability in implementation. The achievement of many social outcomes requires greater engagement and participation from citizens and an understanding that governments cannot do it on their own. There are powerful moral and political arguments for protecting and enhancing personal responsibility. I am sure that the Government are not only aware of the opportunities at their disposal but determined to make use of them.

I was struck recently by an announcement that landed on my desk. Fred Turok, the chairman of the Fitness Industry Association has said that for every £1 invested in promoting physical activity by the Government, the health and fitness sector would invest a further £2. That is an offer that certainly must not be refused. Let us take a look at the current fitness and leisure infrastructure. There are more than 5,700 health and fitness sites across the country, including public facilities; 89 per cent of the population—53 million people—live within two miles of a gym facility; more than 30,000 licensed exercise professionals cater for more than 1 million people every day. Yet I am told that they operate at only 60 per cent of their capacity. Outside of peak hours, many of these facilities are almost empty. I very much hope that the Government will get together with the Fitness Industry Association to tackle this issue.

A number of bodies are out there with help to offer, not just health clubs and leisure centres. The Fitness Industry Association is only one. The Central Council of Physical Recreation, representing 105,000 sports clubs active in England, is another. The list includes British Cycling, the Amateur Swimming Association, the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health, and there are many more. I hope that the Government will propose to deal with all these bodies in a way that can make a difference. Working together, this alliance could have the national, regional and local structure required to back up any national campaign. It could provide the clubs, centres, coaches, facilitators and expertise that we need to change and adapt to a healthier lifestyle. Importantly, these bodies are already based firmly in the community. They will provide opportunities for all segments of society, from cradle to grave, and provide activities that are fun, sociable and accessible to all, regardless of ability.

Every town and village has a sports club of some kind within easy reach to aid physical exercise. We are surrounded by outdoor environments in which people can enjoy fresh air at the same time as fitness. Every community centre is an open space that could be filled with people from the local area being supervised by experts provided by these organisations. But this ready-to-roll wheel is not simply about places and people, vital as they are, as the essential cogs in a national campaign machine. These organisations represent the key networks and channels that the Government need to deliver real change. They represent an alliance of bodies coming together with proven ability to interact directly and effectively with people of all ages, creeds and interests, to generate the momentum of change that the Government and the community need. The Government have the ability to make this change happen, working alongside those people already active in this area. I sincerely hope that it will take place soon. I beg to move for Papers.