My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for initiating the debate. His dedication to sport and what it offers is widely acknowledged. I have seen him many times at the Conservative Party conference championing the cause of sport.
We all recognise the great number of benefits that sport provides children and young people-and, let us not forget, those who are somewhat older too. Participating in sport not only gives young people the opportunity to expend the abundance of energy they have, but also plays a major role in developing key skills needed for future life. Learning how to be part of a team, self-discipline, how to experience winning and losing, dealing with challenges and setting goals are only some of the many skills acquired through participating in sport.
For these reasons, I welcome the Government's proposals that there should be an emphasis on competitive sport within schools. I also agree that school leaders should be trusted to make decisions about school sports. As the Secretary of State has said, with giving schools this new freedom he expects that every school will maintain, as a minimum, the current levels of provision for PE and sport each week for every pupil.
We should remember that not all children are academic; some are talented in other directions. With these new freedoms, school leaders can use sport as a principal way of getting children and young people outdoors, which can have a positive role in improving children's physical, mental and behavioural well-being. An increasing amount of research confirms this. We have one of the finest outdoor environments in the world and families, community groups and schools can capitalise on the thousands of acres of publicly available land that we have in this country for outdoor sport. Sport in the countryside, such as walking, cycling, fishing and riding, I am told, can burn up 380 calories per hour. Better to burn these calories there than in the high street.
There are many other outdoor sports projects which provide the benefits that I have just outlined. However, I draw your Lordships' attention to Fishing for Schools, an outdoor educational sports programme about which I have some knowledge. Fishing for Schools is a project run by the Countryside Alliance Foundation, a charity set up in 2007. I declare an indirect interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliance. The aim of Fishing for Schools is to teach children the skills of fishing and, in doing so, allow them to explore and enjoy other areas within the natural world. The project offers short courses for children between the ages of 14 and 16, often those with special educational needs and often those based in urban schools. Fishing for Schools not only gives young people the opportunity to fish and learn a sport for life, but also helps to teach them life skills that will serve them well in later years. The programme is taught by one of the country's finest fishermen, Charles Jardine, and over the past year more than 400 youngsters of varying abilities have benefited from it. Fishing for Schools has received positive and uplifting feedback from teachers, students and people in the media who have experienced the programme at first hand.
Robson Green, actor and presenter of channel Five's "Extreme Fishing" programme, congratulated the foundation because, as he put it:
"Fishing for Schools really can make a difference".
Likewise, a teacher noted that, after completing the Fishing for Schools course, a pupil, had improved in confidence, was more motivated in school and talked endlessly about what he had learned. He had been suffering from bullying and was in trouble, but since participating in the course he had worked hard, been positive, behaved well and was a more mature and sensible young man.
However, the best advocates for Fishing for Schools are the children who participate. On one recent course an autistic child was so engaged by Charles Jardine's demonstration that he talked to him about what he had experienced. This was the first time he had ever spoken to anyone outside his family. I believe that such a successful outcome speaks for itself.
Often when we talk and think about the impact of sport, we focus on major sports and how they can be supported, and how future sports stars and Olympians can be trained. This is of course very important not only for those participating but also for national morale. Taking part in a range of sporting activities, which enhance the lives of young people, increase their self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose, has an enormous role to play in a child's development. We should do all that we can to create a climate and the opportunities in which regular participation in sports is encouraged and promoted. In this computer age, should we not see sport as a subject? We should regret profoundly, over many years, the sale of playing fields. In addition, should we not see the academic and physical education of young people as a partnership, as we all seek to do the best that we can for the next generation?