Sport: Health and Well-being of Children and Young People — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:05 pm on 9th December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 12:05 pm, 9th December 2010

My Lords, I have been talking about sport in your Lordships' House for a long time and have a great deal of baggage about it. However, one thing I am convinced about is that we should not worry too much about the name of a group that delivers any sport. If we have to get rid of the existing structure, the name of the structure does not matter. It is what is done on the ground that is important. If the good legacy that is currently there is to be kept, do not worry about the next change. The questions that my noble friend must start answering today are how we are going to preserve what has been good, and how we build on it.

Let us face facts. School is only a part of this process. It may not be the best part of the process. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, put his finger squarely on this: schools are academic institutions, primarily judged by academic results. This is why things have slipped in the past. There is a messy history of unintended consequences for activity in education. We need to hear how that is guarded against and structured into any new set up. We need to ensure that we use school-time sport to build up a foundation for what goes on. It is easy to forget that the important thing about child sport is that it prepares people for an active life later on, and helps that step to become much easier. It also helps to improve the links between the amateur sports clubs, which are the main driving force for physical activity and sport in this country.

We are not currently in a nirvana; we are just stepping away from one. We may be in a place that is better than it was, but it could be better. We must look at, go through and try to keep the best, and enhance where it is going.

One thing that the coalition has spoken about is that the clubs are always being held back by red tape to an extent, but also by insensitive and inappropriate bits of regulation: CRB checks that are not transferable, and the weight of regulations for bars which would be more appropriate for nightclubs. If we can ensure that they are freed up, we can then being them in and ask them to do some of what has not been done, or even to replace some of the work that has been done. It is another model. It is not that what has gone before is bad, or wholly good. It is simply another way of delivering the same stuff.

The real complaint is that we have not heard enough about how we set up something new. If we can hear about that, I will become much less worried. There will be winners and losers with any change. It is about ensuring that we have an idea of what is to be done. We have not quite heard that yet, and I encourage my noble friend to start telling us about this today if we are to move on and build on the legacy of the past few years.

The Olympics has fundamentally changed the tone of the sporting debate in this country. We take it seriously now. Anybody who has been involved in it knows that there was a sea change when we decided that the political class would combine together to take sport seriously. We have worked in the fact that the White Paper on public health refers to sport and exercise. Previous ones have, too. It interrelates with everything else we do. It is almost impossible to deliver in many other aspects if we ignore exercise, health and sport. Establishing patterns with the young is a very important part. I have a set few minutes in any speech about punching through the Chinese walls in Whitehall; we will take it as read this time. Unless we can have some idea about how we get all parts to come and talk together, what will happen with school sport? This ties in with the rest of the things here. We have now established that aspirin may be a good drug. However, exercise is the wonder drug for public health. We know that. How will we tie everything in? How will we establish these patterns of behaviour? How will we encourage those who do it voluntarily?

Publicly funded outside bodies are a way of delivering some of these changes; they are not the only way. Some people will say that I put too much emphasis on clubs. Sometimes the school is the only delivery mechanism available for people at certain ages. This is probably true. However, we must bear in mind the continuation and flow through. What happens at school age is the start, not the end, of the process. However, if you mess up the base-the foundation-the rest of it will be more difficult.