My noble friend Lord Pendry-and a very good friend too-has done this House a real service by raising this issue today.
My remarks have been preceded by a fascinating and informative speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, whose prowess we much admire. We are very glad that we can count her among our number. I am also glad that this debate is being wound up by my noble friend Lady Billingham and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, both of whom I count among my friends today.
The coalition Government have a remarkable proclivity to say one thing and do another. That is exemplified by their approach to the forthcoming Olympics and Paralympics. Young people have always been at the heart of the Labour Party's thinking, and that is absolutely true regarding the preparation for the Olympics. It is particularly disappointing that the Government have declined to put themselves squarely behind the imaginative ideas that have guided the Labour Party towards its thinking about the Olympics. I say that not as a case of sour grapes, or of political hostility for the sake of it. Indeed, I would have been among the first to have applauded the Government had they reached a more positive conclusion regarding young people and the Olympics. Labour in government tried manfully to apply more hopeful criteria. More young people than ever were becoming eligible through sport in our schools to enjoy sporting facilities that for too long had been virtually the sole property of private schools.
Our constructive approach began to work. Unbelievably, it has been replaced by what I can only call an ideological and verbal dexterity, and little else. However, there emerged indications of public displeasure-even anger-about the approach of the Government, and stubborn governmental minds began, albeit slowly, to change. It is not too late to hope that this process will have an abiding effect on the Government. The £162 million cut in the school sport partnership programme, the SSPP, together with cuts designed to hit the specialist sports colleges, could end up in the dustbin of failed policies.
Why inflict unnecessary damage in the first place? It is never too late to have a change of heart. The alternative of sticking to the Government's ideas is too grim to contemplate, particularly at this juncture. To think that existing schools' budgets could fund sport is wholly impracticable, as is uncertainty concerning implementation. To muse, as has been the habit of the coalition, that specialist colleges can choose to pay for their specialism out of the big pot that they receive from the dedicated schools grant is simply illusory.
The Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, has certainly changed his mind. When in opposition, he supported the Labour Government's ideas; but in government, he does the exact opposite. Innumerable opponents of the coalition, who are in no way limited to the Labour Party, have fulminated against this damaging reversal. On
"There has never been a more important time for school sport, and the Olympic legacy must have school sport at its heart".
He was right then, and it is right now that we should pursue that policy.