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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:35 pm on 9th December 2010.

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Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 12:35 pm, 9th December 2010

My Lords, I will speak about one particular sport that has in the past and will in future benefit the health and well-being of our young people. I speak of cycling. My family and I have cycled for years. We took our children on cycling holidays and we now cycle with our grandchildren. Cycling has certainly grown in popularity and esteem among young people, particularly in the past couple of years, because success at the Beijing Olympics has made it cool.

My wife and I have become heroes to our grandchildren, because in 2010 we will have ridden more miles by bike than we have driven in our car-albeit with a little electrical pedal assistance. Knowing his generosity of spirit, I am sure that my noble friend will not mind my joining the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, in mentioning sport for older people in his debate about sport for young people. I am sure that the Minister, too, will be delighted to hear about it: after all, her leader and deputy leader are cyclists.

The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, mentioned box ticking. Cycling ticks all the boxes in the coalition agreement-and I mean all. Does it save the planet? Yes-tick. Getting people out of their cars and on to their bikes to travel long and short journeys reduces pollution by particulates. It also reduces congestion. Both these reductions improve air quality, which we urgently need to do because in some parts of Britain it has fallen below EU minimum standards, and this makes us liable to hefty fines. Are noble Lords aware that some streets are being washed with a mixture of salt and vinegar to remove particulates that each year cause several thousand premature deaths?

By the next box is the question: does cycling improve health? Yes-tick. The Government's recent paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, is full of support for the idea that exercise such as cycling helps reduce obesity, heart disease and related illnesses. My noble friend Lord Pendry gave us the numbers. Consequently, it improves longevity and well-being. The beauty of cycling is that it has an attraction all of its own. It certainly does not need the stealthy techniques of behavioural science to get us on our bikes. Perhaps this is what is meant by the paper when it states:

"Reframing the concept of exercise as a fun and positive game taps into salience, while rewards and the social aspect strongly incentivise a change in behaviour".

Perhaps the Minister can translate that; obviously, the Prime Minister's behavioural insight team is at work. Frankly, it seems pretty feeble when compared with the practical work done during the past 10 years, some of which was described by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, in such schemes as the school sport partnerships programme, described by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. These schemes get children doing two or more hours of sport a week. I hope that the Minister will listen to the arguments of my noble friend Lord Pendry, and all other noble Lords who have spoken, about why that work should continue, and forget the gobbledegook, which I find rather sinister.

By the next box is the question: is it good for the economy? The answer is yes. Cycling is growing not only as a sport but as a form of non-polluting tourism that helps rural economies. Cycle tourism attracts investment from the private sector, from local authorities and from European structural funds. It helps to create welcome employment in many rural areas. The C2C route has certainly encouraged tourism in the north Pennines, as any noble Lord who has done that route will confirm. Only today, during Question Time, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, quoted, as an example of an important piece of growth in the economy, the rise in the manufacture of bikes in this country.

Cycling also attracts high-tech investment, not only in new materials for lighter and better bikes but in the batteries for electrically-assisted bikes. Battery technology is a huge growth area in the green economy, and there is a growing market in lithium ion batteries and metal hydride batteries, which are being developed and produced in Britain not just for bicycles but mainly for the many applications where batteries replace carbon fuel.

The question by the next box is: is there a government body that supports and organises all this excellent work? There was. Cycling England has an annual budget of £60 million, which is match-funded by local authorities. It is the government body that is largely responsible for promoting and facilitating cycle use in this country. The first six towns and cities in which it has concentrated on improving cycling showed an average 27 per cent increase in cycling. It has also helped to attract structural funds from Europe and from cycle manufacturers.

The next question asks: has it been abolished? Yes, tick, even though its administrative budget was less than £200,000 a year because some of the work was done by enthusiastic volunteers. Presumably, in the name of political correctness and ideology there will be no more ring-fenced central grants for cycling in England, except for a small amount for cycle training. Meanwhile, its work is on hold and the European structural funds are still in Brussels.

I look forward to hearing the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, chair of the Youth Sport Trust. As a taster, perhaps I may quote from her letter of 29 October to the Minister's right honourable friend Michael Gove, the letter to which my noble friend Lady Morgan referred. It says that the trust:

"is also committed to ensuring that those young people who do not enjoy team sports are provided with opportunities to engage in an activity that they can pursue throughout their lifetime. This investment in young people's wellbeing, as well as their sporting prowess, is essential to a healthy nation and a vibrant economy".

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I ask the Minister to please tick one more box for us, the box marked, "Made a mistake, will think again".