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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:23 pm on 9th December 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Billingham Baroness Billingham Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 1:23 pm, 9th December 2010

What the noble Viscount said was absolutely in tune with our views about how important sport is across the piece and how schools must keep PE in their curriculum.

Let me turn the clock back five years to the granting of the 2012 Olympic Games to London, which has transformed the debate and the place that sport takes in our national life. The focus is intense and the scrutiny forensic. Will we ever forget the final days of the bid with Tony Blair, Seb Coe, David Beckham and Tessa Jowell at the helm? We were proud of them. We were even prouder of the schoolchildren who took centre stage in persuading the judges that ours was the best prepared and the best focused bid for the future-our children, our legacy.

We pledged to use the Games to stimulate Britain into a rejuvenated sporting nation. Let us keep that vision in our mind's eye-those eager, excited children hearing the promise of a new sporting age. For five years, politicians kept their word. The building of the Olympic Village became hailed as an outstanding cross-party success and enterprise. How often we heard the mantra, "on time and on budget". The promise to the children was translated into a transformation of school sport. All parties pressed ahead. We shared a vision of sport and exercise becoming a powerful weapon against the threat of obesity. Two hours per week of physical education became a standard in all state schools and the "Kelly hours" offered a prospect of extra-curricular activities before and after school, and at lunch time. Given the lack of qualified PE specialists, especially in primary schools, the school sports partnerships were formed, and the transformation has been stunning.

I shall go back to some of the other contributions to the debate. My noble friend Lord Haskel was fascinating on the benefits of cycling, and I can vouch for that. As I was walking back from my tennis club in Thorpeness, having just been thrashed yet again by Christine Truman, someone flashed past me on the Thorpeness road. Who was it but my noble friend Lord Haskel? I have witnessed him cycling at speed as he disappeared down towards the Mere in Thorpeness. He was right to tell us that cycling is a sport that we can pursue for the whole of our lifetimes. I play tennis on a daily basis and while I am much slower, by no means am I any less competitive.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and welcome her again to the House-we ought to get some Members' badges. She suggested that sport must be introduced at the earliest possible age and quoted the benefits of sport to us as a nation, and as a pathway to confidence and success. I liked her theme of a childhood that lasts a lifetime. That is something I want to take away with me. My noble friend Lord Hoyle is always an active member in these debates. He reminded us of how the Olympic Games can inspire us as a nation and he praised the skilled collaborations made by the SSPs, particularly in enabling primary schools to offer a much wider range of sports. He asked if the Secretary of State had visited a school where school sports partnerships were in evidence, and if not, why not? That is a good question.

We now find ourselves in the grip of Michael Gove's maelstrom. What has possessed him to put all the outstanding achievements of the past years in jeopardy? Surely it cannot be, as was mentioned earlier, some sort of "Gove's vengeance" brought about by unhappy memories of his unsporting schooldays. He must know about the correlation between sport and a healthy, happier nation, for which other speakers have made the case. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch raised the issue of joined-up government and how sport and exercise are being put under threat. What liaison did Michael Gove undertake before his announcements? Critically, my noble friend also reminded us of the success of sports schools and colleges in examination results, which is a matter of fact and on the record.

I come to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. How fortunate we have been to hear at first hand from her the contribution that school sports partnerships have made to our sporting children. Her speech is one that I am sure we will take away to read again. It was too detailed for me to go through it now, but I certainly want to use it in the future in support of arguments reflecting the views expressed in the House today. We know about the cost to the NHS and the economy of an inactive lifestyle, and the value of introducing sport and recreation to young people. It gives them a head start for the rest of their lives. My noble friend Lady Massey is a wonderful ambassador for the organisation A Chance to Shine and shared an interesting success story that came from that project.

As a nation, we have long accepted the role of sport as a way to social inclusion. Would we rather see young people kicking a football around or kicking the back door in? For those of us lucky enough to have enjoyed sport all our lives, can we ever forget the exhilaration of acquiring sporting skills, not always at the highest level, but being part of a team or mastering individual skills in a multitude of sports that we can play all our lives? I agree with David Cameron that sport brings happiness, and that is a factor which should be measured and valued within our society.

Against all this, it is inconceivable that the Secretary of State should perform such vandalism and rob our children of their sporting right. It is unforgivable and it is divisive because only state schools will be affected. The independent schools will go on regardless, enjoying a vast range of sports in impeccable facilities with fully qualified sports staff. Are we really in this shambles together? I think not.

This has been an excellent debate and I thank everyone who has taken part. I hope that there will be a rethink-we have had a promise that the Government are going to look at this again, but I am not sure whether that is going to be fulfilled. Let us hope that the message from this Chamber, which has been very powerful in this debate, will help towards making No. 10 think again because there is overwhelming opposition to this cut from so many sources. The positive links between the health and well-being of our children and young people through their involvement in sport is well known. We must not allow their sporting legacy to be jeopardised.