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Sport, Recreation and the Arts - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:01 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 5:01 pm, 19th December 2018

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on pursuing this subject, which he has done so well in recent years. I hope he will continue to do so. I have enjoyed working with him on the pursuit of partnerships between independent schools and state schools, pursuing the question that many state schools lack the facilities for good drama, sports and musical activities, and we therefore need to work very hard to find ways in which they can use them.

I am extremely lucky: I live in a village founded by a philanthropist who gave the village two cricket pitches, a football pitch, a crown bowls club, two sets of allotments and a tennis club. That gives us a huge bit of social glue that helps bring the community together. It is impossible for me to walk down the street in Saltaire without meeting someone we know; the number of people who work on the same allotments we work on means we just know that many people.

In the cricket club, I see the extent to which social integration is moving ahead in Yorkshire, after—to its shame—the desperate efforts of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club 30 or 40 years ago to resist having Asian players. Any decent cricket club in Yorkshire now needs to have some bright young Asian players, and both our clubs show that very well.

Well-being in society provided by sports, music, drama and other forms of artistic activity are good for the individual. I declare an interest, having been a trustee for nearly 15 years now—probably too long in charitable terms—of a musical education charity, for which the Institute of Education has done some research. There is clear and strong evidence that collective singing in harmony in primary and secondary schools improves concentration, discipline, confidence, a whole range of things that add pluses to those schools. The same is true of collective sport, of dancing—there is also a wonderful dancing club in Saltaire—drama and other forms of activities, including gardening.

I really want to talk about what this does for the local community and those on the edge of it, particularly the elderly, whose children often live some distance away. It brings them out of their houses and into the community. That is a huge plus.

There is also the social integration element of meeting people who you otherwise would not meet. I often reflect on the fact that one of the best networks in the Palace of Westminster is the Parliament Choir, in which I sing. I have a wonderful memory of being in the private office of a Conservative Minister—whom I will not name—who discovered with horror that I was a close friend of one of his strongly right-wing colleagues. I had to explain to him that, whatever he thought of this particular right-wing Conservative, he has an excellent voice, and he and I have enjoyed singing together for many years. From singing in the Parliament Choir, I of course got to know Commons clerks, Lords librarians, doorkeepers and other professionals. It is a way of making sure that we do not just sit and work in our own little compartments.

That is also true for local communities. We have seen many of the networks that held together local communities get weaker over the years. The churches and chapels in Yorkshire around which so many of the local activities happened—including Gilbert and Sullivan light opera and the other things that I remember they used to promote—have, sadly, weakened. Social mobility, with people moving around and in and out, means that you do not easily know all of your neighbours as well as you did. The likelihood that you went to school with them is now relatively low. There is a great deal of loneliness and loss of social cohesion. Collective activity helps to build communities and hold them together.

Of course, what I see in a relatively middle-class village, as Saltaire now is, is infinitely easier than three to four miles down the road once one gets into the working-class estates in Bradford, where people lack self-confidence and facilities are not there. Local Liberal Democrat councillors in north Bradford have been running a summer school for the last three summers for children between primary and secondary school because there are almost no public facilities or open spaces for them to play on when schools are closed. That is part of the problem we face in many of these communities. However, brass bands in Yorkshire are a community in which working-class children feel very comfortable and at home. They are something we need to put money into in schools to make sure they are maintained.

I have now discovered park runs. When my grandchildren come up to Saltaire for the weekend they go off on a Sunday morning and run around the park with a couple of hundred other people who they have not met before and then have buns with them at the end. That is a tremendous way of making sure you mix with other people, as of course are allotments and the new collective gardening movement. They are all extremely good for mental health, getting out in the air and engagement with others.

The important thing is that these subjects should start in schools and should not be peripheral. It is sad that we now find ourselves having to fund them as peripheral subjects. One primary school in Bradford, in Queensbury, has its own brass band. For the four weekends before Christmas, it was out on the streets of Queensbury playing to raise money for its musical activities. That might be the way it has to go at the moment, but we need to fund these things.

Schools in east Asia have now discovered that maths and English are not enough and that cultural efforts—music and drama—are important parts of education. We need to regain that sense as well.