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Sport, Recreation and the Arts - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Haselhurst Lord Haselhurst Conservative 5:15 pm, 19th December 2018

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Moynihan very warmly on his speech. I cannot possibly match his experience, his authority or the span of his remarks; I shall concentrate just a few words on sport exclusively, but that does not mean that I ignore or undervalue the role of the arts in improving the well-being of society.

There is general recognition that on the whole, give or take one or two possible exceptions, biologically, physiologically and psychologically, participation in sport is, in the words of 1066 and All That, “a Good Thing”, benefiting not only the individual but, echoing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the wider community also. So logically, we ought to want to get more of it. The question is how this can be achieved. My insights are based simply on what I have experienced in my life and what I have observed.

Of course, in theory young people should be persuaded at school that it is important to have some element of sport in their lives and the opportunity to engage. However, we know that too often this is not the case, for reasons that are very well rehearsed. I add to those reasons what I call the school bus issue: parents often have an added concern about when their offspring return home. If they stay on at school to participate in team sports and so on they can be very much later and there is a fear that they are at risk in making their own way home.

When I moved to Greater Manchester in the 1970s I became acquainted with Monton Sports Club in the borough of Eccles. I joined as a social member but became very aware of the activity in the three sports the club embraced: lacrosse, cricket and tennis. Through the endeavours of the people in that club—they raised money, they borrowed money, they organised events—it was able to extend. It bought two squash courts and the club turned a corner; it was peopled by the local community and went from generation to generation. Fathers and mothers were playing tennis, their offspring were playing cricket or lacrosse and they all played squash. The club never looked back and is today one of the great community sporting centres in that part of the world.

In Saffron Walden, where I became the Member of Parliament, my young sons had a preference for football and I went out with other parents to support them in the under- eights, the under-nines, the under-10s et cetera. I saw again the determination of volunteers to support their offspring and then to look at how they could get better facilities: previously, they changed in the mud and there was no opportunity to have a shower immediately afterwards. That is not good enough if we are to retain the engagement of young people in sport today. The club to which they were attached, the youth football club, also went on to develop a social side and it survives today.

Noble Lords may know that one of my passions is cricket—without, I may say, any ability to play the game competitively. Nevertheless, Saffron Walden cricket club has an outstanding record in engaging boys and girls. Its registration day every April attracts a very large number of people.

Team games such as cricket are important for creating interdependence, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. There have been examples of very difficult youngsters being engaged for the first time when someone has been prepared to take them on and has given them the opportunity of playing cricket, whether on the beach, in the street or wherever. Two-handed sports such as tennis or badminton are also important for the person who is shy and nervous about taking part in sport, because you can find someone of your own level and get very great pleasure out of playing at that level with someone else.

We all know that at the back of all this is the need for money. There have to be decent facilities, as I have said. Kit has to be provided. Resources do not need to come solely from the public purse. I add to the praise for John Major for initiating the National Lottery. I have seen the good it has done in my former constituency. Local firms can be engaged. They too have an understanding of what makes a good community. There have been many examples of generous donations to help particular clubs along, especially if it is the very young they are helping. There are sundry charities which can be tapped if there is determined leadership in the social sporting clubs.

We should concentrate on strengthening this network of clubs because they deliver sporting benefits and help bring the community together. I would describe them as the building blocks of an integrated society. That is what I believe sport can contribute to the well-being of the community and the country.