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Sport, Recreation and the Arts - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:33 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 5:33 pm, 19th December 2018

My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for securing this debate on the contribution that the arts, recreation and sport make to the well-being of society. It raises two questions. First, what is the well-being of society? What are the constituents of well-being? Secondly, do the arts and sport contribute to it and, if so, how? I shall talk about these two questions in that order.

When we talk about the well-being of society, I think we are in danger of thinking of society as a kind of abstraction, hovering over us. At the end of the day, society consists of individuals and their relations with each other. The well-being of society really amounts to the well-being of individuals and their relations with each other. So the question to ask ourselves is: what kind of human beings would we like to encourage and what kind of relations between them would we like to cultivate? Many noble Lords have already spoken eloquently on the kind of society and the kind of individuals they would like to see.

On physical well-being, we want our fellow human beings and fellow members of our society to be able to live long and, more importantly, healthy lives. We want psychological well-being: we do not want them to feel lonely. Robert Putnam talked about bowling alone, where you are forced by the society in which you live to do major activities on your own without support from others. How do we secure a sense of community? There is a social component of well-being: a sense of reassurance that others care for me and that if I am in difficulty or subjected to any injustice, my fellow members will be prepared to stand up for me. There is also the moral component of well-being: a recognition that one is not an orphan, that there are others who care for one, that one is a valued member of society, with a sense of worth and self-esteem.

As we are now beginning to see, there is also the political component of well-being. Well-being is possible only in a society that is stable and secure, and that is meeting the challenges it comes across and conducting itself in a manner that one recognises and of which one is proud. Here, I should not be surprised if tomorrow, for example, poll results show that Brexit has resulted in a large number of illnesses in our society. With a political event such as Brexit, a lot of people feel utterly depressed at the way things are happening, wondering what is happening to our great country and as a result feeling lonely and worried about their future. That is not conducive to the well-being of society. Those are some components—there are many more. I am not giving a philosophy lecture but simply talking about the components of well-being.

I turn to my second question: how do sport and the arts contribute to well-being as I have defined it so far? Take sport. As several noble Lords have pointed out, it builds a sense of community and teaches us to be a team player, to be honest and to follow rules. In fact, often one first learns what it is to follow a rule when engaging in sport. It teaches us self-discipline. More importantly, it teaches us how to subordinate our ego to a larger cause, the team, how to be a team player and, beyond that, how to be loyal to sport—not just to this sport or that sport but to sport in general.

It is conducive to physical well-being. We all know that. Today’s newspapers talk about how 20 minutes of exercise can do far more than a pill to control your blood pressure. More importantly, it creates invisible benefits by providing a common space, a common subject of conversation. A lot of people will say, “Are you a Manchester United fan or a fan of another team?”. In the course of that, you build up a sense of a community of meaning, a community of aspirations, a community of contact. That vital role of sport should not be ignored.

As I can say from my experience, as one gets older, sport becomes very important. Once you have finished your life’s work, what do you do? You get up in the morning. If you have no interest in sport or the arts, you ask yourself: “How will I spend my day?”. I can say from experience that for people who take up golf or another activity, sport becomes a lifesaver.

Let us turn to the arts and how they contribute to well-being. Here again I want to talk not only about the physical or material advantages that the arts bring; I want to talk about the invisible spiritual and moral contribution of the arts. The arts expand our consciousness. They help us to understand the other, who otherwise remains opaque. They bring us together by interpreting one community to the other and building a sense of cohesion. Arts are also the guardian of society’s values. A man of literature or art helps us make sense of our experiences, so that one begins to make sense of one’s own world and finds meaning in one’s life. Take away the arts and a lot of us would not know what to do with ourselves: how to make sense of the chaos of human experience that constantly bombards us.

I therefore conclude that for these and other reasons, the arts and recreation—which I have not said much about, but not much needs to be said—contribute to our well-being. However, they contribute only if they are conducted in the right spirit. Here I alert your Lordships to one tendency that I have noticed in all countries, which is nationalism. When sport is no longer seen as sport but as war without weapons, and when the question is simply how to beat the other guy and how to make one’s country great, whether it is in the Olympics, soccer or whatever, sport fails to perform its function.

Noble Lords will know that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, once said that to test an Indian immigrant’s loyalty you should ask what team he supports in cricket: the Indian team or the English team. By saying that, he was politicising cricket. He was looking at one’s politics—which team one supports—as a badge of one’s patriotic identity, and that is a dangerous way to go. Likewise, art and culture can be seen in an extremely nationalistic way: art must promote patriotism and an individual’s loyalty to the state. That is not the way in which sport and art should be conducted.

I want to ask the Government lots of questions, but one simple question is: given the fact that the arts and sport are so important, what are the Government’s plans to encourage them in our schools? In many schools the budget has decreased and there is a sense of loss. I also want to commend Camelot, whose reception I went to the other day, which has given £39 billion to various activities, including £3 billion for arts and £3 billion for sport. I will end by saying how much I enjoyed the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley. If I had more time, I would have loved to reinforce her view of how culture and the arts can contribute to the well-being of a society and its members.