We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Sport, Recreation and the Arts - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:34 pm on 19th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:34 pm, 19th December 2018

Well, my Lords, it will be difficult to follow that. I would like to start by thanking my noble friend Lord Moynihan for securing today’s debate on this hugely important and rather wide-ranging subject, and for his excellent speech. We have heard so much about the benefits of sport and the arts that I almost feel I should give my remarks with a Dispatch Box that rises up and down to ease the back, or jogging on the spot, or speaking in iambic pentameter. But I will spare noble Lords that; in fact, given his poetry, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, is certainly better qualified for this form of exercise.

The interest in today’s debate has illustrated the incredible power that sport and the arts have in inspiring people to get out into their communities and connect with others, and the enjoyment and benefits this can bring. I will speak about the arts, but let me focus first on the benefits of sport and physical activity, which we all know can be good for us in many ways, both mentally and physically. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, it can strengthen communities, but I will add that it can strengthen the economy, too.

Looking at the physiological facts—here I have my own verbal exercise—moderate-intensity activity stimulates the body’s cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal and metabolic systems and, achieved over time, causes them to adapt and become more efficient. As my noble friend Lord Haselhurst said, that is clearly a good thing. Muscle-strengthening activities help maintain functional ability, stimulate bone formation and help reduce bone loss. They also help with glucose metabolism and reducing blood pressure. Indeed, there are reports in the press today about research by the London School of Economics and Political Science which suggests that exercise is as good as medicine for lowering blood pressure, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, pointed out.

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling. All this adds up to a reduction in risk of approximately 30% for all-cause mortality when comparing the most with the least physically active, according to the UK’s Chief Medical Officers, who produce guidance about recommended physical activity levels. Being active has been shown to treat, manage and prevent a range of physical and mental health conditions, including heart disease, cancers, diabetes, stress, depression and anxiety.

Talking of diabetes, we know that there is a pressing need to look at the rise of type 2 diabetes. Only this week, the Times reported that two dozen people a day are having feet and toes amputated because of diabetes. Foot amputations are up by a quarter since 2010. Another pressing matter for society and this Government is poor mental health. Again, we know that the risk of depression is approximately 20% to 30% lower for adults who participate in daily physical exercise.

It is not just health; physical activity can be a tool for social good, too. For example, as my noble friend Lady Sater said in her remarks, in prisons it can have benefits for the physical, mental and social well-being of prisoners and it can reduce recidivism. As she said, it can also provide a meaningful alternative to those at risk of committing crime, and I can assure her that we are working with the relevant departments and agencies on these very topics.

All of this is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve through the Government’s sport and physical activity strategy, Sporting Future. In the strategy, we set out five key outcomes that we are striving towards: physical well-being; mental well-being; individual development; social and community development; and economic development. We want to use sport and physical activity to create a healthier, happier and more productive nation. Helping people to be more active in whatever way suits them is a crucial part of this. For some people that may be sport; for others it means fitting physical activity into their busy daily life. I am reminded that when my late father, George Younger, was interviewed about how he got exercise during his long and busy political career, he said, “Oh yes, very important, I tend to run up the stairs”. He would learn much from this debate; things have moved on.

We particularly want to reach people who have not traditionally got involved, or who think that being active is not for them. Sport England has committed to spending at least a quarter of its budget on tackling inactivity. For example, it is investing up to £100 million in 12 local delivery pilots across the country to solve inactivity challenges in specific locations and scale up what works in other areas. Such areas include Doncaster, South Tees, Hackney and Greater Manchester.

Investment is also going into mental health projects such as Mind’s Get Set to Go project, supported by Sport England and the National Lottery. Since 2015, this project has helped more than 3,500 people with mental health problems take part in specially designed physical activity projects. The evaluation has shown the important role that physical activity can play in building resilience and supporting mental health recovery. As was recently revealed by the new Active Lives Children and Young People survey, it is encouraging to see that some 3 million children lead active lives, doing an average of 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day.

But let me be clear: there is another side to this story. Some 2.3 million children and young people— that is almost a third—are doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day. This is unacceptable. We must do more, and the Government must do more, to encourage young people to live healthy, active lives. To answer to a question raised by my noble friend Lady Sater, this is something we will tackle through the new cross-departmental school sport and activity action plan, with DCMS, the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care working together. We will make it a priority to ensure that all young people have sufficient opportunities to engage in sport and physical activity.

Government is working ever closer. For example, just last week five Ministers appeared in front of the DCMS Select Committee at the same time to discuss the social impacts of culture and sport—the first time this has happened.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan raised an interesting point about introducing legislation—I think he called it, as a start, sports law. The Government have no such plans currently, but he made some interesting points and I will certainly take them back to the department.

Good-quality facilities and spaces are important factors to keep people engaged over the long term. Sport England is investing up to £40 million in large-scale sports facilities projects up to 2021, and a further £15 million per year in smaller-scale projects through its Community Asset Fund. We recognise that playing fields are a vital part of sporting infrastructure up and down the country and are one of the most important resources for sport in England. Every school must, by law, have access to enough playing field space to meet its sports and curriculum needs. Sporting Future made clear our support for bringing together sports and physical activity facilities with other community services. It also highlighted the benefits of multisport facilities in improving usage and sustainability.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others mentioned volunteering. I want to see strong local partnerships come together with the amazing workforce of community volunteers that we know sport relies on, to understand the needs of different areas and to reinvigorate their local facilities and green spaces.

We can be proud of our sporting heritage in this country. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to sporting heroes, and I am sure noble Lords enjoyed this year’s “Sports Personality of the Year”, which I happened to watch last weekend. I offer my congratulations to the worthy winners of the various awards.

I thank my noble friend Lady Byford for her comments about broadcasting, including TV and radio; I have noted what she said. The Government have said that they do not intend to reopen discussion on listed events. It is for sports bodies to strike the right balance between reaching a wide audience and generating revenue. We have a proven track record in hosting major events that inspire people—look at the impact London 2012 had on volunteering and on perceptions of disability.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, spoke about volunteering, particularly in sports. As he pointed out, the latest Active Lives survey showed a decline in sports volunteering. We need to look into the reasons for this, and we will certainly do so. We understand that volunteering for major sporting events remains robust, so that gives some reassurance.

In the legacy of London 2012 we also see sports and the arts come together. The forthcoming East Bank site at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will host BBC Music, a new V&A museum and a new venue for Sadler’s Wells. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, spoke in this debate. I applaud his role in the success of these projects, involving a combination of sports, the arts and artists, as he mentioned in his speech.

Major sporting and cultural events offer unparalleled opportunities for everyone to get involved and can lift the spirits of everyone around. For example, the volunteer programme for Hull’s City of Culture year in 2017 had engagement from every street in the city. My noble friend Lady Bottomley waxed lyrical about the benefits of the National Lottery, in conjunction with mentioning Hull. I applaud her for that. I also pay tribute to Sir John Major’s great vision: it was, is and continues to be a great success story.

ONS data for London 2012 showed that on a day-to-day basis, people were happier. I presume that means there was a “happy index” somewhere—but I have to admit I have not seen it.

I listened to the excellent speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. Of course, during her long career she has combined sport and art, although I think it fair to say that her remarks were focused more on the arts. This provides a nice bridge to move the debate on. Noble Lords will recognise that engagement in the arts, culture and creative practice are also very good for us—whether that is singing in a choir, visiting a museum, using a library, or volunteering at a heritage event. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, spoke about the Parliament choir, of which I declare my own membership and support. It is a great choir and although I am a lapsed tenor, I hope to come back at some point.

These pursuits may be our life’s passion, a hobby, or a place to socialise and reflect; we do these things because we intuitively know that they bring enjoyment, meaning and purpose to our lives. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester was right to highlight the importance to communities of choirs, the benefits of choral scholarships, focusing on all backgrounds, and the uplifting of the soul through great music, including carols. In this context, my noble friend the Earl of Arran used the phrase “wings of a dove”, which was really quite poetic. As the right reverend Prelate said, the skills engendered fuel the production of many of our great events, including royal weddings.

As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, it was fantastic to see the Health Secretary Matt Hancock speak recently on the power of arts and health. Noble Lords should be aware that there is now growing evidence that taking part in the arts and culture has a significant impact on our health throughout our lives, preventing illness, improving mental health and aiding recovery from ill health. As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said, art can shake you up—hopefully, he did not mean in such a way that the doctor has to be called. It is so encouraging to see enthusiasm for work on arts and health across government.

I have already spoken of the connection between good mental well-being and physical health.