Play Strategy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:38 pm on 15th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 4:38 pm, 15th March 2006

I welcome the comments of Mr Donald Gorrie and particularly those of Mr Ken Macintosh on lodging this extremely important motion on behalf of Barnardo's about the importance of play. I also congratulate Mr Macintosh on an excellent speech. He is right to highlight play as a subject to which the Executive should give priority, especially given the threat to the integrity of not only playing fields, but recreational sites and areas for leisure, from planning development that could encroach on them.

Recently, Stirling councillors were presented with a 700-signature petition by local campaigners who oppose the Labour regime's plans to axe the £150,000 play projects budget. I am certain that Mr Macintosh would wish to dissociate himself from that policy of Stirling Council's Labour regime.

We will not have to vote on the motion's wording. That may be just as well, as the motion might inadvertently have greater public expenditure implications than expected. That is because it calls for new statutory rights with corresponding duties on local authorities. We wish to know not only how practicable the proposals are, but what their full consequences would be. However, that in no way detracts from Mr Macintosh's public-spirited contribution in focusing on an issue that, in the interests of our nation's children, must be given increased priority. In principle, he is absolutely right about that. After all, article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that states must

"recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts."

It has been found that play accounts for the greatest proportion of the physical activity of children and young people. Given the increasing concern for the health of Scotland's population, play—particularly outdoor play—offers a vital opportunity to establish healthy lifestyles. The cost to the Scottish health service of dealing with obesity is currently some £171 million. That figure is likely to rise if levels of physical activity are not addressed urgently. If good practices are established early in life, they are likely to be retained well into adulthood.

Executive initiatives such as the physical activity strategy and health-promoting schools are to be commended, but a more flexible and creative approach is required to secure informal outdoor play. For example, voluntary groups could be encouraged to help to clean up and supervise play areas. Play spaces could also be created in areas of urban derelict land. Furthermore, a pilot project on outdoor play in Falkirk in 2005 found that active school co-ordinators had reconsidered their remits because they had realised that play was an increasingly forgotten element. Training, guidance and support are definitely important.

It appears that the Executive does not as yet have any plans to develop a strategy, so I join Mr Macintosh in asking why that is the case. After all, the Executive has innumerable strategies on countless subjects. Why does it not have a strategy on an issue that is so important to our country's future?

I congratulate Mr Macintosh on having had the moral courage to raise an issue that for too long has been swept under the carpet. When the minister responds, I hope that he will genuinely go as far as he can within the bounds of what is reasonable and possible.