– in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 6th April 2005.

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Photo of Ms Jane Griffiths Ms Jane Griffiths Labour, Reading East 3:30 pm, 6th April 2005

Like other hon. Members who are lucky enough to have secured a Back-Bench Adjournment debate, I am pleased to have such an opportunity. I wish to talk about sports cycling, and I want first to draw attention to the fact that I am proud to have been elected several times to the chair of the all-party parliamentary cycling group. My predecessors in that role have moved on to illustrious roles: my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke is now the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend Mr. Bradshaw is Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I have been acting as adviser on sports cycling to the Minister for Sport and Tourism, my right hon. Friend Mr. Caborn, at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. As someone who has never taken a driving test, cycling is one of my main modes of transport.

While we were enjoying our Easter recess—perhaps eating chocolate—the cycling Team GB were in Los Angeles for the world championships. It is worth remembering that, as a result of reorganisation of the cycling calendar, the team has competed in three world championships during the past 20 months, the others being in Stuttgart and Melbourne. That is on top of two world cup campaigns and the 2004 Olympics in Athens where Team GB won four medals. It does not stop there: last week, the under-23 team took part in the tour of Majorca. It is worth bearing it in mind that this year was supposed to be a rest year following the Athens Olympics. Some rest.

We should congratulate the British cycling team because, at the world championship over Easter, it won six medals, including four gold medals—twice as many gold medals as the next best team. I wish to put on the record the gold medal success of Rob Hayles and Mark Cavendish in the Madison; Steve Cummings, Chris Newton, Rob Hayles, Paul Manning and Ed Clancy in the men's 4 km pursuit; Victoria Pendleton for winning the women's sprint, and Jamie Staff, Jason Queally and Chris Hoy in the men's sprint relay. Jason Queally gained a silver in the men's 1 km time trial and Chris Hoy won a bronze in the men's 1 km time trial.

As an hon. Member, it is always good to praise and welcome success that is built on the investment in facilities for the team based at the Manchester velodrome, which I was lucky enough to visit during the Commonwealth games in Manchester. It is possibly the best indoor track in the world. I welcome the recent announcement that there will be a new velodrome in east London, which will go ahead whether or not we are lucky enough to secure the Olympics for London in 2012, which I am sure we all hope will happen.

Mark Cavendish, Ed Clancy, Ross Edgar and Victoria Pendleton, four of the team at Los Angeles, are quite young and offer real hope for the future of cycling. It shows that, when we obtain top-class facilities, strong national organisation, funding for training and coaching, together with support for our athletes, Britons can be the best in the world. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts would have been surprised if I had talked only about the success of sport cycling, much as I am tempted to do so. She will have expected me to say at least something about what more the Government can do, the fact that we can be even more successful in sport cycling and how cycling can achieve wider health and environmental objectives.

This year, the national body for sport cycling, British Cycling, has undergone major restructuring, which places the emphasis on two ambitions: to achieve continued excellence—more medals—and to increase participation in cycling generally, not only competitively. Those two ambitions are inextricably linked, and the funding for the British Cycling Federation from UK Sport and Sport England reflects that. I believe that continued success can be delivered on both fronts, given adequate funding and support.

Cycling continues to prove itself to be one of the most successful Olympic sports. It is probably more accessible to the young and the less advantaged than other successful Olympic sports in Britain, such as rowing, sailing, equestrian sports and so on. That is something that leaders in the sport are always uncomfortable about saying, because of the need to maintain good relations with other sports and the sports councils that fund them, but I feel that I can say it. Nevertheless, the truth is that investment in the sport and activity of cycling will contribute far more to all our key Government health agendas than will most other sports.

We are more likely to achieve real, sustainable increases in participation by getting people to ride to school or work, or to the shops, and that should be funded accordingly more than almost any other comparable sport. It is unlikely that healthy activity will arise from people rowing to school, sailing to work or riding a horse to the shops, commendable as rowing, sailing and riding are. That is not to say that GB does not already do quite well in the funding stakes, but there is an argument that we should do even better.

Cycling is also the only sport that contributes to our transport and environment agendas, so real encouragement for cycling to school and work would repay massively in those areas. Despite that, however, the funding made available by the Department for Transport for Cycling England is insignificant in the extreme. The new document published jointly by the Department of Health and the DCMS, "Choosing Activity: a physical action plan", features cycling to school on the front cover and refers throughout to cycling in various forms as being beneficial to health. But how is the sport expected to make that happen if no funding of any consequence is available?

Cycling as a sport is traditionally seen as a road-based activity, but increases in traffic and the speed of traffic make cycling on the roads ever more difficult. It is also more difficult and expensive than it needs to be, because I am sorry to say that the Home Office continues to drag its feet over the event safety guidance project. Both my hon. Friend Kate Hoey and I have asked questions about that in recent years, but there still appears to be little or no progress.

Although sport cycling has traditionally been seen as a road sport, young people are much more likely to use their bikes off main roads. BMX has a great role to play in getting younger people interested in competitive cycling, some of whom will get involved in that sport. I am pleased that due recognition has been given to BMX, which will be part of the Beijing Olympics. It is pleasing that BMX has become part of the lottery-funded GB cycling team.

In January Team GB appointed its first full-time national BMX coach, Jeremy Hayes, who has been involved in the sport virtually since the first explosion of interest in the early '80s. He has said:

"The talent's already there in this country. We just need to get the best riders on board and get them working with proper training programmes."

He is right. I hope that the higher profile of BMX—particularly if the investment by Team GB in the sport results in medals in Beijing—will encourage the many teenagers and younger people I see riding their bikes around Reading to use facilities such as those in Hills Meadow and get more active in the sport.

In the face of increasing problems in continuing to use the roads for racing, British Cycling has positively, and with a fair degree of success, sought to move more events to closed-road circuits, but, unfortunately, suitable facilities are few and far between. Funding for refurbishment of tracks and small facilities has come on-stream recently and will continue in a modest way, but the real investment needs to be in multi-sport, multi-discipline facilities such as those in Preston. There are also ready-made facilities that we could use as a nation, such as motor-racing circuits and redundant airfields, but they are usually commercially run, often making the cost of hiring prohibitive.

Cycling is consistently the first or second most popular out-of-school activity, along with football, and most young people own bicycles. The recently published "UK Strategy Framework: For Women And Sport" rates cycling as the fourth most popular sport and/or physical activity for women. Despite that, cycling is not a curriculum activity and does not receive the promotion or funding that, for example, swimming receives as a life skill. In fact, the amount of cycling training in schools is declining rather than increasing.

A child not properly trained to ride a bike is far more likely to have a related accident on the road than one not trained to swim is to have an accident in water. As the governing body for cycling, British Cycling is funded to provide coaching and skills training for young people, but it is not funded to train them to cycle safely on the roads.

I accept that parents also have a responsibility. It is not enough to give a child a bike, buy them a helmet and let them go off. I spent a long time teaching my children to cycle on the roads, riding with them and talking with them about what was happening. We are not born with road sense. It takes time and experience to be able to be out safely in traffic. Parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children have that knowledge and experience before letting them out on the roads. Getting involved in sports cycling in a safe environment is a good way of learning about riding and getting training in riding on the road.

As well as the work with regard to BMX that I mentioned, British Cycling has been given a target to encourage younger people to get involved, which everyone must welcome. As part of that, British Cycling has instituted the very good Go-Ride programme. The programme has a website providing information about the various branches of sports cycling, where they happen and the type of clothing typically needed to take part in the sports, so that parents can help their children to get active in an appropriate way.

The programme also provides training with properly trained coaches at clubs around the UK. Clubs receive the clubmark accreditation, which recognises duty of care and child protection, to ensure that club officials are trained and have the resources to deal effectively with child protection issues, and ensures that the club runs safe, structured, regular coaching activities and competition for young people. The scheme also ensures that the club is an open and inclusive environment, so that every club member can achieve their full potential, and that finance, planning, communication and development are properly addressed.

I have had the pleasure of seeing the scheme in action in my constituency, where the Palmer Park Velo club has provided training to young people since 1990. It now has 65 members aged from five to 16, boys and girls, who range from beginners to national standard achievers. The club runs training sessions at the Palmer Park track every Saturday, except for two weeks a year, as well as off-road rides, road rides and club championships.

Further to that work, a new coach has been appointed for the best British junior riders. Darren Tudor has been set the task of achieving the same success with the junior riders as has been achieved with the under-23s and the full squad. He has said:

"We'll be looking to give the juniors a more structured, year round approach, lots of skill based work, particularly on the track, with junior year two riders looking to performing at world championship level".

I am pleased that there has already been a get-together of some of our best juniors for a week of activities and coaching in half term. The event was a huge success, which underlines the depth of young talent now coming through.

As I think I have shown, cycling as a sport has enjoyed unprecedented success in the past eight years and can claim to be one of the most successful Olympic sports in terms of return on the investment of lottery funding, if not the most successful. Such value for money is borne out by the National Audit Office report, "UK Sport: Supporting elite athletes". The report shows that of the four sports—athletics, swimming, rowing and cycling—that receive the bulk of the funding, cycling, with the return of one medal for every £2 million, was the most cost-effective. The advantages of using that success as an inspiration to young people, and the not-so-young seeking better health, are easy to see. If we succeed in that, and get more people riding bikes, for whatever purpose, more often, we will make a meaningful contribution in such key areas as health, environment, transport and education.

It is obvious that there would be long-term benefits if the Departments responsible for those areas could link with the DCMS to commit serious funds to the promotion of cycling as a sport, as a means of transport and as a way of life, instead of focusing on roads and railways—and then needing more hospitals.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Minister of State (Arts), Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts) 3:46 pm, 6th April 2005

I congratulate my hon. Friend Jane Griffiths on having secured this debate, and thank her for the work that she has done on this issue throughout her time in Parliament. We in the DCMS know of her interest and we are grateful for her support. I thank her for her work in the all-party group and on cycling matters in Parliament, and wish her well in the future.

My hon. Friend tells a good story. The person who would normally respond in a debate such as this, the Minister for Sport and Tourism, my right hon. Friend Mr. Caborn, is overseas lobbying for us to have the Olympics, so he cannot be with us. That has given me the opportunity to think about cycling, and there does seem to be a good tale to tell. I understand my hon. Friend's wish for the Government to provide further financial support, and I appreciate her desire to keep the sport at the top of the agenda. I do not think that there is much difference in our views on the importance of cycling, the recognition of what has been achieved and the need to go further.

Let me start by re-emphasising my hon. Friend's points about the areas of our lives to which cycling makes a contribution. It is a sport. Not everybody can practise it at elite standards and win medals, but most children—indeed, most people at some point in their lives—enjoy riding bicycles. Even if they are racing down the road or in the park, it is a sport for them. It fulfils that role, and my hon. Friend is right to point out that at a time when the Government, with the whole nation, are worried about keeping children active and making sure that they remain active beyond their school years, reducing obesity levels and improving fitness, cycling has a key role to play.

Almost as important, if not more, is transport. If we could get more people to cycle rather than to drive cars, many of our problems would be solved. I accept the centrality of cycling, old activity though it may be, to much of the modern political, social, economic and health agenda.

I also congratulate the UK cycling team. Even as somebody who does not particularly follow the sport, I remember the team's success at the last Olympic games. That shot cycling to the top of the television agenda and gave everybody an opportunity to appreciate not only the energy and skill that goes into the sport, but the fine record of the UK's cycling athletes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for informing the House of the team's subsequent successes, and I know that our cyclists will be planning for the next Olympics. It is good to record our congratulations to them and our appreciation not only of what they have done for cycling, but of their contribution to national esteem—sporting success does that.

It is a good story, and cycling as a sport is on the increase. It is moving forward; it is not in decline, nor is it getting less money, and it is not as though fewer people are winning medals, or as though our national or international reputation is diminished—it is going in the right direction. If there is anything to debate for the future, it is how much support to give—how well different Departments should organise themselves to support cycling—and therefore how much further progress we can make.

Let me explain some of the ways in which the Government support cycling, particularly the elite sport in which people cycle competitively, to win medals. Sport England has given £2.9 million to British cycling for sports talent development, and to support the network responsible for the development of clubs, competitions and schools activity. My understanding is that the bid was for £3 million. To secure £2.9 million out of £3 million is, quite frankly, a record that I have not seen matched in my eight years in government. So someone somewhere recognises the value of cycling. It will certainly be spent well and will help to support the sport as it approaches the next Olympics.

I was delighted that the sport has also secured £7.9 million of funding from UK Sport, an organisation supporting talented athletes. Also, 11 individual athletes receive £3,000 of financial support as part of the talented athlete scholarship scheme. We can see from the medals that have been won that the money has been well invested. Given the rigour with which UK Sport has reallocated its resources to those sports from which it feels medals can be gained as a result of the investment, the amount that the sport has got is a tribute to its record.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that unless we maintain the facilities and invest in them now, we will find that we have been resting on our laurels and Olympic and competitive glory will become a thing of the past. She is absolutely right to say that we need to invest in training, in facilities, in our young people and in opportunities for them if we are to make sure that cycling retains its standard. I want to put on record the work being done with facilities. I was pleased to read that £2.9 million has been allocated to the community club development programme, under which 16 sports have been selected to receive public money for developing the community programme. That will support additional clubs.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware that a further £40 million has been allocated by Sport England to that programme, and although no further money has been allocated to cycling, that extra money has not been allocated. I cannot read anyone's mind, but in coming months cycling and the community club development part of the programme may well be able to access some of that further £40 million.

I wondered also about hopes for the future. I agree with my hon. Friend that, to some extent, the trick lies in making sure that we have multidisciplinary sports facilities where a number of sports can take place. Once we get people in there, we can attract them to particular sports because the facilities are there. In future months, the DCMS will work with local authorities to make sure that we know where the sports facilities are, what state they are in, whether they are where people need them and whether they are supporting the sports that we should support. The Government are not ready to make an announcement about that; we have to do the spade-work. I very much hope that an item for the next Parliament will be a sizeable amount of work being done on investing in local authorities' multi-sports facilities.

Our aim is that no one should live too far from one of these multidisciplinary sports facilities, so that they can access it as part of their normal lives. People will want to monitor that and make sure that cycling is represented in those facilities. As far as my hon. Friend's concerns go, that might be the best avenue for trying to influence people and make sure that cycling continues to be represented.

Like my hon. Friend, I was delighted to hear the Lord Mayor of London's announcement that, whether or not we get the Olympics for 2012—and let us hope that we do—the velopark will be built in the Lower Lee valley. That will include a 1,500-seat velodrome, an outdoor cycle speedway circuit, a 1.6 km road-racing circuit, an international competition BMX freestyle path and a cross-country mountain bike course. That is exactly the type of facility that I am sure my hon. Friend would like to see in every area so that people can access one wherever they live. I cannot promise that; it is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future, but an early commitment to building that facility in the Lower Lee valley, come what may of the Olympic bid, is a sign of the commitment of many decision makers who are allocating resources for sport across the country.

I want to move on to involving young people in cycling. My hon. Friend mentioned this at different points in her speech. It is also good to know that cycling has been included in the 22 sports that are delivering the Club Links programme as part of the very successful national strategy for PE, School Sport and Club Links.

Young people drop out of sport and physical activity when they leave school, so we must bridge the gap and ensure that they do not fall when they enter different parts of their life. My hon. Friend will know that this initiative ensures that clubs make links with schools so that the transition from sport in school to sport in an amateur club is almost seamless and that young people are caught before they must make a choice between school work and non-school work.

Some £85,000 has been secured for cycling clubs to make links with schools. Again, I hope that my hon. Friend views that as a bold attempt to work with amateur clubs to ensure that they attract as many young people as they can. I am particularly pleased to see that £50,000 has been made available for the young volunteers scheme, which includes cycling for young people.

My hon. Friend also talked about training, on which we can probably do some work. It is silly to set up different bodies and not encourage them to work together on a national standard for cycle training. I am told that work is being done to ensure that people from different committees at least sit on other people's committees so that the knowledge that each can build up is pooled. The strategy group that is working on the national standard for cycle training needs to work carefully with each of the other cycling bodies. I am told that the first step has been taken and that cross-representation has been secured. My hon. Friend also mentioned Cycling England. She acknowledged that this sport does not exactly aim for Olympic medals but aims to improve our lives by making transport more cycle-friendly and encouraging more people to travel by bicycle, as she does, rather than by car.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the £5 million from the Department of Trade and Industry. One could argue that that does not seem like much, but it is a start. I shall rattle through what the other Departments have done. She said that they had not provided any money to join the scheme. That is true, although the Department for Education and Skills has put £20 million a year into the Travelling to School programme. It will not all go into cycling, but if someone is seriously thinking about how children travel to school, cycling must be one of the ways forward.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Dr. Ladyman, has just turned up for the next Adjournment debate. We can thank him for the £1 billion that is going to primary care trusts in the next year three years to implement public health measures. Again, that £1 billion will not be spent solely on cycling, but cycling must claim its place among the public health measures on which that money will be spent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East says, cycling contributes to the health agenda.

The Department for Transport has given £10 million for the Links to Schools programme to provide access to schools for the existing national cycle network. The DFES has given £20 million in grants for facilities that could include cycle policies, including the provision of lockers.

This is the beginning. I do not pretend that those millions of pounds will go only to cycling, but it sends a signal that government, which is sometimes incredibly cumbersome and slow to respond to what needs to be done, is beginning to show across Departments that money is being invested in cycling as well as in other things. That is key.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we know that we have succeeded when the Department of Health and the DFES automatically include cycling in the planning and development of their policies and consider what it can contribute. I sense from the words that she used and the tone of her speech that she knows that progress has been made. In return, however, I equally accept that more progress must be made. It is a tribute to her work on this issue during her time in Parliament that the debate that she has secured today and her wise words to the House will be picked up by future Members who choose to take an interest in this subject on behalf of their constituents, and by Ministers who know that cycling can make a contribution to each of their agendas. I thank her for giving us an opportunity to debate it today.