HC Deb 26 July 1999 vol 336 cc1-4
1. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

If he will make a statement on progress with the development of the Government's sports strategy. [91339]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

We are making excellent progress with the development of our sports strategy. I expect to publish it in the autumn. It will focus on three priority areas: sport in schools, lifelong participation in sport and excellence at national and international level.

Dr. Starkey

Does my right hon. Friend agree that much of the success of the American women's football team in the women's world cup can be put down to the legislation known as Title 9, which was passed in 1972 and barred schools and colleges from federal funding unless they provided equal sporting opportunities for girls and women? What will he be doing to ensure that schools and colleges in this country provide good opportunities for women and girls to participate in sport, since we clearly need to take radical action if we are to improve our sporting performance?

Mr. Smith

One of the central themes of our report will be to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnic background or ability, has the chance to participate in and enjoy sport. We want to make sure, in particular, that girls have full opportunities at school to develop their sporting ability. The development of the new school sports co-ordinators with support from the national lottery will, I hope, go a long way towards achieving that.

If I have a slight criticism of my hon. Friend, it is that she does not pay enough tribute to some of our national women's sporting teams, which are doing extremely well in a number of different sports.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The Secretary of State has mentioned sport in schools. Will he intervene directly with Lancashire county council, which has cut by half the amount of time in which pupils in years 5 and 6 can be taught swimming? He will appreciate not only that swimming is important as one of the best forms of exercise, but that swimming skills can save lives. The rhetoric about sport in schools is fine, but youngsters are now having only half the swimming lessons that they were receiving only 12 months ago. Will the right hon. Gentleman intervene directly with Lancashire county council to restore to youngsters the swimming lessons that they desperately need?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of swimming, particularly for pupils' future life-saving abilities and as a good, healthy exercise for young people. I shall certainly want to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am the trustee of an organisation called Local Leagues, which is based in Birmingham and aims to encourage children to play sports, particularly football and cricket, outside school hours. One of the problems that we are facing is the availability of suitable fields in the city. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that his Department co-ordinates action with the Department for Education and Employment and local government to ensure that there is access to appropriate sites and to schools outside school hours?

Mr. Smith

I will indeed. The new opportunities fund, which uses new funds from the national lottery, will assist my hon. Friend in two ways. First, the money for out of school hours clubs will mean that sporting activities can be promoted and financially supported. Secondly, the green spaces initiative, which the new opportunities fund is undertaking, will enable new green areas and playing fields to be created where they are needed.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

What sports and initiatives for the over-50s are contained in the action plan? Will the right hon. Gentleman state what will happen to ballroom dancing, which is a major sport for the over-50s?

Mr. Smith

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that sport for the over-50s will feature in our report, because part of the report's main thrust is lifelong participation in sport and sporting activity. On the specific question of ballroom dancing, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see.

Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)

As part of the Government's wider sporting strategy, we are bidding to host the 2006 world cup, which will act as a spur to youngsters, particularly in football. My right hon. Friend will know that the issue of Manchester United and the FA cup is causing great concern. Will he tell us what the Government's latest position on that is?

Mr. Smith

That is a matter for the Football Association and Manchester United, not the Government. However, the Minister for Sport and I have made it clear that we hope that Manchester United will be able to play in the world tournament in Brazil, because that is important for the success of our 2006 world cup bid, and if a sensible way can be found for Manchester United to participate in the FA cup as well, no one would be more pleased than us.

I take this opportunity to pay considerable tribute to the work that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has done in promoting our 2006 world cup bid. Indeed, if we are successful next year in securing the world cup for England, it will be in no small measure due to his efforts.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

As the dear, revered leader and Alastair Campbell plan the Front-Bench reshuffle this week, may I express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will survive the experience? When Rodney Walker, David Oxley, Trevor Brooking and Craig Reedie are forced to appeal direct to the Prime Minister, does he not recognise that, in practice, the Government are busily destroying sport in schools?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, and such a remark comes ill from a representative of a party that sold off more than 5,000 school playing fields during its time in office.

Forward to