HC Deb 28 June 1999 vol 334 cc3-4
2. Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

What steps he is taking to encourage schools to play competitive sporting fixtures against other local schools. [87198]

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

It is important that we give young people the opportunity to take part in competitive team games, not only within their own schools but against other schools as well. Intra-school and inter-school competitive activities are already included as one of the criteria schools have to meet to be awarded a sports mark. However, competitive games need to be given an even higher profile, and we have asked Sport England to ensure that arranging inter-school competitive fixtures is a key part of the job description of the new active schools co-ordinators.

Mr. Goggins

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. The initiative is welcome, particularly as competitive sport in schools declined by about 70 per cent. during the previous Government's period in office. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to cricket, a game meant to be one of our major national sports, but which is hardly played in state schools? There are many reasons for that: teacher time, the state of pitches, poor coaching and the fact that schools close for about a third of the cricket season. Will the Secretary of State ensure that competitive cricket in schools is an essential feature of his initiative?

Mr. Smith

I can indeed give my hon. Friend that assurance. Cricket, along with football, rugby of both codes, athletics, swimming and tennis will be part of that initiative for the active schools co-ordinators to promote inter-school competition.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that giving 14 to 16-year-olds an opt-out from competitive team sport often simply means that in practice they will not do any sport or physical education? Has he heard Denise Lewis's comment: To take the competitive element out of sport seems ludicrous"? Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand why that policy has provoked a storm of protest among concerned British sportsmen and sportswomen?

Mr. Smith

I suspect that what protests there have been have resulted from direct and deliberate misrepresentation by Conservative Members. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments of David Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, who said: Setting a new target of two hours of PE in school per week for every child is a real breakthrough. It is right that young people who prefer activities like athletics should be free to spend more time on them as they get older. The result will be children doing more sport and PE in schools". That is the aim and that is what we will achieve.