HC Deb 22 January 2001 vol 361 cc637-8
3. Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

What steps he is taking to provide new playing fields in schools. [144780]

The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey)

Seven hundred and fifty million pounds from the new opportunities fund will bring about a step change in opportunities for young people to play sport through new and refurbished school sports facilities, including playing fields. In particular, as part of the new opportunities fund green spaces initiative, £31 million of lottery money will be made available to projects throughout the country for the creation of playing fields and community areas.

Mr. Jones

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. How many additional playing fields does she have in mind? Does she agree that we want our schoolchildren to exercise and compete more on playing fields than previously? Does she agree that we want the battle for national health to be won on the playing fields of our local education authorities?

Kate Hoey

My right hon. Friend is right: there is definitely a deficiency in the number of school playing fields, in particular, because too many have been sold off. I am sure that Members would like to know that school playing field disposals are down to an average of three a month, instead of 40 a month. Research shows that local education authorities are now taking that much more seriously, and are making bids to sell off only when they are clear that all the criteria laid down by the Government and Sport England are met, to ensure that the money used from that sale is going back into better and improved sporting facilities.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

But does the Minister accept that schools like Drayton school in Banbury have lots of playing fields, but do not have anyone to teach organised games? This is an area in which there seems to be no shortage of money or initiatives, but in which no one is getting a grip on ensuring that more team sports are played in our schools. Will the Minister liaise with her colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment and can we find someone somewhere who will take a lead in trying to ensure that the quantity of team sports played in our schools increases? Lots of youngsters are desperately frustrated that they do not have an opportunity to play team games in their schools.

Kate Hoey

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman seems to have missed the publication of "A Sporting Future for All", a strategy which laid down clearly for the two Departments a commitment to improve physical education and school sport. The rolling out of our school sport co-ordinators will take place, and one of their jobs will be to improve and enhance competitive team sports and competitions between schools. That is very much a part of that initiative. I hope that we will see improvement in exactly the areas that the hon. Gentleman talked about.

Some schools are doing a very good job indeed. Clearly it is not true that, across the country, there is no competition. However, in certain areas, for all sorts of reasons, we have not been doing as well as we could, which is why the school sport co-ordinators, with specialist sport colleges, will improve physical education and school sport and bring them up to a much higher standard.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

My hon. Friend will be disappointed to hear that there are no all-weather athletics facilities for schools or the amateur athletics association in my constituency. However, I am sure that she will be pleased to hear of a proposal to bring together the local amateur athletics association and Stanney high school in partnership with the single regeneration budget, to bring about a desperately needed all-weather facility. Does she not think that that is an extremely good example of partnerships between athletics associations and schools, which could be regarded as a model for others to follow?

Kate Hoey

My hon. Friend is quite right to point to a partnership and the way in which that can enhance facilities. Governing bodies of sport increasingly realise that they cannot isolate themselves from what is happening in schools. The link between the governing bodies, school clubs and schools will sustain a long-term improvement in sporting standards from the bottom to the top.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

But given the deficiency in playing fields, to which the Minister referred, and the need for all-weather facilities, to which the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) referred a moment ago, would it not have been better to put resources into those activities rather than squandering them on the fiasco of the millennium dome?

Kate Hoey

I am determined to make sure that the money that is available for increasing sporting opportunities for young people will be spent in a way that will help to achieve exactly what the right hon. Gentleman proposes.