HC Deb 16 July 2001 vol 372 cc8-10
7. John Mann (Bassetlaw)

What plans she has to increase the number of sports coaches in schools throughout the country. [2426]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

We are currently carrying out a review of coaching in England, to which I referred earlier, with a view to professionalising it and to encouraging more people to consider coaching as a career option. In addition, the 1,000 school sport co-ordinators who will be in place by 2004 will have funding for, among other things, bringing sport-specific coaches into schools to coach pupils.

John Mann

Would the Minister consider extending the sports coaching provision to those disaffected 14 and 15-year-olds who often do not attend schools in my constituency? Should he need a town that is rich in sports heritage to pilot such a scheme, may I modestly offer Worksop in my constituency as exactly the kind of town that would benefit from such expansion?

Mr. Caborn

My hon. Friend is right. Sport is clearly a major help in addressing many problems such as truancy. Worksop is obviously doing a tremendous amount in the sporting world. I understand that. Worksop football club is thinking about relocating, and the Lawn Tennis Association is also considering a development in Worksop. If he writes to me, my officials and I will consider whether a pilot scheme could be established in Worksop.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

Does the Minister agree that sport, especially team sport, for boys and young men in schools is important? I commend encouraging team sport among them to the Minister. With my judicial hat on, may I point out that young men who play a great deal of team sport are much less likely to turn to crime?

Mr. Caborn

That is true. We need to determine how we can develop high-quality facilities with high-quality coaching, because the two go together. Coaching is essential if we are to attract more people to sport. Figures that I saw the other day show that 150,000 young people in France are being coached for tennis. Here in the UK, the number is 18,000. I think that things are the same right across the sporting spectrum, which is why, when we receive the report of the taskforce on coaching, we will give it serious consideration. I hope that there will also be a constructive debate in the House.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Lawn Tennis Association has had many years to get its game together and improve young people's access to tennis? It is important that we provide coaching in schools, but there should be access to good tennis courts both inside schools and outside in local parks, so that children can take what they learn in school out into their community rather than have to go through private tennis clubs.

Mr. Caborn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This morning, I discussed with the Sports Council how to develop a strategy nationally and firm up delivery regionally and locally. That is what we shall be working on in the coming months and years. The statistics on tennis are startling: the Lawn Tennis Association says that a third fewer people now play tennis than played six years ago. I think that that is largely down to facilities not being in the right areas. We are considering those issues and we hope to have some answers soon.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and wish him well.

With the school holidays about to begin, will the right hon. Gentleman join me in urging parents, teachers and coaches to take every possible care and precaution to ensure the safety of children who take part in outdoor activities this summer? Does he agree that, for reasons of personal safety and physical fitness, every child should have swimming lessons and be able to swim by the age of 11? Sadly, as he knows, one in five children cannot swim by that age. We share a collective responsibility to put that right. Will he tell us when the national swimming facilities strategy will be published and what financial support the Government will give for a network of teaching pools throughout the country?

Mr. Caborn

I cannot give a precise date for the report, but I take the issue extremely seriously—especially as a parent. Both my children could swim before they could walk; I took them swimming when they were babies, which was absolutely the right thing to do. We will strive to create facilities and provide coaching to the standard necessary to ensure that every child can swim.

The little girl who drowned recently was a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Her funeral, which was held at the weekend, serves as a reminder of our responsibility to ensure that every child in this country can swim.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

May I recommend that my right hon. Friend visit Birmingham where, through the organisation Local Leagues, Birmingham university student coaches work with local primary and secondary schools to provide sports facilities outside school hours? In addition, I urge him to work more closely with local authorities to ensure that the sports facilities and fields that were sold under the Tory Government are restored to an appropriate state so that children, especially those in inner cities, can have access to sports fields and use the support available.

Mr. Caborn

As my hon. Friend says, it is important to have such facilities. Playing fields were being sold off at a rate of 40 a month when we came to power in 1997 and I became Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning. With others, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), then Minister for Sport, I put into operation an effective veto by the sports councils on any application to sell off a playing field. I shall take a look at Birmingham; and I hope that, in future, we shall be able to restore some of the facilities that were taken away by the Conservative Administration.