HC Deb 24 June 2002 vol 387 cc597-9
6. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

What contributions the sports lottery is making to increasing the community use of schools for sport. [61222]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

The national lottery is providing £581 million in England through the new opportunities fund and £55 million to the space for sport and the arts scheme for the provision at schools of sports facilities, all of which are available to the community. In addition, the national lottery has awarded £153.5 million to fund 293 school sports facilities in England, all of which are available to the community. Lottery funding for school sports facilities is conditional on community use of those facilities.

Dr. Cable

I welcome the programme, especially the £800,000 that was indicatively allocated to my borough. However, the fact that the money goes through the lottery rather than the Government means that primary schools in particular find it impossible to get access to the money because they have to demonstrate 40 hours a week of community use. Will the Secretary of State try to ensure that that rule is applied flexibly, so that in future more children under 11 have access to sport in their schools?

Tessa Jowell

Because of the inflexibility to which the hon. Gentleman refers, the 40-hours-a-week rule has been waived in recognition of the difficulties that can face small primary schools, but that does not detract from the overriding principle that investment in school sports facilities should also extend and open up opportunities to the community.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her contribution to the provision of resources for sports in schools. Will she take particular note of the former mining areas where the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation used to provide substantial resources and help for schools as regards sports? That has now gone, so resources are needed to maintain the link between communities and sport. The lottery fund could fill that void. Will the Secretary of State give attention to that and help the mining villages to maintain their sports facilities?

Tessa Jowell

I take my hon. Friend's point very seriously. He is right in two respects. It is important to ensure, first, that coalfield communities get their fair share of lottery funds and, secondly, that children in those communities are able to benefit from opportunities to participate in sport. For the first time ever, we have a major programme of investment in sport facilities, amounting to more than £1.1 billion across the United Kingdom, which is linked to the introduction of school sport co-ordinators and primary liaison teachers. That will ensure that every child has the opportunity to enjoy sport both in and out of school. That is good for their academic achievement, improves their health and reduces crime. It is also good for the well-being of communities and the ambitions of the nation as whole.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Will the Secretary of State join me in praising the England and Wales Cricket Board for the various innovative measures that it has introduced to increase participation in cricket, not only by those in school, but by those in clubs who have left school but are using school facilities? Does she recognise that one of the problems involved in community use of school sports facilities is that although she and her predecessor promised many times to stop the sale of school sports fields, a report for her own Department has shown that the increase in sales of school sports fields, many by Labour-controlled local authorities, increased by 60 per cent. last year? If she could stop that and put sport back into the core curriculum, sports facilities would improve across the board.

Tessa Jowell

First, I pay tribute to the governing bodies that are taking seriously their role in introducing young people to sport and in providing high-quality coaching, so that the great cricketers, great rugby players and, especially at this time, great footballers of today, who are role models for young people, provide the basis of children's aspirations to do as well as they have done.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is, frankly, way wide of the mark. As my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), has made clear, under the previous Tory Government the sale of playing fields was running at about 40 a month, and the only way in which many schools could raise the necessary assets to build laboratories or new classrooms was to sell their playing fields. For the past five years, since 1997, we have tried to reverse that trend, and we have done so with great success. The £1.1 billion going from the lottery into improved facilities is evidence of that.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

On the first day of Wimbledon, does my right hon. Friend accept that when I recently launched the new out-of-school-hours courses at Rising Brook high school in Stafford, there was widespread interest by students in the school and youngsters in the surrounding community? [Interruption.] Very good; I shall return the shot later. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way forward is through partnership between the schools, the lottery and the various sports associations if we are to achieve more smash hits in the future?

Tessa Jowell

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport said, the Commonwealth games are only weeks away in this summer of sport. The governing bodies, including the Lawn Tennis Association, have a vital role in ensuring that they recruit the next generation of young champions for the future.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Let us return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) made about playing fields. Does not the Secretary of State agree that although most schools are good at making their facilities more widely available in the community, especially in West Sussex, they can do little about it if the playing fields are sold from under their feet? Despite her protestations, the sale of school playing fields has recently reached record levels. Will she speak to Ministers in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and ensure that school playing fields can be sold for housing development only in the most exceptional circumstances, given their importance to the wider community?

Tessa Jowell

It is a pleasure to hold exchanges with the hon. Gentleman across the Floor, but he is talking rubbish about the Government's record. He is trying to conceal the Conservative Government's guilty past, which the Government are trying to rectify for the benefit of children by unprecedented investment in improved sports facilities, including £15 million to improve and upgrade playing field facilities.

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