HC Deb 18 November 2002 vol 394 cc356-7
8. Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden)

How many children aged five to 16 receive at least two hours sport and PE each week during the school day.[81375]

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

Through the first stage of our school sport partnerships, we estimate that about 25 per cent. of five to 16-year-olds are taking part in PE and sport for at least two hours a week. It is our intention that that figure should increase to 75 per cent. by 2006.

Mr. Hendry

I am grateful for that answer. I think that the Secretary of State will understand why many of us are disappointed that that figure is so low. Many of us believe that all children who are able to should be taking part in a reasonable amount of sport in school every week. Is she aware that the Government spend 800 times as much on health as they do on sport? They spend £1,135 per head on health, thereby essentially countering ill health, but only £1.38 per head on sport, or promoting good health. Should not that shocking disparity be reduced? Would not more sport in schools be a good place to start?

Tessa Jowell

As the hon. Gentleman says, a school sport policy is also good for children's health. Few things that my Department is engaged in are more important than reintroducing sport as part of every child's life. It is an area where perhaps one of the greatest educational inequalities has opened up—particularly in the years when his party was in power. We are committed to ensuring that every child, within the time scales that I have indicated, spends at least two hours a week playing high-quality sport or physical education. That has been matched not just by nearly £0.5 billion to fund the programme but by investment of over £1 billion in facilities throughout the country—new playing fields, new running tracks, new pavilions—and investment in coaches. We cannot simply will that more children should play more sport; we have to address the complexity and the detail of putting every bit of the policy in place. That is what we are going to do for all the children in our country.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West)

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the increased enthusiasm of children aged five to 16 for participating in sport would be one small part of the legacy of a successful Olympic games bid—perhaps by London?

Tessa Jowell

I have promised the House a debate on the question of Government support for a London bid for the 2012 Olympics, which will provide a very good opportunity to air those issues. However, as I made clear in the debate on Friday, the Government will assess a bid against the following criteria: its deliverability, winnability and affordability, and—in keeping with my hon. Friend's point—its legacy.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

Does the Secretary of State not see that many of us will consider her response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) as both unambitious and very complacent? May I point out to her that it is essential that competitive sport—I stress "competitive" sport—be made available in all schools for all children in this age group as soon as possible?

Tessa Jowell

We try to conduct a lot of debates in this area in a spirit of reasonable cross-party agreement, where such agreement is possible, but a contribution such as the right hon. Gentleman's does him no justice whatsoever. It was his Government who presided over the sale of more than 5,000 playing fields, and who effectively removed competitive sport from the curriculum of children in state schools. That is what we intend to change for the benefit of all the children in our country.

Tony Cunningham (Workington)

It is of course vital that our young people take part in such activities in school, but given the apparently huge drop-out rate post 16, does my right hon. Friend not agree that much tighter links between schools and clubs are needed?

Tessa Jowell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why we have announced money to invest in school-club links to deal with, among other things, the point raised by the hon. Gentleman who represents the liberal tendency in his party—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Tessa Jowell

Indeed. The hon. Member for Buckingham made a very fair point about the lottery—the random chance—that so many talented children face in terms of realising their talent. One way in which we address that is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) says, by improving and strengthening school-club links.