HC Deb 08 March 2004 vol 418 cc1231-2
6. Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab)

What steps her Department is taking to promote better health through sport and fitness training. [158921]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn)

The key objective of the Government's investment in sport and physical activity is, indeed, to improve the health of the nation The activity coordination team, which I chair jointly with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), who is responsible for public health, is also preparing a three-year delivery plan on sport and physical activity. I hope that the paper will be published shortly.

Linda Perham

I thank the Minister for that information. Given that participation in sport and fitness activity in the UK is low among the adult population, does he agree that right hon. and hon. Members should lead by example, perhaps by joining the excellent Westminster Gym, which has helpful, professional and friendly staff who can assist Members in getting fit to fight for their constituents?

Mr. Caborn

I saw you, Mr.Speaker, smile at that question. Many of us could do with a good dose of the gym. My hon. Friend is right: we have an excellent gym in the House of Commons, and it can be recommended to many in the House who might wish to join it. About 10 weeks ago, my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduced in the gym facilities and equipment for disabled people. More disabled people are using fitness suites and there is acceptance of disabled people in that area of operations. That has happened in the House of Commons gym. I commend what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD)

Given the look that the Minister gave me only a few seconds ago, I should tell him that at 7 o'clock this morning I was in the gym.

The Minister tells us that the delivery plan is due shortly. Will it be based on the current active participation target of 70 per cent to be achieved by 2020? The figures show clearly that it will not be achieved until 2042. The Wanless report said that it was nonsense and Sport England has effectively dismissed it. What action will the Government take? Will they scrap the target, as they have done with the child participation in sports target, or will we see real action to achieve a target that currently there is no sign of the Department meeting?

Mr. Caborn

The target still stands. I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we are trying to ensure that our nation becomes much more active. About 30 years ago, a child took part in 70 per cent. more physical activity than a child does today. That illustrates the real problem. Wanless clearly said that it is not that we are absorbing more calories but that we are engaging in considerably less activity. That poses a challenge to many. Architects, for example, should ensure that they incorporate stairways in their designs. Town planners should understand that it is desirable for pedestrian walkways to be a feature of their designs. Investment of about £2 billion in sports facilities and coaching, for example, is a move in the right direction. It remains to be seen whether we shall achieve the 70 per cent. target, but we can make inroads into that if everybody starts to attend gyms such as that in the House of Commons.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we cannot meet targets for sports and leisure training without swimming pools and leisure facilities? Three swimming pools in Hackney have closed recently, culminating in the closure, apparently indefinitely, of the Clissold Hall leisure centre. It was one of 12 millennium projects and it opened two years late and was four times over budget. Will my right hon. Friend see what hope he can offer my constituents, who instead of seeing more facilities are seeing fewer?

Mr. Caborn

I cannot comment on the detail of my hon. Friend's question. I can say only that there are more swimming pools in this country than ever before. Although there are fewer pools in the public sector than there are in the private sector, there has been a massive increase in facilities in both sectors. If my hon. Friend wants to write to me giving the details of her points, I shall try to answer them. It is disappointing when facilities are closed, but if that was done as part of a modernisation programme, which many local authorities are going through, that must be weighed against what my hon. Friend has said.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

The Minister will know that back in 2001 his Department had a so-called public service agreement to increase the time that schoolchildren spend on sport or physical exercise. Will he confirm that his Department's annual report last year confirmed that the time spent on such activity had declined? Is it not a matter of urgency that the Government get a grip on this issue and come forward with a programme to ensure that our children spend more time on sport or physical exercise?

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Gentleman is right in that the level of activity that we found in our schools when we came to power in 1997 was deplorably low. We have now committed ourselves to providing, in the period up to 2006, two hours a week of quality physical activity for every child aged five to 16. The investment programme for that is under way, and we will have 400 sports colleges and 3,000 school sports co-ordinators. At the moment, 225 of those sports colleges are up and running and some 1,300 co-ordinators are in place. Money is in the budget for that, and we are rolling out the programme according to plan.

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