HL Deb 31 July 1962 vol 243 cc241-52

7.24 p.m.

LORD WISE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the conditions under which school athletic competitions are carried on at present on a national and international level, and whether direct financial assistance can be given to encourage and foster such beneficial physical and competitive activities. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I must apologise to the House for raising this matter at this time of the evening, but I must say that I am not guilty of any crime, nor am I responsible for the lateness of the hour. The Question I am asking is of a somewhat unusual type for your Lordships' House, but during the last two or three weeks Questions have been raised on kindred matters and that which I am now asking arises from the Answers which were given.

On June 28 I asked a supplementary question on a Question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, on teenage and school athletes and their associations. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, replied that the matter was being considered in the general context of the Wolfenden Committee's Report. On July 26, in reply to a further question by the noble Baroness, the noble Earl said [Official Report, Vol. 242 (No. 111), col. 1124]: I hope it will be possible to make a statement on this matter very soon after the House resumes after the Recess. That gave me an indication that if I wished to raise this point, I should raise it before the House rose for the Recess. As the Recess will soon intervene, I thought that the new Minister of Education should have some idea of what was in our minds in regard to school athletics and should be informed of the conditions and difficulties under which school athletics are conducted on a national and international scale. My international reference is to the triangular sports in which England, Scotland and Wales compete. I do not want irrevocable decisions to be arrived at while we are away and then for us to be faced, when we come back, with the answer that the matter has been settled and cannot be reopened. I am anxious that whatever I have to say to-night shall find its way to the ears of the Sports Development Council, if and when such a body is appointed. I hope that my remarks will not fall on deaf ears.

It it usual for speakers in your Lordships' House to declare a personal interest. In this matter, I have a great personal interest but, I am glad to say, not a financial one. Like so many more, my position in athletic circles is honorary and unpaid. There are no great financial interests in British athletics, so far as I know. I have recently been appointed vice-president of the English Schools Athletic Association. This appointment is the more pleasing to me as I am not connected with the scholastic profession, except as comptroller of a King Edward VI School in Suffolk. I am also President of the Norfolk Schools' and Women's Athletic Associations and of the Norfolk County Football Association and of the King's Lynn Football Club. It will be apparent where my sporting instincts lie.

I am active in my presidencies. I attend most county schools' athletic meetings and in recent years I have had immense satisfaction, I should like to emphasise, in attending the all-England schools annual two-day championship sports at Plymouth, Southampton, Northwich, Chesterfield and Hull. I would not have missed any one of them. I want to deal with these annual sports, but first let me say something about the formation of the Schools Athletics Association. I must be brief in all I have to say as I wish to cover several matters and I want to give a proper picture of the whole field.

The Schools' Athletics Association was formed in 1900 in and with London as the first county organisation. There was a steady expansion of county associations, and by 1925 there were thirteen in all. The first Inter-County Schools' Athletics' Championships took place at Crystal Palace in 1925, and in 1939, 29 counties had their own associations. I give these figures in order to show the build-up of the Association in which I am interested. War intervened and the next sports meeting was held at Eton in 1946. Expansion has developed rapidly since then, and in 1961 40 counties were included in membership.

At the championships sports at Hull about ten days ago 39 counties were represented covering over 1,700 competitors. On the track there were no fewer than 95 events, which covered, of course, semi-finals and finals, and there were 39 field events. The magnitude and efficiency of organising such an athletics meeting can be appreciated. Not only does this apply to actual arrangements on the sports arena, covering as it does, I believe, no fewer than 100 officials of all sorts, but it has to cover the accommodation of all the competitors and officials, together with care-free catering facilities. Practically the whole of the work involved is on an honorary basis and the greatest possible praise can be given to those teachers and others who, with great enthusiasm and loyalty, give their services throughout the year, to the culminating point of championship sports. In recent years cross-country races have been held in addition to triangular sports and competitions have also taken place between county schools and schools in European countries.

May I say a few words about the actual sports? Over 1,700 of our finest school athletes, both boys and girls, between the ages of thirteen and nineteen were gathered together there in competition for the honour of their schools and counties. They came from secondary modern schools, grammar schools, private schools, technical colleges, public schools and girls' high schools. They are the pride of our nation; fit, healthy, of fine physique, keen, determined and enthusiastic: in fact, a very fine example to every teen-ager in the land—and I hope those words will go beyond the walls of your Lordships' House. Before each afternoon's events they stage a march-past in their county colours and in formation with banners aloft and they line up for the National Anthem in the arena. This is one of the finest sights of the year. I know of no better. I have seen Test Matches both here and in Australia, Cup Finals, international football matches, Trooping the Colour, military parades and a great many other outdoor ceremonials, and none can match this one. It is an Olympic Games parade in miniature; but in this case it is carried out by our own boys and girls. It has its emotional moments, and spectators and parents, looking forward or backward, are often deeply affected. Well may we all hesitate to think what the future may be for those young lives. Each year the records of the past are equalled or broken. The standards set are high. The competition, enthusiasm and ability are terrific. Only the very best in their own particular events can hope to succeed and, in fact, do succeed.

My Question raises a matter of finance. At the moment no direct contribution towards the expenses of the Association or of the sports is received from the Government. May I particularly stress that point because that is really the heart of my plea? Support is received from the various county councils towards the internal expenses of equipment and athletics within their own counties; and in this I understand that my own county council is very generous and helpful, as, indeed, I expect others are also; but it may not always be so. In a sense, however, county and national school athletics are carried on almost on a shoe string and under great difficulty and financial worry. I want to deal with a few points in regard to finance.

According to my information, each national championship competitor pays a sum of about £2 to his or her own county organisation towards the cost of coach or rail transport, packed meals and competition entrance fee. This amount is handed over in part to the Schools' Sports Association. No boy or girl is barred by the parent county from competing in the sports by lack of means. This is a commendable fact, but it will thus be seen that some expenses may fall on the parents of the competitors. Arrangements as to costs may naturally vary county by county. Help towards running the championship sports is given in the following ways: by the local authority in whose area the sports are held providing the athletic equipment—and this is later used by local schools; by the use of their schools for reception and other functions at a nominal charge; by the use of schools meals service facilities at the nominal school charge for meals; sometimes by the provision locally of a permanent field event arena to meet the demands of the meeting; by the release of teachers for duties connected with the meeting.

The funds of the Association to carry on the day-to-day administrative work come from three sources: from the affiliation fee paid by county associations, which I understand is five guineas each; from the English Schools F.A., which is able to make a financial grant to all kindred schools' sports associations as a result of its Wembley international profit; and, from an annual grant from the National Union of Teachers. Here again there is no Government aid or grant towards the administrative expenses.

The expenses incurred in running the championship sports are met in the following way: from the counties themselves by the payment of one guinea per head for each competitor; from the sponsorship of a well-known food and body-building manufacturer; from the gate and stand tickets' receipts; and from an appeal made locally in the area organising the meeting. The overall expenditure of a championship meeting amounts to approximately £5,000; so it will be readily seen that casual receipts such as I have mentioned need to be stretched to the uttermost to make ends meet. There is nothing left for improvements or the development of additional athletic facilities. That is where I hope the Government will come in and assist. Athletics is obviously a part of the schools curriculum and, in my view, the training of the body is equally as important as the training of the mind. For that reason I want the Government to come in and help.

I now come to another section of what I want to say. In August, 1961, the National Council for School Sports, a body which comprises representatives from the many branches of school sports, submitted detailed sectional memoranda to the Central Advisory Council for Education. The evidence thus submitted afforded an excellent guidance as to the activities of the various sections and was very valuable and comprehensive. Can the Minister say whether these submissions have reached him and been considered by the Minister? T ask that just for information, because I understand submissions were made, and it may be a matter of interest as to whether they have been considered or dealt with in any way.

It may be inopportune to anticipate what may be the Government's intention regarding the implementation of the Wolfenden Report and the setting up of a Sports Development Council, but I should like to stress the hope that if and when such a council is brought together the needs of school athletes, whatever sport they may be engaged in, will not be overlooked, and adequate representation will be granted to them. That is where we have to build our future.

In conclusion, I wish to suggest to the Government that it should be a national obligation to foster and encourage the work of training our boys and girls in athletics. I have already matched it up with training in scholastics. We are not a C.3 nation and must not become so. Given facilities and encouragement, our youth can equal those of other countries. We cannot turn aside and leave the task for ever to those who are growing old in the service of youth. Some have given many years of fine honorary service. There is no surer way of establishing peace among the nations than by the encouragement of international sport among the young men and women of the world. In that moment of competitive achievement all thoughts of war, fruitless negotiations and international wrangling are forgotten. I hope the Government will come in and help.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, at one time I was mildly athletic, although I suspect that my prowess was not up to that of the noble Lord, Lord Wise, when he was the same age as I was. I am also the proud father of a young son who this term at school was the victor ludorum. So I am very glad that the opportunity falls to me to reply to the noble Lord's Question this evening.

He said that he has a great personal interest, although not a financial one, in school athletics, and, my Lords, I think that must have been perfectly obvious to all of us who had the good fortune to hear his speech. He spoke with some knowledge, which I have always known he has, and great enthusiasm for his subject, and I only wish that the House might have been rather fuller to enjoy his speech just as much as I did. But, as he said earlier, the hour is fairly late.

In reply to the first part of this Question on the Order Paper, I would say that of course the Government recognise that the organisation of national school athletic competitions has for some time been in the hands of people who give their services to it voluntarily, and I should like to pay my tribute to what they do; they certainly do a very good job of work indeed. These volunteers organise the competitions under the auspices of the Schools Athletics Association, about which the noble Lord spoke. As he explained, this is an entirely voluntary Association, and I understand that its affairs are largely run by schoolmasters and school mistresses who are interested in athletics. The noble Lord told us about the foundation of the Association and explained that its object is to promote athletics in schools of all kinds. What I think I ought to emphasise is that it is not formally connected with the Ministry of Education, although it has links with the Central Council for Physical Recreation and the Amateur Athletic Association. Analogous bodies which are similarly constituted and which also get no Government grants are the English Schools Football Association, the English Schools Rugby Union and the Schools Amateur Boxing Association. Similarly, voluntary work is done for school cricket and tennis and swimming.

The finance necessary to run school athletic competitions is provided by the "gate" at meetings, as the noble Lord said, by voluntary donations and subscriptions and, to some extent, by local educational authorities, who pay, for example, competitors' travelling expenses and other expenses. These contributions by local education authorities rank along with their other expenditure for the Government's general grant. So the Government do already "come in and help", to use the noble Lord's own words. So far as I know, the Schools Athletics Association have not sought a grant from the Ministry of Education, and the Government do not have details of their financial position, but we have had some words about it from the noble Lord this evening.

The present system, as the noble Lord explained, is one of an inter-county competition held once a year. The 1962 competition was held at Hull about ten days ago. I certainly was most impressed by the noble Lord's description of it. These competitions are between the best schoolchildren athletes—and he emphasised that—Who have survived previous eliminating rounds at school level and at district level. The winners of the events in the inter-county competition become the national champions for those events, but the honours and prizes, I understand, are regarded as going not to the individual boy and girl competitors or to their schools but to their county. So far as the Ministry of Education are aware, the national champions do not take part in international competitions of young athletes other than competitions between England, Wales and Scotland.

It is perfectly true that no direct grants from the Ministry of Education are paid to help the work of the Schools Athletics Association. However, the Ministry does give indirect assistance to school athletics on an appreciable scale. There are the Government grants paid on expenditure by local education authorities on school sporting activities of various kinds. There are no figures, local or national, of the exact amount spent specifically on facilities for athletics, but the total is considerable. The number of athletic tracks, grass or cinder, is increasing, and for many years the Ministry of Education's guidance to local educational authorities on layout of school sports grounds has recommended provision of grass running tracks and other facilities for athletics. School athletics also benefit substantially, although indirectly, from the grants which the Ministry makes for training coaches and instructors to the Amateur Athletic Association and also to the Central Council for Physical Recreation.

The position, therefore, is this. Financial assistance from the Government is available indirectly towards the present competitions held by the Schools Athletic Association, since local government authorities can and do help with expenses. Local education authorities have powers which they can, and do, exercise to help competitors from their areas, and to them is given the duty and the power to provide primary and secondary education in all its aspects, the physical as well as the mental. I certainly agree with the noble Lord that both are important. For this reason I cannot encourage the noble Lord to hope that Her Majesty's Government could give direct financial assistance.

The noble Lord made some observations about what I might perhaps call the nation's obligation to youth, and I should like to say just a word or two about public expenditure generally on sports and physical recreation. Public capital expenditure on facilities for sport and physical recreation, including youth clubs, community centres and village halls used partly for sport and physical recreation was £16.5 million in 1960–61 and £20.1 million in 1961–62. Expenditure in 1962–63 will be £26.4 million, of which about £11 million will be in connection with the school building programme—that is to say, for playing fields and other sports facilities for schools. The Government's contribution to this expenditure is, of course, mainly through general grant. The value of new starts to be sanctioned for 1962–63 was to have totalled £26.5 million, including, again, £11 million for the school building programme. However, just after the Budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that this total would be increased to £27.5 million. The Government also increased their grants this year to national voluntary organisations for schemes for coaching, and to help in the administration of sport (though not to defray the cost of competitions), and for direct grant to local voluntary capital projects, from £470,000 to £670,000.

Mention has been made of the National Council for School Sports, a voluntary body which seeks to promote in schools various national games and sports. It submitted evidence in October, 1961, to my right honourable friend's Central Advisory Council which is currently investigating the education of the average and below-average children in secondary schools. This evidence deals with the value of sport to such children and makes a number of suggestions by which its value can be increased. I have no doubt at all that its evidence is being most carefully considered, but as the Central Advisory Council has not yet submitted its Report to my right honourable friend I cannot say anything more about that this evening.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Wise, made some suggestions about the composition and activities of a Sports Development Council, if one is established. As the House knows, the Government hope to make a statement on this soon after the House resumes after the Summer Recess. I think your Lordships will understand that this evening I cannot anticipate that statement.

7.54 p.m.


My Lords, by the Rules of this House on an Unstarred Question, my noble friend is not in a position to say anything on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and I know that again he cannot reply to anything that I say. But as he mentioned that he was the proud parent of a victor ludorum I know that we have his sympathy in this matter, and I hope, therefore, that I may put to him one or two points on this subject which perhaps he will convey to his right honourable friend.

I join with him in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Wise for the most comprehensive and, at times, moving way in which he presented his case. I, too, have some idea of the extraordinary effect of nearly 2,000 fine fit young people assembled in that way. The noble Lord, Lord Newton said that the Schools Athletic Association have not yet made an application to the Ministry of Education for grant. I understand from my noble friend that this is a disability which is likely to be speedily removed; and I hope that, when it is received, the noble Lord will see that the request receives sympathetic treatment. There was virtually no difference at all between the account given by my noble friend Lord Wise and that of Lord Newton in the way these events are financed and paid for. I do not think there is any doubt at all—and no one wishes to conceal it—that the amount of money which comes from central funds and eventually finds its way into schools sports is quite substantial. But the whole crux of the matter is that there are certain specific things which cannot be provided for by the county, or even by collections of counties; and the question of a grant for the annual meeting is therefore of importance, although the actual amount of the grant in relation to the total expenditure on school athletics, will not be large.

But this is the kind of difficulty that many voluntary bodies come up against. They can get grants from various sources for the work in the field; they can have facilities loaned to them, and equipment provided. But when it comes to administrative expenses for a central administration or a national event, as it were, they cannot obtain any grant from the same source, and apart from voluntary contributions or fund-raising of various kinds from voluntary sources, their only hope is from the Government. I hope that that point will not be evaded.

This applies equally to the Schools International, to which my noble friend referred. It is no use arguing that a competition in athletics between England and Wales and Scotland is not international: it is an international, and it is so regarded. But again we get the point that the athletics bodies associated with each county cannot themselves pro-vide funds, or at least significant funds, directly for the running of the Schools International. I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that the administrative costs are not large, because almost everyone gives his services free. But there is the fact that the work of administration in organising these events is so large that often expenses of various kinds do crop up; and unless some central grant is given, then the cost has to be borne by devoted people, who are not really well off. It seems to me that it is not fair that they should provide this shoestring without help. We must not be blind to the fact that in athletics up to the age of nineteen some are still called juniors, but immediately afterwards they come and give senior performances which are greatly to the credit and prestige of this country. It seems to me that for the comparatively minute sums which are necessary, and for which my noble friend is asking, we are entitled to a more favourable Answer than we have received to-night. For that reason I hope that when the application is made by the Schools Athletic Association, it will be given a favourable reception.