HL Deb 16 January 1991 vol 524 cc1160-2

2.47 p.m.

Baroness David, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they plan to encourage sport in educational establishments.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, all pupils of compulsory school age will be required to participate in a programme of physical education, including sport, throughout all the key stages of the national curriculum. As part of the Government's current review of their policies towards sport and active recreation, we are looking at ways in which children of school age can be encouraged to participate in sport, including through the promotion of links between schools and local sports clubs.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply which on the whole is encouraging. Can he explain what the Secretary of State meant when, at the North of England conference at the beginning of this month, he said: I have no doubt that all pupils should be obliged to continue their physical education in one form or another throughout their compulsory schooling, but there should be a particularly flexible definition of physical education at key stage 4". Can he tell us what is that flexible definition of physical education?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I think it reflects that at that rather crucial stage of education there should be a wide choice of activity at key stage 4.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether a committee has been set up to tackle this problem? If so, how soon will the committee report? Does he agree that the sooner that happens the more likely it is that we shall do reasonably well against Australia at one sport and in every other sport regain some of our pre-eminence which now has sadly rather lapsed?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the PE working group has been sitting. I understand that it will produce a report by the summer. I believe that the effects of that report will, as my noble friend suggests, improve our sporting achievements.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the noble Lord pass on to his flexible friend the feelings of the House on this issue? Does he agree that it is slightly more topical than he perhaps realises? On Saturday England is playing Wales at the national stadium and England has not won a match there for a very long time, although Wales has not done very well recently either. However, does he further agree that a serious point underlies the Question asked on behalf of my noble friend Lord Dean? It concerns the fact that teachers very happily used to engage in extracurricular activities which they thought of as part of their professional obligation, but they are now so disquieted and disillusioned that taking part in many activities causes great difficulty.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I consider that remarks that are sometimes made by noble Lords opposite present self-fulfilling prophecies. We should be in the business of trying to encourage teachers rather than fuelling their difficulties. Surely the move of the Minister for Sport to the Department of Education and Science reflects the importance that the Government attach to sport for young people, particularly in schools. I do not say that the move will affect the outcome on Saturday. Teachers taking on extra responsibilities may be awarded one of five incentive allowances worth up to £5,500, and there are other a wards to encourage that.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the Minister accept the fact that teachers have always devoted a great deal of time to sport, and that we have done our utmost to encourage their participation in such activities?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I acknowledge that fact. Teachers continue to do a great deal on a voluntary basis for which we must be grateful. It is a welcome change of heart in the party opposite in encouraging competitive sports to which we attach a great deal of importance.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, bearing in mind what has happened on the cricket grounds in Australia, has the Minister noticed that wandering about in urban areas in Britain—around London and elsewhere—are many young, strong, British-born men, some black and some white, who might make splendid fast bowlers? Many of those young men have never seen a cricket ball, let alone tried to bowl one. Is it not a fact that the West Indies has an endless queue of fast bowlers because all young people in the West Indies have an opportunity to play cricket? Is it not time that all pupils in English schools had an opportunity to play cricket?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I heard a comment from behind me to the effect that the weather may have something to do with that. I wish that I were qualified to say what is the best method of encouraging cricket, but there are those in the Government who wish to do that.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, what is the relationship between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Education? Many schools wish to provide sporting activities for their pupils but do not have the playground or accommodation facilities to do so.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, that matter is under review. On 16th October the Government issued draft planning policy guidance notes. They ask local authorities to review the long-term educational and community need for such facilities before deciding on their disposal. We hope that that will prevent any unwise disposal of playing fields.

Lord Peston

My Lords, will the Minister clarify the Answer that he gave to my noble friend Lady David? Physical education is a foundation subject in the national curriculum and is therefore compulsory. However, when I was at school physical education included all kinds of horrible activities such as climbing ropes, and it was not the same as sport. The Question asked about sport. Am I right in saying that there is nothing in the curriculum making sport compulsory in schools? Is not that the nature of the problem?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question. However, I am advised that PE includes sport.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, is the Minister aware that during the past year I have received numerous reports of cutbacks in outdoor education in its wider sense—that is, environmental, social and recreational education? That has been due to other demands made on the national curriculum. I have also heard reports of the closure of many recreational centres. Is not that a serious trend and are the Government addressing the need to produce a proper balance between school-based indoor and school-ground activities and other activities outside the school?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, as the national curriculum takes root, there will be more time for teachers to devote themselves to such activities.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, am I correct in believing that the Minister spoke of voluntary activities in connection with the report now being made? Is the Minister aware that I ask that question because in days long ago when I was a teacher there were a good many people who were keen on sport and who gave up their own time voluntarily because of the pleasure that it gave to children? Secondly, is swimming specifically included in the report now being made?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I note the comments of the noble Baroness. Although I have some information about swimming, I am not sure whether it is an activity included in the report. It is usually treated separately from PE.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the noble Lord has been asked many supplementary questions, a number of which he was unable to answer. We understand that he is relatively new at the Dispatch Box; indeed, Ministers cannot be expected to answer questions of detail. However, questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, and my noble friend Lord Peston have not been answered. Will the Minister consider ascertaining the answer and then writing to noble Lords?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, when I fail to answer any question, I consider it my automatic responsibility to write to noble Lords.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, will my noble friend keep in mind the different reactions from both sides of the House? I found his answers to be specific and refreshing.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend.