HL Deb 28 January 1991 vol 525 cc519-38

7.33 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the present level of physical education and sports activities being provided in educational establishments and, if not, what plans they have to deal with the situation.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have used the vehicle of an Unstarred Question to bring before your Lordships' House a debate on a subject which I believe has not been adequately dealt with in either House due to the pressure on time. I hope that the Unstarred Question may open the door to a wider discussion in a national context.

Noble Lords may recall that on 16th January I tabled a Starred Question on this subject. Unfortunately I was unable to be present in your Lordships' House on that date and the Question was asked by my noble friend Lady David. She dealt with the Question very adequately and I make no criticism of the Minister who replied on that occasion and who is replying again tonight. However, having looked through the replies that the Minister gave, it is obvious that we were almost chasing our own tails.

One of my main criticisms of the Government in a non-political context is that they do not seem to have given educational establishments at any level any kind of central directive as regards sports activities. I have before me a copy of recent Questions for Written Answer and Oral Questions that have been tabled in another place.

I wish to express my thanks to the Central Council of Physical Recreation for the wide-ranging brief it has sent me on sporting activities, including swimming and athletics. Every sport appears to be covered in that brief. The council sent a document to the National Playing Fields Association on the use of green field areas for sport. That use appears to be diminishing at a rather disturbing rate.

I shall restrict my remarks to two or three points. If the Minister cannot reply to those points tonight, I hope he can transmit the concern of noble Lords on this matter to the Government. Quite recently an article appeared in one of the responsible newspapers on the subject of sport in state schools. The article was entitled Crisis on the playing fields but it went far wider than that issue. The article provided some of the most alarming statistical evidence on what we as a nation —not the Government—are allowing to happen at present. The article stated: Last year, three times as many school-age children drowned as in 1988 and fewer children have swimming in their curriculum than ever before". I submit that there must be a relationship between a decrease in swimming lessons and the appalling statistics on deaths by drowning. If we allow the future seed corm of our nation to suffer such a situation, we are entitled to be criticised.

I do not wish to criticise the new Prime Minister. However, the borough of Merton where he was educated will in the near future no longer provide swimming lessons for school children. The newspaper further states: as John Major contemplates the death of swimming in his old school, he might care to reflect that Italy has three times as many swimming pools as we do, France seven times and Germany 20 times". There must be something wrong when we, as a so-called forward looking nation, allow that kind of diminution of facilities to occur.

During my formative years in the early 1930s in Manchester, I lived within a short distance of three public swimming baths. I would be surprised if any of those swimming baths still remained, bearing in mind the deterioration in facilities that has occurred and the lack of funding for new equipment.

When some of the larger comprehensive schools were built 15 to 20 years ago, it was almost standard practice to include a swimming pool for the use of pupils. However, that facility is no longer standard practice because those kinds of schools will no longer be built as the resources are no longer available. That is another area where swimming pool provision is drying up. The newspaper article continues: Three years ago, pupils did just over two hours physical education a week. Now it is less than 90 minutes. By the time changing, showering and moving to game facilities is taken into account, they probably spend no more than 70 minutes a week in actual physical exercises. A Government committee have recommended that students should do at least two-and-a-half hours, and most of our European competitors, like Germany and France, do as much as three hours a week". There is at present a fallacy that the Labour Party is opposed to competitive sport among children. That is absolute nonsense. It is a view that has been expressed by a few people but I believe that competition among children is very healthy and desirable if youngsters are to achieve anything.

The report continues: Even if more time was allocated, there is just not the facility. Ten years ago the Government laid down regulations saying schools should have playing fields which can be used for at least seven hours a week. But 15 per cent of schools do not have access to such playing fields and, worse still, as Nigel Hook of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, says: 'Local authorities have continued their policy of selling playing fields and converting them into supermarkets'. That may be a criticism which can be levelled at local authorities. However, why are they doing that? Because, in the context of what is happening today in education with each school taking on an increasing share of the burden of its financing, land is a valuable asset. Therefore they shortsightedly dispose of the land in order to maintain the standard of education. It is sad when local education authorities are placed in such a position.

That problem has a geographical basis. The report says that independent schools in the private sector come out rather better and that there has been an increase in their sports facilities rather than a diminution. The reason is very much like the position regarding council houses. Those living in the best areas will choose that option because the money is available. However, you will not see that happening in the areas controlled by ILEA, or in the centre of Manchester or other conurbations where, unfortunately, deprivation is still rife. Wherever there is a surfeit of land it will be disposed of, to the detriment of the schools. That is a shortsighted policy.

The article mentions a report from South Wales concerning people who studied for and obtained educational qualifications in the teaching of sport. Last year in South Glamorgan, which is a large education authority, 35 students took the teacher training course but only 5 went on to teach the subject. It is strange that 35 people take a course with a view to training people and only five opt to go down that road. What they have been trained for cannot be attractive.

I suspect that the Government have a case to answer here in their general approach to the teaching profession as a whole. A succession of Ministers have got it completely wrong. Unfortunately they have regarded teachers as one of the drawbacks of the education system. Now, however, even the Government are saying that in his unfortunate stewardship of the education of the nation Mr. Kenneth Baker got it completely wrong. Now they are having to discard most of the national curriculum as he saw it.

Only today I received information from students at universities, polytechnics and technical colleges. They asked that they be provided at least with a broad base or support for the type of sport that they want to take part in, whether it is athletics, weight training, squash, tennis or whatever. They also said that despite an increasing student population the available resources are gradually falling.

It is no good any government—whether it is this Government or the next—standing aside and expecting the situation to improve without some specific increase in funding for sport in general. If educational establishments find that allocations from government and the funds they can raise locally are being severely restricted, the first casualty will be sport and physical education.

I could have developed the theme of sport in schools and educational establishments, but this is not the time to do so. This is an Unstarred Question and allows for only a short debate. I am merely trying to start a debate on the wider issues. However, it may be that as a result of what we say tonight the question of sport in our educational establishments will be raised higher up the pecking order and people will begin to talk about it.

I should like to talk about the World Student Games, which are scheduled to take place in Sheffield. I shall not prepare a defence of the way things have gone wrong financially in Sheffield. There may have been some miscalculations by the local authority. So far as I am aware, this is the first time that the World Student Games have been attracted to Great Britain. There is no doubt that the games will be a show-piece. I am not making a political point against the Government because I understand that in the other place an all party delegation from Sheffield, including Members of Parliament, saw the Government to ask whether they could provide some form of financial assistance to save the games from collapse. There is a serious danger that they will collapse if some help is not forthcoming.

The issue is rather wider than the Sheffield student games. Anybody who read the sports press at the weekend will see that the FA is starting the machinery to attract a future World Cup competition, with all the money that that brings in, to Great Britain. There has already been one bid from Great Britain to stage the Olympic Games—that submitted by Manchester. I have no doubt that there will be another British bid. There is competition as to who will make that bid. Manchester hopes that it will be Manchester. Mr. Sebastian Coe hopes to launch a London bid. However, if as a nation we let the student games programme for Sheffield fall by the wayside, shall we have any chance at all of getting the World Cup or Olympic Games for this country in the near future? Anybody who thinks that we shall is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

In your Lordships' House one does not normally speak in absentia. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, who was a member of Parliament for Sheffield for a number of years and is still deeply interested in that city, would have liked to speak in the debate but unfortunately cannot be present and has asked me to convey to the House his views on the subject. I do not know whether the Government can find a vehicle to provide help. Perhaps that could be done through the Sheffield Development Corporation. I ask the Minister to plead with the Ministers in another place who hold the purse strings to look at the matter seriously.

In my opinion, there is no point in expecting our young men and women to compete in future as they have done over the years at European, international or Olympic level with their counterparts from other countries, because it is a well-known fact that, in terms of support from the Exchequer —I am not particularly blaming this Government; it has always happened—we set our sights much lower and dig much less deep into our pockets than our competitors do. I do not believe that it is fair to expect our youngsters to compete unless the resources they are provided with are somewhat similar to those available to their competitors.

I have spoken for long enough in what is a miniature debate, but I hope that what I have said will give the Government, and perhaps the wider public, some thought about what is happening today. To go back to the first point that I made, it is an appalling state of affairs that three times as many children were drowned last year as the year before. I do not know whether it is time we looked into the question of compulsory swimming lessons and took away from head teachers in some establishments the right to decide yea or nay.

I hope your Lordships think that my introduction has been worth while, and I look forward to hearing the other noble Lords from various parts of the House who are to speak on this subject.

Lord Lyell

Before the noble Lord sits down, I was interested to hear that he referred to a proposal that the World Cup might be held in Great Britain in, I think, in 1998. I imagine that he was referring to England, because I certainly hope that there will not be a Great Britain football team by 1998.

Lord Dean of Beswick

I did not put any date on it, and I think the noble Lord is being a bit parochial in talking just about the English FA. I know that it is the English FA which will probably make the bid, but I hope that they will have the support of the Scottish and Irish FAs. I am sure that my approach is more likely to attract their support than that of the noble Lord, which is just an English approach, because if there is any way to get a Scotsman's, Welshman's or Irishman's back up it is to tell him that we are talking only about England; he will go elsewhere.

7.48 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, when referring to sport I have something of an advantage over many noble Lords here, in that I am still young enough to go out and get my knees kicked on Saturday afternoons.

Sport in education is a subject which is dear to my heart, having only fairly recently left university where I was very active in Rugby Union football. Rugby Union is a very good example of how sport can get squeezed, for the simple reason that it is a dreadfully complicated sport. It does not have rules but laws which change every two or three seasons in very important respects. Rugby Union is also one of the many national sports we have in this country. It requires at least 30 people to play it properly. You need to have at least one official watching you; you cannot have a little knockabout in Rugby Union; you need to have it controlled.

I would like to refer to some other sports we play in this country. To play Association Football we need a mere 22 players. We need at least one official but, better still, three. We have always played team games and sports in this country and they are hideously complicated to organise. Thus, when the noble Lord says that we spend only 70 minutes actually playing sports in this country, I suggest we look at the matter. It takes 90 minutes to play a game of Association Football; it takes 80 minutes to play rugby under either code. Possibly that describes what the game is like. I hear a comment from the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who sits on my left, to the effect that in schools one can play a shorter game. However, the full game ultimately has to be practised over a full period of time or one will not achieve the best results. I appreciate that in Rugby League football, for instance, there is a game of mini-rugby for the younger players but once again it takes time to drill and time to train people.

The point was also made that generally public schools have better sports facilities. That is because state schools are being squeezed in a variety of ways. Teachers are now starting to count their hours. They give less time by the voluntary donation of their lunch hours to out-of-school activities and teaching sport. The noble Lord also mentioned how very few people who have been trained as PE teachers go into teaching PE. I know of six people who in the past four or five years were trained as PE teachers. Three of them now sell sports equipment; two are working in the City and only one is involved in teaching, and that is in a public school. At the moment teaching does not attract many people.

PE teaching has never been the most prestigious profession. I am afraid it has been suffering recently from a great lack of prestige. It is generally coming through that we do not pay teachers enough. If sport is to be properly coached, professionals should do it. We should remember that just because someone is an enthusiastic cricketer it does not mean to say that he can coach well. If we are to compete we need to give people a good basic grounding in skills. We do not want someone else's bad habits to be passed on. That is often seen. I have seen it in my own sporting activities. The weaknesses of one particular teacher's game were reflected in the schools' sides that he coached. We need professionals who can analyse the game and coach it properly.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. Is he suggesting that in schools the boys should be taught by professionals? Would the masters not do it?

Lord Addington

My Lords, I was referring to professional teachers and professional players. In some games if professional players are available and have coaching qualifications I can see no reason why they should not be used.

Higher education does a very good job in reflecting what happens lower down in the schools. The noble Lord referred to swimming. Indeed, the National Union of Students, the British Polytechnic Students' Association, the British Students' Sports Federation and the British Universities Sports Federation all describe not only a great increase in demand for sporting activities and for the use of sporting facilities but also a greater demand for coaching in basic sporting skills such as swimming, how to hold a squash racket properly, and so on. Swimming is a particularly good example because it is not only a sport but a part of physical education that can save one's life. I suggest that not being able properly to hold a squash racket may be quite tiresome, but being unable to swim may be life-threatening.

The same general point can be made that people who are interested in and enjoy a sport will keep themselves fit and able to play that sport. The current fad for aerobics, for instance, if it is a fad, has moved into a competitive area. People are talking about holding competitive aerobics. There is some form of judging involved in sport. Aerobics would become a sport if there were some form of judgment involved. But there again, people like to assess themselves.

I suggest that sport will keep people fitter, although there are always people who will burn themselves out playing sport. I have always thought that human bodies are a little like car engines: if abused and pushed too hard, they will burn out but if used sensibly they will last a long time. If we manage to keep people fit, it will mean that we are taking part in preventive medicine. One should keep pushing forward.

In higher education, where new demands are being made, there is an influx of new university students which the universities cannot quite handle. Students are therefore being put in gymnasia. That is a condemnation of the forward planning of various governments of different hues which have felt that there is a need for a greater number of students in higher education. I suggest that it also compounds a problem. Generally speaking, sporting activity is part of a person's social life and affects his quality of life. It is very much so regarded by the younger generation, at least at the moment. We are compounding a situation where there are too many people in higher education establishments for the available facilities. As more students enter higher education there is a greater need for facilities to cope with their demands in their educational life. One also tries out new sports at university—at least that was the case until very recently.

The financial resources available in educational establishments are also becoming the subject of competition. Sport is having to compete with new library books and laboratories. I suggest that a head of faculty quite rightly regards textbooks as slightly more important than a new gymnasium. I remember my noble friend Lord Russell once saying that textbooks were more important than anything up to and including lecturers. I agree that in most cases that is true. However, there comes a point at which the whole standard of student life deteriorates; fewer sporting activities is a reflection of that deterioration.

I support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, on the World Student Games. The World Student Games have traditionally been a springboard for athletes to go forward to higher levels. In the game of rugby—I ask your Lordships to forgive my obsession with the game—we find ourselves using student competitive activities as a springboard to higher sporting levels. The student games are undoubtedly the most prestigious of all such sporting events. Student athletics is probably one of the most prestigious ways forward to international athletics. It has often been the case that new athletes have given a good performance in student games which has given them a way forward.

I suggest that not only is sporting activity beneficial to those who compete in it but it is beneficial to all future students, as it is held up as something in which as a student one ought to compete. Students who have to compete with people who are older than themselves, who are more experienced, better technicians and physically better developed than they are, become dispirited. I have mentioned the sport of rugby many times. It is a very good example of what I describe. One needs technical skills. For instance, a forward is not at his best until he reaches his late 20s or early 30s. If students are allowed to play against other students, they benefit from testing themselves against their equals. That means that they can decide whether to go on to compete with others against whom they should be judged. If a player is exceptional at a young age, in playing as a junior against a senior side, it will show. But it should not be only the exceptional player who is encouraged to go on. It should be for everybody to go on and for everybody to take part. Everybody should be able to enjoy sports and physical education.

As a result of developing the ideal of competing against one's equals, we have established the great bastion of free time—Wednesday afternoons. That is being attacked in nearly all educational establishments. Pressure to do well academically, and in some cases shortages of staff, mean that people want to use Wednesday afternoons for teaching. Saturday is the day when most other forms of sport are practised, particularly the forms of sport traditional in our country such as the various codes of football—Rugby Union, Rugby League and Association Football—and in summer the weekends are usually dominated by cricket. The main schools sports in this country, it is suggested, should be moved to Saturday afternoon. On Saturday afternoon most of the more able students will be playing not for their university side but for a local club or even a large national club. A move to Saturday afternoon will deprive students of the advantage of competing against their peers in a group. Once again the exceptional student will be okay. He will go forward. But only one in a hundred will do well at that level and one in 30 may find somewhere good to go to. But how many of the rest of that great number of students will become completely disillusioned with the whole process as a result of having to compete with people who are more polished than they are?

For example, in a team game—we are a country that plays team games—when competing as students against senior people they can organise for longer periods of time together. If they are members of clubs they will not have established themselves at the beginning of the season. The start of the sporting seasons always overlaps with university term times. As most students are not based at home, they have little chance to build up a continuous relationship with a single sporting body or club. I suggest that we must at least provide some backing for that to allow students to carry on in competition with students.

I have spoken for rather longer than I intended and ranged fairly widely. However, I should like to press the noble Lord—I gave him notice of this—to act over the financial arrangements and financial support to be given for the World Student Games. I believe that it is probably the most important sporting event that any part of Great Britain will host in the next few years. I look forward to hearing what the noble Lord has to say.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I too am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, has brought this Question before the House tonight. I go back to the Question on the Order Paper, which is to ask whether Her Majesty's Government are satisfied with the present level of physical education and sports activities being provided in educational establishments and, if not, what plans they have to deal with the situation.

No government would be satisfied with what we have. Any government always want more. It is a question of priorities. I shall deal with a different side of the Question than has been discussed so far by noble Lords on this side of the House. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will very seriously take account of all that I say.

I believe that today there are more young people participating in sport than ever before. Certainly, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons I see more people participating than watching. I cannot prove the figures, but when I go down to the fields there seem to be more youngsters playing football. There are now more swimming pools in my part of east Lancashire. That is because, a few years ago, a very enlightened chairman of the local education committee persuaded the Department of Education and Science to provide a swimming pool in more of our schools.

Many schools have playing fields, swimming facilities and gymnasia that they did not possess before the war. But are we getting the best from those facilities? The average school sits for 190 days per year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Much of its equipment and facilities will not be used by the community which lives around the school. No industrialist would think of sinking into an undertaking the amount of capital that we sink in schools. The average sixth-form entry school costs between £8 million and £10 million to build and there is all the equipment in it to provide as well. Are we getting the best out of such facilities? An industrialist would not think of using his facilities for only a limited amount of time; that is for 190 days per year and a limited number of hours each day. He would wish to get the maximum out of his facilities. Many schools are closed at weekends when the facilities could be used for the benefit of the community. The schools have fences around them displaying signs which say, "Keep out". Many such facilities cannot be used because of the groundsmen, the caretaker, the head teacher—

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, if such a restriction is placed on facilities surely that is due not to the groundsman or the headmaster but to the local authority?

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I have had a great deal of experience in local authorities. Many such attitudes boil down to the local people and not to the local authority, but I shall deal with that matter later. I am also worried by the fact that in urban areas children play football in the streets and on waste ground while such facilities are available across the street. I could carry on with this argument for a long time.

Changes are now taking place in education with the local management of schools and new governing bodies. I hope, therefore, that there will be a little more enlightenment. It might be said that because such facilities are increasingly being used more money is required. However, if one opens playing fields, swimming pools and the gymnasiums for the use of the community one must pay a little more to the caretaker and other people involved in their supervision. One must achieve the right balance. I believe that local authorities, governing bodies and the Sports Council can assist in that respect.

I have been putting forward that argument for some time. The Sports Council agreed to take part in an experiment with the local authority and the schools in the North-West of England, my part of the country. Where there were arguments about who was responsible for supervising certain establishments the Sports Council said, "We shall be responsible for the supervision if we can use your facilities". The local authority told the schools that it would spend a little more money on insurance in case damage occurred. There was a partnership of the three bodies.

I should like to see the DES using facilities in that way a little more often. It should encourage greater co-operation among the schools, the local education authorities and the Sports Council. I should like to see more facilities but we must ensure that we are making the best use of those we have at present. That would help a great deal with the problem that we now face.

8.13 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Taylor made a more practical contribution to the debate than I am likely to make. However, that does not diminish my desire to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Dean. In particular, I support his proposition that there should be more government encouragement for sport of all kinds.

This House is well endowed with leading sportsmen, although not all are present tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Porritt, is an Olympic medallist. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, would have been an Olympic runner had there been women's games at that time. The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Liverpool, captained England at cricket and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, captained Oxford University which is almost as good. There are many eminent athletes including the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who was a champion at tennis. I understand from my son-in-law who was at school with my noble friend Lord Peston that the noble Lord was a useful quarter miler. Perhaps we may hear more about his exploits this evening.

My noble friend Lord Dean has produced some disquieting facts about swimming, for instance. We must investigate those facts closely. However, all is not wrong with sport in Britain at the present time. I speak tonight as a British representative—my Irish connection can stand to one side. English boxing is going well and we have some world champions. In recent years we have had a fine quota of athletes who have become Olympic champions. We appear to be as good is any other country at golf. With a little luck in soccer we would have won the World Cup. I speak with deference in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who is the only Member of this House now playing in first-class rugby.

Lord Wakefield captained England at rugby but he was older when he came to this House. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, can speak with great authority about rugby. No doubt he will look down on me who did nothing more than captain Aylesbury. During the first year in which Aylesbury had a team there were only 15 players. Now there are six teams and, therefore, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with rugby in that part of the world. The British team is immensely powerful. The only danger is that its members are over-keen emotionally. At the end of a match they are unable to meet the press. However, perhaps that sign of their over keenness should be counted as merit.

Cricket, however, is a different case. The last day of the test match will soon be upon us and I understand that we must score 470 runs to win. It must be remembered that last year the captain, Mr. Gooch, scored 330 runs in one innings so nothing is impossible. However, it must be admitted that cricket is not a flourishing game at that level. I think that we take the sport a little too seriously. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, does not believe that one must live and die for sport because a sportsman is a national hero one day and a national villain the next. For instance, Mr. David Gower, a most gifted cricketer of his time, is now treated as a delinquent. He flicked at a ball outside the leg stump and was caught. Now people treat him almost as though he had committed rape. That is overdoing the enthusiasm for winning at sport. Generally speaking, sport in this country at both the top and lower levels is flourishing compared with any other period during my life.

The only sport in which one has seen a terrible decline at the top level is tennis. In 1930 I saw England win the Davis Cup in Paris. I saw Perry win at Wimbledon. I do not believe that at present there is an Englishman among the top hundred players. Tennis has declined and it is worth asking ourselves why that is so. We all like tennis in theory and love Wimbledon and so forth, but this country has sunk into a low position. Some people say that it is due to the weather. The weather was just as bad in the 1930s so that is no explanation. After all, the weather is not so hot in Sweden and yet their tennis players do so well. That is one aspect of the matter.

This House is well equipped to discuss these matters. There are many sporting people working in this building. Not far from here is a gentlemen who works in the attendants' office who weighs 16.5 stone and is a prop forward who is the terror of the East Sussex circuit. A few yards further along is a lady working in one of the party offices—and I shall not say which one—who scored 60 goals in netball in one afternoon. That takes some doing. Also, one of the doorkeepers is a world class mountaineer. Therefore, this building is full of world class sportsmen and women. So we can be cheerful. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Dean that we should do even better if the Government were wiser and more generous.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Dean for asking this Question. I shall not delay your Lordships by going over all the ground again but there are additional points which I should like to make. However, I agreed with one particular point made by my noble friend. This subject is not at all political and I shall not approach it in that way. However, I am disappointed that, given the importance of the topic, no noble Lords from the opposite Benches have found time to speak in the debate this evening. That is rather disappointing.

One specific aspect which I should like to raise is that physical education is a foundation subject in the National Curriculum. As such, it is compulsory and, if I understand the matter correctly, must be assessed. I should like to ask the Minister how much progress is being made on the development of the physical education curriculum and its assessment. Because this subject is part of the National Curriculum, I take it for granted that it will be taught by qualified teachers in exactly the same way as are all the other subjects. Merely because it is called physical education does not mean that it can be taught by anybody. It is no less important and would not have been given a role as a foundation subject had it been less important. That means that it must be taught by trained teachers. I ask the Minister whether appropriately trained teachers are forthcoming in that subject.

I realise that the Minister will not necessarily be able to answer all my questions immediately. However, he will be aware that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State made what I thought was a rather important speech on the National Curriculum as it applied to 14 to 16 year-olds. Essentially, the Secretary of State adopted the view which those of us who took part in the debates on the Education Reform Bill argued in the first place; namely, that the so-called core subjects should be compulsory and there should be greater flexibility in the rest of the curriculum. That was rejected at the time we debated the Bill. However, the Secretary of State now takes that view.

I should like to ask whether, within the more flexible National Curriculum, any thought has been given to making sure that for key stage 4 physical education will still have some emphasis to it. Although I agree that with physical education the earlier the investment the better, one does not wish it to become the kind of subject about which all pupils say, "Now I am 14, I can give it up." Therefore, while I do not withdraw from my view that we need to be flexible, a balance must be achieved between flexibility on the one hand and making sure that proper priority is given to subjects like physical education on the other.

In that connection, I repeat the question which arose when we discussed this matter a few days ago. Within the education Act I thought that physical education meant something called physical education which was different from sport. It never occurred to me that they were the same. I should like to ask whether they are the same. Secondly, when we were discussing the Education Reform Bill, were we told that sport was part of physical education? My recollection is that we were not. I do not say that there is a hard and fast answer but I should like to know more about that.

En passant, I am delighted that the Minister for Sport is now at the Department of Education and Science. I think that is a good place for him to be. I know him and I have every hope that, apart from doing his job in the narrow sense, he will work hard to ensure that sport receives proper priority in DES thinking.

On the Secretary of State's proposal to introduce more flexibility on key stage 4, my reading of Section 3(4) (a) of the Education Reform Act is that the changes can be made by the affirmative resolution procedure. We specifically wrote that into the legislation. I should be interested to know whether we can be given any indication of when the relevant orders will be laid before both Houses of Parliament, because we shall want to discuss key stage 4 generally at considerable length. That represents a major change in the Act.

Another aspect of the subject which noble Lords have alluded to but at which we have not looked in detail is Section 106 of the Education Reform Act. That is the section which leads on to the question of charging in maintained schools. That must apply not only to ordinary education but also to physical education. As noble Lords are aware, the difficulty is —and I take one example—that local authorities may have to use swimming facilities which they do not necessarily own, or, if they own them, for which a charge is still made. The same rules on not charging pupils still apply. That produces difficulties because it may be argued that it is appropriate to charge young people for swimming lessons. It could be argued that it would be better for them to make a contribution rather than have no swimming lessons at all. That is the nature of the problem. Difficulties as regards charging certainly apply to physical education.

I am well aware of the difficulties and I do not say that the Government are wrong and the rest of us are right. However, as regards local management of schools, which I favour, when under pressure schools which are given budgets will ask themselves what comes first, second and so on. The worry is that it will be decided that the easiest thing to give up—and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to this—is physical education or sport. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made the point that it is harder to give up text books than almost anything else. I am not criticising the Government in any crude sense. I am aware that if one favours devolution of power one has to accept the consequences of it. Nonetheless, it is a difficult matter, and one that concerns me.

I was not going to go into the details of any other sports, but since the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to—what is the game called?—rugby and he referred to the laws, I wonder whether he remembers the oldest joke about rugby. A sample survey was done on rugby players, asking them about the latest change in the laws. The answers were as follows: 1 per cent. favoured the latest change in the laws, 1 per cent. were against the latest change, and 98 per cent. did not know there were any laws.

My final point concerns the fact that when I was at school most of what was done under the heading of sport was a voluntary activity on the part of teachers. If I may reiterate a point I made when we were discussing the Education Reform Act when it was a Bill, we should not be surprised that if the Government decide to run public services with a business ethos, and also if at the same time they restrict public sector pay in real terms, the outcome will be a decline in voluntary activity. People will cease to do things because they think they should do them. Instead—and this is the weakness of the Government's philosophy, at least of the 1980s although I hope it will change in the 1990s—people, including school-teachers, will simply do what they are paid for. If we are talking about sport, or even about physical education, an ethos of "I'll do what I'm paid for" could come to dominate all this, and we will lose a lot on the sporting side which we had for nothing from voluntary support.

The same applies to me as has applied to all other noble Lords: there is so much more that one would like to say, but, as it is 8.30 this evening, I feel I have said enough. Perhaps I may therefore again thank my noble friend Lord Dean for introducing the Question and say how much I look forward to the Government's Answer.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, to say that my sporting career was undistinguished both at school and subsequently would be something of an understatement. Despite that, I do not for one moment underestimate the significance of this evening's debate.

I have listened with considerable interest to the wide range of points made on this important subject. The interest shown by your Lordships demonstrates the concern felt by many people. I can assure your Lordships that the Government also attach great importance to the position of sport and physical education in our schools. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for having raised this matter for debate. Perhaps I may begin by reminding your Lordships as I did a few days ago, and as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the Government's commitment to improving the provision of physical education and sport in schools was recently demonstrated by the move of the Minister for Sport to the Department of Education and Science. I might add, without having any authority to do so, that I think that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is also enthusiastic in this area. I am confident that this closer link between the worlds of sport and education will be of great benefit to both sides.

I find it interesting that the noble Lord's Question refers both to physical education and to sporting activities. It may therefore be helpful if I were to take a few minutes to clarify our terms. I hope this will be of help to the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

The physical education curriculum of schools will always include a significant amount of sport, but PE goes much wider than that and relates to the overall physical development of pupils. It may also include elements not normally associated with sport, such as dance and outdoor pursuits. Physical education also serves to inform young people of the long-term benefits of a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise.

However, many sporting activities take place outside normal school hours. Such activities may rely on what takes place within PE lessons to provide pupils with the necessary skills, but this extra-curricular sport is not part of the formal school curriculum. Its success therefore depends on the willingness of both staff and pupils to participate.

Turning now to the position of physical education in schools, PE is a foundation subject in the new National Curriculum for all maintained schools in England and Wales. This means that it will for the first time be a compulsory part of the curriculum for all pupils aged between five and 16. My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales have recently confirmed the place of physical education as part of the compulsory curriculum for pupils in the last two years of compulsory schooling. This decision has been very widely welcomed.

Schools in England and Wales have been required since autumn 1989 to teach physical education to all pupils aged five to 14 for a reasonable time. The Government plan to introduce the statutory requirements for physical education from autumn 1992. These are to be more flexible and less prescriptive than the requirements for other subjects. Nonetheless they should ensure that the pupils receive a balanced programme of physical education throughout their time at school. The National Curriculum Working Group on Physical Education, established last July, is advising the Government on attainment targets and programmes of study for physical education.

I should like to say a word about the working group, the membership of which I believe to be very impressive. It is chaired by the distinguished scholar and sportsman, Mr. Ian Beer, once captain of Combined Universities Rugby Football Club and winner of English rugby caps. His working party includes Steve Ovett and John Fashanu of Wimbledon Football Club fame, as well as industrialists and representatives of the education service. Other members include teachers in primary and secondary education who have personal experience of PE.

On the matter of flexibility that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, raised, the final answer emerges as a result of the findings of that working party. The working group's interim report is with Ministers and will be published shortly. I am sorry to say I cannot say more than that. The group's final report is to be submitted to my right honourable friends by the end of June. Indeed, having heard this debate, I am minded to send the working group a transcript of this evening's discussion, if that is in order.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, asked whether the Government were satisfied with the current level of physical education in our schools. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, said, no government is ever satisfied with the level of any type of education in our schools. We must always want it to be better. In the case of PE, some schools provide it to an extremely high standard. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that in others both the quality and the quantity of physical education are not as we would wish. But the National Curriculum is all about bringing the standards in all schools up to those of the best. I am confident that this will also apply to physical education in the National Curriculum.

I should like to refute the suggestion that sport as part of physical education has declined in recent years. The nature of the sports themselves may have changed, with diversification into more indoor games and individual and small team sports, but sport still occupies the pre-eminent position in physical education.

The Government are concerned to ensure not only that PE and sport are firmly based within the school curriculum, but also that opportunities for young people to take part in sport outside school hours continue to develop. A number of your Lordships have expressed concern about the decline in extra-curricular sport. The Government accept that this is an issue which needs to be addressed. Indeed, we are addressing it. We are undertaking a wide-ranging review of sport policy. One of the major issues under consideration is the question of the further measures that may be needed to encourage sports participation by young people.

However, before we can provide the answers we need to get to the root of the problem. We have to recognise that over the years there has been a reduction in the amount of time that teachers feel able to devote on a voluntary basis to providing sports opportunities outside school hours for their pupils. That is not to say that this activity has disappeared completely. On the contrary, many teachers continue to be heavily involved, and I pay generous tribute to them.

Nonetheless, there has been a reduction in such activity. There appears to be no single reason for that. In some cases teachers who stopped organising extra-curricular sport during industrial action in the mid-1980s have not started again. In other cases, teachers have been greatly preoccupied with the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education and the National Curriculum. However, we expect that factor to diminish as the National Curriculum settles down.

The introduction of teachers' directed time increased calls for teachers to be paid for undertaking extra-curricular activities. Traditionally, teachers have been involved in extra-curricular sport on a voluntary basis. We see no reason why that should not continue. However, the Government have given local authorities, and where appropriate school governing bodies, the power to award teachers who take on extra responsibility one of five incentive allowances worth up to £5,500. Organising and supervising sporting activities may be one such responsibility and the opportunity exists for financial recognition to be given.

Another factor may be the pupils. There is now a wide range of opportunities available to young people. Many have Saturday jobs; others take advantage of local community schemes or join the junior sections of their local clubs. We do not wish to discourage those activities, but we must recognise that they may militate against pupils taking part in school-based activities.

The way forward is not to try to turn the clock back to the days when the sporting activities of our young people were the sole responsibility of schools. We need to encourage even greater diversity of provision involving local sports clubs, local industry and organisations such as the Sports Council. I have already referred to our review of sport policy which will be addressing all those questions. Many organisations are contributing their ideas to the review and we intend to publish our conclusions in the summer.

I turn to the specific points raised in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, introduced the debate by saying that we were chasing our tail. The noble Lord may not be entirely satisfied by my remarks, but I hope he feels that we are earnest. I was grateful to the noble Lord for giving me a copy of the Guardian newspaper article. It has some valid points and I take them to heart. On the other hand, it was largely anecdotal. I give it credit also for putting part of the argument for the other side and not painting an entirely pessimistic picture.

With regard to swimming provision, the noble Lord compared Britain with Italy, France and Germany. Another noble Lord compared Britain unfavourably in regard to the hours devoted to sport. I have been unable to verify the facts in the case of swimming provision. I can only speculate. In the case of Italy and France, because of the weather it is more cost-effective to have a swimming pool in the school than it would be here.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, said that it was Labour policy to favour competitive games. In a Question last week I rather waspishly pointed out that it had not been.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I did not have time to make the point that a survey was carried out among local Labour-controlled education authorities. The overwhelming majority of replies showed that they were not against the competitive element in school sports.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. From my own experience in the 1970s and 1980s I found that it was, for a period, predominantly Labour-controlled councils which were against competitive sport. I do not make a political point. The general change of attitude in favour of competitive sports is something about which we should all be pleased.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, spoke of the Student Games, as did the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The Government made it clear from the outset that we would not provide direct assistance for the Games. However, the Sports Council, which is funded by the Government, is to contribute £3 million towards them. The Government's clearly stated position has been that, as with other major sporting events, promotional and diplomatic assistance is available but not direct funding. The DoE has already made available £26 million in indirect assistance for projects associated with the Games which met with the normal criteria for the grant. My understanding is that there is no question that the Games will not take place. I would join other noble Lords in being greatly disappointed if they did not go ahead. We hope and expect them to proceed in some form.

The final and most important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, and other noble Lords, concerns swimming and safety. Mr. Moynihan established a working group in May 1990 to look at water sports safety. The group is likely to report in May of this year and it is expected to recommend that all young people should be taught to swim within PE at school. The interim report of the National Curriculum PE Working Group, to which I referred, is also likely to make the same recommendations. It is not for me to say whether there will be funding recommendations made at the same time. The Government recognise the value of swimming being taught as part of physical education. Should either of the working groups make specific recommendations on swimming instruction, these will naturally receive our closest consideration.

In regard to the tragic deaths which occur from drowning, the most up-to-date figures show that in 1989 50 young people died between the ages of five and 15 in accidents compared with 18 in 1988 and 35 in 1987. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents pointed out that the 1989 figure is probably due to that year experiencing an unusually hot summer. It is believed that the underlying trend is still downwards. Another factor I should mention is that it is often the competent and confident swimmer who is most prone to get into trouble. The idea that everyone being able to swim will reduce accidents is not necessarily valid. Young people properly take risks, and that is a factor to be borne in mind.

I was delighted to hear from so expert a participant, especially one so eloquent and well-informed, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I have dealt with his questions but I shall read carefully what he said and I hope that the report of the debate will be passed to the working group.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, spoke of the three-sided angle. I do not believe our department considered the third angle. I shall be pleased to pass on his remarks. He implied also the advantage of dual use of schools generally. The Government have been fully committed for many years to the dual use of sports facilities. As long ago as 1970 Circular 2/70, A Chance to Share, advocated that existing arrangements should be reviewed to ensure that every possible opportunity for dual provision was fully explored. The circular gave guidance also about the way in which schemes could be formulated.

The Government encourage dual use of facilities in schools because it creates closer ties with parents and the local community. It may also be a way of obtaining additional facilities of benefit to pupils outside the education sector and it often generates income and encourages present and former pupils to retain their interest in sport.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, with characteristic eloquence, added flavour to the debate with vignettes of sporting prowess to be found among Members of your Lordships' House and outside. He mentioned the late Lord Wakefield, who was a neighbour of mine. He must be one of the toughest men I have ever met in my life. I not only saw him water skiing on Windermere in winter in his eighties but I remember also meeting him one afternoon when he said that he must go down to the doctor to have six stitches inserted in his forehead before he could dine.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked about the progress on the curriculum. I believe I have given as much of an answer as I can. He asked if the subject was going to be taught by qualified people. The position will be no different than for other subjects. I hope that I have answered the flexibility point in relation to key stage 4. I am not able to say whether or not an affirmative act is required. I will be very pleased to write to the noble Lord.

Against the argument that local management discourages sport in schools, since LMS is based on numbers of pupils, schools must remain attractive to pupils and parents. A broad spectrum of sport would help that situation and provide an inducement, although I recognise the problems mentioned by the noble Lord.

I hope that I have demonstrated the commitment of the Government to improving provision of physical education and sport in schools: for example, the move of the Minister for Sport to the Department of Education and Science; physical education as a foundation subject in the National Curriculum; and the review of sport policy. Those three highly significant developments will act greatly to the benefit of physical education and the sporting opportunities of young people in our schools.

House adjourned at nine minutes before nine o'clock.