HL Deb 26 November 2001 vol 629 cc1-4

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the work of the several government departments concerned with the promotion of sport and physical activity is being effectively co-ordinated.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, my department works very closely with all government departments with an interest in the promotion of sport and physical activity. The Minister for Sport chairs a monthly meeting with colleagues from other departments and the chair of Sport England. In view of the importance of sport and physical activity to schools and of the health benefits of exercise, we work particularly closely with the DfES and the Department of Health. We also co-operate closely on a range of issues with the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the DTLR.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, in the light of all that, perhaps it is not surprising that there seems to be a good deal of confusion. Is there not a very clear distinction to be drawn between, on the one hand, the promotion of what one might call "high level sport" with a view to creating national champions and national championship teams and, on the other, the question of encouraging the generality of the population of all ages to take more exercise in the interests of better health? Whereas the former may or may not be a proper concern of the noble Baroness's department, is it not now clear, as recommended in another place by a Select Committee, that the Department of Health should be firmly in charge of that latter objective? Given that obesity has more than doubled in the past 20 years and is still rising and deaths from coronary heart disease are still rising, is it not important for the Department of Health now to take charge of this very important part of our national life?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am not sure that I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, said. My noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health—I do not believe that he is in his place today—is one of the key Ministers involved in the interdepartmental collaboration on the question of physical activity and sport. However, I believe that the noble Lord makes too rigid a distinction between sports excellence and overall improvements in the physical activity and, therefore, the health of our population. It is out of those overall improvements, in particular with regard to school children, that we shall attain more excellence in the pursuit of sport at county, national and international levels.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, are talks between the Treasury and the DCMS still ongoing with a view to providing some much-needed tax concessions for amateur sports clubs, which, by and large, are run by volunteers on a non-profit-making basis and are the backbone of British sport? The outcome of those discussions is eagerly awaited by such clubs. Do we have any words of encouragement for them?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, in my initial Answer I failed to mention the Treasury and the Inland Revenue. Obviously I should have done so. However, in his Budget statement my right honourable friend the Chancellor undertook to consult on the best way in which tax relief might help community amateur sports clubs. I very much agree with my noble friend about their value. They are the backbone of sporting activity in this country and they contribute to that physical health and well-being to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, referred. My officials have been working closely with Treasury and Inland Revenue officials, and a consultation paper will be published very shortly.

Lord Addington

My Lords, the Minister rightly said that all government departments meet and co-ordinate closely on this matter. However, is it not the case that, no matter to which department we move sport, problems will always arise because it does not fit neatly into one package? Does she agree that we must consider whether a department for sport is the most appropriate way to deal with the matter? In addition, we have tremendous problems in relation to planning regulations. Indeed, I believe that the Government have promised a "domesday book" of sports facilities. Can the Minister tell us exactly when that will be published and whether there will be an opportunity to revise it? I believe that the planning provisions are contained in PG17. Will they be taken into account so that we may have proper statutory guidance as to what sports facilities are provided locally? Will there be a way of implementing those provisions?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, we do have a department for sport. It is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is my department, although I am not the Minister for Sport. I accept entirely what the noble Lord says about the value of having such a department. He raised the issue of planning consents so far as concerns, I believe, recreational facilities and sports grounds. We are strengthening the protection that is involved in maintaining those facilities. The planning policy guidance note to which the noble Lord referred is PG17, and it is being reviewed. When that review has been completed—it raises quite complex planning issues—it will strengthen further the requirement on local authorities to provide good sports and recreational facilities.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, in world terms, her department has had a fairly disastrous two years with Picketts Lock, Wembley, Sheffield, the reduction in lottery funding, the Select Committee report and, of course, severe criticism about the handling of many major sports issues in this country? Can she tell me when her department will get a grip on sport and try to help the country to move forward?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, my department does have a grip on these issues. It is making sensible decisions on how to move forward with regard to all the issues that the noble Lord has just raised.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether the DCMS and DfES are going to improve school sports facilities? If so, how will that benefit the wider community?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, as I said in my initial Answer, my department works very closely with the DfES. It is investing some £115 million jointly with the education department in the provision of school sports co-ordinators. Those co-ordinators will be trained PE teachers and will work to ensure that the commitment announced by the Prime Minister in January—that is, that every child should spend at least two hours per week in high quality PE and sport, whether inside or outside the school curriculum—is carried out. My department is also investing a substantial additional amount—£130 million—in improving facilities, in particular, in our primary schools.

Lord Ouseley

My Lords, in light of the recommendations in the report commissioned by the Government through the Football Task Force and in view of the co-ordination that we hear is taking place across all departments, is it possible to say which government department is taking the lead with regard to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report with regard to racism and people with disabilities? It appears from my inquiries that no one in any department has any awareness of the existence of the report or of its recommendations and no knowledge about who is implementing the recommendations.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the issue of disability is an example of the need for joint work between the DCMS and the Department for Work and Pensions, which has the prime responsibility for disability. On racism, my department will work with the Home Office to ensure that the report's proposals and recommendations are taken forward.

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