HL Deb 21 January 2004 vol 657 cc1084-114

6.20 p.m.

Lord Pendry rose to call attention to the steps which Her Majesty's Government are taking to encourage women's participation in sport; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure that the House realises the importance of this debate and recognises that women who participate in sport and physical recreation in this country have not always received the encouragement that they deserve from many quarters, especially the sporting media. However, before I proceed, I declare an interest as president of the Football Foundation to which I shall refer later.

The debate calls attention to the steps that Her Majesty's Government are taking to encourage women's participation in sport. I readily salute those Ministers who are responsible for making some positive moves in that direction, some of whom I shall refer to in the course of my speech. However, a great deal more needs to be done, if girls and women are to make the kind of advances necessary to catch up with other countries, such as Australia which has a female participation rate of 75 per cent in sport and physical recreation against our national average of 38 per cent. The difference is perhaps not surprising when one considers that by the age of 18, 40 per cent of girls and young women in the UK have left sport and recreation altogether.

I am grateful that a number of noble Lords have agreed that this is a subject worthy of debate and are prepared to speak today. I have no intention of making cheap party points during my speech. This subject is far too important for that. I recognise that the shadow Minister for sport would dearly like to have been present today, but I understand that he is detained on another important sporting engagement. I welcome another Olympian, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in his place.

Having said that I had no intention of making a party point, I cannot resist stating that I am pleased that the current Opposition have moved from their position when in government, when they held a negative stance towards women in sport. I remember in my capacity as shadow Minister for sport attending the very first international women in sport conference, held in Brighton in May 1994. I raised a question from the Opposition Dispatch Box bemoaning the fact that despite the conference being hosted by Britain, with some 280 delegates from 82 countries present, including many sports ministers, we did not send one British Minister.

I pointed out to the then Minister for Sport, Ian Sproat, that many of those present from the UK were bemused and many ashamed that there was no ministerial presence in Brighton, nor did the Government send a letter of support. I further asked the Minister whether he would at least support the Opposition by endorsing the declaration carried at that conference. In his reply the Minister stated: If more women wish to involve themselves in sport I shall be very glad for them to do so, but it is up to them. I read the declaration: it was political correctness in excelsis".—[Official Report, Commons, 23/5/94; col. 8.] I hope that that view no longer prevails in the Conservative Party.

My final shot in this political territory is to say that I found it strange that the Conservative Party sports strategy in 2000 made no reference to the importance of women in sport. I hope that that is history and that the debate will show from all sides of the House a recognition of the importance of women in sport and that we are all singing from the same song sheet. Part of that song sheet surely contains some of the points made in the Brighton declaration from which I now quote: Ensure that all women and girls have the opportunity to participate in sport in a safe supportive environment which preserves the dignity and respect of the individual; increase the involvement of women in sport at all levels and functions; ensure that the knowledge, experiences and values of women contribute to the development of sport; promote the recognition of women's involvement in sport as a contribution to public life, community development and in building a healthy nation; promote the recognition by women of the intrinsic value of sport and its contribution to personal development and a healthy lifestyle". Who could doubt the aims of that Brighton declaration? It is a declaration aimed at developing sporting culture that enables and values the full involvement of women in every aspect of sport. I am indebted to Margaret Talbot, chief executive of CCPR, for spelling out some of the facts surrounding the lack of participation by women and girls in sport. There is certainly no evidence that girls and women are naturally less inclined towards physical activity. In the main, male participation is greater than that of women in a ratio of two to one, with a difference greater in outdoor rather than indoor activities. The gap is narrower while girls are still at school, hut it quickly widens after school-leaving age. Generally, girls and women enjoy fewer opportunities in every sector. whether statutory, voluntary or commercial, and as Margaret Talbot points out, because girls of all ages enjoy fewer freedoms of activity outside the home, that further restricts their capacity to use public facilities and services.

Girlsport is an exciting new programme from Sport England which will assist enjoyment, involvement and progress in sport and physical activity, and will no doubt be taken very seriously by the Government. The Football Foundation is another example of an organisation taking positive steps for women's sport, having invested substantial amounts of money in grass-roots women's football in communities across the UK. The foundation backs a wide variety of schemes, from promoting social inclusion in Asian women's football—a much needed niche, as any fan of the film "Bend It Like Beckham" will appreciate—to schemes such as the one in Berkshire, setting up taster sessions in girls' football across the county and devising and developing programmes to keep women in the game later in life.

Another encouraging sign is the development of equality standards in sport, initiated by the home country sports councils in collaboration with UK Sport. The standard, which is due to be published this spring, is designed to serve as a toolkit for social inclusion, aimed not only at reducing discrimination but at pro-actively promoting inclusion and greater participation.

I also welcome such initiatives as the Girls in Sport Partnership being run by the Youth Sport Trust in conjunction with Nike. The project is concerned with developing girl-friendly forms of PE and school sport to increase physical activity levels and to encourage positive attitudes towards participation.

So far some 2,000 secondary schools have taken part in the programme and the project is producing some interesting research related to young girls' attitudes to sports. Such research could be used as a basis for reforming the culture of school sports with respect to young girls across the board and the Government will, I am sure, take note of those developments.

Another positive development by the Government, following pressure from noble Lords during the course of the Local Government Bill, was a mandatory tax relief of 80 per cent for all community amateur sports clubs, a development that was warmly welcomed by all the key sports providers and which will help to narrow the participation gap.

With measures such as that, the Government, with sporting organisations, are clearly making an attempt to bridge the gap. However, if we are to make the progress necessary to bridge the participation gap, we need the sporting media in this country to recognise equally the contribution of women's sport. Very few high-profile female role models exist in comparison with men's sport because the sporting media has failed to recognise them. That is not to say that a female sporting élite does not exist. The role models are out there, but with the exception of a handful of sportswomen, the media chooses to ignore them. The Women's Sport Foundation reveals that only 2.65 per cent of daily newspapers cover women's sport.

Another study of gender portrayal was undertaken in the 1994 Olympics, which found that women received only 26 per cent of television coverage, despite the fact that the games reflected 41 per cent of broadcast time going to females.

On the rare occasions when the media spotlight falls on women's sport, the coverage produced is often negative—affirming unrealistic gender stereotypes. For example, the Women's Sport Foundation found that coverage of women's sport rarely showed action shots. Instead, details of women's personal lives were often included inappropriately.

A study undertaken by the Southampton Institute in 2002 found that of the coverage of women's sport that exists. one third of it is dedicated to Anna Kournikova. One only has to search Google. co. uk to view the vast number of websites devoted to the tennis star. the majority of which make little reference to her sporting attributes.

Such representation of female sporting professionals confuses and distracts from the message that such women are as fit, strong and highly skilled as their male counterparts. It ignores the very reason why they have risen to the top of their game.

That representation is perpetuated by the sports media. Tabloid newspapers are without doubt the worst offenders. One tabloid sports editor has been quoted as saying that for women's football to receive more space in his newspaper, a female international would have to have an affair with Sven-Gõran Eriksson. The belief that for sportswomen to gain greater visibility in the media, they must be physically attractive, not only misses the point of women's sport, but is also untrue.

Many élite sportswomen—I cannot quite hear what my noble friend Lord Faulkner, is saying, but he will perhaps repeat it when he speaks later. Many élite sportswomen, such as the England Ladies Cricket captain, Claire Connor, and Arsenal captain, Faye White. to name but two, are both feminine and attractive, but they still fail to get the media coverage that they deserve as athletes performing at the top of their game.

The media need to be encouraged to celebrate our female sporting élite, and to recognise their sporting achievements as athletes, to raise the profile of women's sport and its role in society. The recently relaunched Women's Sport Foundation is doing some sterling work and has published a report, called, "Britain's best kept secrets". It argues that the wide gap that already exists between men's and women's participation in sports will never be closed if the inequality of sports reporting continues.

Why does it matter that so few women are actively involved in sport? Why should we be concerned that the national average participation rate for women is only 38 per cent? We ignore such disparity at our peril. It may hold the key to improving the health of half of the nation. For example, women generally live longer than men and face a greater risk of osteoporosis than men. Weight-bearing exercise can help to present this condition, and the Government need to take better advantage of that.

In addition to that risk, women now face an increased risk of cardiovascular disease owing to changes in lifestyle. Statistics show that half as many women as men undertake sufficient physical activity to reduce that risk, which is a missed opportunity from a preventive health perspective, and a further burden on our health system.

The economic case for increased female participation does not end there. Women are twice as likely to be obese as men, and regular exercise is known to be one of the most effective ways to treat the condition. Is it any wonder that women are more likely to be obese than men, when we consider that between the ages of seven and 11, girls are half as likely as boys to take part in physical activity and sport? The Government must recognise that relationship to exploit fully the health benefits of sport for women.

The chief medical officer will shortly publish a report on physical activity in the UK, and is expected to document the relationship between physical activity and health. That is an encouraging step in the right direction, and will add more value to the arguments for increased female participation in physical activity. Despite the many obstacles confronting girls and women in sport, I believe that the future looks brighter. I hope that the debate will be read and understood by the powers that be, and that that brighter future becomes a reality. I beg to move for Papers.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for leading the debate and putting the Motion before the House.

I confess that it is a slightly mysterious Motion in that we are supposed to be debating the steps that the Government are already taking to encourage women's participation in sport. But it is more the steps that they are not taking that we should be debating. I suspect, as I do increasingly, that too much of our time is spent talking about what the Government are or are not doing, when we should be talking about what we as citizens are doing for ourselves.

I note that of the working parties to look into the deep problem of social exclusion that the Prime Minister set up when he came to office, the one which perhaps produced the most telling report, and around which all the others revolve, was that dealing with the importance of self-help in our society. Self-help is the essential, irreplaceable engine of any sort of improvement, particularly vis-à-vis social exclusion. The one thing that is often forgotten—and which was forgotten in some of those reports—is that we already have about 100,000 unsung community amateur sports clubs. Without question, they are the most important single element in creating a good society. By a good society, I mean a healthy society with a sense of communality, involving self-help, team work and all the other virtues that we associate with amateur sports.

We should note, however, that that number is reducing—rather fast in some sports. It is worth addressing the causes of that both tonight and hereafter. To be fair to the Government, a good deal of consideration is being given to that problem. One of the most obvious and deep aspects of the decline in community amateur sports clubs is the decline in community life as such. There is a profound problem of disintegration or dissolution of community life. There is increasing individualisation in life that too often leads to a reduced input by our fellow citizens—particularly by leading citizens—into civic and community life.

Sports clubs have a unique role to play in dealing with that problem because they reach out to people and parts that other organisations fail to reach. Fortunately, for young men, participation in sports, especially team sports, is a passion that escapes few of them. Unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, made clear, it escapes too many women. He pointed out that two men engage in amateur sports for every one woman. I believe that the statistics for ethnic minority groups are even worse, by a factor of two to one. That is a huge challenge. I do not think that any noble Lord believes that men have any greater right to benefit from sport than do women.

The first point I want to raise in the time available concerns over-regulation. We see during every working day in this place a culture that is tempted to use regulation to deal with every perceived inadequacy. In the realms of sport, in particular amateur sport, I strongly urge that we resist that temptation and adopt any and every other means of achieving what we want. For example, a head of steam is now building to legislate in respect of sports coaching. I would he powerfully hostile to that. Many small sports clubs are hanging on by only a thin thread and nothing should be done to incline more of them to close.

I turn now to work-life balance, about which there is obviously great concern in society at large. The Government have made it an objective to try to restore the work-life balance. Surely there is no better way of doing that than through the reinvigoration of community amateur sports clubs. However, it would be churlish of me not to make the point that last year the Government introduced for tax purposes the new category of "community amateur sports clubs". I do not doubt that that will have a major impact on the infusion of funds from individuals at the grassroots level into the sporting world and community amateur sports clubs. The Government took an important strategic decision and we are grateful for it.

I shall refer briefly to the links between schools, sports clubs and local authorities. If there is scope for government funding that would yield a large dividend, I think that it lies here. I am told by those working at the coal face that, too often, seriously inadequate links are established between schools—hard-pressed, with inadequate sports facilities and too little time for sports, along with often recalcitrant pupils—and sports clubs, many of which, if given a prod, would willingly make available their facilities, coaching services and so forth. Local authorities also have a major role to play.

I want to draw attention to a point on which I have received valuable input from a charity based in Hoxton called the Sky Partnership, as well as from a young charity called the Greenhouse Schools Project: the problem of adolescent and post-adolescent girls and young women who, I am told, find it particularly difficult to engage in sports. They often come from homes with no tradition of participation in sporting activities, and again that problem is most acute among certain ethnic groups. They have no role models to relate to, while a preoccupation with their sexual allure and relationships with the opposite sex often leads to an extremely low level of interest in engaging in sport. Add to that the problems faced by some Muslim groups—anxieties about changing facilities and chaperoning in the context of sport—then we must try to meet a major challenge. Again, this is a challenge not only for the Government, but also for sports clubs and local authorities.

The Greenhouse Schools Project has found that even where it has encouraged private and independent schools to make available their facilities at the weekend—pitches, gymnasia and swimming pools—it is difficult to persuade young women from some of the inner London comprehensive schools to take advantage of those facilities. That underlines the point.

I should like to see the role and profile of women elevated in the sports world—that is, the sports associations and quangos—along with a much stronger attempt to lure women into sports coaching. I also suggest that particular attention is paid to the needs of girls and women in every government or quango programme and project. The briefing distributed to some noble Lords by the Central Council of Physical Recreation makes it clear that there is a real shortfall.

I close by repeating the obvious: community amateur sports provide the great melting-pot of our society, embracing all ages, types, backgrounds and temperaments. All are equal in sports clubs. Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord for initiating the debate.

6.46 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Pendry has secured this debate. On many occasions he and other noble Lords here today have shown dedication to promoting sport for all. I want also to express my thanks to the several organisations for women's sport which have been so helpful in providing me with information, in particular the women's branch of the England Cricket Board.

I shall discuss the importance of involving women in sport from a young age, for reasons of health as well as fitness. I shall emphasise the importance of securing funding for sport, the need for organisation in sport and the vital importance of enthusiasm for sport within schools, communities and sports bodies. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, pointed out, this is not just a government issue. I shall illustrate these aspects by focusing on women's cricket, as an example. I shall also briefly mention another aspect of women in sport by talking about the work of the Lady Taverners.

First: catching them young. Evidence shows that women aged 40-plus are using public sports facilities such as gyms with enthusiasm. It may be that such facilities are women-friendly and that at this age women have more opportunity to engage in sport since they have fewer childcare responsibilities. Many systems of sport at a younger age are not women-friendly, being geared to male aptitudes and tastes. Generally, young women and girls have less time to participate in sport and have fewer role models. Nevertheless, participation in sport by women is increasing and, interestingly, in non-traditional sports for women such as cricket and football.

Perhaps women are recognising the benefits to health of exercise. Exercise can improve physical well-being and decrease the likelihood of stroke, heart attack and the onset of osteoporosis, referred to by my noble friend Lord Pendry. I know that the media are under attack for their portrayal or lack of portrayal—of women in sport, but I have to say that media messages about health and exercise are coming across very powerfully. Research indicates that young women who take part in regular physical activities develop higher self-esteem and self-confidence, and are less likely to become smokers or take drugs.

So, we need to foster exercise at a young age, overcome stereotyping and make systems work to encourage the participation of girls and women in sport by making that participation easy.

As I have said, that demands funding, organisation and enthusiasm. Of course, encouraging sport for all young people, boys and girls, is important, and sport needs to be made easy to access and enjoyable. Much is happening in education. Enthusiastic teachers have adopted exciting approaches. In schools, Kwik cricket and board games such as "Owzat" encourage greater understanding of and enthusiasm for the game.

I turn now to my example of organisation and enthusiasm. Women's cricket has recognised the need to change systems which, in turn, increases opportunities for girls and women to play the sport. The club league structure has changed. Seventeen counties now organise their own league clubs. That has cut down the costs of time and travel and encouraged more girls to participate in club cricket. There are now three regional leagues. There are competitions such as the Lady Taverners, which seeks to encourage maximum participation and develop beginners. That is played with a soft ball and eight players a side. Last year, 30 counties entered club competition, with 1,500 girls participating in the under-13s and under-15s national competition.

There has been a 26 per cent increase in counties entering teams for competition at various age groups since 2000. The majority of players are picked by selectors, but counties can also send players to an assessment day. Standards have risen steadily, perhaps because of that collaborative approach. Three hundred and forty-seven women's clubs are now registered with the England Cricket Board—an increase of 30 per cent on 2002. That is an extraordinary result.

The cricket development squad, fed from the regional squad, has three players funded by the national lottery. All three were part of the under-19 side that successfully toured Australia last winter. Such squads and their participation in international competition help to bridge the gap between county arid England cricket. That happens with planning, work and commitment from the counties.

The scheme, Women Into High-Performance Coaching, set up in 2001, exists to fast-track talented female coaches and to give them the opportunity to coach excellent players, rather than relying on male coaches, who, as we know, dominate the sporting world.

Women's county cricket development officers contribute to enhancing opportunities. They help clubs to look for funding; they help clubs to link into the county structure; they work on accreditation; they encourage pathways for young players to join clubs. Such effort has resulted in a 300 per cent increase in junior women's cricket and nearly a 100 per cent increase in adult clubs.

I have summarised the pyramid of organisation and structure which has gone into developing women's cricket and encouraging young women to take up the game. It is appropriately called "the pathway from playground to test arena". It has resulted in better coaching, better communication and better administration.

There are now 24 lottery-funded players in the England squad, which has an international programme. It will visit New Zealand this summer; take part in the World Cup in South Africa in 2004–05; tour Australia in 2005 and India after that. The under-19s toured Australia in 2003 and, playing in the under-19 national state tournament, won all six state matches comfortably. England players won awards for bowler and batsman of the tournament. Organisation, structure and enthusiasm do pay off.

I shall comment briefly on another aspect of women in sport; that is, in raising funds to enable young people to take up sport. As I have said, I shall speak about the Lady Taverners, in which I declare an interest as a member. The Lady Taverners came into being because of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. Traditionally, each Prime Minister is a member of the Lord's Taverners. The all-male club therefore had a problem with the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and the Lady Taverners was set up. Very dynamic it is too. The situation would perhaps be different now, just as the MCC now has women members.

The Lady Taverners has 980 members and 19 regions. It organises regular fundraising events and aims to give young people, particularly those with special needs, a sporting chance. In 2003, it raised more than £730,000.

During 2003, it provided 22 minibuses and major grants to two special needs schools for a soft playroom and playground equipment. Through the wheelchair sponsorship scheme, 11 grants have been made by the Lady Taverners, totalling more than £12,000. Individual awards to young people with disabilities are also made; for example, to Mickey Bushell, who was born with seven vertebrae missing and no spinal cord. Mickey is now the national under-15 Disability Sport England wheelchair racing champion, thanks to many grants from the Lady Taverners.

Women are making an increasing contribution to making sport popular and accessible—as participants, as supporters and as fundraisers. Fundraising is all very well and a good social activity in itself, but it is not enough to maintain sport on its own. I know that the women's under-19 cricket team, for example, is not able to tour for a while because of a lack of cash. I therefore ask the Minister which government funding schemes specifically target women's sport and sport for the disabled.

The organisation of women's sport is improving, as I have described through the example of women's cricket. Enthusiasm is there. Funding for sport in general has increased. What are the Government doing to encourage more women into sport? I know that all of us here tonight would welcome a positive response.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Pendry on securing this debate. Britain needs more people taking part in sports at all levels. It especially needs more young people taking part in competitive sports, particularly more girls and women.

London's bid for the Olympic Games in 2012 offers a golden opportunity to encourage young athletes from around the UK to get into sport on a regular basis and literally to go for gold. There is only one winner in an Olympic bid, but there are no losers. The city of Birmingham found that in the 1980s when it submitted a bid. As part of that, the city encouraged its elite athletes and leading clubs to go into schools to build up public support. I hope that similar schemes will be seen across the United Kingdom in connection with the London bid.

If more girls and young women are to be encouraged to take part in competitive sports and physical activities, role models are needed. That is where the media has an important part to play.

The triple jump champion, Ashia Hansen, whom I was proud to have as constituent in my former parliamentary constituency in Birmingham, underlined that point when she said: Growing up I had some really strong female role models to look up to from within my sport. I hope now that I can help others by being a role model and I welcome what the Women's Sports Foundation is trying to achieve. All young female athletes should have the opportunity to look up to the stars in their own sports to encourage and motivate them". She was referring to the campaign by the Women's Sports Foundation to give more publicity to women's sport. In its report, appropriately called Britain's Best Kept Secrets, published last November, it found, not only is the overall level of coverage poor, a substantial proportion of it is derogatory or focused excessively on the sportswoman's physical appearance, personal life or lifestyle". It concluded, the lack of focus on a sportswoman's athleticism, skill and achievements within sports reporting, in turn further undermines the status of women in sport". The report also stated: Women are under-represented in all aspects of sports news production including sports journalism, sports photography and sports broadcasting and presenting". It was the case in July last year—I have reason to believe that it is still the case— that not a single daily newspaper in England, Scotland or Wales had a female sports editor.

Serious issues about social exclusion arise. The gap in participation between women from poorer backgrounds and those from better-off homes is greater than that between middle-class men and women. Although more women are involved in sport and physical activity than was the case 15 years ago, the number and percentage of women taking part lag behind men's involvement. Television time for sport has expanded hugely, yet women in sport receive the same tiny share of coverage as they did a few years ago. The Women's Sports Foundation found in 2000 that women's sport received just 2.3 per cent of the total coverage of tabloid newspapers. While 1,564 photographs of sportsmen were published, there were just 36 of women. A repeat survey last year showed that coverage was 2.65 per cent, despite the success of Ashia Hansen and the other women athletes who set a string of new records at the World Indoor Athletics Championships in—yes, you have guessed it—the National Indoor Arena in the city of Birmingham last March.

I endorse the remarks of Deborah Potts, the chief executive of the Women's Sports Foundation, who said that the renewal of the BBC charter in 2006 should include sport within its commitment to balanced and representative public broadcasting to help to ensure more adequate coverage of women athletes.

This should also apply to all TV channels, which should feel some responsibility not only to show sport but—as they have done in the past but seem to do so little of now—to try to encourage interest in new and different sports. They should try to build audiences in that way rather than simply responding to the lads' games where the money is, such as football and rugby.

There is a real challenge here for the media: do not simply clear your front pages and screens to celebrate the success of women in sport when the medals are hung around their necks; help to encourage and build heroes by better reflecting the commitment, dedication and sacrifice that lies behind all the elite sporting achievements of women.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Pendry for introducing the debate and I congratulate him on his splendid speech. I am conscious that the list of speakers contains a number of distinguished sportsmen and women. I am afraid that I cannot claim any great fame as an athlete but your Lordships will know that I have over many years taken an interest in sporting issues. I have made, I hope, a modest contribution to the cause of women's sport in an administrative and office-holding capacity and, indeed, as a Member of the House.

Two years ago I successfully steered a Private Member's Bill through your Lordships' House which would have extended the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act to private sports clubs which offer membership and facilities to men and women on unequal terms. Despite a number of declarations of support for my Bill from my noble friends on the Government Front Bench and the backing of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Bill sadly suffered the fate of virtually all Private Members' Bills which originate in this House and died a death in the other place.

During the Bill's passage I was able to share with the House a number of horror stories about how women were treated at various golf and bowling clubs. I referred to the survey of social attitudes published by Golf World magazine. The findings, as reported in the Independent on Sunday, were that golf clubs were, the final bastions of British snobbery, discrimination and prejudice". Nearly one-quarter of British clubs were found to be preventing women from becoming elected captains and more than two-thirds operated under rules that discriminate against 140,000 regular women golfers. Half the clubs admitted that men and women were charged different fees for full membership and that there was a restriction on the hours that women can play.

A couple of years earlier, a survey in Women in Golf magazine showed that only 56 per cent of women could stand for election to the main committee; 21 per cent had men-only access in parts of the clubs; and 35 per cent did not provide women with full voting rights.

It is particularly regrettable that five courses approved by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club as venues for the Open are all male clubs. It is deplorable that the sports Minister was effectively told to get lost 18 months ago when he rightly complained about the 2002 Open being held at Muirfield.

During the passage of my Bill. I was sent many examples of some of the practices followed. There was a golf club in the Midlands where a white line was painted across the floor of the bar to mark the territory that women could not enter. A famous club in the north of England imposed a 30 per cent levy on subscriptions for men and women members alike but first denied women any vote on whether the levy should be raised and applied to them.

I have no reason to suppose that the situation has changed markedly from that described by Tim Howland, the chief executive of the Ladies' European tour, who was quoted in the March 2001 edition of Golf World as saying, It's mainly men who laugh about signs like 'No dogs. no women'. It's not something that women find funny. This sort of behaviour doesn't happen on the continent, only in Britain, and it's a sad indictment of how golf treats women and children". As a number of my noble friends have said, the situation for women's participation and treatment in sport would be better if media coverage were improved. There is certainly more sport on television than ever before, but it is overwhelmingly men's sport, particularly football, that dominates.

My noble friend referred to the efforts of the chief executive of the Women's Sports Foundation to have a new clause relating to women's sport inserted into the BBC charter. He may be interested to see the BBC sports calendar for 2004, which arrived on my desk yesterday. On the front cover there are five different sports depicted—not one of them shows a woman participant. Inside there are a further 21 photographs, and women appear in only three of them.

The media have a huge part to play in raising the profile of women's sport, highlighting role models and encouraging participation. As other speakers have said, the WSF has done sterling work in monitoring the national press, particularly the tabloid press. A statistic to come out of its conference at the Oval in November was that on average there were 10 days a month in the print media when women's sport received no coverage whatever. This lack of media interest results in poorer levels of sponsorship and means that there are fewer high profile role models for young women and sportswomen of the future.

Part of the problem, I suspect, lies with the language that we all use. We often under-estimate how we can alienate or discriminate against individuals and groups by the use of inappropriate language. By the use of language inclusive of women, we can subtly but powerfully shift the perception that women's sports are add-ons, auxiliaries or less important than men's sports towards the notion that they are important in their own right.

We have moved on a little from where we were a few years ago, as the Women's Sport Foundation admits in its fact file on Women, Sport and the Media. It is not so long ago that tabloid writers were more interested in whether women soccer players would swap shirts at the end of a match than in reporting the game. I thought that football had made real progress until I read the extraordinary comments of Mr Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, which were reported in the Guardian last week. He was reported as suggesting that female players wear tighter shorts to promote "a more female aesthetic". He said that the game's popularity would improve if they play in, more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball". He continued: They could for example have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so"— well, no, Mr Blatter, I do not— and they already have some different rules to men, such as playing with a lighter ball". The Guardian report then contained a series of robust quotes from some excellent women footballers from around the world. The England goalkeeper, Pauline Cope, said the comments were, typical of a bloke. We don't use a lighter ball, and to say that we should play in hotpants is plainly ridiculous". What makes Mr Blatter's comments so unfortunate is that they fly in the face of the excellent progress the Football Association has made in recent years to develop women's and girls' football. The FA has a five-year programme to develop opportunities for girls to play, to encourage and foster excellence as well as developing coaches. Four years into it, participation in women's and girls' football in England has grown from 960 to 4,800 affiliated clubs and the number of players from 11,000 to 61,667. Football has now taken over from netball as the most popular women's sport. We have a long way to go, however, before we reach the levels of participation seen in women's football in the United States where there are 7 million female players.

Finally, I should like to express my support for the UK strategy for women in sport which has been co-ordinated by UK Sport and the WSF, with involvement from other agencies. This aims to achieve a measurable impact for women as participants, leaders and élite performers by 2006. I suspect that we are some way off from introducing legislation of the kind which has had such a powerful impact in the United States: that is, Title IX of the US Educational Amendments of 1972. This is the landmark legislation which bans sex discrimination in schools in both academics and athletics. It states: No person in the US shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any educational programme or activity receiving federal aid". That means that for every dollar spent on boys' sport, exactly the same has to be spent on that for girls. It is widely believed throughout the US that it is this legislation which has been responsible for the huge growth in high school sport for girls in the country. Before Title IX, only 16,000 women played college sports; now 160,000 compete at college level.

Women's soccer is more popular than the men's and the full-time players earn salaries that, while not approaching European levels, are substantially more than those of other professional sports people. In a sense, Mia Hamm, the icon of American soccer, is the female David Beckham and earns substantial fees as a player and through sponsorship. In a range of sports—soccer, basketball and volleyball—being a professional woman player is a US reality and not just a dream.

I have not the slightest doubt that if we had similar legislation in this country, the prospects for girls' and women's sports generally would be transformed. It would be good to think that this could become an aspiration for us, too. I hope that we are making progress. I very much look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

7.11 p.m.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, the subject of tonight's debate could not be more timely. I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Pendry for introducing it.

The combination of the state's health and the participation in sport make daily headlines on the front and back pages of our newspapers. No newspaper bulletin on TV or radio is complete without reference to obesity, marauding youths on our streets, or the inability of Britain to produce a Wimbledon champion. Tonight's debate gives us the opportunity to analyse reasons why women in particular are failing to make active participation in sport a key part of their lives. We can look at the barriers, the turn-offs, and the basic lack of confidence and opportunities presented to them.

I hope briefly in the time allotted to me to flag up what I see as the major obstacles with some suggestions for remedy. However, I intend to devote the bulk of my speech to an area which I believe is causing huge damage to sport right across the spectrum. That issue is planning.

A quick jog round the basic facts dealing specifically with women and sport throws up the following headlines. Only half as many women as men take part in any sport and they have a much narrower range of sport available to them. The media are almost "woman blind" when reporting sport. Just over 2 per cent of daily newspaper coverage is dedicated to women's sport. Obesity is a hot issue from tabloid press to the World Health Organisation and the debate is heated. There are huge employment opportunities in sport but women play only a marginal part. Sport, by and large, is run by men for men. School sport is a vexed question. We have a whole generation of young women who were deprived of extra-curricular activities while at school, never getting a fair start into the world of active sport.

In answer to those headlines, we do see some progress. There is greater awareness of the need for encouragement for women and, indeed, for sporting heroines to galvanise them into action. Obesity, with the critical equation of diet and exercise, is very much a "woman area". Women take the lead with their families and must be encouraged to delve further.

As for school sport, there has been some progress. The Government's initiative on school sports, the New Opportunities Fund, after school clubs, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, mentioned, financial concessions to community amateur sports clubs whose obligation is to be the bridge between school and adult sport are central to those incentives. Marvellous organisations, such as the Women's Sports Foundation, the newly revitalised Sport England, and the ever vigilant and energising CCPR are all pulling together to improve our current situation. I have some optimism but, as someone said in a previous decade, Baby, we've sure come a long way, but we've sure got a long way to go".

I turn to the area that I believe can unlock the gates for women taking up and continuing in sport at every age and stage of life. I speak as one who plays tennis at least three times a week and, sadly, will not see 39 again. Sports clubs play a vital role in promoting their sport through a coaching programme, informal and competitive play and providing a "village" where families and friends can meet and play together. However, clubs tend to be located in areas of suburban housing where they have been a community resource for decades, pre-dating any neighbours who overlook them or live near them.

In our clubs we expect first-class playing areas with the opportunity to use the facilities to the maximum and at times convenient to us. To gain participation for 12 months of the year we probably need some indoor facilities—a bubble, an indoor play area. Clubs should also have excellent social and changing facilities with designated areas for young children, and a dynamic coaching system to train our beginners into champions if they have the potential but to improve all of us however young or old. A bar is an asset, as is a catering facility.

That is not too much to ask in my opinion. But just try to obtain planning permission to upgrade your local club and you will soon discover the uphill struggle you face. Initial objections often come from local residents. Their motives are clear and, by co-optinig, the support of their local councillor, they can thwart the upgrading time and again. The statistics for refusal are dire. In many cases not only the local residents but the local planners take a negative view, quoting noise, increased traffic and light pollution as justification.

The syndrome of almost blanket refusal has an additional unseen effect. Many clubs do not even bother to apply. It is a lengthy, probably expensive, process and clubs do not have the human or financial resources. So I am sure the situation is even more dire than the current statistics show.

What am I asking for? I ask for fairness, justice and common-sense outcomes. Currently the cards are firmly stacked against the clubs. We need a proper balance for the long-lasting success of those clubs. I do not ask for the removal of local democracy, but PPG17 should be strengthened. Surely it would be fair to strengthen the guidelines for planners. It should be implicit and expected that clubs should have reasonable planning applications viewed objectively.

Perhaps I may give the House an up-to-the-minute example. In a short interview with Ace, the tennis magazine, I mentioned my concern about planning refusals. The response was electric. Clubs all over Britain wrote to me with their individual tales of woe. I decided to speak to governing bodies other than tennis. I found identical problems. Bowls, cricket, rugby, hockey and athletics had all suffered from planning rejections. In my research, I have been greatly helped by the LTA, Sport England and the CCPR, all of which are alarmed at the prospect of clubs in decline with some even closing down.

When I went to my pigeonhole on Tuesday, by chance I found a pink slip asking me to make a phone call. I have a perfect illustration of what is happening today. Milford Tennis Club in Hampshire has seven courts, a squash and table tennis section and 600 members of all ages. Its court surfaces were upgraded recently with a loan from the LTA. Now it wants floodlights. It applied with the proviso of switching off the lights at 9.30. Imagine the club's dismay when, without consultation, the New Forest District Council turned down the application on the grounds of light pollution and increased use. No local residents objected. The secretary, Mrs Nicholls, asks: "How can the planning authority take such a negative view?". The floodlight specifications were recommended by the LTA's technical officer. Anyone who has seen modern floodlighting knows that spillage and pollution of lights is almost non-existent. Regarding the extended use, Mrs Nicholls said: surely that's the objective. We're trying to fight the couch potato syndrome". She added: without modernising our facilities, the very life-blood of this club could flow away". She concluded: Is anyone out there listening?". Of course, I sought her permission to quote her tonight. I salute her and the thousands like her—volunteers trying to promote healthy sport, take the kids off the street and give their communities the joy and pleasure of active sport.

The answer to her final question, is, I believe, "yes, we are". I hope that when the Minister replies, he will take us forward. The last thing we want is for potential sports women to turn to easier, more attractive alternatives to sport as we understand it. Keep fit, gymnasia, exercise classes are splendid, but not a replacement for sport. They can go hand-in-hand, but they are not substitutes.

Finally, let us not forget that sport is fun. Women play a crucial role in our sporting future. The surest way for a child to be sporting is for it to have a sporting mother. Let us give our clubs the support that they richly deserve, to be more women and family-friendly, to provide a fundamental building block for the sporting health of our nation.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Grantchester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Pendry for introducing the debate. He and I share a footballing interest, as he has been chairman and is now president of the Football Foundation, a successor body to the Football Trust, whose funds came from contributions from the pools companies. He is president of the Liverpool County FA, while I am chairman of the Liverpool County FA's Local Football Partnership. I shall speak from that standpoint, bearing in mind that football is our national and most prominent sport.

I am also a trustee of the Foundation for Sports and the Arts, which is funded by Littlewoods and Vernons to some £9 million annually, to encourage greater participation and enjoyment of sport and the arts, especially at grass roots level. Among our fellow trustees was Rebecca Stephens, who was the first British woman to scale Mount Everest. Included in both the Liverpool LFP's constitution and the FSA's trust deed is a requirement that whoever we support must have an open membership and allow, as far as possible, community access to facilities.

On the face of it, women's participation in sport would appear to be up to them. However, there are constant and huge constraints and impediments—including those that are sociological— that mean women are far from able to access and enjoy sport to the same extent as men.

Football is the top female participation sport in England, with 85,000 Football Association-affiliated players at 11-a-side level in 2002–03. In August 2002 there were 4,800 11-a-side girls' teams aged 16 and under—a doubling since the year before and compared with 80 teams in August 1993. The figure of 85,000 is a 38 per cent increase on the previous year. Ten years ago there were only 11,000 players. Girls' football is booming in England. Last season football became the top female sport in England, showing how investment at grass roots level and the promotion of female role models in the media can have a marked effect on promoting a healthy lifestyle in young women.

The Government need to encourage more investment into girls' sports to counteract the health problems that women suffer from today. Playing sport is a key part of a healthier lifestyle and gives women the confidence to make their own choices. A healthier lifestyle will combat health issues, anti-social behaviour and teenage pregnancy as well as helping sufferers from obesity and diabetes. The £5 million lottery funding given through Sport England's active sports girls' football campaign has been instrumental over the past three years in making the present participation figures a reality.

The FA recently signed its first major sponsor for women in 2002—the Nationwide building society—in a multi-million pound four-year deal and has won its bid to host the 2005 UEFA European Women's Championship Finals, which will be hosted mainly in the north-west. The FA is working on them with local government offices, Sport England, the regional development agency, city councils, UK Sport and professional men's clubs, to drive participation in women's sport in the community. A terrestrial TV platform would help to drive awareness of women's sport, elevate the promotion of female sporting role models for young women and drive participation.

The FA Women's Cup Final is the only live women's football broadcast on terrestrial television each year. There are four internationals on Sky Sports. The first final, shown live on BBC 1 in 2002. attracted 2.5 million viewers, compared with 6 million for the men's FA Cup Final that year. A hotline number, read out live on air in BBC l's coverage in 2003, resulted in over 200 calls to find out how girls could start playing football for their local football clubs—a direct link between showcasing women's sport and encouraging a healthy lifestyle for young women. Research conducted for the FA has shown that 1.4 million girls are taking part in some sort of regular football activity.

The FA's local football partnerships bring together local key stakeholders in football to develop an inclusive committed partnership to form "one plan for football" and determine the local priorities. Liverpool's LFP brings together representatives from the local authorities who have jurisdiction over many of the facilities, Sport England, Football in the Community, Merseyside Sport, English Merseyside Schools Association, women and girls' football and Liverpool FA, to help to draw up and implement the county's facility and development plans in conjunction with the regional sports board. The FA has allocated £280 million nationally over four years, 2003–06, to be spent through the local football partnerships on grass roots development. Liverpool LFP's allocation in that regard is £8.2 million, of which £5.8 million will come from the Football Foundation, with matched funding for the remaining £2.4 million—a 65.5 per cent rate. A key objective is promoting the women's game, to which there are elements in most applications for funding. For example, £70,000 is funding the Nugent House project in St Helens, which will provide segregated changing facilities and improved amenities, with a safe playing and training environment.

The FA has already set up within women's football a clear pathway pyramid to mirror the structure of men's football. Merseyside has two Premiership League clubs—Everton and Tranmere Rovers—with Liverpool FC Ladies being in their historically customary Division One status. However, that is where the similarity ends, with the discrepancies immediately being highlighted in coaching facilities, education, media coverage and image. Indeed, women's football is entirely amateur. There are 30 clubs on Merseyside and each club may have up to 11 teams. Charter standards will help to put pressure on clubs to develop more coaches, but they need to be female. Probably only four clubs have a female within their environment. There needs to be a clear pathway for women to develop their coaching and managing skills; and courses should be developed around the women's game as well as the men's. At the top level of the women's game the players have to rely on male coaches. There are only seven females in the country will Level 4 coaching qualifications, which are principally set up for the professional game. Hope Powell is on her own, having attained professional licence standard and has to manage the England national team as well as the youth teams under-15, under-17 and under-19; yet the success achieved is something that the men's team would strive to attain. Liverpool County's women's development officer, Mo Marley, coaches the under-19 England team. She tells me that that team has reached the semi-finals in the past two European ladies' championships.

The development of women's and girls' soccer puts extra stress on already overstretched facilities. Everton Ladies find it difficult to access floodlit pitches. Access to indoor facilities for girls is not only limited but poses a huge cost to limited resources. At local level there is limited provision of female changing rooms and nothing at all for female officials. In education the tradition has often been that male teachers take the boys and women teachers are "not capable". Merseyside Schools FA has a competition for girls' teams, but unfortunately the drop-out rate has increased due to the lack of teacher support. It is now a major priority to keep up with the explosion in female participation.

Many noble Lords have highlighted a discrepancy in media coverage. In Liverpool there is a 10-minute weekly slot on BBC Merseyside dedicated to women's and girls' football—next to nothing compared with the men's coverage, yet like gold dust to them and probably 10 minutes more than that provided to most county FAs. In the past 12 months, Mo Marley has been involved in the Women's Premier League, the FA Cup, the European Championships and the World Cup quarter-finals at under-19 England level, and yet the media have expressed no interest. As we know, however. last week Sepp Blatter suddenly made a comment and four different media companies immediately contacted Mo Marley for a comment. We need to change their views—that bias towards men-only sport and the image of women's football.

Women's football is developing at a tremendous rate and Merseyside is probably at the forefront. Women's football needs to be seen as sport in its own right and addressed with the same professionalism as that accorded to the men's game. Women footballers share the same professionalism in their approach while often holding down full-time jobs. As with most people in full-time jobs, a sports injury would entail a period off work. I am sure that that position is replicated in other female sports. I expect that with money coming into football and the development at grassroots level, football can lead the way in improving facilities in conjunction with local authorities, schools and the regional sports board, which can then be expanded to the benefit of all other sports and include women on an equal basis.

7.32 p.m.

Baroness Michie of Gallanach

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, albeit briefly. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, on securing the debate. I was glad to hear from him and from others of the initiatives being taken to encourage more women to participate in sport.

One noble Lord mentioned the difficulties and the many disincentives which women, particularly working mothers, must try to overcome to play a greater part in sport. Those who come from a sporting family, as I fortunately do, are at a great advantage. My father and nephew played rugby for Scotland—at different times, obviously; my mother played hockey and tennis at school; and at various stages at school and beyond I was able to play netball, hockey. tennis, squash and golf. Sporting parents are great role models for their children, both male and female. I believe that the only way that we can gain maximum participation in sport is to start at the beginning, in pre-schools, schools and clubs. The great sin of past decades was the sale of so many playing fields for development purposes. To leave schools, particularly large comprehensives, with no playing fields and with what often seems a postage stamp for a playground is a national disgrace.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said that fundraising on its own is not enough. I agree. I believe that the departments for health, education and housing should contribute significantly to the sporting budget. I do not have time to explain why I have included housing in that. However, I should like to see the school day extended by one or two hours to allow pupils to be involved in physical activity including dancing. I am thinking particularly of Scottish country dancing because those who take part, male and female, are on the whole very fit. Extracurricular activities, particularly sport and physical education, should be built into the school day. Sport is so important in developing character, confidence, fitness and team spirit.

When mentioning schools we must not forget schools in rural areas. I know from personal experience that school transport has always been a problem whenever attempts have been made to schedule sports and other extracurricular activities in after-school hours. Children who live 20 or 30 miles from school cannot stay for sports and other extracurricular activities if there is no school bus or other transport to take them home.

Only with the political will and resources to improve facilities for our youngsters will we see a real increase in the number of women participating in spore in the future.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, on bringing this debate forward. also congratulate all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate on raising a good cross-section of points. One point must be that the problems facing women in sport are not much different from those facing men in sport. The difference is in the amount of attention given to those problems and the amount of cultural support given to those individuals to encourage them to take part in sport. I am afraid that much of that is historical. The only real question is when in the history of sport a shift will occur in people's attitudes, from merely saying "You can if you want to", to actual encouragement.

The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, outlined a discussion in the other place which was quite revealing. I do not think that anyone from any of the major political parties would even think of giving that type of answer now. The world has moved on. This is not a political point; the point is about the development of sport. We have had many arguments about women's participation in sport. Noble Lords may have followed the arguments advanced by those who have tried to stop women participating in professional boxing. Whatever one's view on professional boxing, in an equal society, everyone should be allowed to take part. It is probably an extreme practical example of prejudice.

We have to try to address the problems of women in sport in the light of that historical tradition. In that tradition, lads often talk about sport and occasionally play it. Unfortunately, many of them spend far too much time talking about it and not enough playing. One knock-on effect has been that women do not regard football or any other sport as theirs; it is someone else's preserve. Fortunately that tradition is being broken down, but it is not being broken down quickly enough. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, provided an exposéof the attitude towards women sports players exhibited by a senior official whose name I will not try to pronounce. That attitude seemed similar to soft porn; there was not much else to it. The attitude had nothing to do with what the game is about or its spectator value.

Even one of life's misogynists is reported as saying that women's football is a better spectator sport because there is not as much frenetic rushing about. I have often heard it said about women's tennis that shots and points must be fought for and built, rather than just belting them out. If we take the fact that women's sports will always be slightly different, we should start to revel in the difference and in the fact that it will be slightly differently structured.

That means an attitude shift, which brings us to the media. People are used to looking at the same things in a sport—pace and power are the dominating factors that someone is looking for in a team. Women's sports rely on something else, which gives people an excuse for dismissing them, because they do not look like the real thing. It is a pretty bad excuse, which should not survive. I suggest that that is from where we must start to break it down. We must provide political leadership and put pressure on people to start to appreciate women's sports as being valuable in their own right and something that should be paid attention to.

Those women's sports that get attention generally occur alongside men's sports. Tennis and athletics do well out of this. The major tournaments have both competitions going on at the same time, and the camera and the commentators are already there, so it works out well economically to cover both male and female tournaments. It has meant that these sports have always had a toe in the door and do better. We must try to encourage those in the know—the BBC has a great duty to take on a leadership role in this regard—to pay attention to women's sports in their own right as different events.

As a rugby player, although now retired from regular games, I have recently enjoyed an experience where my chosen sport was briefly in the limelight. It took a long time to come, and if one looks at it now, rugby has retreated further back in most of the newspapers. It does better in the broadsheets—in the tabloids one would think that the game had ceased to exist until the next world cup or five nations tournament. Rugby union does much better than many other sports. If one takes on this culture, which is dominated by football and racing—national hunt or flat, depending on the season—it is not surprising that female sport is squeezed out. We must try to encourage the media to pay attention to the sports that are going on week in, week out that are not in their normal remit.

The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, talked about the traditional role of the sports magazine programme, which encouraged people to look at and experience other sports. That has been driven back into fashion of late. We must encourage our sporting bodies to look here. If we manage to get good examples of sport in our press and media, what will we do to encourage them to take it up?

If he ever finds himself at St Peter's gate, the noble Lord, Lord Philips of Sudbury, can talk about what he did for amateur sports clubs and guarantee at least a shorter stay in Purgatory than most of us. The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, talked about the importance of amateur sports clubs, which have probably saved our national sports from falling apart. They have saved various governments of different colours a great deal of time, money and effort in providing a sporting base. The existence of amateur clubs has meant that local government has not had to support sports in the way that would be necessary in other countries. They have provided their own clubhouses and coaching structures, but those are starting to creak. The Government are starting to recognise that, but I encourage them not to say that enough has been done, but to look at what else is needed. If they are taking on the educational programme for sport and physical well being—I could go on inter-relating this to the health position—these wonderful, unique institutions of ours will need greater support.

My noble friend mentioned that he was against a move to make coaching compulsory. Let us meet them half way and ensure that the Government give greater help and incentives to coaching programmes. Basic safety courses should be made available and free for all sports, because the problem comes when you get bad coaching. If we can do that, we stand a chance of having this great resource that will get people involved in sport.

Why is sport so important? People who take up a sport, as opposed to people who go to the gym, do not just do it for three weeks after Christmas. Men go on a diet, then go back three weeks later on, and say that they will come back when they are a little bit fitter after exercising by themselves, and then forget about it. Gyms make a lot of money, because everyone must pay for one year's membership. That does not help anyone to get fit. If someone has made a commitment to getting out there to compete on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning, they have a far greater incentive to keep themselves fit and healthy. Those people will have greater social interaction, because they will depend on team mates and the structure of the game. It has all those benefits.

We hear that women's sport is being pushed away by social attitudes about fear and body image. Women suffer so badly in this department because they are under pressure to conform to certain stereotypes. Struggling to keep fit means being exposed to the danger of ridicule. We all must laugh at ourselves in our sporting careers, because we do not get it right all the time—some of us more often than others. The Government can provide encouragement in that regard. That brings us back around to good examples being provided in the media.

Women's problems in sport are not that far removed from men's problems, but women need encouragement and support from government and the media. Without that we are ignoring a great deal of talent and the great benefits for more than half of our population.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, I join with those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, on introducing this debate. I also congratulate him on the important contribution that he has made to sporting events, not only over the years, but over the decades. We should be grateful to him for that.

In view of his opening remarks, I should say in the clearest possible terms that we on this side of the House are strongly in favour of encouraging greater participation in sport by girls and women, for all the reasons that other noble Lords have put forward: health, reducing obesity, social inclusion and so on. My noble friend Lord Moynihan would certainly take that view, and he regrets that he is unable to be here. He is in America, having meetings with members of the New York committee for the Olympics 2012 bid. He is sad that he is not able to take part in the debate this evening.

I should declare an interest as patron of Herne Hill Harriers who, I am happy to say, have excellent girls' and women's teams with substantial ethnic participation. I am not sure what else I should declare, given the sudden appearance of my parliamentary golf partner on the Government Front Bench.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, drew attention to the unfortunate remarks made by the president of FIFA a short time ago, which show to some extent what we are up against. It is extraordinary, given that, partly because of the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, as chairman and president of the Football Foundation, there has been a great increase in participation. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, gave the correct figures of an increase from 10,000 to something like 82,000 participants in women's football. That is not too pessimistic, but we clearly have a long way to go.

The Motion is couched in terms of government measures. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, that the fact that we are making a bid for the Olympics in 2012 is important. Clearly we want to win, but the fact that we are making the preparations and putting in the investment in sport is important in itself. There are associated problems, as we said in an earlier debate, with transport. There were some hopeful remarks at the launch a few days ago, but I am not clear what the situation is on Crossrail. My understanding is that the Government are now committed to Crossrail, but not in time for the Olympics. That would seem strange; perhaps the Minister will let us know the position.

Many noble Lords drew attention to the imbalance in media coverage, both on television and in the press. I was quite astonished a year or so ago when the BBC invited me, along with almost every sportsman one could think of, to a very large conference at White City— alas no longer with an athletics stadium. The discussion in the second half of the day was devoted almost entirely to problems of professional football club finance. Professional football gets a grossly excessive market share in terms of coverage. I enjoy watching it myself, but the share is not right at present.

Also important is the question of role models, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. I think that we are making progress on that in various sports, including Paula Radcliffe in my own, who is an ideal role model for many youngsters. In the last season of equestrian events, where women have always been every bit as good as men, Pippa Funnel has totally outclassed the men. There are some sports where the balance between men and women is more appropriate.

Remarks have been made about problems that still exist in golf clubs, although we are making progress. There is a huge difference in that respect between golf clubs in this country and, say, one where I am also a member in the Netherlands. However, the problem is not true of my golf club in London, which made a determined effort to try to bring in more schoolchildren to play. There were extraordinary events last weekend when a 14 year-old schoolgirl, Michelle Wie, just failed to make the cut by one stroke. She actually returned the same score as the winners of the British Open and the American Open last year, which shows the extent to which women are improving in sport generally, and indeed participating more and providing role models. The same is true of Ellen MacArthur, and one could talk of many others.

Women now achieve times, distances and performances every bit as good as those achieved by men not all that long ago. The gap is closing. Some of that is related to technology; women pole vaulters now go far higher than male pole vaulters used to, but the pole is not the same as it used to be. If we are to encourage more women into sport—I speak very much of competitive sport; that is the important issue in the debate—we have to look at how people can progress up the ladder, and we have real problems in that. There is a gap between school and club, and it is not all that easy, particularly for girls, to continue after they leave school.

I was speaking to someone in athletics yesterday who said that the number of participants in the London championships who were at school was very large. However, as they got older and went to university, the figure dropped very dramatically. Clubs play a very important role but, whatever the sport may be, they have to build up a greater link between the school side and the club side, otherwise girls simply drop out before they take part as women. Someone pointed out, however, that women sometimes come back at the age of 40 or so, but that may be a bit late to get into the Olympics if they have not participated previously.

The other problem—it did not use to be the case—is the gap between club level and international level. It used to be possible to get into international teams while doing a full-time job. That is no longer true, and we shall suffer from that. In the past year or so, a number of very distinguished athletes have retired, and the back-up is not coming through because the progression between club and the so-called elite athletes is becoming too big. We have a real problem with that, particularly for women.

I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, about the role of local authorities. It is tremendously important, but so is the issue of planning permission. Given that we do not have the same climate or environment as Australia, we have a problem so far as floodlighting is concerned, as I know from my experience of trying to arrange floodlights in London for a sports club. We need more floodlighting if we are to get girls as well as men participating more in sport in the evening. As we well know, there are problems with school facilities and so on. It is quite difficult to get schools to open their facilities to people during the evening. That is certainly a very important aspect of the matter.

We are very short on time, but it has been a fascinating debate. Many noble Lords have drawn attention to problems particular to the subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, originally drew attention. We are at a very exciting time in sporting events because of the question of the Olympics and our participation. We certainly hope that it will be possible to encourage far more girls and women to participate, so that they can in a higher proportion be ready to take part in 2012. In the mean time, it is only 205 days until the start of the Athens Olympics, and we must wish all those who take part in sport on our behalf—men, women or girls—every success on that occasion. It has been a very helpful debate, and I welcome it.

7.58 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey)

My Lords, I join everyone who has congratulated my noble friend Lord Pendry on having introduced the debate and on the way in which he did so. He should also be congratulated on the range and quality of speeches that he has encouraged. Everyone who has spoken is better qualified than I to speak on the subject, but I shall do my usual best to catch up so far as I can.

Clearly the issue of participation by women in sport is a serious problem with which the Government are and must be concerned. The latest available figures from Sport England show that 89 per cent of school-age boys took part in sport to some extent in 1999. The figure for girls was a healthy 84 per cent, so that in itself is not the problem. But by the ages of 16 to 19, young women were 23 per cent less likely to take part in regular sport than young men of the same age. By the ages of 25 to 29, 75 per cent of men were still participating, but only 54 per cent of women. By the ages of 45 to 59, the figures had dropped to 47 per cent for men, and to only 35 per cent for women. We therefore agree that we have a problem.

I must make a personal intervention here as someone who has tried to avoid competitive sport, in particular, all my life. After all, I used to go to the movies on games afternoons at school, but as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport covers the film industry as well, I cannot be wholly condemned for that. One cannot cover the whole field from personal experience. However, I would generalise from that by saying that I hope that no one here tonight or in government will think that their role is to force anyone into sport. Encouraging physical activity, yes; fighting ill health, certainly; but I hope and believe that we are concerned with those who want to take part in sport but cannot and who would like to be encouraged to do so.

There are many reasons why women find participation in sport more difficult. The most important one is that, on the whole, women work much harder than men. If they are working for a living, they are also working at home in a way that men still do not. They are bringing up children in a way that men still do not. The demands on their time are significantly greater than those on men. My noble friend Lady Massey referred to that; it is true. That may be one reason why, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, observed, women's participation in sport starts to increase again after the age of 40.

There are certainly good reasons in public policy why the Government should be encouraging women to take part in sport and trying to remove barriers to their doing so. The first and most important, referred to by many noble Lords, starting with my noble friend Lord Pendry, but including my noble friend Lady Billingham and others, is the question of health. My noble friend Lord Pendry correctly referred to problems of osteoporosis and cardiac disease, but there are also concerns about the direct relationship between inactivity, obesity, and ill health. There is no doubt that that problem is increasing. More than one-fifth of men and nearly one-quarter of women are now clinically obese, and the proportion of obese children has risen in as little as a year by 3.5 per cent.

So inactivity is a serious and growing public health problem that contributes to costs of £2.5 billion and to 9,000 premature deaths every year. Sport is one of many forms of physical activity that demonstrably address obesity. Organised sport forms only 8 per cent of the totality of activity. Nevertheless, it is clearly an important element in the fight against ill health. That is something that no government could ignore.

However, the news is not all bad about participation in some sports. We have heard some eloquent speeches on that subject. Several speakers, especially my noble friend Lord Grantchester, have given details of the rise in the number of female players registered with clubs affiliated to the Football Association. That has grown from about 11.000 in 1993 to more than 63.000 in 2002. That is an extraordinary achievement. About 1.4 million girls regularly take part in some form of footballing activity. It is now the number one sport for girls and women. I have only one tiny disagreement with the noble Lord about football: he talked as if the sport was entirely amateur; I am glad to tell him that Fulham Football Club has full and semi-professionals in its women's team.

My noble friend Lady Massey was eloquent about cricket, where there has been a 33 per cent increase during the past year in the number of women's clubs affiliated to the England and Wales Cricket Board. She mentioned the work of women cricketers in raising money for charity through the Lady Taverners. That is certainly a matter for congratulation.

In Rugby Union, the number of women's clubs has risen from 12 to 230 in the past 20 years, with a fourfold increase in registered players during the 1990s. Although there are no firm figures yet, the sport reports that a high proportion of the estimated 10,000 people who have taken up or returned to rugby following the triumph in the World Cup have been women or girls.

So we have two trends. Girls and women remain less likely to participate, but more girls and women regularly participate in sports that were once thought to be more or less exclusively the preserves of men. As my noble friend Lady Billingham said, we have come a long way but still have a long way to go.

What is the Government's activity in the area? The main policy to which I shall refer is the national physical activity strategy, the first phase of which will he published this spring. That is being carried out by the Activity Co-ordination Team, which covers nine government departments, as well as Sport England, the Health Development Agency, the Local Government Association and the New Opportunities Fund. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Michie, that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the ministry responsible for local government, is actively concerned in that.

In particular, we are considering barriers to physical activity by women, which several noble Lords have mentioned. Those include planning issues, to which my noble friend Lady Billingham and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, referred, the location or price of modern sports facilities and the need for wider use of school facilities, to which the noble Lord also referred. There are also psychological barriers: the fear of sport; the fear of losing in sport. There is the time needed to combine physical activity with work and home-making. There are travel problems—the need to encourage walking and cycling. All those are matters for that cross-government co-ordinated body, which is working on the subject and will be publishing a strategy within the next few months. Before I leave that topic, let me assure my noble friend Lady Billingham that the Activity Co-ordination Team is considering the particular issue of planning guidance for sports facilities.

I shall now refer to the work of the Women's Sports Foundation, as have several noble Lords. I am especially well informed about it, because its representatives came to see me this morning. I was pleased to welcome Deborah Potts and Helen Donohue and, I hope, give them some help on how to approach the issue that they raised with me—media coverage. I accept everything that has been said about media coverage, particularly in the press, but that is a matter on which the Government have no power to act, other than to deplore some of the things that we have heard about. I was able to point their in the direction of the BBC charter review and Ofcom's review of public service broadcasting, both of which ought to be helpful to them in attacking the issue of broadcast media coverage of women's participation in sport.

The foundation works closely with the Government and the Sports Council in a range of measures that have greatly raised the profile of women in sport. It is very encouraging to hear about its work over the past 20 years. In recognition of that, the foundation's grant from Sport England was increased by 33 per cent to £200,000 in 2003–04.

As a result of this and other activity, there has been a great deal of structural reform. The funding agreement that Sport England has with the Government includes a specific equal opportunities requirement. It ensures that gender and other equity issues are considered at the beginning of all publicly funded sports projects. Governing bodies must adhere to comprehensive equity agreements of their own if they are to qualify for funding, and those principles are adopted by each of the sports councils which recently published the UK Strategy Framework for Women's Sport. That strategy aims to create a sporting culture that fully values the contribution of women and creates the conditions necessary for their full involvement. This is starting to have an effect.

I refer to this matter because of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Pendry. I also recognise the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to the Football Foundation. That body has fully adopted equity principles and has provided £1.6 million for 30 women's and girls' coaching projects. All of the £83 million-worth of facilities that it has funded include full provision for women and girls. In the 20 Football Foundation projects that have been evaluated, participation rates have shot up by as much as 600 per cent.

I do not want to leave that subject without saying a word about amateur sports clubs. I am grateful for the recognition given by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, to the amendment to the Local Government Bill which makes 80 per cent rate relief mandatory. That matter has not got very far: there are over 100,000 amateur sports clubs and only 558 have registered. There is a good deal of educational work still required.

I recognise the point made by my noble friend Lord Faulkner about the discrimination that takes place in clubs such as golf clubs. He has been very eloquent on that subject. But those are private clubs, and, as he knows, how far the Government should intervene in private clubs is a controversial issue. Our first priority has to be to those facilities that receive public funding, and where we have a direct influence.

I agree that, if we are looking at sport as a whole, the link between local amateur sports clubs and elite sports and the Olympics is essential. I appreciate what the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Higgins, said about the Olympics. Incidentally, there is no problem of discrimination there, as 3,500 out of the 7,000 participants in the 1996 games were women. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is right in thinking that Crossrail will not be completed—nor was it ever expected to be completed—in time for the 2012 Olympics in London. I hope we can convince him that the transport facilities for the Olympic sites will be first class.

The noble Lord also mentioned that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is in New York speaking to the people responsible for its Olympic bid. It should be made clear that he is not sleeping with the enemy. He is 100 per cent behind our Olympics bid, and he took that commitment with him to New York.

I would like to say a word about school sport and coaching—not in the sense that coaching should become compulsory, which was the fear expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, but because we are, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked, providing support and investment in coaching. We have 3,000 additional community sports coaches and 45 development officers in localities and regions. An explicit objective of our coaching programme is to increase the number of qualified coaches and those receiving high quality coaching among women and other under-represented groups, including ethnic minorities.

Our PE, School Sport & Club Links programme addresses links between schools and clubs, building on the Girls in Sport Partnership developed by the Youth Sport Trust in partnership with Nike. I hope that it will be agreed that that is not bureaucracy. As a result, more than 200,000 girls in 2,000 schools have benefited directly from the Girls in Sport Partnership to date, and the lessons have been incorporated as part of training in sport, which has been delivered in every school in England.

The noble Lords, Lord Pendry, Lord Faulkner, Lord Grantchester, Lord Addington, and nearly every noble Lord who spoke mentioned media coverage. I have referred to the encouragement that we are giving to the Women's Sports Foundation in its very necessary campaign. It has achieved something in its initiatives and is rightly proud of what it has done. But it is still necessary to make further progress. The foundation launched the national "Campaign for Coverage", as a part of which it seeks a condition covering women's sport in the BBC's charter. The Communications Act 2003 contains references to sports coverage and equality, although they are not linked. But in the charter review it is a legitimate objective to say that they should be linked.

As has been said, there is now considerable coverage, not just of women in tennis and athletics, but of the Women's FA Cup Final on the BBC, to which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred, the Rugby World Cup on ITV and BSkyB's coverage of football, cricket and golf. There has been considerable success in boosting women's participation in sport, despite the absence of meaningful media coverage. In football, the 1.4 million figure to which I referred is very significant and includes some very young people, who will want to follow their sports in the media and will form an audience for those sports. In the end, that audience will impose itself even on the most recalcitrant broadcasters. It is a difficult problem, which must be solved.

In addition to the role model function, there are other forms of leadership. In women's sport we are now creating leaders at all levels. The chair and chief executive of UK Sport are women. As the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, said, the chief executive of the Central Council for Physical Recreation is Margaret Talbot. Three of the nine Sport England regional directors are women, as is the head of the English Institute of Sport. Our Olympic bid is led by the inspirational Barbara Cassani. We have never had so many women at the top of sport. That provides the momentum that we need if we are to drive up participation. I agree with every noble Lord who has spoken that that has never been more necessary. It is important that we celebrate our achievement in leadership at all levels. The noble Baroness, Lady Michie, asked whether we had the political will; I hope that my response will convince the House that indeed we have the will to do just that.

Lord Pendry

My Lords, I have less than a minute in which to thank everyone for taking part in this thoroughly good debate. There have been some powerful speeches, to which I would love to refer. I bet that we will not see any column inches in any of the newspapers about this good debate. That is part of the challenge for the future. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.