Culture, Media and Sport Questions

Hugh Robertson answers back bench MP’s questions on issues including sport participation in the north-west, compulsory swimming in Key Stages 1 and 2 in Scotland and support for the UK stages of the Tour de France next year. Subsequently, in Women and Equalities Questions he was asked about girls’ participation in sport.

Sport (West Lancashire)

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What steps she is taking to increase participation in sport in West Lancashire. [160608]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): The latest participation figures show that 37% of people in West Lancashire are playing sport once a week, which is above the national average. In addition, Lancashire is hosting both an Ashes test and the rugby league world cup this year, which I am sure will maintain enthusiasm for sport in the county.

Rosie Cooper: Participation rates in the north-west have fallen and Conservative-run West Lancashire borough council has closed Skelmersdale sports centre with no replacement in sight, provided unplayable football pitches due to inadequate drainage, and has made deep cuts in leisure service provision while sitting on tens of millions of pounds in reserves. Does the Minister think that the borough council’s approach is the right one to achieve an increase in participation rates and honour the Olympic legacy?

Hugh Robertson: The hon. Lady needs to be careful with her figures. If she is arguing that the participation rates have fallen, that is only for the winter. I was told that rugby league, which is big in her part of the world, had a week in which 96% of all its fixtures were cancelled. That explains the drop-off in participation. [Interruption.] Well yes; because when there is snow on the ground you can’t play rugby league. I would have thought that as the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) could have probably worked that out. The fact is that participation rates are above the national average in the part of the world the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) represents. I encourage local authorities to make use of both the Olympic effect and the many sports fixtures coming to her part of the world this year to drive up rates.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): At best, the active people figure for West Lancashire has flatlined, and participation rates in the north-west have gone down. Overall, the country has seen a reduction of 200,000. It is less than a year since the Olympic games and what have we got? Some 68% of school sports organisers tell us that fewer children are doing sport and that they are spending less time doing it. While the rest of us looked forward to an Olympic legacy, the Government were wrecking school sports partnerships. Now they are blaming the weather for adult figures going down. Rather than riding on the back of fluctuations in the climate, will the Minister get to the Dispatch Box and tell us what he is going to do to deliver a sustainable Olympic legacy?

Hugh Robertson: The first thing is that the hon. Gentleman has got his figures wrong. The second is that anybody with an iota of common sense would accept that if there is snow on the ground rugby league cannot be played, and that if there is ice on the road people are unlikely take their bicycles out. In the period since 2005 when we won the bid, up to the moment when, across two Governments, we delivered the games, London was the first host city to deliver a sustained increase—of 1.4 million—in participation. I pay tribute to the policy devised by James Purnell and carried through by the right hon. Members for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) when they were Secretaries of State. We should celebrate the fact that this country has achieved what no other country in the history of the Olympic games has ever achieved. Ranting and carping is pretty stupid.

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Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): What recent discussions she has had with her counterpart in the Scottish Government on the development of swimming in the UK. [160612]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): I meet Scottish Ministers regularly to discuss a range of sports policy issues. Chief among those are the Glasgow Commonwealth games in 2014 and the Youth Olympic games bid for 2018, both of which include swimming competitions.

Michael Connarty: I commend the Government in England for making it compulsory at key stages 1 and 2 to teach children to swim. However, that entitlement does not exist in Scotland. There has been a call from the Amateur Swimming Association not only to train swimmers for the Commonwealth and Olympic games but for better swimming safety. It wants a national entitlement to swimming teaching. In 2011, six children died by accidental drowning in Scotland and 47 in the UK; the figure for adults in the UK in that year was 407. Surely it is a human right for people to learn to swim so that they do not drown if they fall into the water.

Hugh Robertson: I do not know about a basic human right; it is a matter of common sense and safety. There is no doubt that there is a straightforward correlation between young people learning to swim and curbing deaths by drowning. I would encourage anybody to ensure that every single one of our young children is able to swim.

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Topical Questions

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What assessment have the Government made of the impact of TV advertising on online gambling? What is the cumulative effect on the nation of a surfeit of Ray Winstone?

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): I am not sure we directly know the answer to that, but I will find out and write to my hon. Friend.

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David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): The England football team is a valuable national asset, yet of the millions of pounds raised, over 50% goes to the professional game, not the impoverished grass roots; I speak as a director of Warrington Town football club, an example of the impoverished grass roots. Does the Minister intend to follow the Select Committee recommendation and make it Government policy to make a switch in regard to that funding?

Hugh Robertson: The Government can clearly direct funding only when they provide that funding, which they do through the whole sport plans and the football foundations. However, the Football Association is a signatory to the new code we set up in 2010 at the last review of the list, whereby it is pledged to give 30% of its UK broadcast income to grass roots sport.

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Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): What support is the Department giving to the Tour de France next year in the Yorkshire stages and the stage from my Cambridge constituency down to London?

Hugh Robertson: I think, in the nicest possible way, that the hon. Gentleman may wish he had not asked me that question. The Government have provided a considerable amount of underwriting. They have underwritten the whole event and provided the balance to make up a budget of £21 million. Unfortunately, Cambridge has yet to contribute at all, and that is one of the issues we will address in the weeks ahead.

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Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Newcastle United football club is also a national asset. Does the Minister share my utter bewilderment and that of tens of thousands of Newcastle United supporters at the arrival of Joe Kinnear on Tyneside?

Hugh Robertson: One of the things for which I am eternally grateful is that my job’s remit does not extend to the appointment of managers or sorting out the weekly round of scraps on a Saturday afternoon. I think I will leave that to the hon. Gentleman, if that is all right.

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Women and Equalities Questions

Sport (Girls)

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): What steps she is taking to maintain existing levels of girls’ participation in sport. [160632]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): In a guest appearance—figures released last week show that 6.785 million women played sport once a week, an increase of more than half a million since we won the bid in 2005. Through Sport England, the Government have awarded £1.7 million to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation to help sports understand which groups of women are most likely to take up sport, and where sport should focus effort to best advantage. Women’s participation in sport is one of the key priorities of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities.

Simon Hughes: Having visited the very good girls’ secondary schools and mixed secondary schools in my constituency, it seems that the crucial time to encourage young women to continue with sport and physical activity is the year leading up to 16, when they might leave school or think of other things. What are the Government doing to make sure that at that stage, they are sold the benefits of staying fit?

Hugh Robertson: My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct: the single biggest issue affecting gender-based participation in British sport in the last 20 years has been the post-school drop-out, which is most severe amongst teenage girls. The Government have sought to address that in the recent round of whole sport plans by concentrating on those in the 14 to 25 age group; by setting up 500 new satellite clubs, which will help to transition girls out of school and into sports clubs; and through the Sport England College Sport Makers, specialists in further education colleges who will help specifically with that drop-off.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): A total of 36% of the medals won by Team GB were won by women, but women’s sport gets just 0.5% of sports sponsorship. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that this unacceptable situation is adequately tackled?

Hugh Robertson: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to the success of the many women who competed for Team GB last year. We tried to put in place a new sports marketing bureau, headed by Sir Keith Mills, responsible for drawing up the sponsorship for London 2012, but I am afraid that the sports en masse did not want to sign up to that and wished to continue to negotiate sponsorship agreements on their own. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport hosted the summit, bringing together people from the worlds of broadcasting and sport, and we are doing everything we can to address the crucial issue the hon. Lady raises.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): A total of 81% of women feel that female sportspeople are much better role models than celebrities. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that female sport is broadcast more widely so that those role models can get the exposure they deserve?

Hugh Robertson: Perhaps I should turn up more regularly to this section of questions; I am being asked more questions than I was during the sports section. My hon. Friend is absolutely right and a key part of the Secretary of State’s initiative was high-quality advice from female broadcasters about how better to package female sport to make it more attractive. I am delighted to say that I have noticed since 2012 that there is much more concentration on it. It is a key part of UK Sport’s plans for the Rio Olympic and Paralympic cycle and we will do everything we can to ensure that those fantastic role models are appropriately profiled.

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Speaking in the House of Commons