My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for starting this debate. He is widely recognized as a great ambassador for sport. He is no minor sportsman himself, as a former colonial boxing champion. He is a former chairman of the Football Trust and is now president of the Football Foundation. His efforts to support grassroots soccer are much appreciated. I have had the privilege of serving with the noble Lord on the sports awards committee of the Variety Club Children’s Charity and, more recently, as a co-patron of the Heritage Foundation, which raises funds for charity through sport and entertainment.
Sport is not a side issue. It affects so many areas of our lives—health, leisure, community relations, business. Sport transcends culture, class, race and religion. It can build bridges and not walls between people and places. Sport can inform and inspire. This is such a wide-ranging subject that one can focus only on certain aspects of it. I still remember, as a bright-eyed 15 year-old member of the Warwickshire Schools cricket team, practising in the indoor nets at the Edgbaston county ground in Birmingham. We were so excited when the coach suddenly announced that we would be bowling to the England captain. We all turned round, and in walked a woman. One of my colleagues said, “But it’s a woman, sir”. The coach said, “Well, I’m glad you can see. Just get on with it”. That woman was Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, bat in hand, padded up. She was the England ladies’ cricket captain.
We did as we were told. For the next 20 minutes, we bowled outswingers, inswingers, off-spin, leg- spin and googlies. In those days I could bowl a fairly wicked ball that could swing both ways in one delivery. Not many people throw that, to misquote Michael Caine. However, we did not bowl the maiden over. Rachael hit every ball with skill and force. She went on to become a director of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, an MBE and a personal friend. She showed that women can play an important role in sport as players and leaders.
My father, Derief Taylor, played cricket for the West Indies and county cricket for Warwickshire in the 1950s championship-winning team, but he was proud also to be manager of the England women’s cricket team that toured the West Indies in the 1970s. It was him and 20 women; he was very pleased with that appointment. Although we have many modern-day examples of women sports stars, we know that, around adolescence, girls at school start to lose interest in sport. The reasons are often connected to the physical and emotional changes that they are going through, but we and the Government need to do more to encourage girls to pursue sports. The inspirational role played by Dame Kelly Holmes in the GirlsActive schools programme is vital, but it cannot be a one-woman campaign. I should be interested to hear from the Minister the Government’s plans to encourage more girls to stay in sport.
For many years, cricket has been overshadowed by the wealth and glamour of professional soccer, but the Chance to Shine project, encouraging competitive cricket in schools, has rekindled interest. However, there is no such thing as a free launch and I hope that the Government will continue to provide matching funding. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. Cricket has also realised that it is part of the entertainment industry and personalities attract interest. Despite his problems, players such as Freddie Flintoff have helped to inspire a game which once had an image more akin to Freddie Flintstone.
There is no doubt that professional soccer has a massive influence in the modern world. As a patron of the Aston Villa Supporters Trust, I have followed the claret and blue for many years. I am delighted that this week Aston Villa turned down a potential multimillion-pound sponsorship deal. Instead, it has decided to publicise on its shirts the local Acorns Children’s Hospice. That will bring awareness and funds to a fantastic charity. I hope only that other Premiership and professional soccer clubs will follow suit. Of course they have to run a business, but they have so much influence that they can help others in need. The Government can create the atmosphere to encourage clubs to do so.
I remember when Clyde Best, a black player from Bermuda, played for West Ham in the 1970s. He and other black players were subject to a lot of racist taunts. His pace could have been his fortune but he never fulfilled his potential, partly for that reason. Thankfully, the image of the game has changed radically in Britain since then. Now most teams in the football league, especially in the premier division, have black stars, but more needs to be done to encourage members of the black and ethnic- minority communities to become managers, coaches and trainers. However, the responsibility works both ways. The problems concerning gun and knife crime in the inner cities have been well documented. Sport can be a channel away from such activity. It can teach discipline and respect for others. But it is no use being young, gifted and slack. More people from the black community need to come forward and get involved as coaches and sports mentors.
I am a director of the Warwick Leadership Foundation charity. Part of its work is to partner groups in the inner cities, to provide role models and inspiration for young people. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, alluded to the fact that the answer does not lie only with the Government. The WLF employs that partnership principle and the Government need to do more to partner certain groups, such as faith groups, charities and other voluntary organisations. The Warwick Leadership Foundation has a particular link with the black-majority churches. Those churches are almost the untold story of Britain. Often you can get 2,000 people attending one church service. Within those communities, there are potential stars—players, coaches and mentors—but they are not in the loop; they do not know how to engage with the wider community. The Government would make great progress by reaching out to those groups and partnering them.
I spent 18 years as a barrister, mainly a criminal barrister, at the Old Bailey and a few years as a judge. It saddened me to see young men, especially black men, with ability, especially sporting ability, wasting their lives time after time. I remember sitting in a cell with a young man who had just been sentenced to five years for robbery. He said to me, “D’you know what? I could have played for Arsenal”. I said, “I’m afraid it’s too late for that. You should have thought of that before you committed the robbery”. I am not excusing such young men, but many of them lack role models and inspiration. Inspiration cannot be taught—it is caught. The Government need to understand that, when that young man went to prison, it was bad not only for him but for Britain, because we all suffer as a result. The one thing I learnt from my years at the criminal Bar was the tragic waste in talent that exists in our prison system, which is overflowing. More young black men are in prison than in college, which is very sad. What thoughts and plans does the Minister have to engage those young men and women wasting their talent who could become sports stars of the future? They are not bad people; they just lack the right direction, motivation and inspiration.
The Government still have a lot of work to do. They set a target of five hours of sport per week for schoolchildren. I say with respect that the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, presented a rather rosy picture of the Government’s achievements, in my humble view. Their own figures show that nearly 1 million children are not getting the basic two hours of sport that they previously aspired to. That is failure, not success. The Government’s Licensing Act has increased bureaucracy and cost voluntary sports clubs more than £2.6 million in its first year. That makes life difficult for voluntary clubs such as Ilford Town football and athletics club to operate; I have the privilege of being its honorary president.
I still feel that the Government need to grapple with the partnership principle. I do not dispute that they have spent money, but what is important is not just how much money but how effective it is. My plea to the Government is to cut the red tape. Small clubs simply cannot operate with regulation after regulation. They want the winning tape, not the red tape. Again, I should like to hear from the Minister what plans there are to simplify the system.
Many young men and women enjoy amateur sports. My father was the first black referee in the Birmingham amateur league back in the 1970s. He was very popular. In fact, teams used to request my father to be the referee, not because he was black but because he was good. I would go along with him and see these young men and women giving their time every Saturday and Sunday morning. They believed that they could be successful in their own way, although they never became soccer stars. At grassroots level there is a real passion for games such as soccer and cricket, and I feel that in many ways the Government are stifling that passion.
Furthermore, it is an unwelcome fact that, according to a survey by Sport England, around a third of people stop playing sport when they reach school-leaving age. As a nation, we are living longer, but living longer does not mean living better. The message that sport is for all, not just the young, needs to be promoted more by this Government. I spent a rather average time as an Aston Villa youth player, but now that I am in my fifties I am still hopeful of making my first team debut for that club. I believe that it has my contact numbers.