Community Sports: Impact on Young People - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:05 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Shamash Lord Shamash Llafur 4:05, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to follow on from the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, and even more so to follow on from the national treasure, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I never thought I would find myself in a situation like this. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Hannett of Everton on his maiden speech, and my noble friend Lord Wood on introducing the debate—I will not rise to the barbs of those two clubs down the other end of the East Lancs Road. I very much look forward to welcoming my noble and dear friend Lady Hazarika, who has only recently joined us, and listening to her maiden speech.

I pay heartfelt thanks to all House officials, who in the last few weeks since the announcement of my ennoblement and my introduction could not have been more helpful. All my new colleagues on this side of the House, as well as a lot of noble friends opposite, were very generous in welcoming me with their support and advice. I also thank my two sponsors, my noble friends Lady Smith of Basildon and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town—who I am privileged to see in her place—for all their encouragement. I also thank my wife Naomi and my family, who are here, for their love and support over the years.

My father was born in 1882—I repeat, 1882—in Baghdad, which was then in the Ottoman Empire and the oldest Jewish community, and he arrived in Manchester in 1895 to further develop the family business in the cotton trade. Some 65 years later, I popped up. My father has a brother, and his son was my noble kinsman, the late Robert “Bob” Sheldon, Lord Sheldon of Ashton under Lyne, who served for 37 years in the other place before he entered your Lordships’ House and served for 14 years here. I suspect that many noble Lords will recall Bob Sheldon. I hope that I can at least try to equal his contribution. It is, in a way, a tribute to the multicultural nature of our nation that both I and my late noble kinsman became Members of your Lordships’ House.

I am a solicitor who is still practising. My firm covers the whole range of community legal work, supporting those who seek access to justice, primarily through the legal aid scheme. This scheme provides a sorely needed service to respond to critical issues such as homelessness, domestic abuse, Court of Protection matters and special educational needs, but it is under huge financial pressure. It struggles to survive, despite the battles with successive Governments for funding, while at the same time providing a crucially needed service—an issue I hope I will return to during my membership of this House.

Through my long membership of the Labour Party, I have been fortunate to find myself over some four decades advising the party on a whole range of legal issues of all types, including some high-profile cases involving Members of both Houses. However, my main area of advice to the Labour Party is that of electoral law. My engagement in this specialised area has enabled me to see that there is much that can constructively be achieved by way of substantive reform. I hope to play a part in seeing that achieved through the long-overdue consolidation of our electoral law, as well as by ensuring that our electoral registers are accurate and reflect the true number of electors entitled to vote. The Electoral Commission in 2023 estimated that there were up to 8 million people missing from the register. That is a huge number, and we must address that.

I also very much look forward to the Football Governance Bill coming to this House. The Bill, currently in Committee in the other place, sets out the creation of an independent regulator, a licensing structure, and protection of the football pyramid. I declare an interest in that I am the immediate past chairman and a current board member of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, MUST, the country’s largest football supporters trust, and I am pleased to say that I have now increased the number of Manchester United fans in this House by one.

That leads me to the substance of today’s debate, in the name of my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield. A quarter of the adult population are inactive and so, somewhat alarmingly, are one-third of children. An article in the Times earlier this week highlighted the problems of obesity and its link to “record sickness levels” in the workforce. As we have heard in the debate today, sport of all types is a positive route to begin dealing with this problem.

The loss of leisure facilities, through cuts and increasing pressure for new housing development, has meant the loss of playing fields up and down the country. However, there are signs that harnessing the sporting world could be used for the benefit of all. For example, Manchester United has a charitable foundation that has thus far contributed £48 million in social value. This is repeated, though not at all levels, across other foundations in the football pyramid, and in all probability across all our major sports. The aim is to work mainly with those aged five to 25 to ensure that they become healthier, happier and more socially connected, and ultimately more employable.

Central to this is working within communities in which clubs—not just football clubs—are based. Work within schools by clubs can be a springboard for engaging children who may be disaffected in some way. A classic way to engage children, which I learned from my elder son when he was working at the Arsenal in the Community scheme, was by teaching maths. For example, he would ask the pupils to think of their favourite two players—say Tony Adams and Thierry Henry of Arsenal, who had shirt numbers 6 and 14. The question to the children would be, “If you subtracted Tony Adams from Thierry Henry, what number would you get?”—a very simple but effective way of progressing. The answer was Ian Wright.

This community-based contribution by sports experts as positive role models encompasses and provides leadership skills and understanding of teamwork, and assists in the development of positive social skills, which are invaluable in today’s society. It cannot be overestimated or overstated.

This debate is one that I am privileged to take part in. I again thank my noble friend Lord Wood for moving the Motion and I very much look forward to being able to participate fully in the times ahead in your Lordships’ House.