Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001
BICHARD, KCB, MR
40. How many have them in their Department of
National Heritage or Culture, Media and Sport?
(Mr Young) Five or six. The other popular one is Education.
Some of then have a sort of central chancery or something of that
41. Five or six in the National Heritage Department.
(Mr Young) Yes. Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain; the
list is available and I can give it to the Committee if you like.
Only two of them have it in Health. The machinery of Government
is not for me. Sport has gone from Environment, to Education to
DCMS; it can go anywhere. In the 15 EU countries only two of them
have it with Health.
That is not an argument against, it is just a matter of fact.
42. What do you think is the main aim of the
sport section of your Department?
(Mr Young) To produce sporting opportunities for all
and that fits in extraordinarily well with our tourism and broadcasting
responsibilities because sport is financed in part either by broadcasting
or by the Lottery, both of which are DCMS funding channels. I
am not arguing that it has to be in DCMS: I am only pointing out
that there are some rather useful connections with the rest of
DCMS, as of course there are with DfEE and DETR and Health. There
always will be boundary issues around where you put sport within
43. If one saw sport, apart from all the other
beneficial knock-on effects of having good sportsmen and having
a good system of sport across the different sporting activities
in the country, if you saw one of the main benefits to be that
you are enhancing the health of the nation as well as winning
tournaments or medals or whatever, is there not a logic for it
to be rather in the Department of Health?
(Mr Young) There is a logic for it being in DCMS,
there was a logic for it being in Education, there was logic for
it being in Environment. The 15 EU countries all have different
logics for different things. I am just saying that two out of
15 have chosen Health.
Surely the important thing is that we all work inter-departmentally
to achieve the objectives that we want? The report is quite flattering
about the extent of inter-departmental working which already exists
and surely that is the key rather than which department has responsibility?
(Mr Crisp) May I give you two very specific
examples? One is the National Opportunities Fund, Rowntree for
PE and Sport in Schools, where we have engaged with DCMS, even
though they have the lead. The second thing, which is partly as
a result of this report and certainly has given it more impetus,
is that we are on the point of agreeing a joint departmental adviser,
so we shall have a joint post between the two departments to pick
up precisely these issues which otherwise might fall down in the
cracks between the two, just to make sure we have a proper health
element within the overall sporting strategy.
44. Do you think enough is being done in our
schools to promote good health through sporting activity?
(Mr Crisp) I am not sure I can answer that precisely
but we have enough mechanisms in place now to make sure that we
have a good health input to the planning. The other issues you
pick up there could be more for Sir Michael to pick up.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I would never be complacent
enough to come to this Committee and say yes to a question like
that. Clearly there are things which can be done to improve what
we are doing. I was trying earlier to spell out some of the investment
which is going in on improving facilities, the increase in the
time, the attempts to try to promote sport and participation more
generally across all of our schools. I should hope that in two
or three years' time, when all of that is in place, we shall indeed
have improved our performance really quite considerably.
45. I should like to discuss for a moment the
reasons why perhaps people eat as much as they do. Smoking in
this country has reduced quite a lot over the last few years and
we all accept that is in general good for health. I suspect that
both smoking and eating are used by quite a number of people as
a sort of stress reducer. I wonder whether there is any correlation
between the increase in overeating and the reduction in smoking
and if so whether that has any lessons for us?
(Mr Crisp) It is an interesting point
and I am not sure I am aware of any specific research. I can obviously
find out whether there is specific research which links the two.
Clearly we have seen one coming down and the other going up, as
you say, over the same time period and clearly they are both significant
social issues about lifestyle and behaviour.
46. Do you think then that there could be a
chance that if all the good things we want to do about reducing
overeating that are in this report were put in place and people
did stop eating so much, there might be a law of unintended effect
in that we then saw stress levels in the community rising with
all sorts of other illnesses caused by stress?
(Mr Crisp) One of the things which is significant
in how you reduce smoking, and I suspect the same is true in how
you reduce overeating, is to try to tackle the root causes rather
than just the symptoms, whereas what you are talking about would
purely be the symptoms, would it not? If you think about how you
tackle reducing smoking, it is just not good enough to tell people
to stop smoking or stop overeating. You actually have to give
them some help which may be psychological, it may be to do with
some of these issues which are drawn out where the general practitioners
say they want more access to self-help groups and to support for
people who are trying to give up either smoking or overeating.
There is a significant set of issues which shows that you need
to tackle the stress you were talking about if you are going to
deliver on the symptom.
47. Another matter is the extent to which it
may be the GPs themselvesand I should declare an interest
in that my wife is a GPwho need a certain amount of help.
Being a GP is a fairly sedentary occupation and there are some
GPs themselves whose weight is perhaps rather more than it might
be. I just wonder to what extent those GPs who are themselves
overweight find it more difficult to give advice to patients who
(Mr Crisp) That is an interesting question and I am
not sure I could produce any evidence on that. The one thing I
would say is that the BMA have been discussing with us more occupational
health services for general practitioners. Indeed in the NHS plan
we are putting in more occupational health services to try to
provide more support for GPs with whatever the issue may be, because
as independent practitioners, as you well know, they are not working
within the normal employment workplace where there may be the
sort of support they would get if they were working in one of
our departments for example. There are some moves in that direction,
but how significant that is as an issue I honestly would not know.
48. To what extent are you trying to reduce
the stress on GPs because that may also become a problem?
(Mr Crisp) That is a very significant issue. We are
doing two or three things at the moment. Firstly, we are in the
process of attempting to renegotiate the contract for primary
care to get a new balance between what is expected and so on within
the system. Secondly, we have put in some new support mechanisms
and the one I have just mentioned is the occupational health service.
Thirdly, there has been a big drive on reducing the amount of
bureaucracy for GPs, to try to reduce some of the stress. You
will be aware that GPs no longer have to sign certain forms and
so on. There is a battery of things but there is a lot more to
do because we are moving to expecting more of GPs in a more systematic
fashion than we have done in the past and therefore more support
needs to be put in.
49. To what extent do you think a no-fault compensation
system might be part of reducing stress for general practitioners?
(Mr Crisp) That is a much wider issue. I would not
know to what extent that would be significant, although I do know
that people do argue the case for that.
50. One thing I discovered when I came to this
place, somewhat to my amazement, was that in the Members' dining
room downstairs we occasionally have on our menus a little heart
shape across different dishes which is intended to show what is
a relatively healthy dish to eat and what is not. Not being one
who was ever given any training at school in healthy eating at
all, I find this sometimes quite useful. Is that something you
are contemplating advising restaurants outside this place to take
(Mr Podger) Yes; in fact it is quite interesting.
Whereas in the past people usually went out to restaurants for
a treat and, to be frank, were not over concerned about the nutritional
content of their meals, increasingly now people eat out much more
and the demand for nutritional information is greater. As you
will know, airlines are also rather good at this. We have been
in discussion with the catering industry about the desirability
of offering lighter options and I suspect many people in this
room who have to eat out a lot for business reasons would be grateful
as well. Yes, we very much encourage that.
51. Mr Rickett, may I turn to you now? I am
afraid most of the rest of my questions will probably be directed
at you because amongst my other jobs I am Secretary of the All
Party Cycling Group. I cannot miss this opportunity therefore
to talk a bit about cycling, if I may? The great difficulty cyclists
always have is the need for separation between cyclists, pedestrians
and motorists of all sorts. What are you doing to increase the
opportunities for local authorities to provide that separation?
(Mr Rickett) At the heart of it has to be the local
transport plan and the local cycling strategies that they must
contain and the fact that we have doubled the resources this year
as compared to last and provided a stable funding framework for
the next five years in the local transport plan settlement and
an indication of a stable framework for ten years in the ten-year
transport plan. We probably underestimated the amount of investment
needed in cycle paths, in separate cycle lanes on highways and
in traffic calming measures, which are important because of the
high fatality rates among cyclists, especially young cyclists,
children. That is probably why we are not going to meet the target
of doubling the level of cycling trips by 2002 which was part
of the national cycling strategy.
52. Does every new road have to have a cycle
(Mr Rickett) No, when local authorities are looking
at new road developments they should be subjecting these to cycle
audits, they should be looking to see what impact not just road
developments but other developments too have on cycle patterns.
53. For clarity, when you say "should",
do you mean they are required to, or is that just an aspiration?
(Mr Rickett) They are expected to. The guidance we
give on local transport plans asks them to do this. We provide
lots of advice on cycle audit and in the planning policy guidance
note on transport we also make the same point so that this is
covered in land use planning as well as in the transport investment
54. Most of the towns in Britain, with fairly
rare exceptions, are quite old and the layout of the road systems
is often quite old and was not laid down with a view to vehicles
and certainly was not laid down with a view to vehicles and cyclists
being separated. What can be done by way of using parallel roads,
one for vehicles and one for cyclists?
(Mr Rickett) I hesitate to make generalisations about
how you approach this because you have to find the appropriate
local solution. The condition on a particular road varies so much.
Separation may be one way of dealing with the problem, traffic
calming is another way of dealing with it.
55. Are you encouraging local authorities to
consider, where there are several parallel roads, as in our big
cities where you often have roads laid fairly parallel to one
another, looking at the possibility of closing a road to vehicles
altogether in order to allow the road parallel to be taken up
(Mr Rickett) We certainly asked them to consider giving
cyclists and pedestrians priority in their road planning. We have
also given them powers in the Transport Act to designate home
zones and quiet lanes which are about giving priority in the use
of roads to people other than car drivers. We have provided them
with guidance, we have provided them with powers and we provided
them with considerably more resources. We have also tried to encourage
them to work in partnership to try to achieve the sorts of things
you are talking about. I hesitate to say the solution ought to
be separated cycle paths or traffic calming or this, that or the
other. We have given them guidance on what local authorities have
found works in certain circumstances, the best practice.
56. Cycling is often most attractive on fairly
level ground. Rivers and canals tend to be pretty flat. To what
extent are you encouraging British Waterways and other such bodies
to make paths alongside canals and rivers where they do not exist
or to open up such paths, free of cost, to cyclists and pedestrians
where they do exist?
(Mr Rickett) That is very much part, is it not, of
the development of the national cycling network. We are working
with SUSTRANS to produce 8,000 miles of cycling paths by the year
2005, as I understand it. It is not something that Government
fiat will necessarily produce, it is a question of working together
to identify the opportunities for creating such cycling routes.
57. In my area we have had a problem because
of cyclists being charged a licence fee to go alongside the canal.
Somebody has to pay for the cost of the upkeep of the canal path.
Is your Department prepared to put money into this?
(Mr Rickett) I am not going to make a commitment off
the top of my head, no. I would have to go back and ask whether
there are any initiatives which relate to that sort of thing.
I am not briefed on it.
58. What about cycles on trains? That is another
matter which would largely be for local authorities presumably.
(Mr Rickett) We have done some research on the use
of cycles on trains. We have provided some guidance on it. It
is not just a question of providing cycle racks on trains like
the Anglia Railways experiment. It is a question of providing
the safe routes to the stations, which is very much part of the
safe routes concept for promoting cycling and walking more generally.
The research showed that actually one of the things which put
people off was the perceived safety or otherwise of getting to
the railway station.
59. When you travel by rail around the countryside
you often notice that there are tracks on one side; certainly
in our area there are lots of tracks to either side of the railway
line which look seldom used. They are very rusty, often very overgrown
with weeds and so on. Is there an opportunity perhaps to increase
the accessibility of such tracks to cyclists by cordoning off
the edge of a large stream of railway tracks and using those for
(Mr Rickett) That has to be a matter for Railtrack
and train operating companies.
2 Note by Witness: In fact, the table in the
Health Committee's report is inaccurate. The Netherlands is the
only EU country where sport resides with the Health Ministry.
In Belgium, responsibility for sport is shared between the three
Belgian linguistic communities, namely the French-, Flemish- and
German-speaking Communities, which fall under developed government
Note by Witness: See footnote no 2 above. Back
Note by Witness: This is subject to final agreement being
made on the nature of the post and funding. Back
Note by Witness: See Evidence, Appendix 3, page 26 (PAC
Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 25 (PAC 00-01/176). Back