We are being heard: MPs praise “the greatest free gym that we have”

Posted by Carey Davies on 23/09/2014
MPs including David Rutley and Huw Irranca-Davies on a recent BMC-organised walk in Snowdonia

An excellent recent discussion in parliament saw MPs involved with the BMC praise the outdoors as “the greatest free gym that we have” and call for more support for outdoor recreation.

The debate was secured by Huw Irranca-Davies (MP for Ogmore), and followed a Westminster event on 11 June when a coalition of ten leading outdoor organisations urged political parties to factor the benefits of outdoor recreation into their manifestos for the next general election. At the event, the BMC, the Ramblers, the Youth Hostel Association and other members of the coalition set out six key proposals for government action (PDF).

It was very encouraging to hear MPs such as Huw Irranca-Davies (Labour) and David Rutley (Conservative) refer to the proposals during the parliamentary debate on September 10. It was evidence of the genuine cross-party support for recognition of the benefits activities such as hill walking and climbing bring to the nation.

The BMC and other organisations have been working hard to try to ensure these key proposals make their way to the policy teams working on each of the political party manifestos. We want to see tangible measures to increase, improve, maximise and strengthen policies on outdoor recreation and the conservation of our countryside.

Helen Grant, the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Equalities, was present during the debate to listen to the MPs’ arguments.

During the debate, Mr Irranca-Davies, MP for Ogmore, said: “I am an absolute evangelist for the great outdoors, which may come as a bit of a surprise because earlier in my career I was a sports facility and arts facility manager. My job then was to encourage people to come indoors, into sports centres, to get the gym mats out, do the aerobics sessions, get into the gym itself and so on; I was bringing people indoors.

“However, the greatest free gym that we have is when we step outside of our homes; we do not even need to get in a car.”

He called for “a coherent strategy, involving the Welsh Government, the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Assembly and so on, that makes use of this great asset that we have literally outside our doors,” a strategy “which percolates from the national level right down to the local level, and into the voluntary sector as well.”

Mr Irranca-Davies highlighted the huge body of evidence supporting the health benefits of outdoor recreation and its potential to tackle intractable health problems like obesity.

He added: “We are a beautiful island nation and sometimes we forget it too easily. Let us get out there and use it a heck of a lot more.”

David Rutley, MP for Macclesfield and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mountaineering, also made a significant contribution to the debate. He said: “There is growing evidence that more has to be done. A Government-sponsored paper, ‘Moving More, Living More’, sets out that the costs associated with inactivity in the UK are some £20 billion.

“It is clear that those involved in a lot of physical activity reduce their risk of dying early by 30%. It is astounding that 30% of the UK population are physically inactive, compared with 8% in the Scandinavian countries. Quite simply, something more needs to be done.”

Mr Rutley cited the recent Reconomics report by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which revealed that outdoor recreation was the UK’s favourite pastime, responsible for £21 billion of visitor spending.

He said: “Within the United Kingdom, Scotland and Northern Ireland already have clearly articulated outdoor strategies, so we are asking today that the Minister consider creating a strategy for the outdoors for the entire United Kingdom. We also hope that, following Thursday’s referendum, it will continue to include Scotland for many years to come.

He added: “On a day when many minds are concerned with the state of our Union and with conflicts in other parts of the world, it is tremendous to see so many people here to take this agenda further forward. I know that the Minister is a keen walker and has been to Cumbria, so I ask her to reflect on the amazing, stunning views from the tops of Blencathra and Skiddaw. They are worth the climb and the hard work, and the same is true for promoting the activities that we are discussing today. I hope that the Minister agrees that it is time to get more people moving outdoors.”

MP for Leeds North West, Greg Mulholland, the BMC's link to parliament through the Sport England Parliamentary Sport Fellowship scheme, also made a contribution to the debate.

He argued: "We know that there are thousands and thousands of people out walking, yet that is not reflected in the figures or the funding."

Mr Rutley agreed with him, saying: "We have to capture robustly the activity levels that are already there and then build on that success. It is clear that more people are getting involved. The increases in outdoor activities are far greater than in other organised sports."

Read the full transcript of the debate here.

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It is a pity MP's have forgotten about paddlesport despite campaigning by groups for many years....

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