Referring to Raising the Game, the paper launched by the Prime Minister last summer, he said: "At issue is whether these proposals are to become reality or are they just pious platitudes?" School sport was the foundation on which all sport was built. It should be given pride of place in terms of training, coaching and playing fields.
But would the Government provide extra money for out-of-hours sport and would the Department for Education and Employment provide time on the curriculum for two hours physical education and sport a week, he asked the conference, held in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire.
Lord Howell, also a former chairman of the CCPR, said the "biggest calamity of all is the disappearance of the specialist PE advisory service" and called for a campaign to re-establish it. He was equally concerned at the closure of PE colleges.
"It's as plain as a pikestaff that the Government must establish a strategy - the departments of National Heritage and Education should be in sync. The most ludicrous part of the document concerns the protection of playing fields when some 6,000 have gone and another 1,500 are under threat. At least they should apologise for that infamous circular which allowed playing fields to be turned into car parks for Sainsbury's and Tesco's."
He appealed to the Sports Council to consider changing its rule that lottery bidders must raise 35 per cent of funds to qualify for awards, as it was handicapping inner cities.
Lord Howell could not resist a side-swipe at Sports Minister Iain Sproat, accusing him of "breath-taking arrogance" in ignoring the contribution made by local authorities to sport, limiting the number of sports to those he approved of and abandoning the notion of "sport for all". "Sport at the top is important, but you can't have it until you have it at the grassroots."
Derek Casey, chief executive of the Sports Council, had some comfort for Lord Howell, promising to help clubs, schools and projects in deprived areas which could not raise the required 35 per cent. He also said there would be an announcement before Christmas on proposals which would "boost, not replace DFEE funds" for school sport.
Plans to give governors powers to pay for teachers taking extra-curricular sport are "fraught with very serious problems", the National Association of Head Teachers warned today.
In its response to Raising the Game, the association said very few schools had funds to allow them to do this. The only system available would mean putting such a teacher on the same level as the head of a medium-sized department; payments would have to be equally available for other extra-curricular activity such as music and drama.
Such payments would severely damage the equilibrium in most staffrooms, where teachers accepted that some colleagues had more out-of-hours duties while others had huge marking and preparation commitments.
Heads criticised the narrow view of sport expressed in the document, adding: "It is sad that some derogatory views about competitive sport from a tiny minority of teachers, highlighted in the press some years ago, should still be believed by Government to be the attitude and approach of teachers generally. "
They said the diversification from traditional team games into more individual sports like racket games, golf, archery and canoeing, had nothing to do with an anti-competition culture, but with giving all young people the opportunity to excel, or to take part in a sport which motivated them.
"It makes no sense to force adolescents to stand reluctantly round the edges of hockey or football pitches when they could be achieving esteem and pleasure from swimming or cross country running."
The NAHT queried plans to make PE a compulsory part of teacher training and encourage teachers to become coaches, because many had no interest in sport. Would it benefit children to enforce teacher participation in these activities when they had strengths in other areas?
David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, called for investment to support the Government's plans, "a fair crack of the whip" in distributing lottery money, and a halt to the "disastrous" loss of playing fields.