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The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): On 3 March, the New Millennium Experience Company announced that the total value of the hammer price for items auctioned was approximately £3.5 million. That figure is subject to final reconciliation after completion of payments and collection of items by the purchasers.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): The Government seem to think that if they say nothing about the dome, the problem will go away and people will forget about it. However, people will not forget. They will not forget the waste of hundreds of millions of pounds of lottery money; the refusal of Lord Falconer, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, to resign; or the role played by the Secretary of State--
Will the Minister confirm that the sale of the dome's contents was as big a fiasco as everything else to do with the dome? As it costs almost £80 a minute merely to stay shut and there is a deafening official silence about any future sale of the site, will she also confirm that the dome is likely to run out of money again? When will that happen, and when it does, who will pick up the bill?
Janet Anderson: May I just remind the hon. Gentleman of one or two things? The decision to build the dome was taken under the previous Government, as was the decision to build it at Greenwich. They also appointed the original chairman and chief executive of the dome company, determined the corporate structure, decided on the use of lottery money to support the project and created the role of the shareholder. I rest my case.
The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey): I have received representations from the British Equestrian Federation, and there have been a small number of inquiries from individuals regarding ice hockey, water sports and netball.
Mr. Robathan: There has been great debate in the press about whether sporting events should be cancelled. It has also been suggested that Buckingham palace has become involved, although that is mere speculation. Does the Minister agree, in the light of her background, that the overriding priority in this terrible crisis must be eradication of the disease, and that caution should therefore be applied when any danger is associated with
Kate Hoey: I agree that the first priority must be to eradicate the disease, but I think that it is important to get the balance right on sporting fixtures. Guidelines are widely available. The governing bodies of sport are ultimately responsible for their own sport, and have dealt responsibly with the outbreak and taken their own decisions. The British Equestrian Federation, which deals with a range of horse sports--its responsibilities include pony trekking and other aspects of equestrian sport--has been especially affected by the outbreak and has taken very responsible decisions. We must leave those involved to make the best judgments for themselves. I do not believe that any event that has so far gone ahead should have been cancelled.
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart): Although some Labour Members--especially me--might wish that the recent game between England and Scotland at Twickenham had been cancelled, the fact is that the cancellation of major rugby internationals is a damaging blow not only to the sporting industry, but to the tourism industry, as such events are major money-spinners. Will my hon. Friend have urgent talks with the various rugby unions to ensure that the games now proceed as planned?
Kate Hoey: As my hon. Friend knows, only games involving the Irish team have been postponed and new dates have been suggested for them. The England- Scotland game took place as it would usually have done. It was a good result and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was present to see England win. I commiserate with my hon. Friend on that result, but I believe that all governing bodies are dealing with the problem in a very responsible manner.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): If the countryside is open for business as the Secretary of State insists, why were the Badmington horse trials cancelled, why is the Windsor horse show about to be cancelled, and why was the countryside march, which the Minister supports, cancelled?
Kate Hoey: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman well knows that the organisers believed that it was appropriate to cancel those events. That does not mean that events cannot take place in other parts of the countryside, where there are no cases of foot and mouth and which are far from infected areas. We must strike a balance. Does the hon. Gentleman want the Government to cancel all sporting events? That is clearly nonsense, and he knows it.
The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey): In the course of this year and last year, I have held several meetings with ministerial colleagues and representatives across the sports sector to discuss the taxation burden on community amateur sports clubs. The announcement from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget of plans to consult on a new tax relief for those clubs will be of great benefit to them.
Mr. Twigg: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, which will be warmly welcomed in my constituency where there are many community sports clubs. My constituency is a disadvantaged area, and my hon. Friend's reply is therefore especially important.
Kate Hoey: My hon. Friend is right that the many small community amateur clubs, which are the bedrock of sport, will benefit from the tax exemption. It will give them a great morale boost. They should be treated in the same way as small community amateur dramatic societies. I hope that the discussions will lead to the small community sports clubs receiving the same treatment for rate relief as amateur arts clubs.
Mr. Heath: There are 110,000 amateur sports clubs, which have more than 5 million members, who will greatly welcome the Minister's words. However, as the hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg) said, consultation on mandatory rate relief has already been announced, yet we have not moved further. Does the Minister agree that we do not need more Green Papers, White Papers, consultation exercises, taskforces or focus groups, but some action to support our small amateur sports clubs and the many volunteers throughout the country who help to make them work? Will she impress on her colleagues the urgency of supporting those clubs?
Kate Hoey: The hon. Gentleman should have paid tribute to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on sport, because we are considering an all-party effort, and one throughout sport, to gain the recognition that I described. I do not want more Green Papers and consultation, but the definition of a small community amateur sports club must be clarified specifically if the necessary provisions are to be included in the pre-Budget report in October. We do not want professional clubs, which earn huge amounts of money, to benefit. The provision is for the small club; that is why it is important to get it right. We have waited a long time for it.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), who presented a ten-minute Bill on the subject, and to all hon. Members who have worked for the provision, as well as to the Central Council
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I welcome my hon. Friend's words. Some clubs are considering development plans at the moment, so will she consider publishing advice and guidance for clubs on the tactics and the strategy that they should now adopt for those plans, which they will later present and for which they will want to raise money?
Kate Hoey: As I said earlier, the Central Council of Physical Recreation has led a terrific campaign for many years. It has clear guidelines, and it will be willing to give advice to any individual club. However, that advice will not apply to professional clubs and relief will be limited to clubs that have truly open membership, not those where access is restricted to a small section of the community. We want to open up our clubs and support the voluntary effort at grass roots. We will also adopt guidelines, and any club is welcome to get in touch with us.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I am sure that the Minister intended to reassure voluntary sports clubs, and I agree with her sentiment that everyone has considered this matter. Is it not the case, however, that nothing has been decided, and that there is nothing new in what the Chancellor said? He only agreed to consider how to give help to sports clubs.
I confirm to the Minister that we have considered this matter in some depth, and I can announce today that the next Conservative Government will work with the Charity Commission--and change the law if necessary--to offer charitable status to voluntary, not-for-profit sports clubs. Is she aware that that would not only give them help with rates, but encourage new money through tax relief for corporate and personal donations; and most importantly, that it would help to secure facilities and playing fields for future generations? Grass-roots sports clubs feel let down by the Government, and we intend to put that right.
Kate Hoey: The hon. Gentleman and his party had 18 years in which to do that and they never got very far, despite having a Prime Minister who was committed to the idea at one stage. The Chancellor has now committed the Government to seeing this provision as a necessary one. We are looking at the details and their implications. If we were to go down the charitable status route, which is not a route that sport itself wants, we should still be discussing this issue in another 20 years' time.