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Mr. Hammond: I, too, am delighted to welcome the extension of the rating relief enjoyed by charities to community amateur sports clubs, so that those that are unable or unwilling to adopt charitable status because of the burdens mentioned by the Minister can benefit none the less. The issue of rate relief was most recently raised in relation to the Finance Act 2002, when other taxation reliefs were extended to the newly defined community amateur sports clubs. There was all-party consensus on the matter at that time.

The matter was also raised at the Committee stage of this Bill in the Commons by the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), a Labour Back Bencher. His initiative at that time received support from the official Opposition and from the Liberal Front-Bench team. When the same issue was raised in the other place by Lord Phillips of Sudbury, it was again supported by all sides, and Lord Phillips aptly described the measure as an amendment "with no enemies"—[Interruption.] The Minister mentions the Treasury, and I shall come to that issue in a moment.

When the hon. Member for South Ribble raised the issue in Committee, it will surprise no one who has attended the earlier parts of these debates that it was the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) who had to stand up robustly to resist the suggestion that the Government might extend business rate relief to community amateur sports clubs. He basically told the Committee that the reliefs provided in the Finance Act 2002 would do the trick for sports clubs, if only they were given a chance. He must be feeling a little sheepish now about having so

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slavishly read out what was obviously a pretty dud brief. Lord Rooker was a little quicker to ad lib his total support for the measure when he sensed the mood in the other place, before reverting to reading out his brief explaining why he could not accept it. He then had the pleasure of collecting the plaudits for introducing it on Third Reading in the Lords. It might be thought that a matter effectively dealing with taxation such as this would have been better introduced and dealt with in the House of Commons. We are all glad that it has got here in the end, but it would have been preferable had it been inserted into the Bill initially in this place.

I do not doubt for a moment that, behind the smooth consensus, there have been detailed discussions with the Treasury, and I have two questions for the Minister on this issue. In the House of Lords, the question of who would actually pay for the relief was raised almost as an aside. Those who regularly go into the other place to be entertained when Lord Rooker is speaking will know that he is not the most slavish adherent to the conventions of parliamentary procedure and language, and his reply to that question was, "Who cares?" Once he had recovered his composure slightly, however, he said that it would be the Treasury. That issue was not probed further in the other place, but I would be keen to learn from the Minister the mechanism by which the Treasury will pay, because there remains a lurking concern that, while the Treasury claims credit for providing the largesse, it will be other business rate payers—albeit spread very thinly across the board—who will pick up the tab. Perhaps the Minister could explain the mechanism by which a specific grant from the Treasury will fill the gap.

Secondly, will the Minister confirm that we are now left with a somewhat anomalous position in Northern Ireland? Ironically, sports clubs there have enjoyed mandatory relief at 80 per cent. for some time. They will continue to do so, but there is no provision in this measure to give local authorities there the discretion, which will exist in England, to extend 100 per cent. discretionary relief to sports clubs. Do the Government have any plans to address that anomaly? This issue was raised during the Lords debate last week, and I would be interested to know what the Government intend to do about it.

I do not want to dwell on technicalities. This is a tremendous victory for the will of Parliament over the instinctive parsimony of the Treasury, and congratulations are due to Members on both sides of this House and the other place who have fought for this new clause, and to the Ministers, who have no doubt had to fight long and hard behind the scenes against the Treasury to achieve such an excellent result. I know that amateur sports clubs throughout the country—I think it is safe to say in every single constituency represented in the House—will be extremely grateful for the effort that everyone involved has made.

Mr. Reed: I rise to welcome the measure as one who introduced a ten-minute Bill three or four years ago to define community amateur sports clubs. Its purpose was to allow the tax reliefs to be brought in, and I always envisaged that, when we talked about tax relief, it would include not only the package in the Finance Act 2002 but rate relief as well. When the Minister informed me a couple of weeks ago that this measure was to be

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introduced, I thought that there would be a big hole in my life. Community amateur sports clubs seem to have been a part of everything that I have done in this place over the past three or four years, so I am not quite sure what I shall do with my winter evenings now that I no longer need to discuss the benefits of tax relief for those clubs. However, it is a hole that I am very happy to accept into my life.

When we were talking about tax relief for community amateur sports clubs as part of the Finance Act, those of us who were lobbying behind the scenes were not expecting a package to come forward. Even the evening before the Budget, we had no indication whatever. I wish that the Treasury and the Department would ensure that we did not have such cliffhangers. In this instance, the will of Parliament was well known in plenty of time. People had been discussing this measure for a long time, and it had cross-party support.

I do not want to be churlish, but I noted that Opposition Members made the point that this proposal has been around a long time. It was not introduced by the Conservative Government, and it is a shame that it has taken so long to get this far. However, I do not want to sound like a Liberal Democrat whinger—they always want a bit more and argue that something should have been done sooner. To be fair to those in the Chamber and outside, there has been genuine cross-party support for this measure. We always joke about such things, but it is worth noting that, although the cost to the Treasury could be small, the benefit to community amateur sports clubs, especially those that are currently struggling, could be enormous. According to research carried out by the Central Council of Physical Recreation and Sport England, it could be the difference between clubs going under or staying afloat.

I declare a sort of interest. I played for my rugby club, Birstall, on Saturday, and within the first five minutes of the first part of the season I managed to dislocate my little finger. We do not have our own premises, so we will not necessarily benefit from this measure, but the clubs that we play against across the county will benefit from the tax reliefs. I know that currently they struggle from week to week with a reduced numbers of players in individual clubs. I hope that this measure will allow them to invest and turn around the steady decline in participation rates at community amateur sports club level, which is what it is all about.

Money has gone into the elite sports. In Loughborough, almost £35 million has gone into the English Institute of Sport. The elite athletes have fantastic facilities, but insufficient numbers of people have participated at community amateur sports club level. In the recent world athletics championships, Sweden did particularly well. The participation rate of the Swedes is more than 60 per cent., whereas in this country it is between 30 and 40 per cent., and there is a strong decline in that figure as the age profile increases, especially among women. This measure is to be welcomed.

I want to thank the individuals who have played an important part in introducing this measure. It is a fitting retirement present for Nigel Hook of the CCPR, who has been battling to achieve this for about 20 years. As hon. Members know, he retired in September, so perhaps this was a thank you present for all his hard

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work in supporting Members and community amateur sports clubs up and down the country. If it is, it is a fitting tribute to his hard work.

In the past three or four years, I have had the pleasure of working with Lord Phillips of Sudbury. He has brought a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose and the single-mindedness that has helped to drive this measure through in the other place.

What encouragement will there be for local authorities to go even further than the 80 per cent.? There is a discretionary level, but local authorities always argue that they never have enough resources, so I suspect that 80 per cent. will become the norm. Will the Minister ensure that there is some incentive for local authorities to go that extra mile. That leads on to the question put by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond). Who pays? It is important to know where the money is to come from, so that we know that it is for the long term and not just a short-term fix. I am sure that it is not, but it would be reassuring to know that.

This is a welcome change of mind. I never mind when people climb down or do U-turns—call it what you like. As long as we get the right result, I care not what has happened over the past three or four years. This campaign has been worth fighting. It has been carried out in the best of humour, and those of us who believed that the arguments were right were confident that the Government would listen. They have, and that deserves a big thank you.

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