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7.45 pm

Mr. Edward Davey: Members have already mentioned that many people from across the parties have been involved in this long campaign, not least the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed). Despite his comments about the Liberal Democrats, I congratulate him. I also congratulate Liberal Democrat peers, most notably my noble Friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who moved the amendment in the other place. He got the Government worried that the House of Lords was going to push this amendment. Although we had the amendment from the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), we could not persuade the Government. However, there was the will to push the issue in the other place, and the Government had to face up to that. My noble Friend deserves great credit for getting that coalition together and, given that votes do not always go the Executive's way, ensuring that pressure was put on the Government.

We should also pay tribute to Ministers. They have had to argue long and hard for this measure. Whether it was the Minister or his predecessor who pushed it—I am sure that it was the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope) who really pushed it—they have done their job, and that is welcome. The Treasury is a difficult animal to move. I am surprised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not issued a press release. He is not modest about coming forward to take credit for such measures. In the press release for the Finance Bill 2002, when the initial steps were taken, he suggested that that was all that was needed: it was such a generous relief that everyone would flock to this new creation and shift over, so the

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problem was solved. The Liberal Democrats and, I am sure, the Conservatives and probably some Labour Back Benchers said that we did not think that that was right. The situation created by the Chancellor was not powerful enough to persuade people to shift. They had the difficult choice between the bureaucracy of the charity route, which many people did not want, as was shown by the figures, or the community amateur sports club route, which was a nice new creation, but did not provide sufficient incentive for people to move. With this amendment, we have the critical mass of a meaningful incentive. If there is encouragement from the Government and organisations such as Sport England, there will be a major shift.

I hope that the Minister will reassure the House that he will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that they play a positive part, with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, in ensuring that this measure becomes well known and that there is a quick shift.

This is a significant measure. The amounts of money involved for the Exchequer are small, but the difference that it will make to small sports clubs is huge. It is disproportionate to the cost to the central purse. That has been one of the strong arguments used by campaigners. I am sure that, when Members go round their constituencies, they see the typed up accounts of the local cricket, rugby or football club. Those accounts are often done by an elderly member on a typewriter not a word processor, and show the rates as a significant amount on the expenditure side. With that cost gone, those clubs will use the money entrepreneurially and encourage youngsters and new activities. They could use it to lower the fees that they have to charge, and thus ensure greater access to the sporting facility. It is a good measure for social inclusion.

This important measure will have a benefit way above the actual cost. I hope that the Minister will answer the questions posed by the hon. Members for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) and for Loughborough about where the money is to come from, because it is important for the House to dwell on that. We should also dwell on the benefits, which will be huge.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): It is not often that we move an amendment in Committee, back down to the Government on it and accept that no action could be taken, but find several months later that the Government have moved on the issue. The fact that the Government have changed their view on a measure that involves the Treasury in a major way is a sign that Parliament is working. When the amendment was debated in Committee months ago, if Government Back Benchers had accepted that that was the will of the Government and that it could not change, nothing would have happened. We constantly lobby behind the scenes in the hope that eventually the will of Parliament will prevail on the Treasury and other Departments. That is what seems to have happened in this case. It did not happen overnight, and the amendment that I tabled in Committee did not emerge from thin air; the idea had been discussed for years before I had the privilege. A number of people in Parliament and outside worked for a long time to achieve that.

Mr. Hammond: I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right, but does he agree that the bit of Parliament that has been

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shown to be working in this instance is the cross-party consensus in the House of Lords—the one thing in this place that is guaranteed to put Governments in fear?

Mr. Borrow: I am certain that if the Treasury had not wanted to make the money available, it would have continued to block it, and would have prevailed over the House of Lords in the end. The hon. Gentleman is right about the cross-party consensus in this case. The result that we have secured is, I think, due to the fact that there has been no battle on a purely party issue: members of all parties, and those who belong to no party, have worked and lobbied together for many months and years.

I have only one question to ask my right hon. Friend. Is he certain that all the clubs in the country that could have access to this assistance will be able to do so, and will every measure to secure that be taken? What will he and his Department do to ensure a 100 per cent. take-up?

Phil Hope: I am pleased to learn that Members on both sides of the House welcome the amendment. My grateful thanks are due to, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), who pushed the case for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) mentioned the number of clubs that would benefit. I know from my constituency experience that during a weekend in Corby up to 2,000 young people may be out on football pitches with their mums and dads helping out, acting as referees, washing the kit and so on. All that excellent community activity will be reinforced by the 80 per cent. relief for qualifying clubs.

Mr. Reed: My hon. Friend is right, but when it comes to the role of amateur sports clubs, it never seems to be realised that some 27 per cent. of volunteers support them. We often forget that when we talk about the voluntary sector. A wealth of talent is involved: some 1.5 million people give up their time freely to help clubs throughout the country.

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend is right to mention that important statistic. We use jargon about building social capital, and ensuring that communities flourish, thrive and are successful and inclusive. Sport plays a critical role in that, and I hope that the measure will contribute to the wider agenda of community and civic renewal and urban regeneration for which so many of us are working so hard.

A number of speakers asked who would pay. Inevitably, there is a degree of uncertainty about the cost, because it depends on the take-up that Members want to see. The Treasury has been mentioned. Support for the idea that clubs should qualify for 80 per cent. relief has already been agreed. What we are doing is changing the mechanism to make it less onerous, allowing community amateur sports clubs to qualify without having to become registered charities. The Government, of course, will pay for the relief, and both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives will know that we are one Government. I can give an assurance that there is no intention of imposing additional costs on ratepayers; this resource, like others, will come from the centre.

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The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) raised an interesting point about Northern Ireland, which I will draw to the attention of my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office.

We have experienced a bit of a cliffhanger in order to arrive at this point, but I think that in this case it has been better to arrive than to travel. We now have an excellent new measure that will widen the base of the pyramid of participation and support, thus raising levels of achievement. That is important to a nation such as ours, which is so aspirational when it comes to sport. As I said earlier, the amendment will have huge implications not just for the healthy lives of the many people who become involved in community sport, but for community development and regeneration as a whole.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Clause 76

Second and Empty Homes: England

Lords amendment No. 21.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 36, 37, 41, 42, 47 to 49 and 54.

Phil Hope: I beg to move that this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendments deal with the fear that, if we passed clause 76 in its original form, Welsh authorities would have a less flexible power to provide council tax discounts on second homes than would English authorities. The principal amendment, Lords amendment No. 21, will replace the existing provision in Wales and give the National Assembly for Wales the ability that we are giving the Secretary of State to prescribe classes of dwellings in the case of which billing authorities can reduce or remove the nationally set discounts.

Subsections (3), (4) and (5) of the new section 12 to be inserted in the Local Government Finance Act 1992 are transitional provisions. They preserve the effect of existing regulations prescribing classes of dwellings for which Welsh billing authorities can reduce the 50 per cent. discount to 25 per cent. or zero, and preserve the effect of any existing determinations to reduce discounts made by Welsh authorities. While the new section 12 will give Welsh authorities more flexibility, the transitional provisions ensure that Welsh authorities are not forced to make new decisions if they would not have decided differently under the new powers.

The other amendments, with the exception of Lords amendment No. 43, are consequential on Lords amendment No. 21. It should be noted that Lords amendments Nos. 36, 37, 41 and 42 amend clause 127, enabling the National Assembly for Wales to choose when to begin the new powers in Wales.

Lords amendment No. 47 is merely a consequential amendment to clause 76, to ensure that in England any reductions in council tax liability under regulations made under section 13 of the 1992 Act—for instance, reductions relating to disabilities—are additional to any discounts under the section 11A inserted by clause 76.

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