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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): For the convenience of the House, I propose to take together motions 3 to 12.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Local Government

Question agreed to.



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Streethouse School

8.1 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I present a petition of almost 400 parents and friends of Streethouse school, the number of pupils at which has grown rapidly over recent years, which has led to concerns over health and safety owing to a lack of space.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Weymouth Transmitter Upgrade

8.2 pm

Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): I have pleasure in presenting a petition initiated by Mark Probin of Weymouth HiFi and signed by more than 1,100 of my constituents. Indeed, many continue to sign it online by visiting

The petition

To lie upon the Table.

9 Mar 2004 : Column 1496

Rugby Union

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Vernon Coaker.]

8.4 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I welcome the opportunity to speak on rugby, although many eminent parliamentarians with rugby careers might be better suited to speak on it. There are internationals in the House, and I believe that there is even a Cambridge blue. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) once telling me how Vaseline saved his ear in a match against the All Blacks, but it would perhaps be wise not to go further down that line.

I am not guilty of opportunism and am not exploiting the popularity and success of the English team in the World cup. In my time, I played rugby, and I reached the pinnacle of my career as captain of the third XV at school, although injury prevented me from playing very much that season. In those days, I was a sleek three-quarter, although I could now be an honorary member of the front row club. Latterly, I have become a keen supporter and spectator of the game, but I try not to be an expert, as many people do when they grow grumpier and older. I am proud to be a vice-president of Uxbridge rugby football club and a member of Saracens rugby football club. I am a keen supporter of Saracens as well and acquired a season ticket as a direct result of the club's involvement in a community programme for schools, including my son's school.

The Minister for Sport and Tourism will be aware that all Zurich Premiership clubs share a strong commitment to community involvement. That involvement is not just domestic, and I pay tribute to John Broadfoot of IRB SOS Kit Aid, which accepts old kit from players of all ages and sends it overseas, originally to Romania, but now to Georgia, Moldova and Bulgaria as well. That project deserves immense support.

A great deal of the English team's success in recent years has been put down to the professional era. Many people regret the passing of the amateur era, but as long as we do not lose the spirit of rugby, I do not share that regret. I pay tribute to all the club owners who have invested in their clubs and poured money into them. They have built up the sport, and deserve a great deal of credit for the national team's current success. I shall concentrate on English rugby, mainly because I have discovered that sport is a devolved matter, but I hope that the Government will do whatever they can to encourage rugby in Scotland and Wales. Rugby is a religion in Wales, and I am sorry that it has not enjoyed the success in the past few years that it once had. I hope that it has more success, but not necessarily in the next fortnight.

There is some regret, as I said, about the transition to the professional era. I am talking about rugby union, but my comments apply equally to rugby league. I have become more interested in rugby league as a result of the association between Brunel university and the London Broncos, and have been impressed by the Broncos' community involvement. In many respects, therefore, my remarks apply to rugby league as well. An essential part of rugby is the spirit in which it is played. At all levels, teams applaud one another off the field, whereas

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there is less sportsmanlike behaviour in other sports. As a supporter, I appreciate the facts that supporters can mix freely and that alcohol is allowed in the ground. Indeed, one might almost say that it is encouraged, and it does not seem to have an ill effect on people's behaviour. All sport is important for young people. I have become fed up hearing about Government initiatives on obesity, for obvious reasons, but when I was young I did not have the problem that I have now—I blame that on sitting in this place for long hours.

The great thing about rugby, or any team game, is the team spirit. When watching my son play, I have noted the amazing amount of energy that can be burned up. He is thereby reduced to an almost passive state by the end of the afternoon, which is important for young people, particularly in our household.

As we continue to bathe in the glow of the recent wonderful victory, now is the time to tap into renewed enthusiasm for the game. Much must be generated by the sport itself, but there is a role for the Government, and I want to outline some ways in which they could help. On Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) had the Second Reading of his Promotion of Volunteering Bill. I listened avidly to his excellent speech and discovered that the Bill contains measures that would help many sports and activities. Principally, it might ease the litigation culture by introducing a statement of inherent risk. Without repeating the arguments—I am sure that the Minister will have a look at them if he has not yet had time to do so—I urge the Government seriously to consider that. It is about time that we as a society recognised that accidents can and do happen, and that if we constantly try to get rid of them we will have a bad effect on some of our sports and outdoor activities.

The Government can play a role in encouraging schools to take up rugby instead of giving it up, as some have for the reasons that I mentioned. All sports should be encouraged, and, without making a party political point, we know that facilities and playing fields are a key theme in that. Those facilities are as important for the top-flight clubs as they are for schools. That is why I commend the concept of a rugby trust, which is being modelled on the very successful Football Trust—now known as the Football Foundation.

Premier Rugby Ltd., the umbrella organisation for 12 professional clubs, is seeking funding over the next 10 years to build rugby stadiums and improve facilities at existing professional clubs. That funding would create a virtuous circle whereby better stadiums would encourage more spectators, derive more promotional revenue from sponsorship and hospitality, create improved community sporting facilities and infrastructure, encourage bigger and better community programmes, increase participation, and further enhance the professional playing and coaching pool that underpins England's future international success. It would also allow clubs to expand their existing facilities and commitments to community sports and to health and social inclusion programmes.

Over the past seven years, Premier Rugby has privately invested £120 million in developing and growing the sport, and it is prepared to invest the equivalent investment that is being sought by the

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Government if the Government are prepared to support the launch of a trust or an alternative funding solution. Premier Rugby has spoken to all the game's stakeholders who are keen to work together on the proposed trust, including the Rugby Football League.

In recent years, rugby union has not had its fair share of the funding cake, although I certainly do not begrudge other sports the funding that they have received. The following figures cover the period 1995 to 2003: football—I had better say association football in this context—received well over £230 million, athletics more than £190 million, hockey £109 million, and basketball more than £50 million. Rugby union has received only £46 million.

The Government have been helping. Only today, I received news of Sport England's £1 million boost for the "Sweet Chariot" programme. I do not want to give the Minister a hospital pass by asking him to have a chat with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but the Rugby Football Union has raised with me a taxation issue that applies to governing bodies generally. The RFU feels that it is penalised in two areas: first, costs relating to supporting community clubs, either directly or via the resources of community rugby facilities, are not wholly tax deductible; and secondly, the majority of costs relating to the construction of, and structural modifications to, the stadium are not eligible for capital allowances. The RFU therefore believes that it pays disproportionately high tax, and that that is especially absurd, given the benefits of the game to the community. It believes that there is an overwhelming argument for allowing national governing bodies in general, and especially the RFU, to be fully exempt from taxation. I expect that to go down as well at the Treasury as a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal in certain bars in Earl's Court.

The top clubs have financed most of the great steps forward in the game and the high-quality community programmes. Now is the time to capitalise on the game's success. The premiership clubs alone cannot meet the costs; they need and deserve Government support.

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