Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): My first petition is signed by 3,000 residents of the Rushey Mead area and is in opposition to the proposal by Gateway college to relocate from its current site in the city centre in Leicester to Rushey Fields. The local residents are very concerned about the increased traffic congestion and vandalism that might result, and they are concerned also about the loss of open space in an area where there is not much open space.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
My second petition is the result of much hard work by Moira Chambers of Hill Rise, Leicester. It is a petition to restrict fireworks to licensed displays. The petitioners are very concerned at the misuse of fireworks, the fact that they cause
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danger and annoyance to people, property and animals, and because the fireworks are used late into the night, adding to the costs of the emergency services.
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I believe that this is the first time that we have debated the popular sport of crown green bowling in this House. I asked the House of Commons Library to check the point. It examined the records as far back as 1897 and does not think that crown green bowling has been debated in this or the previous century.
I am delighted to debate the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism, who knows that my constituency office in Hillsborough is in the centre of a busy park. In the spring and summer, we hear the sound of friendly banter and applause on most afternoons, which is the delightful atmosphere created by Hillsborough Park bowling club. The club has neat flower beds, clipped hedgerows and seats, which frame three well-maintained crown green bowling greens. The club was established around 1908 and is the biggest in the region. Every year, 5,000 players use it and it is registered for national tournaments.
Hon. Members from the south may not be fully aware of the sport of crown green bowling, because it is common in the north of England in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Wales. The greens are not flat, like those made famous by Francis Drake in Plymouth and, indeed, Edward III, who banned bowling because he said that it put off soldiers from learning archery. Crown greens are rounded and, perhaps, a little uneven, so particular skill is required to prevent the bowls from rolling off.
Traditionally, crown green bowling is a working-class sport of the north, where participants often played for cash prizes. Now it attracts members of all ages and levels of physical health, although it is particularly associated with men and women in retirement. The locations are convenientthey are almost always on bus routes. Former players of more vigorous sports, such as football, prefer the society and sport of crown green bowling to, perhaps, golf. Many players return to the sport after major surgery. My constituent, Derek Bulloss, who plays for Stannington, has recovered from heart bypass surgery and hip and knee replacements, and he still plays at the age of 77. Indeed, one league player in Sheffield is 94.
Crown green bowling is a community sport. In my constituency, and no doubt in my right hon. Friend's, clubs exist in every village and community, located in local parks, working men's clubs, behind pubs and in the grounds of steel and factory premises. Bradfield, Stannington, Wadsley, Middlewood, Bolehills, Stocksbridge, Ecclesfield, Chapeltown, Grenoside, Hillsborough, Malin Bridge and Loxley all boast one or more teams that play in local tournaments.
This is the perfect point at which to stress that virtually all the people involved in organising and managing those clubs work on a voluntary basis. Derek Ellis, who runs the Hillsborough club, lives locally and is well known in the community. Derek Siddons is a former trade union official who used to work at Bassetts and who is tireless in his work for the club. Those people do not have access to private capital to plough into their premises.
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Unfortunately, many of the greens need better upkeep. The clubhouses should be upgraded to meet today's health and safety standards and disability access legislationindeed, the British Crown Green Bowling Association actively encourages the involvement of players with disabilities. However, it is very hard to find funding for the sport, which is why I called for this Adjournment debate. On 20 April this year, I received a written answer to my parliamentary question about the criteria that Sport England had used to pick the 20 sports eligible for priority lottery funding and whether crown green bowling might be considered for the list. I was told that the selection criteria were threefold: participation rates, retention of members and levels of success; and that the 20 priority sports are badminton, cricket, football, golf, hockey, netball, rugby union, rugby league and squash, in England only, and tennis, athletics, canoeing, cycling, equestrianism, gymnastics, judo, rowing, triathlon, sailing and swimming, UK-wide. Sport England's reason for not considering crown green bowling appropriate was that, in comparison with the 20 sports chosen, there was less overall participation in terms of numbers and diversity.
In our part of Sheffield, we simply do not agree and neither does the British Crown Green Bowling Association, which has 232,880 registered members. That figure does not even include the many friends who come to watch and enjoy the occasional game, but equates to more than the figures for five of the 20 listed sports added together. I am grateful for the research shared with me by Derek Ellis of the Hillsborough club and George Ollerenshaw of the national association. They told me that a snapshot survey carried out nationally on behalf of the association showed that 150,000 players participate in an average week in the spring and summer. In comparison, the British Amateur Rugby League Association has some 23,000 members, the British Canoe Union 55,000 and the Badminton Association of England 50,000. In fact, apart from football, cricket and perhaps golf, I guess that crown green bowling could be the fourth largest sport in terms of participation. I challenge the Minister to show any participation figures that do not list crown green bowling in the top 10 most popular sports in this country.
Sport England's second criterion was retention. According to Mr. Ollerenshaw, about 6,000 new members join the association each year and the average period of membership is 25 to 30 years. It is not true to say that it is just a sport for pensioners and, even if it were, pensioners live a long while these days. Most of the top players are between 20 and 50 and it is quite common to find three or even four generations of a family as members of the same club on a bowling green on a Saturday or weekday afternoon in the summer.
It is a forward-looking sport. Members would like to be able to carry on playing in the autumn and winter, but there are few indoor bowling venues. They would like fully accessible facilities so that members can continue to enjoy the sport for their whole lives. However, that costs money and the sport deserves to be in that priority list for lottery funding. Sport England suggests that that would be possible were there only one overall governing body for bowling. However, to ask a
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crown green bowling association to join with a flat green bowling association would be like asking rugby league to join with rugby union. I wonder whether Sport England has suggested that to the rugby associations. The two forms of bowling are distinct. They use different bowls and a different jack, have different rules and are played on differently shaped greens.
The British Crown Green Bowling Association is already recognised as a national governing body by UK Sport. I pay tribute to what the Government are doing for sport in promoting so many new community sports and encouraging people to take part and thus keep active and live longer. They have said:
"The re-organisation of Sport England is designed to make the best possible use of the funding available to the Government in its drive to use sport to address wider policy aims in health, education and community cohesion."
Perhaps the answer is in of the final criterion, which is "success", including the number of competitors in the top 10 in the world rankings. If that is essential, it will effectively exclude for ever what is arguably one of the nation's most popular sports in terms of participants. It is a "community sport" that does not hit international competitive tables but that should not outlaw it from receiving lottery funding when, to all intents and purposes, participants are the very people who pay money into the lottery.
Sport England's mission is to "start, stay and succeed". However, if the Minister is honest, few sports in the UK can claim a membership as large as the British Crown Green Bowling Association. It was founded in 1907 and coaches junior, senior and veterans' county championships. I would like to know why we are failing to support a sport that keeps so many of our constituents fit, healthy and active in their retirement. Is English sport suffering from ageism or are we interested in supporting only potential medal winners?
I am sure that life expectancy in my constituency is going up because of the Government's excellent policies but it is probably also slightly due to the popularity of crown green bowling, which keeps people happy and healthy throughout their lives and promotes an excellent community spirit and way of life.
I cannot end my speech without mentioning that, since I applied for the Adjournment debate, I understand that Sport England is about to announceperhaps we will hear more tonightsome individual funding for Hillsborough park. That would help the club in my constituency to upgrade its pavilion for its disabled members and open a café for other users of the park. It would be wonderful news if the Minister could confirm the rumours that I have heard. Such funding would enable the installation of an all-weather green, a new social hall, shower facilities and fully accessible facilities for the disabled. I hope that that is the case but even if it were, it would affect only one pavilion in one park in one city. I argue that the association nationally deserves to be on the priority list for mainstream lottery funding because of what it does for our constituents in all the constituencies that have those wonderful clubs and facilities.
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