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The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) on securing this debate on the future of crown green bowling. This is a sport in which I have participated on a good number of occasions in my local park in Sheffield, Hollings End park, which is very similar to Hillsborough. There are two crown green bowling greens there and some excellent bowlers. As my hon. Friend said, the game is a major part of not only the sporting infrastructure, but the social infrastructure. It is a very desirable sport that has a tremendous following, in both participation and spectators. Many people go to watch it, and say that it is a delight to watch.

I also welcome the opportunity that this debate provides for us to discuss a sport that is enjoyed by thousands of people in this country but is often left out by the media. Some years ago, crown green bowling got quite a lot of media coverage, but it does not get so much now, which is unfortunate. Like my hon. Friend, I come from Sheffield and know many of the people to whom she referred. They are tireless campaigners for crown green bowling, and I join her in noting that they contribute a tremendous amount voluntarily to the communities in the various parts of our great city.

I also go to Bramhall Lane, the mecca of football that houses Sheffield United, the one great team in Sheffield. A gentleman called Robert Jackson also goes there, and he is associated with crown green bowling. He was the BBC commentator on the sport for many years; he brought "Praise or Grumble" to light, and similar programmes have now been reproduced by many local radio stations. He lobbies me on the issue of crown green bowling every time I go to Bramhall Lane.

Helen Jackson: I can assure the Minister that Robert Jackson is listening to our debate at this very minute.

Mr. Caborn: The wonders of radio! I hope that he will listen carefully to what I have to say.

I would like to set this debate about funding for crown green bowling within the overall context of Government funding for sport. This Government have invested more than any other in sport and physical activity. Indeed, we have invested more than £3 billion, including lottery funding. Our commitment to sport is strong, and will continue. This unprecedented public investment includes: £581 million to our schools from the new opportunities for PE and sport programme for school sport capital projects; £130 million from Space for Sport and the Arts towards primary school projects in 65 deprived areas; and just under £500 million from the Exchequer for the PE, school sport and club links programme, which is committed to achieving our ambitious targets for school co-ordinator partnerships, specialist sport colleges and primary link teachers. The new Active England programme, administered by the Big Lottery fund and Sport England, is investing £108 million in a new generation of community sport facilities.

In the community club sector—the lifeblood of sport in this country—we have introduced a range of financial reliefs, including mandatory rate relief at 80 per cent., and exemptions from tax on income generated. I should
 
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add that I am delighted by the take-up by bowls clubs of the reliefs offered by the community amateur sports club scheme: 287 clubs have so far registered, the second highest number from any sport in this country. Only 2,000 sports clubs, out of a potential 40,000-plus, have applied for funding under that scheme so far. I hope that there will be more. With gift aid, mandatory rate relief and the other tax breaks, more than £5 million has now been invested directly into those clubs, so if we can reach those 40,000 clubs, we should be able to invest between £35 million and £40 million every year. I hope that many more clubs will apply for the funding.

Not only have this Government invested more than any other in sport, we have also transformed the way in which we look at sport. We have recognised the value of sport as a means of achieving wider policy aims in health, education and community cohesion. Public funding for sport is therefore working harder than ever before. But with this wider recognition of sport's potential come additional responsibilities. That means that sport needs to take a look at itself, and we need to ask how we can modernise it. It has to meet those challenges.

Since the Government's strategy for sport and physical activity was set out clearly in "Game Plan", Sport England and UK Sport have worked with the national governing bodies of sport to help them to modernise sport—the way it is organised, funded and administered—and to make national governing bodies fit for purpose in the 21st century.

As part of that modernisation process, Sport England has simplified its funding structure into two streams, one at national and one at community level. At national level, Sport England announced last year that it would make a prioritised investment of £130 million in 30 key sports, to which my hon. Friend referred. The national governing bodies of each of those 30 sports are working with Sport England to develop whole sport plans.

Whole sport planning provides a map for the whole of a sport from the grass roots through to the elite level. It identifies the resources that the governing body needs to achieve its aims and allows Sport England to measure the value for money of that public investment. Sport is being made directly responsible for the impact it makes, and I am delighted by the way that sport has risen to that challenge.

Let me turn to the issue at hand. I can fully appreciate what my hon. Friend said about why crown green bowls has been brought to the attention of the House. As many as 200,000 people enjoy participating in this sport on a regular basis. It makes a real contribution to their quality of life and to the development of communities in cities, towns and villages up and down the country. As she said, it also helps to provide a healthy lifestyle for many of those who participate, and there is also a social side.

I can understand, therefore, that there may be concerns about the implications that the modernisation of bowls could have for crown green bowling. As I said earlier, Sport England and UK Sport are working with the governing bodies of every sport to help them to deliver more cost-effective administration. This will release funds for the very people that we want to get it—the sports clubs and their members. Therefore, I strongly endorse the policy being followed by Sport England and UK Sport in this area.
 
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Bowls cannot be an exception. The sport surely does not stand to benefit from the duplication of effort and resources created by the existence of several different national governing bodies. Indeed, crown green bowling recognised that when it merged two of the sport's national governing bodies in 1989.

Helen Jackson: I am glad that my right hon. Friend recognises that, because is it not the case that the only reason for there being five bowls associations is that flat green bowls has not modernised and consolidated its clubs in the same way as crown green?

Mr. Caborn: That is true, and I shall come to that. On my hon. Friend's point, I am encouraged by the progress made by the four governing bodies for lawn bowls towards the establishment of a self-sufficient and sustainable governing body for the flat green game of bowls in England, which is to be called Bowls England.

Sport England has supported the unification steering group set up to consider the most appropriate method to achieve that. I should make it clear that none of this is being done without the knowledge of the other codes. The British Crown Green Bowling Association and its colleagues representing federation, short mat and carpet bowls have been consulted on the process and attended the recent meeting of the steering group.

The draft constitution for the new governing body holds out the opportunity for other codes of the game of bowls in England to become part of Bowls England in the future. However, it is recognised that this may not be appropriate for some governing bodies of the game, such as the British Crown Green Bowling Association, which operates at a UK, not an English, level. However, there is a commitment for all the governing bodies for bowls in England to work together more efficiently and effectively to the benefit of the sport of bowls right across the country.

The unification steering group has met with representatives from all the governing bodies for bowls in England to discuss the issue of unification and to facilitate the best method for the governing bodies to work in partnership for the future of bowls. All codes of the game will not be forced to merge with Bowls England. While I recognise that unification of the
 
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governing bodies of all codes of bowls may not be appropriate, I believe that there are still ways in which the different codes can work together for mutual benefit. Their joint working on a shared bowls facilities strategy, to facilitate a more strategic approach to the development of facilities, has proved that. I hope that that collaboration is a blueprint for the future. For my part, I am willing to help when I can to bring about the appropriate and sensible resolution of these issues, whether by bringing together the governing bodies of bowls in a meeting, or by writing to their chief executives.

In closing, let me assure the House that whatever changes occur to the governing bodies of bowls, lottery funding for individual clubs, in every code, will not be at risk. Bowls clubs of all codes will continue to benefit from the vast investment in grassroots sport made by the lottery. To date, they have received 345 awards, totalling £38 million, which have enabled the construction of facilities costing more than £66 million. Those facilities include, for example, the new floodlit crown green bowling facility for the South Kirkby colliery miners welfare scheme in Yorkshire, which was made possible by a lottery grant of £100,000.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough indicated that there had been an application to Sport England. The news is that Sport England has recently awarded an Active England grant of £559,760—which represents 85 per cent. of the total cost of the project—for the development of a new bowling pavilion, athletics track and play area in the very park to which she referred, Hillsborough park. That demonstrates that the Government's investment in sport, through the lottery and the Exchequer, is transforming, and will continue to transform, sports provision in this country.

That good news for my hon. Friend, Hillsborough park and the wider area shows that the Government want to ensure that those thousands of people who enjoy crown green bowling can continue to do so. We also want more people to get involved in crown green bowling and sports of every kind in their local communities. We believe in the power of sport to enrich people's lives, which is why our commitment to sport is strong and will remain so.

Question put and agreed to.


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