6 Jun 2006 : Column 1WH

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 6 June 2006

[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Junior Football Clubs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Heppell.]

9.30 am

Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I am pleased to welcome so many interested colleagues to the debate. The fact that it is taking place on the eve of the World cup is pure coincidence. For the record I shall support any British team in the championship. [Hon Members: “Shame!”] It is a no-win situation, but I shall genuinely support England. The timing of the debate is fortuitous, given that there would be no major world-class events such as the World cup if communities throughout the world did not nurture, encourage, coach and promote football in schools and communities, from the minute that a child can kick a ball. The future of all sport lies at the grass roots. Years ago, our greatest players played football morning, noon and night; they lived, breathed and ate the game. To play for their school team was every player’s dream; those who were good enough or were spotted by a scout could rise up the ranks, but often just getting a game was all important.

I am secretary of the all-party group on Scottish football. When Walter Smith came to speak to us recently, he said that the problem facing us nowadays in encouraging youngsters to play the game and gain the attendant health benefits comes from Nintendo, PlayStation, computers and new technology, in which children seem much more interested, whereas previously, whenever it was light, they had the ball at their feet and were out playing. We need to encourage youngsters to play healthy sports.

There lies my concern. There are 164 junior football clubs registered in Scotland, but most are or will shortly be facing a financial crisis, which could lead to the clubs folding. That has arisen as a consequence of a tax burden being placed on the clubs by the Inland Revenue—one that they have never before had to deal with. From the mid-1960s until the 2003-04 season there was an exemption for such clubs, thanks largely to Tam Dalyell, who fought for it.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Tam Dalyell, as my hon. Friend knows, was one of my predecessors. When, in about 1966, he introduced that change, there were junior clubs in Bathgate, Broxburn, Fauldhouse, Pumpherston, West Calder, Blackburn, Winchburgh, Armadale, Linlithgow and Stoneyburn, and it is to his credit that in this very season Bathgate Thistle Juniors got to the Scottish junior cup final, and Broxburn won the east of Scotland league. It was Tam’s initiative that kept those clubs going very successfully.

Anne Moffat: That was a very helpful contribution. Tam Dalyell was a leading light in the protection of junior football. I hope that we can follow his good work and get concessions from the Paymaster General.
6 Jun 2006 : Column 2WH

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Before she moves on from talking about Scotland’s national coach, Walter Smith, I remind her that at that same meeting he made it clear that although professional football in Scotland should be allowed to stand on its own two feet, the junior and amateur games need help from Government sources. He suggested that investment was needed in the lower-level football leagues, if we were to have a successful national side, as England has.

Anne Moffat: That is a key point. This debate is about the fact that resources are being taken from clubs, when what is needed is far more investment. I agree with my hon. Friend and Walter Smith.

The Inland Revenue operated a concession that allowed junior football clubs to submit retrospectively informal returns detailing payments to players and coaching staff, giving their national insurance numbers. Clubs understood that any tax due to the Inland Revenue was then the responsibility of the players themselves. However, from the 2003-04 season, junior football clubs have had dealings with the Inland Revenue over the introduction of direct taxation for all payments to players and coaching staff. The Inland Revenue has determined that junior clubs are employers and, as such, are responsible for operating a pay-as-you-earn scheme. That is the crux of the matter. No one disputes that players should pay tax on what they earn, but we should not make clubs enforce the pay-as-you-earn scheme.

Since that time, to make matters even worse, the Inland Revenue has written to some junior clubs in Scotland seeking back-dated revenue, in some cases up to several thousand pounds. With the best will in the world, I would have to say that the measures have tackitty bits written all over them. The junior football clubs rely heavily on local fundraising initiatives such as running totes or selling scratchcards simply to stay afloat. Unlike senior football clubs, the small junior clubs do not generate significant income from home games—for example, in my constituency, Musselburgh Athletic averages about 80 spectators to a home game. None the less, that is a big part of the community. Everyone loves the team. It is no great shakes—it is not your Ibrox, your Hampden or even your Parkhead—but it is an important part of the community. When 80 people go to watch a game and there are 22 players at the park, those people are not doing some of the other things that youngsters do. They are not engaging in antisocial behaviour or hanging around on street corners. It is clubs like those that are being hit for money and, without wishing to sound melodramatic, that will put them under serious threat.

At a recent meeting in my constituency, which has four registered junior teams—Dunbar United, Tranent Juniors, Musselburgh Athletic, which I have mentioned, and Haddington Athletic—people were up in arms about what they saw as the decimation of junior football clubs by the heavy-boot tactics of the Inland Revenue. To illustrate how ludicrous the situation is, Tranent Juniors is struggling even to find pitches to play on. It is trying to find out whether it can use school pitches, even though it is a successful junior football team, which could be the future of Scottish
6 Jun 2006 : Column 3WH
football—and we certainly need a future for Scottish football. Representatives of teams in my constituency, as well as neighbouring Midlothian—my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton), who could not be here today, would want to express the same concerns as I have—fear that the demands being made on their clubs will cause them to fold.

The clubs are run by local individuals who volunteer to give up their time and effort to provide a valuable resource to their communities. My fear is that many of those unpaid volunteers, who are now expected to sort out their players’ tax affairs and become financial experts and form-filling anoraks with a nearly degree-level understanding of PAYE, will walk away. Who could blame them? They are ordinary folk, some of whom are retired, who give of themselves, not for thanks and accolades, but certainly not for worry and the sleepless nights that the new burdens will place on them.

Mr. Devine: I met representatives of Pumpherston junior football club, which is run much as my hon. Friend has described. The club secretary made exactly that point: if he must now administer the taxation system he will walk away. If that happens, the club will fold.

Anne Moffat: That is another helpful intervention. My hon. Friend is correct. I do not exaggerate when I say that in my meeting with representatives of some of the small junior clubs I heard scary stories such as they, as trustees of the clubs, being liable if the money could not be paid. Their wives—it is normally men who do the volunteer jobs in question—ask, “What is going to happen? They are not going to come and take things from our house. Are we going to be liable?” I hope to goodness that the position is not so serious, but those are the rumblings of concern that are being heard. Why should such people burden themselves in that way when all that they are doing is voluntary work to keep football going in their communities, out of a love for the game?

Clubs are even being penalised for incorrectly or incompletely filling out returns. How many of us have had people come to our surgeries complaining about not being able to fill in forms? How many of us have had problems doing so? It is not the easiest thing in the world. Those people are volunteers and are not trained in administering such schemes. Yet their clubs are penalised if they do it incompletely or incorrectly.

Everyone understands that people who earn enough should pay tax, and I do not dispute that, as I said earlier. However, I do dispute that we should be trying to class as employers non-profit-making clubs and those who represent them—the officials, committee members or whatever we might call them. As recently as last week, the Scottish Junior Football Association expressed concerns and said that it could determine from its annual returns that it was losing a significant number of treasurers and secretaries from its clubs. Another of its concerns is that clubs will be expected, as employers, to pay players the national minimum wage. If clubs are forced down that route, they will incur wage bills averaging £1,000 a week as a result of players training two nights a week and playing one game on a Saturday. That is what will happen if we go down that ridiculous route.

6 Jun 2006 : Column 4WH

As we all know, players in junior clubs are not in it to earn money. That might be true at some of the big clubs, of which there are a few in Scotland, where the bigger, better players get more money. In the main, however, we are talking about people who earn only the amount that it costs them to get to the ground. In my constituency, for example, Dunbar United pays travelling expenses of £3 per session and a win bonus of £6 per game. That is the level that we are talking about—it is hardly the thousands of pounds paid out by the big teams such as Chelsea and Rangers. [Interruption.] I nearly said, “and Celtic.” Like the volunteers who run the clubs, the players give up time with their families to train a few nights a week and they give up their Saturday afternoons. They play for the love of the game and because they enjoy the opportunity to stay fit and active. All that they expect, unless they can command the big bucks, is that they should not be out of pocket as a result of travelling to and from training and games.

If clubs are liable for PAYE and national insurance contributions and are potentially required to pay the national minimum wage, many of them will close. The clubs provide a valued community resource and generate pride in the communities that they represent. At a time when we are encouraging healthy lifestyles and tackling antisocial behaviour, and when this country will host the Olympic games and Glasgow will, I hope, host the Commonwealth games, it is ludicrous that we should be trying to cripple the very heart of our football potential.

I have had messages of support from the Professional Footballers Association, which is as appalled as I am about the threat to our junior football teams. I have been contacted by Tony Higgins, Jackie McNamara and Fraser Wishart, as well by Tom Johnston from the Scottish Junior Football Association.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend investigated the equivalents in England? I have always wondered how academies in some of the clubs fiddle things, because they give payments to some of the parents of the young people who play for them, but are not subjected to the same tax vigilance as clubs in Scotland. Is there an equivalent to junior football in England?

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo) indicated assent.

Dr. Gibson: I see the Paymaster General agreeing, so perhaps she will tell us.

Anne Moffat: I thank my hon. Friend for that unhelpful contribution. Of course I agree that we should clamp down where we can determine that there is fiddling, that backhanders are being given and that players are being paid over-the-top sums. These scams go on in all walks of life—they certainly go on in junior football and, as my hon. Friend said, in England—and we should clamp down on them because they do not help the future of Scottish junior football clubs. However, we should not launch a carpet attack on all clubs.

Dawn Primarolo: I can certainly help my hon. Friend on the point about England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are talking about amateur and semi-professional clubs, not youth clubs or juniors. In
6 Jun 2006 : Column 5WH
England, Northern Ireland and Wales, clubs operate PAYE when they start paying their players profits and substantial amounts. They have never had the concession that applies in Scotland.

Anne Moffat: I thank my right hon. Friend for that helpful comment.

Mr. Devine: Our right hon. Friend has made a helpful contribution, because she has identified the difference between semi-professional and amateur status. The junior game in Scotland is amateur and always has been.

Dawn Primarolo rose—

Anne Moffat: I give way to my right hon. Friend.

Dawn Primarolo: The Scottish Junior Football Association website says:

The top clubs were called “senior”, so the next grade down was called “junior”, and the article goes on to explain that clubs can be amateur and semi-professional.

Anne Moffat: That is quite misleading. I have not read the article on the website, but representatives from the association say that we are talking about amateurs.

Jim Sheridan: There seems to be some confusion. Junior football in Scotland is not senior football. Senior football is professional and people get paid, but many of the players in junior football —I would say more than 50 per cent. of them—do not get paid at all. However, it is not the payment that is causing the problem; it is the tax burden and the administration involved.

Anne Moffat: I thank my hon. Friend for that, because I want to return to a point that I have perhaps not made as effectively as I should have. If players earn enough, they should pay tax—nobody is arguing about that. However, we do not want to charge volunteers—ordinary members of the community who enjoy the game and run the clubs—with the onerous tax of implementing a pay-as-you-earn-scheme when they do not have the expertise to do that. If enough money is being earned, people should be hit, and rightly so, but there is a vast difference between junior football in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and in Scotland. In Scotland, it is non-profit-making and amateur.

Jim Sheridan: When the Paymaster General winds up, perhaps it would be helpful if she explained clearly how the system works in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. How is it administered? Who pays for it? Who is responsible for it? What are the penalties—excuse the pun—if a club does not carry out its responsibilities?

6 Jun 2006 : Column 6WH

Anne Moffat: I thank my hon. Friend, who is the chair of the all-party group on Scottish football. He has stood shoulder to shoulder with me in this debate, and I appreciate that.

I thank all hon. Members for their interventions, but I want to finish with some words of warning. Where will this process end? Will the same measures be introduced in rugby in Scotland, in athletics, in cricket, in hockey or in netball? We are talking about non-profit-making clubs, and what is good for the goose, as they say, is good for the gander.

9.47 am

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Anne Moffat), who is a good and long-standing friend.

If Martians decide to invade this world in the near future, they will wonder where we all are. Most of us will be sitting watching television, and a lucky few will be over in Germany, being looked after by McDonald’s, although I will not be one of them, thank God. Things have not always been this way, and mass coverage on television and the influence of big money and Russian billionaires have obviously raised the profile of football.

The other day, I was thinking about what things were like when I was younger. The last time the World cup was held in Germany was during England’s sabbatical from the competition, and the British Isles representative was the country of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian and most of the hon. Members here today. There were some real stars in that squad, such as Jim Stewart, Donald Ford and Tommy Allan. Who can forget them? Who can remember them? Of course, there was also Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and Jim Holton—six foot two, eyes of blue. There was Billy Bremner, the man we all love to hate, and Jimmy Johnstone, the man we all love to love. Sadly, as well as being great footballers, the last three have one thing common—they are no longer with us, which is sad for us.

In 1974, I was not the man you see before you now, Mr. Chope. I was 20—that was my age, not my weight—and I was playing local football, as were hundreds of thousands of other people, just as they are now. Then, as now, the world of football seen on our screens was not the real world of football. Then, that was merely pub and club football and some school football. Today’s world is different and the situation is different.

Mr. Devine: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Anderson: Certainly, but do not mention my weight.

Mr. Devine: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He mentions the 1974 Scottish team. Is he aware that players such as Dalglish, McGrain and Johnstone all came through the junior ranks?

Next Section Index Home Page