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Community Sports Clubs

9. Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): When he will introduce VAT relief for community sports clubs. [159885]

11. Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): What estimate he has made of the benefit to community and amateur sports clubs of his Budget proposals for tax relief. [159888]

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The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): The Government announced in the 2001 Budget their intention to consult on possible support through the tax system for community amateur sports clubs, which we recognise play a positive role in promoting health and cohesion in their communities. We intend over coming months to consult key organisations from the sports and voluntary sector, and to draw up a detailed proposal, which will be published for final consultation this year before the Government take it forward.

Mr. White: I thank my hon. Friend for that response, but will she take into account during the consultation the fact that many clubs have had to take up the slack as a result of the Tories flogging off school playing fields, and have had to spend more on providing sports facilities for young people?

Dawn Primarolo: The answer is yes. That issue will be taken into account, because we recognise the valuable contribution that such organisations make.

Mr. Reed: I am delighted that the Government have taken up my ten-minute Bill and I hope that, as soon as possible, I shall be able to see it proceed through its final stages in the next Parliament.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital for sports clubs to benefit from the relief because they offer young people the opportunity to participate? The issue is not just about sport; it is about health, education and crime. The proposal is a prime example of joined-up thinking. It will ensure that people benefit from Government policy and shows the important role that sport plays.

Dawn Primarolo: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ten-minute Bill and on his ability to influence the Government and to represent his constituents so well in the House--long may that continue. He will know that the Treasury and Customs and Excise are working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for precisely the reasons that he identified. Unfortunately, this is a complicated area of the tax system because of the various structures of sports clubs. However, we intend to take the measure forward and I hope that, when he sees the final proposals, he will be encouraged to continue to press the Government on such matters.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Does the Paymaster General not understand that hundreds of thousands of pensioners will take a dim view if the Government extend relief for VAT to community sports clubs at the same time as they impose a new stealth tax of VAT on pensioners living in care homes? The Chancellor is so ashamed of that stealth tax that he would not reply to the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked about it.

Dawn Primarolo: It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman seems to be declaring that the Conservative party will oppose the Government when we introduce any reliefs for community and amateur sports clubs. On his allegation about VAT changes with regard to pensioners, I point out that there are no VAT changes--and I hope

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that he heard that. There will be no change in the proposals that are currently operational with regard to these services.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): Although the Paymaster General's announcement is to be welcomed, does she agree that there is still a long way to go before the Government put back into sport and community organisations the large amount of tax that they take from them?

Dawn Primarolo: No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government have a fine record in supporting sports and community activities. The review that was carried out on the taxation of charities showed our commitment to supporting voluntary and charitable organisations. Clearly, the review of reliefs for amateur sports and community clubs adds to the contribution. He was quite wrong in his assertion.

Employment (Budget Measures)

10. Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): What assessment he has made of the impact of his Budget measures on employment; and if he will make a statement. [159886]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Andrew Smith): Thanks to the tough choices and the platform of economic stability that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Budgets have put in place, we have the lowest unemployment for a quarter of a century and 1 million more people in jobs.

Mr. Ross: Does my right hon. Friend accept that people in Scotland particularly welcome the successive Budgets introduced under our Government? Because of those Budgets, 31,500 people have found work through the new deal, 120,000 have benefited from the minimum wage and the working families tax credit is helping 108,000 families to make work pay. Does he agree that the Government's economic strategy goes hand in hand with our social policy agenda, which is tackling poverty? Does he also agree that, while jobs are good for individuals and the country, having a job is also the best way out of poverty?

Mr. Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is right at the heart of the Government's purpose to ally the economic conditions for growth and job generation with the opportunities and the help that people need to take advantage of those chances. We extend a hand up to those in the weakest position.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work in chairing the all-party poverty group and on the energetic and close support that he has given the new deal from its inception. Throughout the United Kingdom, the new deal has helped more than 290,000 young people off benefits and into jobs and more than 66,000 of the long-term unemployed have been helped to move from welfare to work. The promises that we made at the last general election have been kept, and we shall build on them in the future.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Will the Minister accept that since the Budget thousands of people have lost their jobs as a consequence of foot and mouth hitting both agriculture-related services and, in particular, tourism?

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In that context, will the Government consider--even at this late stage of a Parliament--extending an interest-free loan system to help those firms that are in danger of going out of business, and introducing a grant system to help to relaunch businesses that might otherwise find that difficult to do?

Mr. Smith: We are very mindful of the acute difficulties that are being caused by the impact of foot and mouth disease, especially in rural communities. Help is being provided by the rural taskforce and other Government measures, such as the extra resources that we are giving to the small firms loan guarantee scheme and the extension of business relief. Moreover, we are deferring national insurance, income tax and value added tax payments, which gives tens of millions of pounds of help to hard-pressed businesses. As a result of consultations with the taskforce and others, the Government will continue closely to monitor the situation and consider the evidence to determine where further help is needed. The best thing that we can do is to get the footpaths and parks open--where it is proper and safe to do so--and the tourists back into our rural communities.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): Will my right hon. Friend accept that all Labour Members celebrate the fact that we have achieved the lowest unemployment figures for 25 years? May I also welcome the Chancellor's commitment to achieving full employment in every region? Will his concept of full employment include bringing back into the labour market disabled people, lone parents and people over 55?

Mr. Smith: Again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his commitment to successful welfare-to-work policies, not only in his constituency, but across the country, and on the distinguished contribution that he makes in chairing the Employment Sub-Committee. Our commitment to full employment is about extending opportunities to disabled people, lone parents and others who have been cut out in the past. That is why we have the disabled persons tax credit, the new deal for disabled people and the new deal for lone parents. Each measure helps thousands of people to move from dependency to greater independence as part of the provision of opportunities for all, for which the Labour party and the Government stand.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that his reply to the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) was pitifully inadequate? Does he not realise that there is great deprivation in rural areas as a consequence of foot and mouth disease? The measly measures that the Government have offered to try to meet the dire problem are absolutely inadequate. Will he address the issue, from his position of urban ignorance, and seek to do something about it?

Mr. Smith: That was an unworthy remark from the hon. Gentleman. We have been energetic in introducing help where help is needed. I have received letters of appreciation for the help that the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise have given in deferring tax obligations. We have also extended extra help through the small firms loan guarantee scheme, and provided another £24 million just last week through the regional

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development agencies. In addition, the rural taskforce will continue its work during the general election, in consultation with all interested and affected parties, to ensure that we get our rural communities back to normal and to their former levels of prosperity and economic activity, to which we should all be committed. Those communities can draw scant comfort or help from the Conservatives, who want to cut public expenditure even when their Back Benchers say that they want more of it.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that £6 billion pays for 30,000 nurses and 75,000 doctors, and provides minimum income guarantee payments for 2 million of our poorest pensioners? If he found a black hole in his budget, would he have the gall to explain to those people exactly what that meant? Would he be confident that he would get away with his life, given such wonky arithmetic?

Mr. Smith: It will not have escaped my hon. Friend's attention that the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has left the Chamber already. Perhaps he has left to speak to financiers to learn how he will plug the black hole in his funding. My hon. Friend is right: the Conservative party's prospectus threatens jobs, public services, living standards and investments. The electorate will not forgive Conservatives for putting forward such incompetent plans. Conservatives cannot show how they would be paid for, and they would put at risk economic stability and the social justice that the Government are providing.


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