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Amateur Sports Clubs

8. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): What measures she will take to assist amateur sports clubs through tax allowances. [34235]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): Proposals for easing the financial burdens on clubs were included in the consultation paper "Promoting Sport in the Community", published in November 2001. As well as setting out a possible tax exemption regime, the paper included revised Charity Commission guidance which should allow many clubs to take advantage of the tax and other benefits of charitable status. That consultation ended on 1 February and the Treasury is reflecting on the responses.

Mr. Hoyle: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he is aware that the Treasury may need some assistance. I hope he will use his good offices to work with the Treasury to ensure that that relief is given to the amateur sporting clubs which are home to the country's future stars.

Mr. Caborn: I will use my good offices. A tax working party has been set up, with representatives from the Central Council of Physical Recreation, my Department and the Treasury. If charitable status was granted to more amateur clubs, they would benefit from exemption from inheritance tax, reclaiming basic rate tax on monetary gifts from gift aid—a very important institution—and payroll giving, in addition to mandatory rate relief. There are many other advantages in achieving charitable status. To that end, on 12 February I met the Chief Commissioner of the Charity Commission, John Stoker, to see whether we could work out a formula that would allow more amateur clubs to have charitable status.

Nick Harvey (North Devon): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the one and a half million volunteers who are the backbone of amateur sports clubs up and down the country are spending a disproportionate amount of time raising the funds for those clubs to pay their tax bills? Can it be right that they should have to do that when they should be organising sports? Is he aware that giving the mandatory 80 per cent. rate relief would cost only £28 million? He talks about the Charity Commission and about making these clubs charities. Are sports club really charities, or will it become a bureaucratic nightmare? Can he grant the clubs what they want, which is parity with charity, but not the bureaucracy that goes with it?

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is why I am talking with the CCPR and Sport England about a regional structure that will allow sports an easy passage and a less bureaucratic way of achieving charitable status. If charitable status had been offered two or three years ago, it would have been accepted. It is my intention to ensure that where charitable status is offered to small clubs, they are given as much assistance as

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possible. John Stoker and I agree that this needs to be looked at, and I hope that we bring amateur clubs nearer to that position than they are at present.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I welcome everything that my right hon. Friend has said. At a time when diabetes is recognised as a problem among young children, does he agree that it is ever more important to ensure that increasing numbers of young people take part in sport? However, that will be impossible, especially in poor areas such as my constituency, where many people find it difficult to make ends meet, let alone find additional funding for rugby boots or sports equipment, which is why it is so important to make sure that organisations such as the Rhondda Rebels or the Ferndale rugby football club attract support.

Does my right hon. Friend also agree that if we are to make progress in providing charitable status for amateur sporting clubs, it is not helpful when local authorities such as Rhondda Cynon Taff, which is run by the nationalists, increase the amount of money that clubs have to pay just to play on the football pitches?

Mr. Caborn: I cannot comment on my hon. Friend's last point, as I do not know about that particular local authority. On the wider issues of sport and health, however, he is absolutely right. The National Audit Office report that came out only a few weeks ago showed that obesity in this country costs the economy something like £2 billion and that the financial burden on the health service is about half a billion pounds. A cost-benefit analysis would clearly show that investment into sport would address health and education issues. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it a point in the last Budget statement about looking at bringing financial relief and support to amateur clubs and volunteers up and down the country. They do a sterling job and without them, the sports infrastructure would not exist.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Does the Minister agree that amateur sports clubs are important to the very fabric of our society? Will he come to Castle Point and join me in a visit to Benfleet cricket club? It is one of many amateur sports clubs around the country that are suffering at the hands of councils that, under best value, are doubling, trebling or quadrupling ground rents and other charges. Those charges are putting such clubs at risk, and it would be a great shame if we threw the baby out with the bath water in that regard.

Mr. Caborn: If the previous Administration had done a little more for amateur clubs, we would probably not be in this position, but I should make it clear that we will do something about the cricket club to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If we can secure charitable status and the type of tax regime to which I have referred, that club will probably be much better off than it was under his party's administration.

Arts (North-east Essex)

9. Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): What steps the Government are taking to support regional theatres and arts organisations within north-east Essex. [34236]

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The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): That is a matter for East England Arts, as the regional body for north-east Essex. By 2003–04, East England Arts' budget, including the regional arts lottery programme, will rise to £12.4 million. That is an increase of 18 per cent. on its current level.

Mr. Henderson: I welcome the Minister's comments and I note the level of Government investment in the Mercury theatre in Colchester, to which many of my constituents enjoy going. However, what support have the Government given to theatres in seaside resorts? Clacton-on-sea has two such theatres: the West Cliff theatre, which is run by the West Cliff theatre trust—a volunteer group that does an excellent job—and the Prince's theatre, the budget for which the local, Tory-led authority has just cut. What support and encouragement will the Minister give to such theatres, which play a major part in the tourism and leisure industry in seaside resorts?

Dr. Howells: I think that an 18 per cent. rise in East England Arts' budget should guarantee the future of perfectly good theatres such as those. If it does not, that will smack of the usual incompetence and heartlessness of Tory-led local authorities.

Bob Russell (Colchester): I advise the Minister that the cultural capital of Essex appreciates all the support for live theatre in Britain's oldest recorded town. Will he join me in welcoming the imminent opening in Colchester of the Headgate theatre, an amateur theatre that will occupy the premises previously occupied by a failed Labour club?

Dr. Howells: I bet there were some great actors there, as well.

Community Sport (North-west)

11. Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): What plans she has to assist the development of sport at community level in the north-west. [34239]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Government are committed to increasing opportunities for participation in sport in every part of the country. The strategy for sport—"A Sporting Future for All"—and the Government's plan for sport set out an action plan on how we intend to achieve those objectives. We also plan to restructure Sport England to improve the delivery of sport at the regional level.

Mr. Miller: My right hon. Friend will know that, despite the latent talent that exists in the north-west, we face an acute shortage of decent facilities for many of our young people. Will he look carefully at projects such as that proposed for Stanney high school—a partnership involving education, the single regeneration budget, West Cheshire amateur athletics club and the private sector—which will provide a new, purpose-built athletics track? Such partnerships, making best use of the money available, are surely the way forward in helping our young people.

Mr. Caborn: I could not agree more. Indeed, as my hon. Friend knows, the project at Stanney high school has been given stage 1 approval by the Sport England lottery

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panel, and work is moving ahead. Sport England believes that that project is important; it is working with the partners to which my hon. Friend referred to try to make sure that the plan is realised, as it will be a major asset to that part of the north-west.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister will be aware of concern across Greater Manchester and Cheshire about the proposed closure of the ice rink in Altrincham. Will he take a personal interest in what might be done to ensure that funds are made available for a replacement regional facility somewhere in Greater Manchester or Cheshire, which is important for ice skating, ice hockey and other sports?

Hon. Members: Including curling.

Mr. Caborn: I think that the hon. Gentleman could have mentioned curling; I gather that 6 million people up and down the country now want curling lanes, which is to be welcomed.

I do not know all the details of the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but if he writes to me I will make sure that it is looked into. However, I can assure him that as a result of our investment in the Commonwealth games, Manchester and the north-west are regarded as a priority for sports facilities; indeed, a tremendous legacy will be left after we have had a successful games later this year.

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