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Insurance Companies (Reserves) Bill

8.22 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Northesk.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Cox) in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

Consequential amendments

.—(1) Schedule 9A to the Companies Act 1985 and Schedule 9A to the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (form and content of accounts of insurance companies and groups) shall be amended as follows.
(2) In Note (24) on the balance sheet format set out in Section B—
(a) after "(Liabilities item C.5)" there shall be inserted—

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"This item shall comprise the amount of any reserve maintained by the company under section 34A of the Insurance Companies Act 1982."; and
(b) after "This item shall" there shall be inserted "also".
(3) For paragraph 50 there shall be substituted—
"Equalisation reserves

50. The amount of any reserve maintained—
(a) under section 34A of the Insurance Companies Act 1982 ("the 1982 Act"), or
(b) under regulation 76 of, and Schedule 14 to, the Insurance Companies Regulations 1994 ("the 1994 Regulations"),
shall be determined in accordance with regulations under section 34A of the 1982 Act or, as the case may be, in accordance with regulation 76 of, and Schedule 14 to, the 1994 Regulations.".").

The noble Earl said: In addressing Amendment No. 1, I should also like to take this opportunity to speak to Amendment No. 2. As I am sure the Committee is aware, previous regulations concerning equalisation reserves have applied solely to credit equalisation reserves on a perceived basis, when they were framed, that no need was required for the creation of any other form of regulated equalisation reserve. Clearly, should the Bill be enacted, this situation will change in that it is proposed that regulations will come into force requiring insurance companies to maintain equalisation reserves for certain volatile classes of non-life business.

The purpose of the amendments, as encapsulated in subsection (2), paragraphs (a) and (b) of Amendment No. 1, is straightforward; namely, that of requiring insurance companies to show all the equalisation reserves that they are required to maintain as a technical provision under "Liabilities item C5" in the balance sheet format.

Subsection (3) pursues the logic of subsection (2) in ensuring consistency between existing regulations concerned with the maintenance of credit equalisation reserves, as currently regulated for under Regulation 76 of, and Schedule 14 to, the Insurance Companies Regulations 1994, and the Bill's intention that further equalisation reserves be regulated for for certain classes of volatile non-life business.

In this context I should point out that we are obliged, under Council Directive 91/674—commonly called the insurance accounts directive—to regulate that any equalisation reserves that are a legal or administrative requirement be accounted for in this way. I made it plain at Second Reading that a primary aim of the Bill is to put our insurance industry on a more equal footing with its European counterparts. It therefore strikes me that it would be somewhat self-defeating to go through the motions of passing the Bill without ensuring that its framework is operable within the European context.

It is the case that this particular aspect of the proposed regulations could have been achieved via the mechanism of statutory instrument. My own view is that it is fundamental to the successful operation of the equalisation reserves scheme and that therefore it is wholly appropriate that it should appear on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 2 simply seeks to ensure that commencement of the accounting requirement lies in tandem with the regulations themselves. In conclusion, my amendments seek to ensure that the equalisation reserves regulations, as and when they come into force,

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are properly and adequately framed to be workable in a European context. This, after all, is a prime objective of the Bill, to afford our insurance industry, with its deserved worldwide reputation, the opportunity to compete on a more equal footing in the single market. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My noble friend Lord Peston has asked me to say in his absence that he certainly appreciates the effect of the amendments, and he approves them. Therefore we have no objection to them.

Lord Inglewood: The Government fully support the new clauses proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, which he so lucidly explained. Just as he spoke to both the amendments in his remarks, I shall do the same. Amendment No. 1 is clearly necessary so that the Companies Act 1985 and the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 comply with our obligations under European law. It also ensures that those preparing insurance company accounts will know clearly how to report equalisation reserves set up as a result of regulations made in the Bill.

As regards Amendment No. 2, again the Government fully support this proposed amendment which enables amendments to the Companies Act and the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order to be brought into force at the same time as the introduction of regulations. This is logical since it is only at that time that they will have any practical effect.

The Earl of Northesk: I am keen to sustain this note of brevity. Therefore I wish simply to express my gratitude both to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in absentia, and to my noble friend Lord Inglewood for their support.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 23, leave out ("Section 1") and insert ("Sections 1 and (Consequential amendments)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Sports (Discrimination) Bill [H.L.]

8.29 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Since I originally introduced the Bill there seem to have been thunderous goings on in the rugby world, both in the league, with Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Packer having an almighty row in Australia which has indirectly led to the creation of the super league in this country, and also in the union, where I believe Mr. Carling is again captain of England, having not been captain for about a week.

The Bill deals with one aspect of the sport. In fact, the only instance that I can find of discrimination in sport is in the attitude of the Rugby Football Union to Rugby League players. If one has played Rugby League one is told that one has to wait for three years and then "come clean" in public before one is allowed to play Rugby Union. One

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can play Rugby Union as a professional footballer, an American footballer, or as a professional athlete—as anything but not as a professional Rugby League player.

A report has just come out from the National Heritage Select Committee in another place which condemns that attitude completely. One paragraph of the report refers to Mr. Wood, who is the secretary of the Rugby Football Union. It states:

    "Mr. Wood said that Rugby Union would prefer not to take professional players back into its sport because 'it undermines the basic principle of our sport'. But such an argument does not explain why Rugby Union is prepared to admit professional players of any and every sport other than Rugby League. The reason for the stance is not defensible in logic or equality".

I should like to make it clear that that attitude comes from the officers of the Rugby Union and is not reflected by the players. In fact, Mr. Carling has often spoken in favour of Rugby League.

I now turn to the Bill itself. It is very short and very simple. Clauses 1 and 2 deal with sport and those responsible for making the rules. Clause 3 gives remedies for those people who have suffered discrimination in sport. Clauses 4, 5 and 6 give interpretations.

As I said, it is a very simple Bill, and I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—[The Earl of Swinton.]

8.31 p.m.

Lord Howell: My Lords, we should all be obliged to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, for promoting the Bill and for his exposition, short and pithy as it was. The Bill is long overdue, and we are grateful to the noble Earl and to Members in the other place, Mr. David Hinchliffe and Mr. Ian McCartney, who are joint authors of the Bill.

I also wish to commend the Minister for Sport, Mr. Iain Sproat, for his attitude on this question and especially for his active involvement in getting the game of Rugby League established in the Armed Forces.

Pleasing as that is, and pleasant as it is to see the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, in her place to reply to the debate, once again we have to deplore the absence of the departmental Minister. It is a discourtesy to the House. I say that as one who was a Minister for 11 years. I was taught that my first duty as a departmental Minister was to Parliament and to be present in Parliament to answer for my department. We have received no apology or explanation following last week's absence of the Minister when we debated the subject of football. I hope that the noble Baroness is able to rectify that today and provide us with some answers to some of the questions we shall raise.

It is a disgrace that legislation is needed to make it unlawful for any one sport in this country to prevent the players of another sport from participating freely therein. But that is the case in sport. The nation has outlawed racial discrimination and sexual discrimination, but years of persuasion have failed to achieve the same result in respect of the Rugby Football Union and its discrimination against players of Rugby League football. I have to say with great sadness that that being the case it is time for the law to intervene.

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As the National Heritage Select Committee stated in paragraph 64 of its recent impressive report of March this year, and as the noble Earl reminded us:

    "The Committee finds the attitude of Rugby Union to Rugby League both discriminatory and indefensible, and agrees with the use of the word 'hypocritical'".

Those are strong words, but so it is. The Rugby Union does not exercise a ban upon professionals from other sports playing its game, only on professionals from the game of Rugby League.

After taking legal opinion some time ago from an eminent lawyer in this House following the quite diabolical decision of the Rugby Union in the case of Steve Pilgrim, the Wasps full back—suspended because he had a trial for a Rugby League club, without even having his expenses paid—I urged the Rugby League to take the case to court. The legal opinion that I received indicated that that was just as much a restraint on trade as the Tony Gregg case in cricket some years ago.

The House may recall that I raised the matter in this Chamber at that time. The Government would not intervene then and the Rugby League did not go to court. The discrimination persisted. The Rugby Football Union relies upon another court case which it says gives it the right to regulate who plays its sport. I do not believe that to be the case, but if it is, or if doubt persists, then it has to be removed. That is the first justification for the Bill.

When rational arguments and ethical considerations are rejected year after year, resort to a legal solution becomes inescapable.

Further evidence in that direction is to be found in the practice of the Rugby Football Union—again as we heard from the noble Earl—of imposing a waiting period of two years upon league players who have never before played the union code, and a three-year waiting period for anyone who has previously played Rugby Union.

The Rugby Football Union says that it has,

    "no discrimination in this matter. We are parties to the regulations of the International Rugby Board and this is a contravention of the International Rugby Football Board regulations".

Time limits set upon the rights of individual freedom are unethical and an affront to civil liberty, as are decisions to ban amateur players from participating in any lawful sport. If the Rugby Football Union says that it is unable to behave in a civilised way to sportsmen in this country, such as we all desire, because of its obligations to an outside body, then it can have no possible objection to Parliament removing such constraints. That is the second justification for the Bill.

I turn now to the role of the Sports Council and, to a lesser extent, that of the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, which are both concerned with funding these sports. In the past two years the Sports Council has provided £337,516 of taxpayers' money to Rugby Union and £519,764 to Rugby League. It recognises both sports as perfectly legitimate. It is ludicrous that the Sports Council funds discrimination of one sport against another.

As I well know myself, Ministers and the Sports Council have spent years trying to bring the Rugby Football Union to its senses. Because we did not wish to penalise Rugby Union clubs and players who were providing opportunities for young people to enjoy sport in

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their communities, we maintained our financial support. We must now agree with the National Heritage Select Committee that that is no longer possible or acceptable.

It may well be that such a financial restriction upon a sport receiving public funds requires legislative back-up. I do not know. If it does, that is the third reason why I support this Bill. It is important for the Government to tell us tonight how they propose to ensure that the Sports Council will implement the recommendations of the National Heritage Committee. With respect to the noble Baroness, that is what we want to hear from the Government spokesman.

The Foundation for Sport and the Arts has done excellent work. We congratulate it on that work. So have the pools promoters who provide its funds—some £12 million for the two rugby codes since 1991. This is also, in part, public money. They are in the same dilemma as the Sports Council, funding one sport to enable it to discriminate against another. That is not acceptable. I should like to add a few words about the effects on the pools promoters of the National Lottery. This point was raised in the debate on football a week or so ago. They are in a most vulnerable position. Pools receipts are now down by some 24 per cent. The Chancellor has taken some action, which is welcome, but is inadequate. He has an obligation to keep this golden goose in good health. I am sure that the noble Baroness will convey that view to him. The same considerations apply to the Football Trust, which is about to support Rugby League clubs with quite a considerable amount of financial commitment. That is also to be welcomed.

I conclude with some reflections on the future of both Rugby Union and Rugby League. They repeat the concerns that I expressed in this Chamber a few days ago when we debated Association Football. As we now see in Australia, the media moguls, Packer and Murdoch, are locked in war. They want to monopolise their control of sport for their television interests. That battle is being fought out over Rugby League in Australia; and it has now claimed a spectacular success in Rugby League in this country.

I recognise that there may be a case for a premier league approach, as we have seen through Association Football; but, as I never cease to expound, governing bodies of sport must at all times and in all circumstances be in total control of their sport. That is especially the case when their sport can be sold to television moguls. When that happens, television companies furthering their own interests will control sport. Governing bodies will become superfluous.

Inevitably the fight for Rugby League monopoly will spread into Rugby Union. Amateur players of that code will receive massive inducements to play for Packer or Murdoch. That will happen not just Down Under, but here in this country, as the television battle spreads across the world. It will be the irony of ironies if the only reason to oppose this Bill is that Packer or Murdoch control both sports and render their governing bodies impotent.

It is sad that Parliament has had no response to all these concerns since we discussed them here during the football debate. We must hope for better things today. The health

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of sport and the interests of millions of players and viewers demand a Government Statement. I hope that the noble Baroness is able to oblige us.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I must declare an interest in relation to this Bill. I am a current Rugby Union player; I am also vice-president to the Student Rugby League. I am one of the few people who has played both codes.

Until 1987 (I believe it was) if you played an amateur game of Rugby League you were forever banned from the bosom of Rugby Union. For over 100 years the split between the two codes has continued. The way that has been justified on both sides is quite ridiculous. We do not want any professionalism in the game of Rugby Union.

If we look at the current stresses on players at the top level in Rugby Union, we see that they are having to adjust their lives to their sport. That is the fact of the matter. You cannot play in one of the national division sides without very heavy considerations about work and how you spend your social life, and major considerations about even such matters as job prospects if you aim to reach the top. The stresses are so great that the number of games in which top-class players take part is deliberately being cut. The game is as demanding as that—both physically and mentally. It effectively dominates your life and becomes a full-time aim.

There is then the question of receiving cash payments. It is an area of the sport that has had many grey areas. Undoubtedly, a degree of "shamateurism" is going on. It is probably universal. Careers advice has always gone on in the bigger clubs. How extensive it is I do not know. The fact is that Rugby Union does not have the spectator power at present to provide a lot of cash payments.

Rugby League, although not quite so guilty of this kind of hypocrisy, still annoys a lot of Rugby Union players by stating that it is "real" rugby. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, they are two different sports. Indeed, it has been said from within Rugby League that players who cross over from one code to the other often do not make it. There are blatant cases of players from Rugby Union discovering a new sport. They do not make the transition. The basic difference is that in Rugby League you are guaranteed possession of the ball. That possession is not contested. In Rugby Union possession of the ball is constantly contested. The type of game structured around that concept is not only different in the number of players involved; the game calls for different physical requirements. The ruck, the maul, the competitive scrummage and the line-out are features of Rugby Union. They have been removed from Rugby League; so you have only the basic handling and tackling skills. It provides a different spectacle; it is a different concept. If both codes could realise that—Rugby League is every bit as guilty in this respect as Rugby Union, and I do not deny that they are different sports—you would probably have a better relationship between the two.

If Rugby Union decides that it wants to maintain itself as an amateur sport—there are arguments in favour of that; it is a very technical and potentially dangerous sport—the problems of having somebody paid for every single game in which he plays and winning at all costs are

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ones which I, as a player, would rather not contemplate. There is too much danger of malicious injury for financial reward. If Rugby Union wants to maintain its current status or something similar, with trust funds, etc., as opposed to direct cash payments, why does it not copy the example of amateur Rugby League which says that once somebody has been a professional he can return to the game and play the game, but he cannot play it at representative level. If that is done, we shall not have people jumping around between codes. Also at the top level we shall not have people jumping around between the two codes for one simple reason. Rugby Union on Saturday and Rugby League on Sunday would probably mean hospital on Monday. It is too much. It cannot be done. That danger of switching around should be borne in mind.

Also, if you happen to be the owner of a Rugby League club, especially under a new and very highly charged financial situation, would you allow your player to risk breaking a leg on a Saturday for an amateur game? I do not think that that will happen. Indeed, I can imagine that it would be the best way of ensuring that a player was fired and lost his contract.

The noble Earl's Bill is one that I rather regret. However, I can see why it was brought forward. The Rugby Union really should address this problem in a realistic manner. It should say, "Yes, we'll bring these people back into the fold". It may place restrictions on the level at which they can play the game and a waiting period between, let us say, playing in national league matches as opposed to local leagues may be acceptable. But to say: "You can't play this sport at a recreational, friendly level" is absurd. There is no case for that.

If the transition between the amateur and the professional codes is allowed in virtually every other sport that has a professional and an amateur structure, such as cricket and association football, what is the difference between the two sports which have a common origin? It is absurd. I hope that the Bill or something similar will not be necessary, but if it is necessary in order to persuade the Rugby Union to move, then so be it. It has gone some way. Only in 1987 there was a total blanket ban on playing in the two codes, but if the Union is not prepared to go the extra mile, I am afraid that ultimately Parliament may have to step in.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Addington! I do not necessarily have to declare an interest except that at the age of 13 I was told that I was too small to play rugby. Thus I then turned to the traditional game played in Forfar and Kirriemuir in Scotland. In some of my past active performances in Glasgow, the police were called to keep order among the players—not the spectators!

This evening I support my noble friend's Bill for all the reasons beautifully explained by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I believe we all agree that he speaks with great knowledge and passion on the game in which he participates. We admire him and the game a great deal in the open air, as well as through the electronic media most

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weekends. I admire my noble friend Lord Swinton for his personal interest in Rugby League. I believe that 11 years ago the team with which he had a connection claimed a major trophy at Wembley. Many of his noble friends in the House, as well as those outside, were pleased for him and for Featherstone Rovers.

I also clash mildly with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I strongly support the presence of my noble friend Lady Trumpington on the Front Bench. First, her knowledge of sport is great; and, secondly, she has a unique position in your Lordships' House. Thirdly, I suggest that had someone of her calibre been around the Rugby Union last weekend, there would not have been the drama which we read about. If half the respect and affection in which she is held by your Lordships' House had been transferred to the Rugby Union, no problem would have arisen. Her motto, known to many soldiers and players in Scotland, should have been nemo me impune lacessit. That is, "You do not threaten me with impunity".

I turn to line 15 in Clause 2 of the Bill, which reads:

    "in any other lawful sport or game".

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, may not be entirely in agreement with me, but I sometimes wonder whether Rugby Union matches which I have seen live or on the electronic media fall into the category of lawful game. When my noble friend comes to wind up, perhaps he could explain the thought behind the wording.

I also considered Clause 3 and the phrase in line 20, "civil proceedings". All noble Lords will be aware that I spoke in the previous debate on football initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I suggested that so far as possible the Government and the law should stay out of sports. My imagination does not exactly run riot as to civil proceedings, but the noble Lord, Lord Addington, may be aware that the losing semi-finalist in the French club rugby championship a fortnight ago threatened to sue the referee for a false decision. The mind boggles about that happening in this country in a semi-final or the five nations championship. I repeat my opinion in the debate proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue: "Leave well alone". I believe, first, that it would not be possible in many cases involving the two codes of rugby to enforce a code of behaviour. Secondly, it would be unrealistic. Thirdly, it would be impossible to compel love, brotherhood or association between the two codes.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned two-way traffic between the two rugby codes. He made the case that it would almost certainly not be possible, but if that two-way traffic occurred, I would be interested in what the Rugby Union might say about finance or reward in the Bill, let alone how one would define that phrase. As an onlooker and a player—albeit nearly 45 years ago—I believe that the laws of the game of Rugby Union are complicated enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, did not raise one point. Players may put a great deal of time and effort into the game but there are three people on the pitch who are all amateurs: the referee and the linesmen. They put in a great deal. With them in mind, I am concerned about how the provisions of the Bill would bite. Is it necessary to discriminate between the players of the two codes? The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Howell, asked why one should wait two years. The noble Lord, Lord

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Addington, suggested that there ought to be a system under which the two-way traffic could exist with the return of amateur league players or professional league players to the union game. However, is that not dancing on a pinhead? I do not mean to take the mickey out of some Rugby Union players who dance. My noble friend mentioned making illicit use of the studs, perhaps we are beginning to dance on a pinhead here.

It has often been said to me that grown men do not need government or legal guidance about who may or may not play the game. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, or my noble friend when she winds up might be able to correct me but I believe that before 1987 often players in the amateur Rugby League were frowned upon if they associated with players. How the Rugby Union would define that term "associating" is difficult.

However, I support the thrust behind my noble friend's Bill and congratulate him on bringing it forward. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend says when she winds up in her unique way. For her, it is: nemo me impune lacessit.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, for introducing the Bill. I would especially like to thank David Hinchcliffe from the House of Commons for the sterling work he has done there, battling against discrimination over the years. His advocacy of the Bill and his campaign against discrimination against Rugby League is admirable; it has been superb. He has been ably assisted by Ian McCartney, MP, and other Members of the all-party Parliamentary Rugby League Group.

The Bill's success, even before it is enacted, is the way in which the Rugby Union is furiously backpedalling. However, the passage of the Bill is important, despite the way in which the union is backing off like mad, though it is not enough.

The House passed my Bill outlawing discrimination against disabled people a little while ago. In a week or two we shall have the Government's Bill outlawing discrimination against disability. I am now glad to speak on this Bill against discrimination in the Rugby League.

I want to pay tribute to Maurice Lindsay for his leadership of the Rugby League in its campaign against discrimination. Anyone who read his powerful arguments—especially the one that he put to the National Heritage Committee—will be in no doubt about the validity of the need for legislation. The central theme of the case that he put forward was the need for "fair play". Who on earth can argue against fair play? That concept is central to all rugby; it is central to all sports; and indeed it is central to life itself. A synonym for that honoured phrase, equally accepted by both Houses of Parliament, is "equal opportunities" regardless of race, sex, religion or anything else.

After careful examination of the issues and the views of the individuals involved, the National Heritage Committee, which has already been mentioned and quoted tonight, concluded that the attitude of Rugby Union to Rugby League was "both discriminatory and

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indefensible". It added for good measure its endorsement of the IRFB's Amateurism Working Party's own word "hypocritical".

There comes a time in everybody's life when you make mistakes. When you have made a mistake, the best and certainly the most honourable thing to do is to admit it and apologise. Regrettably, the Rugby Football Union—I emphasise that I speak of the officials and not the players —is doing no such thing. It is denying its professionalism, despite absolutely overwhelming evidence to the contrary, evidence supported by Will Carling, England's captain. It is claiming that it will lose many players to Rugby League, but over the past 10 years, only 8.1 per cent. of players were from Rugby Union. It asserts that it is opposed to professionalism while accepting professionals from any other sport except Rugby League. It denies prejudice against anyone, while being in restraint of trade, denying livelihoods and even leisure activity.

The Rugby Football Union has fought a 100-year war against Rugby League. It is living in the past, bearing old grudges, reflecting an outmoded class system and defiling the fine reputation of sport. The case for the Rugby Football Union's discrimination is nonsensical, absurd and preposterous. It would be funny if it were not so tragic. The Rugby Football Union deserves all that it gets. This Bill will put an end to the sporting apartheid once and for all. But until it is enacted, I suggest that the proposal of the National Heritage Committee should be accepted and that no further money from the Sports Council, the National Lottery or any other body should be paid to it.

Perhaps I may say a few brief words about the future of Rugby League. There has been a great deal of controversy about setting up a super league. I do not want to see any control by Mr. Murdoch. I am the last person to support the kind of monopoly that he seeks to create. Nevertheless, the fact is that Rugby League is facing a financial crisis. I am afraid that on this issue I must differ from my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I believe that sentimentality will not generate wealth, wealth which we need to buttress Rugby League. Certainly it will not take Rugby League into the next century.

In the past few weeks we have heard a great deal of unjustified condemnation of the chairman of Rugby League, Rodney Walker, and the chief executive, Maurice Lindsay. It has been very unfair criticism. They seized an opportunity to give some kind of financial viability to Rugby League for a limited period. It was an opportunity to revive the game financially. I believe that when that limited period is over, Rugby League may be the stronger. It is a very controversial issue but I do not believe that the black and white simplification that we have heard in recent weeks in the other place, or outside it, is justified. There are some aspects of it which cause concern and notably Murdoch's personal role; and there is the other aspect, which is the ruling, as I understand it, that no player outside Murdoch's control could play for Britain. Such a ruling would be laughable, outrageous and completely unacceptable.

I have an interest to declare too. I am very proud to be the patron of the Widnes Rugby League Club. The club has not done all that marvellously well this year. It has had

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a difficult year. But it has had 19 marvellous years as the great rugby team—far better than Wigan, Leeds and other second-rate clubs. Widnes has been the outstanding club of Rugby League in years. It just happens, like some other people, to have made a single mistake; namely, in this one season, when it has fallen down. But it will recover next year and, of course, beat Wigan by 50 points to two, or maybe 50 points to six. I hope that Widnes, which has been excluded from the super league, will find some means of going back. I do not want to go into detail now. I merely express the hope that it will do so.

But whether Widnes does that or not, I believe that Rugby League has a very great future. I believe that for all the controversy, the financial injection from the super league will be helpful. We still have to iron out some problems, to avoid the monopoly and Murdoch control. I believe that it can be done. Somehow we must bring money into the game in order to bring it into the next century financially viable and financially strong. It is a most wonderful game. It is the great game. I speak as a lifelong enthusiast. I am even more enthusiastic than I was as an adoring young boy some 70 odd years ago. And I hope that this Bill will go some way towards preventing discrimination by Rugby Union.

9.8 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, first, I apologise for missing the earlier speakers; unfortunately I was detained elsewhere. However, I want to speak for a few minutes on this Bill.

I believe it was a fortnight ago tonight that your Lordships' House debated what some term as our national sport—Association Football. It was not such a pleasant debate because some of us are not very pleased with what has been happening in the game. We are now debating what I term as my favourite sport—Rugby League—and there is some sadness about what is taking place in that sport.

But let us not be too sad. We should remind ourselves that this country still has a world champion team—the Wigan Rugby League team. It went to Australia and beat the best Rugby League club in Australia on its own ground; it has done that twice in the past three years. The game, therefore, is in a healthy state provided the money and resources are available.

My noble friend Lord Ashley referred to the fact that Rugby Union has been waging a 100 years war on Rugby League. That may be so, but we are on the threshold of entering the next century; it is almost in sight. I like to think that, irrespective of the Bill, over the past 100 years Rugby Union has learnt enough to put its house in order for the next 100 years, starting in the year 2000. It only needs a little bit of good will. The rancour that has continued for decades because of the outlook of Rugby Union could disappear overnight and, if Rugby Union wishes, it could consign to history the Bill we are debating this evening.

We saw what turned out to be more like a comic opera when the English captain used the term "57 old farts". We saw the reaction to that statement. It was probably foolish of the captain—he had probably had one or two drinks

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with the boys—but the reaction was out of proportion. Nevertheless, people in sport make headlines and the sadness is that they are making headlines that are not beneficial to the sport from which most of them are drawing a lucrative living.

I hope that this Bill does end up on the statute book. Action could be taken in advance by the Rugby Union and I do not think it would do it any harm. Some points have been made regarding the present state of Rugby League and the interference—if that is the right word—of Mr. Rupert Murdoch in the financing of its future. It is no secret that there is open competition between Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Kerry Packer. They are both Australians with plenty of money who, each in his own way, seem to be trying to obtain a stranglehold over Rugby League in an international sense. I do not want to personalise the argument, but the two gentlemen concerned are not investing money for the sake of the sport—they have never done that in the past. Mr. Packer's record of involvement in cricket left a lot to be desired and I am sure that he will perform similarly in football. We know, unfortunately, that Mr. Murdoch's record in some of his dealings is not of the highest order. I am not for one moment suggesting that any laws have been broken but I do not believe that those two gentlemen illustrate the best intentions for Rugby League as a sport.

I happen to believe that Rugby League is the most competitive, the fastest, hardest and most skilful game in existence. The performance of the Wigan team at Wembley against Leeds, which is a good team, saw Leeds completely wiped off the field. I do not want to compare the two games because they are not quite the same, but when Wigan brought a Maori player to this country who weighed 17.5 stones he was not tough enough for Rugby League, despite being a world class player in Rugby Union and feared by our Rugby Union players when he played for the All Blacks against them. It took nearly 12 months for Wigan to make him fit enough to become a regular member of their side. He was the same weight when he finished the training in their hothouse as he was when he arrived, but it had taken 5½ inches off his backside and put it on his chest. That is a measure of what Rugby League is about these days.

Unfortunately, there is only one Wigan. The idea is to lift the game to a point where competition is more equal than it has been. I can remember the time, not many years ago when Widnes did have a team—the team of my noble friend Lord Ashley—it appeared year after year at Wembley. Reggie Bowden was the captain and Mick Burke before that. They were almost annual visitors to Wembley to play in the final of the Rugby League Challenge Cup—not quite with the same domination as Wigan but they were always in either the four championships finals or Rugby League Challenge Cup finals. But it is no good in any sport—my noble friend Lord Howell made the point about soccer—for one team to dominate. It might be good for the team and its followers but it is not good for the rest of the game.

I hope that the people involved in rugby as a whole will sort out the friction among themselves. I hope that the points made by my noble friend Lord Ashley about the future financing of Rugby League will be ironed out. There is a lot to be ironed out because I question whether

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anyone has the right to tell a player in a free country that if he signs a contract for a certain club he will not be able to represent the country and will not be considered for selection. That is what is being said to some players in rugby. I hope that anyone who is thinking of trying that on will forget all about it because it is what anyone in this country wants to see. People should not be barred because of who they play for.

There is no point in my saying much more because all the points have been made. It will be interesting to see what takes place at the Committee stage. If people had acted sensibly in the immediate past there would be no need for us to be discussing the Bill. It is to be regretted.

9.16 p.m.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, for promoting the Bill. I should declare a personal interest as a lifelong Rugby Union supporter who played briefly for the Oxford University Greyhounds, the Northampton Second XV and various other even more disreputable assemblies. But I hope that I am not wholly prejudiced in favour of Rugby Union. I love watching Rugby League. The community atmosphere is terrific. I certainly prefer some of its rules, which are clearer and more enforceable than those in Rugby Union on, say, the ruck, the maul and the line out. I wish the Rugby Union would follow the Rugby League and abolish the line out so that we would have no need to distort the game by selecting lamp posts.

Rugby Union is now at the peak of its success and popularity. Sixty-seven nations are members of the International Rugby Football Board. In England there are 2,000 clubs and 3,500 schools playing. There are half a million players and peak attendances. Both the Sports Council and Sportsmatch, and the lottery as well, provide large injections of public funds. So Parliament and the Government have a direct interest. But not all is rosy in Rugby Union's garden, as has been made clear in the debate.

Apart from the alleged flatulence (shall we say?) afflicting the governing body of the sport, there is also growing concern about the union's attitude to its rival, Rugby League, stemming from the split 100 years ago over broken time payments to working class players who lost Saturday work in order to play, which did not so much bother middle class players in the south who did not work on Saturdays.

A key IRF Board regulation, Regulation 2.4, states:

    "No person shall play ... with a non-amateur club or a non-amateur organisation involved in the playing of any other type of Rugby Football".

Those constraints, amounting to "discrimination"—that is the word used in the National Heritage Select Committee report—are not really about amateurism and the payment of money. We know that some Rugby Union players receive rewards—benefits in kind—for playing Rugby Union, as my noble friend Lord Ashley pointed out. We know that Rugby Union does not even exclude those who are currently being paid in other sports, such as American football professionals. We know that Rugby Union in the past has discriminated against Rugby League players even if unpaid, as

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mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howell. There is the example of Steve Pilgrim, the former Wasps full-back, who was suspended for 12 months for playing unpaid in Rugby League.

The reality is that the Rugby Union ban is really against Rugby League as a game. For 100 years Rugby Union has been trying to prevent Rugby League from expanding, and to prevent Rugby League recruiting Rugby Union players. The National Heritage committee report has been mentioned. It concluded that such restraints constituted discrimination and that the defence which was frequently used of amateurism is a sham. It uses the word "hypocrisy". Other noble Lords have expressed similar views. Do the Government and the Minister share that view? The report also concludes that the Sports Council and lottery funding should cease until discrimination ceases. I repeat the question: does the Minister agree with that? I ask the Minister also, as my noble friend Lord Howell did: when will the Government give their reply to the National Heritage committee report? Mr. Sproat promised it to us in June. Will that promise be kept?

I now turn to the other new dimension of this discrimination problem which has recently arisen and which has been mentioned by other noble Lords; namely, the proposed creation of a new super league. That is within the remit of tonight's debate for two reasons. It involves discrimination in Rugby League and also because Mr. Hinchliffe, in another place, who is pursuing this matter also, has stated that he will amend his Bill accordingly to take that into account.

By this deal a few Rugby League administrators effectively handed over control of British Rugby League to News International/BSkyB. Ultimately, those media controllers will decide who plays for whom, against whom, when and where. Here I must differ—I believe for almost the first time in a long lifetime of friendship—with my noble friend Lord Ashley. This really matters. The deal is based on discrimination, restriction and monopoly. All will be determined by the Murdoch monopoly contract. Individual players will be prevented from playing in games with or against non-Murdoch players. Players without Murdoch contracts will not be able to play for Great Britain against, say, Australia. This is monopoly discrimination not basically different from discrimination by the Rugby Union against the Rugby League about which we and the Bill complain. I point out to my noble friend that one cannot cherry pick in these matters. One cannot have Mr. Murdoch's gold without Mr. Murdoch's contract, without Mr. Murdoch's monopoly and without Mr. Murdoch's discrimination.

This discrimination need not end with Rugby League, as my noble friend Lord Howell said. As that media empire moves into other sports, into soccer, cricket, tennis and athletics, it could apply similar discrimination in relation to who plays for and who plays against whom. The origins of this new dimension have nothing to do with the good of Rugby League. It originates in a power struggle between two media tycoons in Australia. When Kerry Packer won the right to show Australian Rugby League on his channel, Mr. Murdoch responded by setting up a new super league to poach Packer's

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players and coverage and then turned to control English Rugby League. It is all part of what seems a distant, nasty media game, but the fall-out is total disruption to British Rugby League. A few clubs, a few top players, will be much richer, but the game as a whole at its grassroots and in many of the northern communities which love the game, will be much poorer. British Rugby League will in many ways become a mere franchised outlet of a world media empire.

I must agree with my noble friend that Rugby League certainly has its financial problems. Half a dozen clubs have recently gone into liquidation and the collective debt of the league is £10 million—although that is pretty small compared to the collective debt of the Football League. However, those debts are partly the result of the Taylor Report being perhaps inappropriately applied to Rugby League and costing the clubs £30 million in ground improvements. I am not saying that the game should be frozen in a time warp. It certainly needs modernisation, but that should not mean 100 years of Rugby League history being ripped up in a few hours when the offer of gold was made.

In conclusion, Rugby League is a great game with marvellous supporters whose behaviour at games is an example that soccer would do well to follow. Anyone who has seen Wembley packed with Rugby League supporters can be nothing but proud of them. It is regrettable that Rugby League has suffered so long from discrimination by the Rugby Union and now from the new discrimination introduced by the new media controllers. In that context, I must express sympathy with the Bill. I look forward to hearing the views of the Minister and the Government and when and how they will respond to the conclusions of the Select Committee on the National Heritage that Rugby Union does discriminate against the Rugby League and that the Sports Council and the National Lottery should cease financial aid until the Rugby Union has ceased discrimination.

9.26 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Swinton for giving us all the opportunity to debate this very emotional subject. I am very aware of all the arguments put by your Lordships, but I have to say that I am not persuaded that legislation is the answer to this problem. Equally, I hope that the report of this debate will be read by those who are powerful members of the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Football League. As for the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I am merely tempted to show him a yellow card.

Your Lordships are all aware of the report on this very issue that was published on 19th April by the Select Committee on the National Heritage. The report recommended that both Sports Council and lottery funding to Rugby Union should cease until discrimination against Rugby League stops. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, I must not prejudice the reply which will be given to that report, but is this cutting off of money really the answer—or, for that matter, does the Bill answer the question?

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Again, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, the Government will comment on the Select Committee's report in June. We think that persuasion is a far better approach. Indeed, the Minister for Sport in another place met Rugby Union and Rugby League representatives to encourage more constructive dialogue between both codes. Not long after this, in January of this year, Rugby Union and Rugby League authorities met informally for the first time since the two codes split over 100 years ago. We hope that this is just the start.

We believe that discussion, not legislation, is the way forward. Therefore, the Government do not believe they should intervene in the affairs of properly constituted governing bodies, whatever the sport. Both the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Football League are properly constituted governing bodies and are responsible for their own policies. The RFU is also responsible for interpreting the rules set by the International Rugby Football Board of which it is a member.

We are more than happy to help where possible, but the Government have no power to control the game, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to support legislation which would be tantamount to favouring the policies of one properly constituted body against another.

The world of sport is ever changing. We heard recently about the proposals for a rugby super league; now there is talk of a Rugby Union super league. Non-super league teams will not lose out to Sky TV. Sky TV has a contract which will allow it to show any Rugby League game, including those not in the super league. So there will be no discrimination in that way. In addition, the BBC will continue to show Rugby League games.

Noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Donoughue and others, asked about the remuneration of players. Rugby Union players have amateur status, but I am of course aware that individuals receive payment for expenses and, I understand, cars or houses in some cases. However those payments are not a wage. They should, like any other expenses, be declared, and, where necessary, be subject to taxation. All the same, the nature of amateurism in Rugby Union needs revision, but by the sport itself.

I understand that the Rugby Union in Australia and New Zealand is considering a super league to compete with Mr. Murdoch's league. That could be a first step in the changes from amateur to professional which we have been debating this evening. The voluntary dialogue for which we have been waiting has begun, and we should not do anything to jeopardise it.

9.31 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton: My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, did not so much attack my noble friend Lady Trumpington as complain that the Minister was not here. My noble friend is not just a Whip, she is a distinguished former Minister of State and Privy Counsellor, so we are lucky to have her here.

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