HC Deb 28 April 1993 vol 223 cc1077-90

Amendment made: No. 42, in page 10, leave out lines 26 to 32 and insert— `(1) A body shall comply with any directions given to it by the Secretary of State as to the matters to be taken into account in determining the persons to whom, the purposes for which and the conditions subject to which the body distributes any money under section 23(1).'.—[Mr. Key.]

Mr. Hinchliffe

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 10, line 32, at end insert except that in exercising their functions under section 21(2) above, the sports councils shall in no circumstances distribute money to any organisation which practices discrimination as between players in amateur and professional sport". I appreciate that it is late and that hon. Members have had a long and hard day. However, the issues with which the amendment deals are serious, and some of us have been waiting a long time for a proper debate on them. People have been waiting since 1895. The amendment is an all-party attempt to address discrimination in sport. 'Were it to relate to women or people from ethnic minorities, such discrimination would be illegal.

Mr. Maxton

That is not correct, because private clubs and sporting organisations can and do discriminate against women in many ways, and are not breaking the law in doing so.

Mr. Hinchliffe

I did not expect an intervention before I had put the arguments in support of the amendment. It addresses specifically what is deemed amateurism within the regulations of the Rugby Football Union and concerns the relationship between that and rugby league players, not just professionals but amateurs. The vast majority of rugby league is played by amateurs, not professionals. The professional game is a small part of rugby league and it annoys many of us interested in the game to hear it described as a professional code.

Some hon. Members will recall a recent early-day motion, 1342, on some of the issues with which the amendment deals—in particular, the case of Steve Pilgrim, a rugby union player who until recently played for Wasps in London. He also played as an England B team rugby union international. He had the audacity to go for an unpaid amateur trial with Leeds rugby league football club. As a consequence, he was automatically banned by the Rugby Football Union from playing rugby union football for two years.

The interesting point is that, if Mr. Pilgrim had gone to the Headingly rugby league ground in Leeds, but appeared on the other side of the main stand, on the Yorkshire cricket ground, for a professional trial for Yorkshire cricket, he would not have been banned. Had he gone to Elland Road, and been paid for playing for Leeds United, he would not have been banned. Had he been playing professional tennis, professional golf or even American football, he would not have been banned. Unfortunately, he played the game of rugby league.

He has not received a penny for playing rugby league, although he has had trials since then with the Halifax rugby league club. Neither club has signed him on, and he is now between the devil and the deep blue sea—not signed on by rugby league but banned from his previous sport. In the view of many decent, thinking people in sport as a whole, including many in the sport of rugby union, that is unacceptable in this day and age.

I mentioned 1895 because that was the year when what was then the northern rugby union split away from the rest on the issue of broken time payments. They are related to the fact that in the industrial north, and elsewhere, working-class people could not afford to miss time from work to play rugby union; therefore, young men were paid to cover the money that they could not earn in their normal course of employment because they were playing rugby. The ultimate result was the development of rugby league football.

Unfortunately, since 1895, some in the 15-a-side code have attempted, right up to the present day, to kill off the game of rugby league—both the amateur and the professional games. Many who have been involved in both rugby codes feel that that is unacceptable in this day and age. It is some measure of rugby league's strength and popularity that, despite all those attacks over nearly a century, the game continues to thrive and prosper, at both the amateur and professional levels. I shall be pleased to attend the nation's main sporting event on Saturday, to watch Widnes win the rugby league cup, along with the 75,000 other people who will pack Wembley to witness a great sporting occasion.

It is some measure of rugby's league greatness that, despite the obvious prejudice of the establishment, the media, the education system and the armed forces against the 13-a-side code, the professional sport of rugby league is second only to association football as the most popular spectator team sport in Britain. It would be encouraging if media coverage of rugby league reflected the fact that it draws crowds second only to those attracted to soccer. In terms of spectators, it is more popular than rugby union and cricket. The House has not considered the fact that rugby league is such a popular sport.

Amendment No. 1 attempts to address the discrimination against those who play rugby league football as amateurs of professionals that is still evident nearly 100 years after rugby league's break with rugby union.

Some years ago, when I played both league and union, I participated in a game of rugby union at a club in Otley, which is an area that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) knows well. When I entered the club house, I noticed a painting of the team that had won the Yorkshire rugby cup two years before the 1895 breakaway. A number of the faces had been blanked out. They were players who had, after 1895, moved from northern rugby to play in the new northern union. They have never been forgiven. I want to see the day come, before too long, when the faces of those players are painted back into that picture, and an end to the nonsense of the past 100 years.

I speak with some passion because I, as an amateur league player, was banned from playing rugby union. Many of my friends and peers in Wakefield of a similar age still retain the letters that they received from local rugby union clubs saying that they were no longer welcome because, after the age of 18, they had played rugby league. We were considered sporting lepers. I will never forget that experience for as long as I live. Sadly, that attitude still prevails. Tonight, we hope to do something about making a long-overdue change to that period of history.

I pay tribute to those of my hon. Friends who, some years ago, achieved—at least in theory—a free gangway between the code of amateur rugby league and rugby union. I say "in theory" because I could give example after example to show that, often, that free gangway does not exist in practice. I shall cite just one that came to my attention as joint secretary, with the hon. Member for Keighley, of the parliamentary rugby league group.

In Reading, an attempt was made to form the Unity rugby club, to play both rugby league and rugby union under the same banner. That is entirely reasonable. Plenty of clubs play cricket and rugby, or soccer and rugby. Why not rugby league and rugby union? Why should they not use the same facilities, pitches and equipment? It would be sensible. However, permission could not be obtained from Twickenham, simply because, they were told, they were playing rugby league. Had it been cricket, soccer, or any other sport, there would have been no problem. There are many examples of the rugby union establishment leaning on the game of rugby league.

11.30 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) has had to leave the Chamber, but before he did so he drew my attention to correspondence that he had received about a rugby league tournament that is held at Swansea Uplands ground in Wales. Amateurs from both codes are involved in games there each year. Rugby union players received letters threatening them with action if they took part in an amateur tournament, where the trophy was presented by Jonathan Davies, who, it just so happens, has left the rugby union code and gone north.

There have been many examples of what can only be described as blatant discrimination in the armed forces against people who want to play the game of rugby league football. We met Lord Merlyn-Rees, a former Defence Minister, who headed the delegation. The prejudice with which we were confronted at that meeting had to be seen to be believed. We were told that the armed forces could not afford to fund the game of rugby league. We made the point that the same balls, jerseys, shorts, boots, socks and other items that rugby players wear are used in both codes, but we were told that, because of insufficient resources, rugby union, not rugby league, was played in the armed forces. It is high time that we did something about that prejudice.

Mr. Hargreaves

Many of my hon. Friends probably share the hon. Gentleman's concern, and what he has said is enlightening. Those of us who served on the Committee probably missed out by not having this matter drawn to our attention earlier in the debate. However, at this stage of the proceedings on the Bill, is this the right place to raise such an important issue concerning rugby? Ought it not to be the subject of a debate?

Mr. Hinchliffe

I should be only too happy to initiate such a debate. The reason for the amendment is that many of us feel that although the rugby union game receives substantial public funding, particularly from the Sports Aid Foundation, the Sports Council and the education system, it practises blatant discrimination against rugby league players. That is why we feel that the Bill is an appropriate mechanism to get rugby union to take account of the strength of feeling in the nation about the way that it treats rugby league players.

The rules relating to amateurs appear to apply only to people who are concerned with rugby league, not to rugby union, although those people are, to all intents and purposes, professionals. We know for a fact that rugby union players are paid and that they receive rewards often far in excess of what is payable in the rugby league game. In France—which is a party to the International Rugby Board's rules on amateurs, which forbid professionalism in rugby—entire rugby league teams have transferred to playing rugby union because they can get more money from playing rugby union. In New Zealand and Australia, payments are commonplace. Can anyone tell me that David Campese is an amateur? Does he go to Italy every winter to play for nothing? Of course he is a professional, and rightly so. He is an excellent rugby player, so why should he not be rewarded for his skills and for the fact that he, like many others, entertains vast numbers of people?

Payments are also commonplace in South Africa. Recently, my own team, Wakefield Trinity, was in the process of signing a Springbok rugby union player called Albertus Einslin. He pulled back from signing the deal because he had been offered £200 a match and a job playing "amateur" rugby union in South Africa. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that rugby union is an amateur code. Many of us are annoyed that the South African Rugby Union has attempted to stamp on the development of rugby league in the black townships on the basis that its amateur code there will lead to professionalism although, as everyone knows, the South African Rugby Union is semi-professional, if not wholly professional.

In this country, the Pugh report considered the British rugby union players who went on the so-called centenary tour of South Africa against the advice of the various home unions. The Pugh report, which has been suppressed, suggested that those players received about £30,000 each. Let us remember that that was in an "amateur" game.

"Week In Week Out", a BBC Wales programme, recorded a player—I seem to remember that he was an international player—saying that, to his knowledge, payments were made in Wales in the dressing room, in front of a Welsh rugby union official, an official from the union that banned Jonathan Davies from commenting for the BBC at Cardiff Arms Park because he had gone north to play for Widnes rugby league club. That is the union that continuies to ban Stuart Evans from returning to playing rugby union in the valleys because he flirted with St. Helens' rugby league club but unfortunately did not have a very successful career in the 13 a side code.

We have in the House an hon. Member, who is not here tonight, whose main distinction in life was not arriving here some years ago but playing in my team, Wakefield Trinity. He told me one night that he had received far more money playing rugby union than playing for teams such as Wakefield Trinity.

The parliamentary rugby league group, which comprises about 70 members from this place and another place, has become rather impatient about this matter We contacted the International Rugby Board to ask it to explain what its rules on amateurism meant in this day and age. Last Wednesday, we met Mr. Dudley Wood, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, and Mr. Bob Rogers, the chair of the English Rugby Football Union amateurism committee. On behalf of the parliamentary group, I must say that we were most grateful that they were prepared to meet us. They had a fairly hot reception.

The two gentlemen said that the problems which they conceded were occurring in certain unions—not the English union—were due to interpretation of amateurism, not the principle. They insisted that, although there were problems in Wales, France and here, there and everywhere, in England everything in the garden was fine. They said that there was no evidence of any payments to players in the English Rugby Football Union.

The most memorable part of our meeting was a comment from the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), who told us of his experience of standing as the Conservative candidate in Wakefield against my predecessor's predecessor in the 1959 general election. Because of contacts with the local Conservative party—at that stage, the chair of Wakefield Trinity was a prominent member of the Conservative party—the right hon. Gentleman was allowed to kick off the Wakefield Trinity versus Hunslet league match.

I was present, and there was a crowd of about 15,000. The local Conservative parliamentary candidate was allowed to kick off, which would be a huge boost to anyone campaigning in an election in that area. The right hon. Gentleman kicked off, the incident was reported in the press, and he found that he had professionalised himself and was banned from playing rugby union. The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale—he is not an Opposition Member; no hard lefty he, but a former Minister and Government Chief Whip—is still banned by the rugby union. Thirty years of anger came out in the right hon. Gentleman last Wednesday in Committee Room 14—and rightly so. That nonsense is still with us, and we are sad that such attitudes still prevail.

There have been one or two developments since last Wednesday's meeting; things have moved quite rapidly. First—I believe that it happened the day after we met the two gentlemen—in Edinburgh the International Rugby Board came to the decision that rugby league professionals who have never played union would be allowed to play rugby union within two years of making their desire to switch codes known, but union players who have turned to league are still banned from returning to union. That reads like a Monty Python script.

The news was picked up in The Independent yesterday, when Alan Watkins wrote about what nonsense it was: Religious conversion is much in the air these days, with several Anglicans going over to the Church of Rome. If we regard rugby league players as Anglicans, and union players as Catholics, it will be as if Anglicans can become Catholics and Catholics Anglicans. But Catholics who become Anglicans will not be allowed to revert to their original faith. As Winston Churchill once said of his own early shifts of political loyalty between the Conservative and Liberal parties: anyone can rat once, but it takes a man of character to rat twice. Alan Watkins makes the important point that the lack of equality between the codes means that White Jonathan Davies", who, of course, will play for Widnes at Wembley on Saturday, cannot return to Llanelli, or Martin Offiah to Rosslyn Park, there is nothing to prevent Ellery Hanley, say, from signing on for the Harlequins as Peter Winterbottom's successor, playing a couple of seasons at the Stoop, and then returning to Leeds or some other Northern club to see out the autumn of his days. What absolute nonsense—yet that is the present position.

Another development following the denials of Messrs. Wood and Rogers in Committee Room 14 last Wednesday is reported in The Times this morning. The main article on the sports page is headed: RFU finds breaches of amateurism rife". That means breaches of amateurism in the same English Rugby Football Union that we were told last Wednesday was totally amateur. We were told that amateurism was its members' sacrosanct principle, and the most important thing in their game. Yet according to the article in The Times, a report circulating in English Rugby Football Union clubs has forced the RFU to confront a situation it denied existed to any serious extent. It reveals numerous illustrations of disregard for the amateur principles which officials at Twickenham insisted had more to do with imagination than reality. A working party set up by the RFU to investigate growing allegations of financial benefits for amateur players has found the claims to be substantially true. Its report … says many examples of such payments have been received". Is that not interesting? Yet at a meeting attended by many hon. Members who are in the Chamber now we were given clear assurances that everything in the garden was lovely in the English Rugby Football Union.

To put it mildly, there appears to be some inconsistency between the official position and reality. The official position is clearly in conflict with what we know and what the union, too, knows is happening. The worry is that the rules of amateurism as administered by the RFU apply only to those who have contact with the game of rugby league. It seems that anything is allowed to go on in rugby union.

I emphasise again the fact that many of us have no objection to rugby union players receiving payments. We have no wish to prevent funding from going to rugby union clubs. I have two—Sandal and Wakefield—in my constituency. I played discreetly for both teams many years ago as a rugby league player. I have friends who are involved in both clubs. They are two excellent rugby union clubs which are a credit to the game of rugby as a whole. I have no wish to see them deprived of funds that may accrue from the national lottery. However, the amendment would affect them only if the attitudes to rugby league continued. Through the amendment, we are saying, "For goodness sake, address the issues about which all of us here are concerned and back off. Let us have some common sense after 100 years."

11.45 pm

I am grateful to the House for tolerating a fairly lengthy contribution at this late hour. It is an important matter. The London-based media largely disregard rugby league. Many of us in the north are used to that. We can manage without them. From the point of view of the media, it is sad that they do not see the great sporting spectacle—some say the greatest sporting spectacle and I concur with that view—of rugby league football. What is more worrying is that the media fail to. cover the civil liberties questions raised by the issues I have described. They do not cover the way in which players are refused their basic civil rights by those who run rugby union.

I pay tribute to the rugby league press for the way in which it has pushed the matter. I pay tribute to the Rugby Leaguer newspaper, to Open Rugby magazine, which has had a continuing campaign for freedom in rugby, and to the League Express newspaper for its campaign on the issue.

I shall read from the editorial in this week's League Express because its comments put more succinctly than I can the feelings that many people have about the matter.

The editorial says: If the Union actions did not impinge on League, they could go to hell in their own hand-cart, at their own pace, without any comment from us, but the Union's hypocrisy, dishonesty and blackmail—to give it an honest name—prevent many people who would like to try our game from doing so. The message goes out to schoolboys and adults alike, that playing rugby league can seriously damage your health and career prospects. As we have endlessly pointed out, professional soccer players, golfers or cricketers, don't need special dispensations from Twickenham to play union. And league players, union players or players of any damn sport at all, should not need permission from Dudley Wood and his cohorts to take some exercise on a football field. They have no moral, legal or any other right to pronounce on the sport of rugby league, or prevent free men and women playing whatever sport they like. No amount of window-dressing…will alter the fact that their game is continuing to use unjust and illegal discrimination against a sport they perceive as a competitor to their own. There is great anger on the issue. I hope that the Government will grasp the nettle and end this nonsense once and for all.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I strongly support and warmly commend the words of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). Some people—this point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves)—may consider that the issue does not relate easily to the Bill. As the hon. Member for Wakefield explained, the rugby union is in receipt of substantial public funds through the Sports Council, so public policy issues arise which the Government cannot thrust to one side.

As an adherent of both rugby league and rugby union, like many other hon. Members, I do not seek to adjudicate between the qualities of the two codes. I congratulate Ilkley rugby union football club in my constituency on its achievement in gaining promotion this season. I also pay a warm public tribute to Keighley rugby league club, which had a magnificent season, winning the third division of the league and, equally importantly, attracting massive gates in the process. In the town and in the club there is enthusiasm to go on to greater things. Wigan and St. Helen's should watch out.

It is regrettable that the policy of disallowing a free gangway maintained by the International Rugby Board, which, despite its title, has no responsibility at all for the league game, should still mar the reputation of rugby after so many years. The Rugby Football Union claims that it wants to protect its amateur status. That makes no sense whatever because everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that, in the top echelons, amateurism is an absolute sham. Many international rugby union players quite clearly have the benefit of a car and other benefits —including, perhaps, a job—simply because of who they are and because they are exceptionally good at the game they play.

As the hon. Member for Wakefield said, it cannot be right that a senior player like Steve Pilgrim should be banned from playing rugby union, possibly for life—certainly for a year from the time when he applies for reinstatement—just because he had a trial with a professional league club. That is a case about which Sir Peter Yarranton, chairman of the Sports Council and a past RFU present, has expressed concern.

The hon. Member for Wakefield referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) was banned from playing rugby union many years ago because, as a parliamentary candidate, he was invited to kick off a rugby league match. I am sure that that goes a long way towards explaining why my right hon. Friend has such strong feelings about the issue.

Some forms of the discrimination practised by the administrators of rugby union may eventually be tested in the courts, where a finding that they are illegal may bring the whole house of cards crashing down. That may apply in relation to differential treatment of former union players who have played rugby league. The payment of money and inducements to move from one union club to another, revealed in the newly circulated RFU report, to which the hon. Member for Wakefield also referred, also casts doubt on the possibility that the present situation can be maintained indefinitely. Not for nothing did an article in today's issue of The Times refer to a "malaise among administrators". One day soon, the little boy who pointed out that the king was not wearing any clothes will prove impossible to shut up.

Tennis, cricket and athletics eventually came to terms with professionalism and in no way was the amateur sport harmed—quite the reverse. In due course, rugby union will have to do the same. In the meantime, however, the Government should take a leading role in making it clear that discrimination—even if well-intentioned but misguided—is not acceptable in any sport.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

As an ex-rugby union player, I find little with which to disagree in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). Unlike him, however, I am not happy about the way in which rugby union is moving towards becoming a professional sport. As its rules—or, rather, its laws—stand at present, it is far too dangerous a game to be played for large sums of money. Unlike rugby league, rugby union has not adapted its rules to ensure that people are not in a position to injure other players and, if people were playing for large sums, it could be an extremely dangerous game. People could be seriously injured; there might even be deaths. I deplore that state of affairs. I repeat, however, that I find little with which to disagree in the tenor of my hon. Friend's remarks.

If I have an objection, it is to the wording of the amendment. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) said that athletics has sorted out the problems of professionalism. That is not true. The so-called professional Powderhall sprints are held in Scotland every new year. The prize money is about £150 to £200. But someone who wins that race and accepts the £200 is barred for life from taking part in amateur athletics.

If the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) had run in any of those races, he would have been banned from taking part in any other race, yet we all know that, as a result of his prowess as a miler and a half-miler, he made enormous sums of money out of athletics. Not all sports have done away with that kind of discrimination, and athletics is one of them. As it is worded, the amendment would hit athletics as well as rugby union. That may be right.

The discrimination to which I have referred is not the only discrimination that occurs in sport. A very well-known golf club in my constituency is celebrating its centenary this year. It applied to Glasgow district council to ask whether it would hold a civic reception to celebrate its centenary. Quite rightly and very honourably the district council said that it was not prepared to give a civic reception to the Pollok golf club because the club would not allow women to become members.

That golf club actively discriminates, openly and blatantly, against women. However, it also discriminates much more subtly, without any openness, against Jews. There is racial discrimination in individual golf clubs and also in other sports. The House and the sports council will have to address that problem.

Bowls is another very popular sport in my constituency. However, in many bowling clubs, a woman can become a member only if she is the wife of a male member. She cannot join as a woman in her own right. There are other discriminations of which I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield is aware and they, too, should be addressed.

I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said. However, I am concerned that the amendment would cover a much wider range of sports than simply rugby union and rugby league. I hope that rugby union will finally come to its senses and find a better way of dealing with players who play the two codes.

Mr. McCartney

As chair of the all-party rugby league group, I support the amendment. I formed the group in February 1988. I had never played rugby league, although I had played in many positions in rugby union. As I grew older and slower, the positions seemed to change with regularity.

We formed the group to promote rugby league in an amateur and professional way, to try to build bridges between rugby union and rugby league and to use our activities in the House to develop links between the codes in the hope that they would assist to break down the prejudices that have existed for 98 years and continue to exist.

It took five years—until last Wednesday evening—for the English Rugby Football Union to agree to the first meeting. That meeting came about because of the publicity generated in the House over the discrimination against Steven Pilgrim. He has not been banned for one or two years. As Dudley Wood pointed out in the meeting that I chaired last week in Committee Room 14, Steven Pilgrim has been banned for life from playing rugby union.

That ban does not just apply to playing; it applies also to coaching—whether of young children or adults. Steven Pilgrim's ability and right to play the game he loves has been taken from him by a group of elderly and out-of-touch gentlemen.

We did not simply call the meeting because of Steven Pilgrim. As a parliamentary group, we had amassed a growing dossier of evidence of the discrimination at an amateur level with respect to the attitudes towards playing rugby league. I am pleased that the Minister has been able to listen to this debate, because the Government, in relation to Ministers at the Ministry of Defence, have a case to answer. I do not make the point in a partisan way because Ministers at the MOD under the last Labour Government had the same case to answer.

Current Ministry of Defence policy is to try to ensure a complete blackout in the playing of amateur rugby league in the forces. The Ministry does that in two ways. First, rugby league is not allowed assistance from MOD sporting funds for development or insurance purposes, or to cover expenses in connection with playing the game. Secondly, when any attempt is made to organise rugby league—whether it is in the RAF, the Army or the Navy —senior officers take a number of steps to ensure either that the games do not take place, or that they can be quickly stamped out through the issuing of orders at specific stations.

12 midnight

The Ministry of Defence has been provided with the evidence on numerous occasions. We met the Minister of State and came to what we believed was an agreement on the development of the sport and its right to be treated in the same way as rugby union. Last week, in a meeting in Committee Room 14, we asked the Rugby Football Union to join us in agreeing a common approach to the right of armed forces personnel to play rugby league. Mr. Wood refused to participate and indicated clearly that the union, along with its colleagues in the MOD, would continue to oppose the introduction of the playing of rugby league in the armed forces.

Last year, the Government gave the Royal Navy alone some £35,000 in development funds for the full-time employment of rugby union coaches in the MOD. Resources have also been provided for the RAF and the Army. We are not opposed to that; we are saying that people who join the armed forces should be allowed to engage in the sport of their choice and should be given the time and opportunity to do so rather than being discriminated against.

We are concerned not only about the discrimination, but about the web of the deceit involved in sham amateurism. At the meeting, Mr. Wood and his colleague Bob Rogers were questioned in detail about the role of their organisation in relation to payments, or substitute payments, for playing rugby union. Mr. Wood made it absolutely clear that there was no evidence whatever of any payments, direct or indirect, for rugby union played in England under the direction of the Rugby Football Union.

We now know that that was a direct untruth. Not only did Mr. Wood mislead Committee members; when questioned, he deliberately did not inform us that Mr. Rogers—who was also present—had chaired the investigation into the payments made to rugby union players. At the time when he told us that there was no proof whatever, the report was already on his desk awaiting his consideration. That report—commissioned by Mr. Wood and prepared by Mr. Rogers—is dealt with in great detail in The Times today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am listening attentively to the hon. Gentleman; he has not once mentioned the national lottery, to which the amendment is supposed to relate. I do not think that it is in order to deal in depth with the pros and cons of evidence given to a parliamentary Committee. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who moved the amendment, related his speech firmly to the lottery; even that was stretching it, but I was prepared to be lenient in his case. I do not think that a repetition is necessary.

Mr. McCartney

I made it clear at the outset, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I was speaking in support of amendment No. 1. The wording is quite clear—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The wording of the amendment is, indeed, quite clear. The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he was speaking to it; that was the last that we have heard of it so far.

Mr. McCartney

I am not challenging your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I feel that, in saying that this was an anti-discrimination amendment, I made it clear that I was trying to explain the reasons why an all-party group tabled the amendment and to give evidence. There is no point in tabling an amendment without being prepared to give detailed reasons for doing so. Some Conservative Members may, for whatever reason, find it uncomfortable to hear the evidence. But the evidence must be heard in support of the amendment.

The evidence that I have is not a repeat of that put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) or the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller). It is the evidence of the Rugby Football Union. The evidence should be placed on the record in the debate because the RFU was given an opportunity by an all-party group in the House to put its views on the matter. In the confines of the House, it made it clear and set out in crystal clear terms that there was no evidence of sham amateurism. It said that there was no need, therefore, for an amendment such as amendment No. 1. It is for that reason that I wish to quote the evidence in the report that Mr. Wood has received, produced by his colleague Mr. Rogers, whom we interviewed on 21 April.

The evidence is contained in an article today in The Times, which is not known as a newspaper that supports the game of rugby league. The report was entitled "Inducements to move, incentives to stay and other illegal payments." It produced a "brief but not exhaustive" list of the evidence that it uncovered. The newspaper article said that payments to amateur players in England had arisen through the following: excessive expenses, cars, … fictitious employment, cash-playing bonuses, clothing, fictitious expenses, housing-mortgage support, writing rugby articles, appearance money, overseas trips, luxury items, free or subsidised accommodation, car passenger expenses, fictitious appearances, sponsorship holidays, and family support. If that list does not suggest a professional sport, I do not know what is. The list shows hypocrisy. I know of few rugby league players even at the highest level of the game who are provided with such inducements to play their sport.

It is also interesting to note that when members of the Committee raised the issue with the Chancellor of the Exchequer he said that he could not investigate it or put it to the Inland Revenue because rugby union was an amateur sport and, therefore, payments did not exist. Perhaps the report of the debate should be passed on to the Treasury so that it can investigate what is known to go on but is not reported for tax purposes by the Rugby Football Union.

On bank holiday Monday, at Wigan central park, a race will take place between Martin Offiah, a former rugby union player and now a Great Britain international winger who plays for Wigan and hopefully will be man of the match at Wembley on Saturday, Andrew Harriman, the man of the tournament at the seven-a-side world championships at Murrayfield two or three weeks ago, and Rory Underwood, the current English international wing forward.

They will race to find out who is the fastest rugby player in Britain. Under the rules described by Mr. Wood, the players will not be playing rugby and, therefore, will not be banned. They will be in a rugby league ground running against a rugby league player, but because they will not be playing rugby league, it will be OK. They will turn a blind eye to it. Yet Mr. Steve Pilgrim, who played a trial match as an amateur on a rugby league ground has been banned for life from playing the sport in which he wishes to participate. It is a human rights issue and one which for far too long has been swept under the carpet in the House.

Through the Bill we want to put on notice the Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union, the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Scottish Rugby Union that unless they end discrimination no resources will be used from either the lottery or public funds to benefit those who, through discrimination, prevent others from playing the game of their choice.

Mr. Davidson

I wish to speak briefly to this amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I thank hon. Members for their enthusiastic response.

I do not represent a constituency in which rugby league is played, but I was brought up in an area in which many rugby union players went on to play rugby league. It always struck me as extremely unfair that those players, when they reached the end of their league playing days, were not allowed to return to rugby union to put something back in the game as coaches or in any other capacity.

It is absurd to talk about the national lottery as a means of raising money for sport, when a certain sport refuses to allow former players to put something back, voluntarily, into their sport. Such behaviour should be subject to public policy. We should also question whether public money should be given to organisations that discriminate so blatantly against one group of citizens simply because they chose to play one sport rather than another.

I know that the Bill gives Ministers a number of reserve powers. They should tell us their intentions regarding those powers. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has expressed his reservations about some sports clubs that discriminate on the grounds of race and other hon. Members have alleged that clubs discriminate on the grounds of sex. That matter, too, should be a matter of public policy. The Minister should make it clear that he wishes to have a level playing field so that all can benefit from the public moneys distributed through the lottery.

Hon. Members have done the country a service by bringing certain issues about rugby league into the open. I hope that the Minister will give a clear statement to the effect that discrimination will not be tolerated. I hope that we can look forward to swift action and pressure being exerted on the English Rugby Union in particular, as well on the other rugby unions and other sports that practise similar discrimination.

Mr. Pendry

I commend what my hon. Friends have done and I am pleased that, after some battle, their amendment was eventually selected for debate.

The late hour may be inconvenient to some, but that is tough. My hon. Friends have raised an important issue and it falls within the context of the Bill, because the Sports Council should not be allowed to distribute lottery money to a body that actively discriminates. The Minister for Sport cannot stand aside after hearing about that discrimination. He should agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves), who thought that a full debate on the issue should be held in Government time. The Minister should institute that debate.

The Minister is the custodian of sport and he should call for an inquiry into the matter. The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and my other hon. Friends for raising the issue. I hope that the Minister's response will be constructive, and I am as anxious as my hon. Friends to hear what he has to say.

Mr. Key

It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that I see myself as the custodian of the Bill. I shall be unable to recommend to the House that the amendment should be accepted for reasons I shall cite. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), however, for drawing attention to such an extremely important issue.

We discussed the matter briefly in Committee, and I am aware of its importance to our clubs and those beyond our shores. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) and the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) have also contributed to a debate in prime Government time—some might find that hard to believe, given the lateness of the hour—during the important Report stage of an extremely important Bill. The issue has been put firmly on the agenda, and I recognise its importance. I undertake to the hon. Member for Wakefield that I shall see whether I can do anything appropriate about it, although it would not be appropriate to accept the amendment.

I believe that this is best left to the determination of the distributing bodies subject, as regards this amendment, to directions laid down in the Bill by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. It would be quite inappropriate to make it an inflexible exclusion on the face of the Bill.

The policy pursued by a governing body in respect of excluding participation by professional players in its competitions is a matter for it to determine and not a matter on which the Government should seek to dictate through access to lottery funds. Applications for lottery funds should surely be judged on their individual merits.

The sports councils are well aware of the policies of the governing bodies of sport in the United Kingdom. To rule out whole classes of body in statute on the ground that some hon. Members were unhappy with one of the policies of the governing body, whatever the merits either way, would prevent an individual club from ever being able to apply for lottery funds for worthwhile projects and projects which would extend the general sport provision in their communities, for example, for children at local schools. Surely these potential beneficiaries should not be punished because of their local rugby institution which belongs to the Union and not to the League.

12.15 am

The Government want to keep the arm's-length principle intact. It is tempting to be drawn into exploring suggestions that I can intervene in the governing bodies of sport to make them change their rules and laws, but I do not find that attractive. It is against the spirit of successive Governments of all political colours over many years. What matters is that there is a proper public debate of the issue, and the governing bodies of the sport perhaps need to have their heads knocked together.

Mr. Hinchliffe

I thank the Minister for his response, and I thank my colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), for their contributions. I did not expect the defence to come from this side of the Chamber and was interested to find that it did. Nevertheless, I understand the points that he made, although I disagree with him. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) for raising the matter in Committee. We take the points that he has made about the situation, especially in Scotland.

I appreciate the Minister's response. I believe that he has taken close note of the comments made by those who have spoken tonight and that, privately, he shares many of the misgivings of hon. Members about the present situation.

I made it quite clear when I moved amendment No. 1 that there was no desire whatever to block funding to the Rugby Football Union, but the discrimination that has gone on now for nearly 100 years is unacceptable. I make it clear that there are hon. Members on both sides who are not prepared to tolerate this practice any longer.

I will in a moment beg leave to withdraw the amendment, having secured this important debate, but I make it clear that this matter may well be raised in another place by those who feel equally strongly about it. There are also moves in the European Parliament, where there is a well organised and successful rugby league group, to raise it at a European level. But I fear that what will happen to bring this matter to a head will be action taken by particular players through the courts, and that will be to me a matter of great regret. I hope that we can reach a common-sense resolution of the issue after this conflict of nearly 100 years.

Having made those points, and having expressed my gratitude to those who have stayed to take part in the debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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