HC Deb 25 October 1993 vol 230 cc560-2
3. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the assistance given by his Department to the sport of rugby football.

Mr. Sproat

Most Government funds for sport are distributed through the Sports Councils, which allocate them according to their own policies and priorities. In 1992–93, the Sports Council of Great Britain provided grants of £20,000 to the Rugby Football Union, £2,250 to the Rugby Football Schools Union, £160,000 to the British Amateur Rugby League Association and £7,500 to the English Schools Rugby League.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Many of those involved in rugby league and in rugby union welcome the Minister's personal interest in improving the relationship between the two codes and wish him well in his forthcoming visit to what might be regarded as the Jurassic Park of British sport, the Rugby Football Union at Twickenham. Will he impress on the Rugby Football Union the great anger about its continued discrimination against rugby league players? Will he make it clear that the anger relates to the fact that the RFU's amateurism principle resembles the emperor's new clothes? Can the Minister give any assurance that the Rugby Football Union will be dragged towards the 20th century before it is too late, bearing in mind that the split between the two codes occurred almost 100 years ago?

Mr. Sproat

I thank the hon. Gentleman for arranging my extremely enjoyable and educative visit to Wakefield on Friday night. I enjoyed it very much indeed. I take extremely seriously the hon. Gentleman's point about the division between the two codes. I do not like that division. Both are marvellous games and it seems idiotic that, after 100 years, such things should still prevail. As it happens, this very morning my officials have been in touch with the office of Mr. Dudley Wood at the Rugby Football Union to set up a discussion at which, among other matters relating to the Rugby Football Union, I want to discuss the relationship between rugby league and rugby union.

Mr. Waller

Is my hon. Friend aware of the high standards of crowd behaviour at rugby league grounds, including Cougar park in Keighley where crowds have quadrupled in the past couple of years, with many families being attracted? Will he note that any requirement to bring standards up to those that apply in association football grounds, because of crowd problems there, would impose great burdens on rugby league clubs?

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. When I was at Wembley a week last Saturday, I was very struck by the fact that, although there were huge crowds there, there was not one spot of trouble among 35,000 people, and very impressive that was too. I understand that rugby league grounds have considerable problems in finding the finance to meet the requirements of the outspill of the Taylor report and other findings. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I have said to Mr. Rodney Walker, the chairman of the Rugby Football League, and to Mr. Maurice Lindsay, the chief executive, that I hope that we can have a meeting to discuss ways in which we can find the funds to ensure that the grounds come up to standard.

Mr. McCartney

May I congratulate the Minister on wearing a Wakefield rugby league tie—although, given the way Wakefield are playing at the moment, perhaps they might offer him a contract rather than a tie. In the summer, the parliamentary rugby league group sent him a dossier about discrimination against the sport by senior officers of the Ministry of Defence. Is the hon. Gentleman in a position to make a statement to the House about the discussions that have taken place and about whether the Ministry of Defence has taken action to stop the discrimination?

Mr. Sproat

I thank the hon. Member for sending me that extremely interesting file about what goes on in the armed services and rugby league. I have read the file and I have asked that a meeting be set up as soon as possible between myself and the relevant Minister at the Ministry of Defence. That meeting will take place in the next few weeks.

Back to
Forward to