HC Deb 25 February 2002 vol 380 cc433-4
8. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

What measures she will take to assist amateur sports clubs through tax allowances. [34235]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

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

Mr. Hoyle

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

Mr. Caborn

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

Nick Harvey (North Devon)

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

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is why I am talking with the CCPR and Sport England about a regional structure that will allow sports an easy passage and a less bureaucratic way of achieving charitable status. If charitable status had been offered two or three years ago, it would have been accepted. It is my intention to ensure that where charitable status is offered to small clubs, they are given as much assistance as possible. John Stoker and I agree that this needs to be looked at, and I hope that we bring amateur clubs nearer to that position than they are at present.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

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

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

Mr. Caborn

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

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

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

Mr. Caborn

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