HL Deb 25 April 1994 vol 554 cc373-5

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What support they are giving to rugby union football; and whether they accept that more nations are now participating in the sport.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Sports Council, which is sponsored by my department, provided £100,000 to the Rugby Football Union in 1993–94 and also awards grants to individual rugby union clubs. In addition, Sportsmatch, the Government's incentive sponsorship scheme for sport, has provided over £630,000 for grass roots rugby union schemes throughout Britain. This has been matched by a similar sum from businesses. Also, since 1991, the Foundation for Sport and the Arts has provided grants totalling over £6.5 million for rugby union football projects in the United Kingdom. The Government recognise that there is an increasing number of nations now playing rugby union football.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her Answer. Does she agree that this is a game which brings people together in friendly rivalry while requiring physical fitness and sportsmanship? In view of the recent international matches between women's teams, and the triumph of the England XV, is there any government support for women's rugby? If my noble friend ever played, I am sure that she was an effective and formidable exponent who never wasted time by kicking into touch.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I think that your Lordships would all like to follow me in congratulating the English women who beat the United States by 38 to 23. Women's teams have to pay all their own expenses. They receive no financial help. I am told that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy was a promising player in his youth. I am sorry to say that my only experience with oval balls is as a spectator.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there is considerable danger at this time that this splendid game could become over-commercialised, with the result that there will be areas of the United Kingdom which will lose their best players because of that tendency? Will she say what she proposes to do to prevent that?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am not sure that this is a matter for the Government to take action over, but it is now acknowledged widely in the sporting world that, apart from schools sport and at true grass roots level, the traditional form of amateurism no longer exists.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that wherever we travel in the world we find British sport being played, although we never seem to trumpet the fact that we were responsible for giving sport to the world?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, across all five continents over 100 nations, ranging from Fiji to Canada, play rugby union football.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, does the Minister agree that what concerns many of the British sports-loving and rugby-loving public is that they should be able to watch the internationals and the five nations competition on television? Does she agree that it would be regrettable were the showing of rugby internationals on television to be lost to satellite television, which is available only to that minority who can afford to pay for it?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I understand that the BBC has secured exclusive live coverage rights for the five nations championship for the next three years (1994–97), but that BSkyB will be allowed to broadcast matches one hour after the games have ended.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I am glad to hear of the help given to amateur rugby union, a game upon which I was brought up, but I lived in Leeds for 30-odd years and amateur rugby league is the game there. It is played in schools and locally in all clubs. May I hope that whatever help is given to amateur rugby union will be given to amateur rugby league?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, for 1992–93, the Sports Council provided grant aid totalling £160,000 to the British Amateur Rugby League Association and £7,500 to the English Schools Rugby League.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, what financial help do the Government intend to give to rugby league, which is a more skilled game?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I believe that both games are absolutely wonderful.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, is the Minister aware that nine members of the English rugby union team are from public schools and that since 1979 there has been a growing trend for less rugby union to be taught in state schools? That is the case in particular in the north, where there is a prevalence for teaching rugby league. Will the Minister say what incentives are given to state schools to play more rugby union?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Sports Council's grant aid to the RFU, which was £100,000 in 1993–94, is specifically targeted at assisting its comprehensive programme for the development of the game at youth level.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the great help and assistance which the clubs are beginning to give to schools as regards rugby union is a model which we should take on board and develop for all sports in schools that are unable or unwilling to take on the tuition?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the distribution of RFU income is a matter for that body. However, I understand that it provides more than £1.5 million for its comprehensive youth and schools rugby coaching and development programme.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, following the rapid progress of women in rugger, is mixed rugger encouraged in schools?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, there are no formal mixed rugby teams. However, the RFU's marvellous new image, touch rugby scheme, which is aimed at increasing youngsters' tactical and passing skills, enables boys and girls to play together so long as there is no bodily contact.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, with Australia, New Zealand and other distant countries excelling in this game, is there any other sport —apart from athletics —which draws such large crowds and television audiences and is played by amateurs and not professionals?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is right.