HL Deb 27 November 2001 vol 629 cc138-40

2.59 p.m.

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will extend the Supporters Direct Scheme to sports other than Association Football, particularly Rugby League.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am delighted to give my noble friend a positive reply. The Government agree in principle that Supporters Direct's activities could usefully be extended to Rugby League. My right honourable friend the Minister for Sport is discussing how best to achieve this with Supporters Direct.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I must declare an interest as the chairman of Warrington Wolves Rugby League Club. The Answer of my noble friend the Minister will bring joy to all Rugby League supporters. They are extremely responsible and it is only right that they should receive help to form trusts. I look forward to many of them entering the board of Rugby League clubs.

Knowing the Minister's expertise in both codes, when any future schemes are discussed, will he remember that there are other professional sports as well as Association Football?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I shall have difficulty forgetting that there are other sports while my noble friend is vocal in this House.

Supporters Direct was first established by football money and has properly directed its activities towards football trusts. My noble friend and others have made the case for such activities to be developed for Rugby League.

Lord Addington

My Lords, will the Minister give us an undertaking that the money currently used by Association Football will not be stretched further and made thinner and less effective by trying to spread it across Rugby League and other sports, but that new money will be found?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the money received at present is football money. It is limited and there is a significant task to be performed for football. The agreement in principle to extend the scheme to Rugby League will involve substantial consultations on the nature of any additional resources that may be necessary. I take on board the noble Lord's point that there is still an extensive job to be done for football clubs.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I should like to declare an interest as chairman of the Stockport County Football Trust, which is supported by Supporters Direct.

Will my noble friend confirm that what led to the establishment of Supporters Direct was the fact that many Association Football club boards were taking decisions with complete disregard for supporters, many of which received headline publicity? Is there any evidence that similar circumstances exist with other sports, especially rugby?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I should prefer to put a positive cast on that development. It is less a question of a weakness in the way that boards have previously acted—although we could probably find one or two examples of that if we cudgelled our brains—than that it has been recognised that fans have a proper stake in the sport that they support, the matches that they attend and the clubs to which they give such great loyalty. Their right to have some stake in the club and representation on the board is readily recognised.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, will my noble friend be kind enough to acknowledge that, with more than 40 trusts set up last year, Supporters Direct is one of the most positive and constructive outcomes of the deliberations of the Football Task Force, on which I had the honour to serve as vice-chairman? Does he agree with Supporters Direct that the industrial and provident society model that it has adopted provides the best hope for a democratic, not-for-profit model being adopted in club boardrooms—which could, as my noble friend Lord Hoyle said, usefully be applied to other sports?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, as ever, my noble friend's question helps to elucidate the matter for the House. I would obviously emphasise that although, as he says, we can take pride in the fact that Supporters Direct has begun its activities in 42 clubs, that is still a minority of football clubs. There is a long way still to travel, but I take on board the positive sentiments that my noble friend expresses about the work of Supporters Direct.

Baroness Billingham

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is an accolade for Supporters Direct that other sports want to take on board its excellent ideals, the ways it promotes anti-racism, and so on? I also declare an interest. I am not in my No. 7 strip today, but I am a patron of Supporters Direct.

The Minister intimated that the money for the scheme came from football, but the Government provided some start-up money. Will he assure the House that such start-up funding will be continued, because such excellent work deserves to continue?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that was the burden of the positive Answer that I gave to the original Question asked by my noble friend Lord Hoyle: namely, that the work that has been done has been sufficiently impressive for discussions to take place with a view to extending it to Rugby League. Whether other sports come within that framework, we shall have to see.

As my noble friend Lady Billingham said, public money is involved, because the money comes from the football pools companies, but is top-sliced from the reduction in pool betting duty income passed to the Football Foundation. So there is a public interest in the matter, which is why my honourable friend the Minister for Sport is taking a keen interest in extending the work of Supporters Direct.

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