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Gleneagles Agreement (Private Clubs)

Volume 76: debated on Wednesday 3 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has discussed with the Association of District Councils the Gleneagles agreement and how it may affect the hiring of sports facilities to private clubs.

I am disappointed with that reply. Does my hon. Friend not think that he should discuss the matter with the Labour councils which are threatening to withdraw sports facilities from clubs just because some of their players have been to South Africa? Does he agree that the matter goes beyond the Gleneagles agreement and that if that policy were followed by Labour councils they would be at liberty to withdraw sports facilities from any team with members who are of a political colour different from their own?

The issue arouses deep passion on both sides of the House. It is for local authorities to decide how they will administer their sports facilities, and for the courts to decide whether their actions are unlawful. My locus in this respect is non-existent. The Court of Appeal has upheld the local authority's action as lawful within its duties under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976.

In the various discussions, has the Minister's attention been drawn to the strong concern in Scotland about the rugby associations involving themselves in a world cup, despite South Africa being involved? Is the Minister not worried that the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh might be jeopardised? Will he do more than he appears to be doing to protect the spirit of the Gleneagles agreement?

The House will be aware of the action that I took last year in relation to the rugby tour of South Africa. The House understands the Government's policy. Naturally, I am anxious to do everything that I can to ensure that all sports' governing bodies recognise our external obligations under the Gleneagles agreement. The Commonwealth Games in 1986 are important, not only for Britain, but for Commonwealth sport.

Notwithstanding the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), do not the Government have an absolute duty to protect the freedom of individuals? If a local authority blatantly impinges upon the freedom of individuals because of their political beliefs, surely the Government must stand strongly behind those freedoms.

I endorse my hon. Friend's initial remarks, but it is not for the House of Commons to question a decision by the Court of Appeal.

Is it not time that the Rugby Union realised — as the judges have held in the case of the Leicester council and the Leicester rugby club —that public bodies are entitled to expect a more responsible attitude towards the Gleneagles agreement from people whom they finance? Since rugby received £175,000 last year from the Sports Council and public funds, what action will the Minister take to bring that home to the Rugby Union and to persuade it to act more responsibly in respect of South Africa?

We must ask ourselves the important question whether we want to stop coaching and rugby at junior level merely because the governing body decides to send a side to South Africa. I do not think that we should cut off the noses of some people to spite others. The money provided to develop and enhance rugby union at grass roots is a most important dimension. To cut that off would be a spiteful move for the future of rugby. We must try to educate the Rugby Union to have a wider concern for rugby throughout the world.