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Professional and Amateur Sport: Government Support

Volume 681: debated on Wednesday 30 September 2020

(Urgent question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on Government support for professional and amateur sport.

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Her passion and dedication to the sporting sector are well known and appreciated, and on behalf of the whole House I wish her the very best for a speedy recovery and a swift return to this place.

Like my hon. Friend, the Government believe that sports clubs are the beating heart of their communities. Were we to lose them, we would lose so much more than sport. That is why, to help community clubs through this crisis, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport funding body Sport England announced a £210 million emergency fund, and why earlier this year the Government stepped in to protect rugby league from the imminent threat of collapse. Both those interventions were on top of the multi-billion pound package of business support from the Treasury that enabled many of our sports clubs to survive.

We have also made sure every step of the way to try to enable as much grassroots sport as possible. Being active and healthy is essential in our national battle against the virus. Reinstating elite sport and, of course, grassroots sport in a covid-secure way was a major achievement, and I pay tribute to all those who made that possible. Behind-closed-doors matches have enabled vital broadcast revenue to flow into elite sport, as well as bringing joy to millions of fans. The Government ensured that Project Restart was shared with everyone by getting premier league football on the BBC for the first time ever.

However, I know that we all want our fans back in stadiums as soon as possible. Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways. We trialled the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, but rising infection rates across the country meant that the Government had to act, and we could not proceed on 1 October as planned. We have to contain the virus, and, given the backdrop of rising infection rates, we had to press the pause button. I assure the House that we are working at speed, alongside the Treasury, with sports governing bodies and clubs across the country to understand what support they need as a result of the decision to postpone the 1 October return.

For football, we are asking the Premier League to support English Football League clubs—the higher end of the football pyramid. Yesterday, we also provided the national league with assurance that financial support from the Government will be forthcoming so that it can start this season this Saturday. We have asked for detailed financial returns from all major spectator sports to see what support they need. We expect those returns by the end of today, and any club in immediate financial distress should alert its sports governing body.

Sports clubs have proved themselves to be bedrocks of their communities during this pandemic, hosting test centres, looking after vulnerable people, organising food deliveries and so much more. Sports clubs have had our backs during this pandemic. We will have theirs in return.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank my hon. Friend for his response. I know that his officials are working their socks off behind the scenes, so I thank them for what they are doing, too.

The question relates to all professional sport, because there are fires raging around the whole sector and, to be honest, it has been difficult to see precisely where the support is coming from, but its urgency relates to the national league starting on Saturday. Therefore, the reassurances are welcome, but it is disappointing that there is no specific announcement as yet about what the league will receive or when. However, because it does appear to be coming, will the Minister confirm that the distribution formula will be based on lost gate receipts, and not simply on step? Can he give more details on plans to return fans to stadiums for football and other sports?

While we are talking about fans, can the Minister explain why a step 2 away fan cannot attend an FA cup game against a step 3 club this weekend, but a step 3 away fan can go to another step 3 club for the same type of game? Surely the more we can allow clubs to sustain themselves—[Inaudible]—then it is a bizarre decision—[Inaudible.]

One final question on football: while I appreciate that there is a general view that the Premier League should provide assistance to the EFL, the Premier League, with higher standards of governance, stricter financial controls and its own challenges, would, as would the taxpayer, be cautious about giving money to clubs with poor governance. Will the Minister therefore urgently bring forward the fan-led review of football governance, which may in turn give the Premier League greater confidence in bailing out clubs elsewhere in the pyramid?

Rugby league, rugby union, cricket and swimming are all in a perilous situation, losing millions of pounds in revenue, but so much more in the value that each sport brings to those engaged with it. What discussions has the Minister had with other sports about a support package for them? Given that many use their stadiums for conferences, meetings and dinners to raise revenue, what plans does he have to support the events industry, which is also within the Department’s remit, to return to operations?

Finally, it is always important to remember that professional sport is not the totality of sport, and that millions of people play sport and get active every week. Alongside supporting the professional sports that inspire others, will my hon. Friend ensure that adequate support is provided to keep the nation active in grassroots clubs and leisure centres across the country, at a time when it has never been needed more?

I thank my hon. Friend for that comprehensive list of questions; I shall try to address as many as I can. She is absolutely right that the Government support needs to go to those in most need. Therefore, the criteria—which, as she recognised and accepted, are being developed by a fantastic team at DCMS literally as we speak—will be based on those most in need and will absolutely be focused on gate receipts. The purpose of the financial support is to help those who are most impacted by the 1 October decision. Therefore, that will obviously drive the criteria.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right as well that this goes way beyond football. Immediately after the Prime Minister made his announcements last Tuesday, the Secretary of State and I had conversations with 12 of the major spectator sports, which will definitely be included. We are asking for information about where the most exposure is. Again, I cannot give the details today because—I am afraid this may be a recurring theme —we are working on them as I speak.

My hon. Friend raised many other issues, including the involvement of the Premier League. We have had constructive conversations with the Premier League and the EFL, which recognise their responsibility. They are at the top of the pyramid, and it is perfectly fair and reasonable that those with the broadest shoulders carry the biggest burden. They understand and accept that, and we are working on the details at the moment.

My hon. Friend also raised the important issue of grassroots sport, much of which can of course continue. We pressed pause on the plan to roll out elite sport, but we want to get back to it as soon as possible.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for tabling this urgent question. We miss her in this place, and I for one miss her by my side on the football pitch, playing for the parliamentary football team. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question. In today’s Daily Telegraph, the chief executive of Chorley FC, Terry Robinson, says that he has to be careful about the future of his club. Nobody knows what matters to your constituents more than you, Mr Speaker, so it is no surprise that you have allowed this question. Sport matters, does it not?

Let me ask the Minister a few specific questions. First, on the principles that should guide us when getting sport through this very difficult situation, does he accept that the test, trace and isolate system needs to work? This issue is affecting every aspect of our life and stopping us getting on with the sport we love. What representations has he made to the Department of Health about the impact on sport?

Secondly, do we not need targeted support, rather than wasteful initiatives? Given the letter to the Prime Minister from 100 sporting organisations asking for help, what representations has the Minister made to the Treasury and to the Prime Minister asking them to prioritise targeting help to sport? Does he agree that our principle should be that no one should lose a much- loved sports club just because of this deadly virus? Will he stick to that principle?

Unfortunately, I do not think that the Minister answered the questions from the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford properly. She explained that non-league football is in a mess. It is hard to understand why supporters of different clubs in different steps are able to attend when others are not. Will the Minister explain that system to us, and tell us why the mess persists? We all want the fan-led review of football—it will give everyone confidence. Will he announce at the Dispatch Box today when that review will commence and who will lead it? At the grassroots, whether rugby, tennis or athletics, so many sports want to know what the plan is. Having unanswered questions hanging over them does not build sport’s confidence in this Government.

What is the plan for sport? Will the Minister explain how it will work? We need a plan that is coherent and easy to understand and that will provide financial stability over the year to come. The Minister says that the Department is working at speed but for months, all across the summer, it should have known that this situation might arise.

Other colleagues will have specific questions about different sports, but all sports are united in wanting to know: what is the plan? If the Minister wants the help of the official Opposition in creating that plan, we stand ready, but we just want to know that the Government will bring it forward now.

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. We have a fair degree of overlap in the intent of what we want to achieve. We want to return as soon as possible to the plan as articulated for months, but I hope she recognises that we have to press the pause button at this moment. We will return to opening as soon as it is safe to do so, based on medical advice. I do not think that that is too difficult for our constituents to understand.

On the broad principles, I repeat: those with the broadest shoulders will be expected to carry the greatest burden, which means that where possible we expect them to contribute to the financial support for clubs lower down, particularly in football. On other innovations, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) will be aware that we have established the so-called STIG, the sports technology and innovation group, which is looking at some of the potential technologies to open sport perhaps sooner than having a vaccine. We will not pursue wasteful initiatives; we are very conscious of the need to ensure that public money is spent carefully. I assure her that we have conversations with the Treasury about those very topics.

On the issue of which sports can have fans in stadiums, the hon. Lady will be aware that the Football Association has produced guidance, and it updated some of that guidance only yesterday. The issue is to do with what is elite support and what is not elite—that can be taken broadly as a proxy for what is professional and what is non-professional. There is clear guidance there: non-elite sport can take place, and fans can go into those grounds, with restrictions of course—it is not an unlimited number. The guidance is for the governing bodies to produce, in this case the FA.

On the fan-led review—I am sorry that I forgot to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) earlier—yes, we wish to pursue it. It is a manifesto commitment and one of my top priorities. As soon as we are able to pursue it—we have had conversations before about this—we will do so. Unfortunately, events have got in the way.

The money for the national league, reported to be £20 million—I do not know whether that is correct, so some clarity would be helpful—and any funds that may flow to other sports are extremely welcome, in particular for my local club, Solihull Moors. Mr Speaker, I hope that the invitation is still there when mighty Chorley FC visits Solihull in happier times.

As with the earlier theatre and cultural support package, however, such funds feel like a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Does the Minister agree that a short, a medium and a long-term plan need to be in place, including a new target date to plan for getting crowds back, rapid testing, tax reliefs to help sports re-market themselves to local communities, and even guarantees for business interruption insurances?

As stated, we urgently need the fan-led review, which I believe should focus on the economics of football. This virus has exposed many fissures in our society, none more so than in our national game.

I thank my hon. Friend for his questions and the work that he and his Committee have done over the last few months. I always value his contributions, and my door is always open to suggestions and ideas for innovations in terms of tax and other issues. With regard to the bigger picture, I agree that we cannot divorce the issues of governance and finance in sport. When we get the review going, I look forward to having further conversations with him and his Committee, because the two are intimately and intricately linked.

It is great to hear from the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). We very much wish her well.

I have often spoken in this place about the power of sport. The truth is that many of our amateur and semi-professional sports clubs—be they football, rugby, shinty or anything else—play a crucial and binding role in their local community, but given the current situation, many of them are under threat. Many clubs, such as Renfrew football club in my constituency, rely heavily on match-day income to survive—particularly in Scotland when it comes to football, where significantly more people attend matches per capita than anywhere else in Europe.

In recent days, the highland league in Scotland joined the national league in announcing a postponement to the start of its season. I welcome the Minister’s comments regarding the national league. What steps is he taking to ensure that all English sport and sports clubs operating outwith the very top tiers are given the support they need to weather the covid storm, which would generate Barnett consequentials to enable the Scottish Government to do likewise? Given that sport is devolved, will he commit to further engagement with the Scottish Minister for Sport, Joe FitzPatrick, on this very important issue?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his focus on the power of sport; I agree completely with him about that. He is correct that sport is a devolved matter, but we work closely with the devolved Administrations. I believe I am meeting my counterpart this Thursday to discuss some of those issues. As I said, we are working on the details of the package of support. If it is a package where there are Barnett consequentials, there will be Barnett consequentials, but it depends on the package, and I am afraid I cannot give him any more details at the moment.

I agree totally with the Minister’s assessment of the role that sport plays in this country. He will be aware that the Henley regatta was cancelled in July. Will he assure me that he is doing all he can to ensure that that and other iconic events will take place next year?

Rowing is also a very important sport in my constituency, with lots of raving fans. My hon. Friend is right: these iconic events do so much for the local constituency and have a knock-on impact on tourism and so many other sectors that we want to get going. As I say, we want to open these sectors as soon as it is feasible to do so, working with local authorities, which are taking their responsibilities very seriously. We will endeavour to get the Henley regatta and other sporting events going as soon as it is safe to do so.

I compliment the Government on the work that has been done regarding football coverage on the BBC. What discussions has the Minister had with broadcasting companies about extending that coverage into the weeks and, sadly, possibly months ahead for fans who are unable to attend matches but would wish to do so?

The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of sport. Of course, we want as many people as possible to see sports in the absence of going to stadiums. We have had success in the past—for example, having the premier league on the BBC for the first time—and we continue to have conversations with the broadcasters. There is a balance to be struck, but those conversations continue, and we appreciate his input.

It has been a difficult time for sports clubs across my constituency, but two individuals have provided a spot of light. Charles Walker, who is 62, ran 28 half-marathons, and Lincoln Callaghan, who is five, cycled 100 km—in stages, I should add—to raise money for Didcot Town football club. They raised several thousand pounds. That is obviously not a substitute for the club’s income, but it is a welcome lifeline. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating them and encouraging others who are thinking about raising money for a good cause to remember their community clubs?

I am absolutely delighted to congratulate and applaud Charles Walker and Lincoln Callaghan for those efforts. What better example could there be of sport’s pivotal role in the community and the power of sport? They have set fantastic examples and will give hope and inspiration to many more.

Events at last week’s Hull City match at West Ham were another illustration of how the chaotic handling of covid is adding to the problems faced by our major national sports and local sports clubs. In the north, football league and rugby league clubs are an essential part of our communities and significant employers, and they are currently seriously worried about their futures. What more can the Minister tell us about the fan-led review of football that was promised at the election? Will he pay attention to the needs of rugby league clubs, which rely so heavily on gate money?

The hon. Lady raises the vital importance of the money that comes through the gate, which is pivotal to the survival of so many sports. Of course, we did provide a financial support package for the Rugby Football League earlier in the year, but I am aware that it faces ongoing consequences and ongoing struggles. I assure the hon. Lady that we will work as soon as possible with the review, and all the factors that she brought up will be under consideration.

Redcar racecourse is one of just 60 racecourses in the UK and is a huge contributor to Redcar and Cleveland’s local economy. With no paying crowd since March and no further hope of one for the next six months, what support have the Government made available thus far? Will the Minister consider using this time to reform the horserace betting levy to include international racecourses, and keep British racing world-class?

My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations about sports, and specifically racing, over the past few months, and I am sure we will continue to do so. I appreciate his input. I should make sure he is aware that we are in conversations with the British Horseracing Authority; we are aware that it has made many suggestions and they are all under consideration.

I am fortunate to have several brilliant local sports clubs, among which are Blantyre Victoria, Cambuslang Rangers, Rutherglen Glencairn, Rutherglen Girls FC, Rutherglen lawn tennis club and Blantyre soccer academy. They play a vital role in keeping my constituency fit, active and healthy. Will the Minister commit to supporting not only large, commercial sports clubs and organisations but the small community clubs that are so important for local health?

I think the hon. Lady wins the award for name-checking clubs—that was fantastic. She showcases the length and breadth of the importance of sport in our community. I assure her that the intent is to make sure that we cover the long tail to the extent that we can. As I have said repeatedly, we expect those at the higher ends to do what they can support themselves.

Aficionados of pub quizzes will know that my local team, Grimsby Town, always plays away in Cleethorpes, where the ground, Blundell Park, seats around 8,000 people. When spectators are allowed into grounds again, I urge the Minister to consider whether a temporary lifting of the restrictions on the unused former terraces, allowing a few extra standing spectators, might boost the income of league two clubs such as Grimsby.

My hon. Friend makes some valid points about being practical and sensible as we reopen. Those are exactly the kinds of conversations that we will be having, and I am sure he will be having, with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and others when it comes to opening up. I thank him for his ideas.

The Government’s chaotic handling of the pandemic has had major consequences for sports clubs, with some already having been wound up. Clubs such as Slough, which has been in existence for more than 100 years, are much more than a football club; they are a community—a family—providing entertainment, social interaction and community cohesion and supporting people’s mental and physical wellbeing. Despite some last-minute support announced last night, there is still no clear Government plan to enable fans to return, to some extent, to sporting events. That will no doubt bring even more to the brink of collapse. What is the Government plan?

The hon. Gentleman has articulated the pivotal role of sport in our community and its importance to both physical and mental wellbeing. As I said earlier, we hope to get back to the plan that we already have: we did not get to stage 5, although we went through so many other stages. This is a pause; we want to open as soon as it is safe to do so, but not before. We are working on other initiatives—I have mentioned the STIG initiative and others—to see whether other innovations can help to open up sport.

It has been extremely heartening for both fans and participants to see the return of sports such as cricket, rugby, football and other fixtures across Basildon and Thurrock. Therefore, although we must always be mindful of the rate of covid-19 infection, can my hon. Friend update the House on what plans there are to ensure that these activities, whether viewed by fans or not, continue, despite the risk of covid-19?

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out that, although we have a strong focus on football today, there are so many other sports. The governing bodies have done a fantastic job, working with the Government and health advisers, to come up with amazingly forensic guidance in order to ensure that we can conduct sport at grassroots level safely. I encourage everybody to play their part and abide by that guidance, and then we will be able to continue participating with sport to the greatest extent possible at both elite and non-elite levels.

Community ownership of sports clubs comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be a lifeline for a local sports club to have fans who have not only a financial stake, but a say in how the club is run. When we were campaigning in Islwyn to save Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre, it was particularly helpful to have that community ownership element as an option for people to take over the running of the leisure centre. I hope the Minister will look at ways of expanding that scheme. Community ownership can go wider—I am thinking here of football. Has the Minister thought of more innovative ways of raising finance by creating some sort of community trust in which we ask the top earning 100 footballers in this country—some are earning £350,000 to £500,000 a week—to donate just one week’s wages to a trust, which can then be distributed among those struggling clubs to ensure that communities can still enjoy their football?

Both now and in the future, I encourage all stakeholders in sports to do the right thing and play their part. The hon. Gentleman makes some good points about voluntary donations, as well as what we will be requiring and expecting from sport at various levels. He also highlights some innovative models and business models, which, again, I think should be looked at very carefully indeed. He raises the issue of leisure centres, and we are in discussions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury. He is right that they are vital to our communities, but we are well aware that not all of them are open yet.

Although it is positive to see the return of fans to grassroots and non-league football, the ongoing battle against the coronavirus has meant that a return to live audiences for elite sport has regrettably not been possible. So although I was fortunate enough to join Radcliffe for their first home game of the season—the results were not to my liking—we do need to think about the wider sport. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to work with the sector to get families back as soon as it is safe to support not only our clubs, but our communities?

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. We have had many conversations about sport, so I know that he is a fantastic champion for sport in his constituency and more broadly across the country. Indeed, we will work together—with him and others—to ensure that we move as fast as possible on reopening sport. I also understand his point about there being winners and losers in sport. I was not Mr Popular in Norwich when I visited earlier this year.

I thank the Minister for his assurances. Can he confirm what amount will filter through to the smaller clubs, specifically to the youth teams, especially bearing in mind the phenomenal 5-2 victory of Leicester City over Man City, which starred Northern Ireland-born Jonny Evans and Jamie Vardy? Both started out in small teams; Jonny Evans started at Greenisland. My own team is Ballywalter Rec, where young boys and girls aspire to play football in the premier league. Will the Minister say whether that money will be designated for small local clubs to give them a chance?

The hon. Member makes an absolutely pivotal point that, particularly in football, there is a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is absolutely reliant on the lower parts of that pyramid. I have to say that the Premier League does understand that. It gets that responsibility, and recognises that people flow through the lower leagues and then rise up, and it wants to help out, and that is its obligation. Therefore, as I have said, we are looking for the Premier League to play its part, particularly with the EFL, and then the Government money will be focused on those that are desperately in need.

I start by congratulating Durham Women FC on its new ground at Maiden Castle. Although Project Restart allowed men’s football to return, women’s football was forgotten about, with the top tiers of the game unable to finish their seasons. Will the Minister assure me that, if coronavirus restrictions increase, the Government will provide the necessary support to women’s football to allow its seasons to continue in line with the men’s game?

The hon. Lady shares my passion for women’s sport. I have had many conversations, not only in football but in other sports, to say that I expect and require women’s sport to get the priority that it deserves. I will continue those conversations, and certainly, if public money is being distributed, I expect women’s sport to get its fair share.

Contrary to popular belief, horse racing is not a wealthy sport, and redundancies were announced just yesterday. Racecourses rely on paying spectators coming in for almost 50% of their income. It is the second most popular spectator sport in the country, so it either needs a return of paying spectators or it needs help from the Treasury. I know that the Minister has already been working on this, but will he take it up with renewed vigour because the situation is becoming very serious?

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is a huge supporter and advocate of racing, and I completely understand his concerns. I can give him the assurance that we are talking to the British Horseracing Authority and others, and we will do what we can to support the racing sector as well.

May I use this opportunity to issue another plea on behalf of UK ice hockey? As the Minister knows, the professional season has already been cancelled, as have all the leagues right down to grassroots for juniors. The latest restrictions on indoor sports put local clubs such as Nottingham City Cyclones at risk of shutting down. Not only would that be devastating news for its members, but it would add to the financial pressures on the National Ice Centre. What is he doing to save ice hockey? It is the UK’s most watched indoor sport and it matters to thousands of spectators and participants, not just in Nottingham but across the country.

I assure the hon. Lady that the DCMS team and I are engaging with many sports across the board—we liaise with more than 100 sports governing bodies. We do not exclude anybody. We are having the dialogue. She points out the particular challenges where indoor restrictions have come into place. I assure her that we understand the issues and concerns, and we will do what we can.

Thank you, ground control.

In March, Wealdstone football club celebrated being promoted to the national league. The team currently play in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s constituency. As part of their promotion, they were required to improve their ground, and they spent more than £100,000 on providing capacity for up to 4,000 people. They are totally dependent on gate receipts and money taken at the bar and other refreshment facilities. On Saturday, they play their first game and, as a result, that initiates the contracts to pay the players for the entire season. Given that they have no income and they have spent all that money, will my hon. Friend ensure that any money that is given to the national league recognises the clubs that have paid out for ground improvements and have a surety that they can pay their players during the entire season?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He makes a detailed but perfectly fair and reasonable point. As I said, because we are currently working on the details, I am unable to give him the assurance that he is looking for, but these were exactly the kinds of factors that we were looking at when we made the request for information to the sports entities.

I am very lucky to count Celtic Park in my constituency, and its 60,000-seater stadium. I commend to the Minister the report from the Fraser of Allander Institute about the economic contribution of Celtic football club, and implore him, when he is having conversations with the Treasury, to be mindful of the fact that this is about not just sport but the impact on the local hospitality sector. When he is having those discussions with the Treasury about financial support, I ask that there is a real focus on the local economy, as well as the club itself.

The hon. Member makes an important point about the multiplier effect—the broader economic impact of sport on its local communities. We are all sport fans here, but it is also a major contributor to an economy that employs tens of thousands of people and contributes a huge amount to the Treasury every year in tax generation. He is making a perfectly valid point, and those are exactly the considerations that we are looking at now.

People of all ages play sport, and they often do so at a leisure centre. We know from covid-19 that it is important that people keep fit and keep well, because those who are not well and fit are at much greater risk of this dreadful disease. The truth is that St Ives leisure centre still has not opened—although we believe that we have now got it opened. Will the Minister meet me and work out how we can keep these vital leisure centres open so that people of all ages continue enjoying each other’s company, keep fit, keep well and contribute to the local community in that way?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and enjoyed visiting his constituency earlier this year. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss this issue further, and, as I said in response to an earlier question, we are aware of the issues with leisure centres, talking to the MHCLG and others. We want as many of them to open as possible. They play a pivotal role in the mental and physical health of our constituents.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Barrow AFC on its recent return to the football league? With no clear path for spectators to return to sporting events, however, the financial pressure on local clubs is huge, so can he reassure my constituents, many of whom support other fine Lancashire football teams, that no club will cease to exist because of coronavirus?

Of course I join the hon. Lady in her congratulations. In terms of the support package, we want to help absolutely as many clubs as we can. As I have said, our focus is on those that have particularly suffered from the 1 October cancellation and the inability to get fans into stadiums. There is a whole host of other global financial issues and considerations for football; our focus at present is on the return of fans and the issues the delay to that has caused, but the hon. Lady raises the point that many other clubs across the country are struggling for a whole variety of other reasons as well.

I would like to associate myself with the remarks about Wealdstone FC from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman); it has many fans in my constituency also. Does my hon. Friend the Minister share my disappointment at the lack of leadership shown by the Mayor of London in getting Londoners back to sport—in particular, football—and does he welcome the efforts by many community organisations and local authorities in ensuring that sport, especially children’s sport, is being reopened, so people have the best opportunities to access that as we recover from covid?

My hon. Friend raises a couple of important points. First, on children’s sport, I agree absolutely, and I had a good conversation with the Education Minister with responsibility for school sport the other day. We are absolutely committed to get school sport up and running, and leisure centres and grassroots sport play a vital role in getting our children active, so I agree exactly with his comments on that. Also, when people are not showing that they are sports fans, I, like him, am disappointed in their comments.

I share the concern that non-league clubs—major community assets such as Harrow Borough, Rayners Lane and, indeed, Wealdstone football club—will face a very difficult financial future without urgent financial support. The financial vulnerability of all but elite clubs underlines the need for wholesale reform of football financing, so is it not now time to impose a levy on the TV rights income premiership clubs receive, to support long-term investment in sport in all our communities?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and as I said earlier, we will be conducting the grassroots review of sports governance, and that will include some financial considerations.

The iconic Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy on Portland in my constituency is being adversely affected by this pandemic, as are all other sporting venues. Its rateable value is so high that it does not get Government grants. Even with the discretionary rate relief, which brings it within the threshold, the Government criteria mean it still cannot get this desperately needed money. Will my hon. Friend look at this case as a matter of priority?

As is clear from the name, the discretionary funds were, of course, largely discretionary, and I am aware that there were some anomalies, with some areas of the country being awarded in certain circumstances while others were not, but I will follow up with my hon. Friend the particular point he raises.

Liverpool has a very proud history of producing champion boxers, and Liverpool, Riverside has some notable boxing clubs, including Salisbury, Rotunda, Marybone, Golden Gloves and the Belve, providing exceptional support to constituents in some of the most deprived wards in the country, improving physical and mental health, confidence and self-esteem. The Prime Minister has championed the benefits of an active lifestyle, so when will the Government move from rhetoric to reality and provide some funding to support this sector?

I actually met the all-party parliamentary group for boxing this morning. The hon. Lady makes an important point about boxing in terms of social mobility and the importance of inspiring physical and mental wellbeing. I am happy to continue these conversations with her.

Forestry England has just launched a public consultation on recreational access to its land. Does my hon. Friend agree that British motor sports have a proud history in our forests and that continued access is fundamental to our world-leading £10 billion motor sports industry?

My hon. Friend makes a range of points. Absolutely, we have to think very creatively about where our sports and recreational facilities where we can be active are—they are not always in the areas or owned by the people we expect. I am glad that such stakeholders take their responsibilities seriously, and I encourage them to open up as much as possible.

With no clear path from the Government for spectators to return to sporting events safely, the financial pressure on football, including my local team and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury)—Brentford football club—is huge. Detailed plans were in place, with the local safety advisory groups and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority having worked together to bring reduced numbers of fans back safely, but now Brentford’s new stadium sits empty. How much and how quickly are the Government working with experts on safe spectator return, and when will the Minister bring forward an update? Fans will feel that he is penalising responsible football when football can contribute so much to the wellbeing of our nation.

I join the hon. Lady in thanking the SAGs and the SGSA for the work that they do. They have done immense work before and during coronavirus, and they will do so afterwards. They play a vital role in ensuring the safety of grounds; they will continue to do so; and we will continue to work with them.

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome words of support for the sector, and I echo the words of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). Barrow AFC was promoted into the football league after 48 years away. It should be on the up and celebrating, but instead it is facing a loss of three quarters of a million pounds this year. That would be worse if it were not for the supporters who have stuck by it and bought season tickets. We need to remember that these clubs are not just about 90 minutes of football—they are about the employees and the work they do in the community. When my hon. Friend looks at support for this sector, can he confirm that it will not just be about keeping these clubs on life support, but about supporting the work they are doing in our communities, too?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point. I join him in thanking those who have bought season tickets, showing their commitment, both in the short and the long term, to their clubs. We applaud what they have done and thank them for that commitment. In terms of short-term and long-term support, that is exactly what we are looking at through immediate financial support but also with the review of governance.

If I have not yet, I will be purchasing a season ticket for Maryhill FC. Partick Thistle, my constituency next-door neighbour, has, through its charitable wings, helped to provide over 25,000 free meals to some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of the local community. Does the Minister recognise that any support the UK Government can provide consequential to the Scottish Government’s investment in sport does not just help the sport and fans, but, in many cases, leads to inclusion and help across the wider communities that these clubs are part of?

I applaud the hon. Gentleman in recognising, acknowledging and thanking all the clubs for the amazing community work that they have done. We have seen them at their best during coronavirus, but for decades—over 100 years in some cases—they have played a pivotal role in their communities through charitable efforts and so on. As I said, we are working on the details of the support package. Until we get those details sorted out, I cannot comment further on Barnett consequentials.

Across my constituency, we are blessed with many fantastic sports clubs that all contribute massively to our wider community wellbeing. Thinking about rugby, we have Keighley and Ilkley rugby union clubs, as well as Keighley Albion, and not forgetting the mighty Keighley Cougars. They all need help because their income streams are desperately strained, as they predominantly rely on ticket sales, bar income and the rental of facilities, which are not happening. What additional support can my hon. Friend provide?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Again, I know he is a huge sports fan; we have spoken many times. It is very important that the clubs look at the existing support measures to make sure they take full advantage of them. Obviously, there is the furloughing scheme and other measures, such as loans and other aspects—for example, some clubs are able to take advantage of the VAT reduction aspect of hospitality and leisure offerings. I would say that all clubs should please take full advantage of the full suite out there, and of course we are developing an additional package now.

I am all for common-sense measures to restrict the transmission of coronavirus in sporting activities, including among the young, but is the Minister as perplexed as I am by the decision of the Welsh Rugby Union to say that junior, youth and mini teams will not be training at all at the moment? This is purely bonkers. It is somebody’s decision, and in the back of their heads they have decided that they have to dot every i and cross every t. Would it not make far more sense to have all the kids in Tylorstown, Ferndale, Maerdy, Pen-y-Graig, Treorchy and Treherbert playing sport, because that is good for them—and it is outdoors, for heaven’s sake?

I certainly agree with the principle the hon. Member has articulated: if sport is allowed and we are confident it can be done safely, please make sure it goes ahead. However, it is up to individual governing bodies to give specific guidance and recommendations. We do of course work with them, at the DCMS and elsewhere, on that guidance. I would applaud any sports entity or body that, if it is confident it can do so safely, goes ahead. We need those activity levels up.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for securing this urgent question. She is truly a doughty supporter of all sports, professional and amateur.

The Minister perhaps is not as aware of Leek Town as he should be, but it is a fantastic local community club, run by volunteers and the community, and it really does deliver for the community. We have youth teams, juniors, lots of girls and a great women’s first team, as well as the men’s first team; they did not perform as well as we would have liked yesterday, but they are still doing very well. Thanks to support from Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and the Football Foundation, Leek Town has managed to keep its head above water and, as a step 4 club, it is able to welcome up to 400 spectators, but it does need to start to do other things, such as expanding the hospitality offer, and it would like to be able slowly to introduce more fans into the stadium, which has plenty of space. Will my hon. Friend make sure, when looking at increasing the number of fans and looser hospitality, that we do not have a one-size-fits-all formula, but instead use the common sense that is right for each club?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. Indeed, I know from her previous work in the Department that she is a huge champion of this sector, and obviously locally as well. We will of course work with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and, indeed, the governing bodies of sport—in this case, the FA and other football authorities—to make sure that when we can increase the numbers, we do exactly that, because of the pivotal role of ticket sales in revenues for clubs. She makes the point that other revenue sources are available, and I encourage them to pursue them to the greatest extent possible.

Carshalton and Wallington is also home to some excellent local sports teams—including Mitcham and Carshalton rugby club, which is co-hosting its ground with the fabulous South London Stags at the moment, and Carshalton Athletic football club—some of which I have had the pleasure of visiting in the last few months. Community sport is so important not just for the physical but for the mental health of players and, indeed, of fans. Can the Minister assure me that we will do all we can to keep these local clubs going to ensure that we are looking after these people’s mental and physical health during covid?

My hon. Friend makes the really important point that sport is so much more than a game. The game bit is really important—we all love it—but it contributes directly and indirectly to the mental- health wellbeing and indeed physical wellbeing, as well as the financial wellbeing, of so many people. That is precisely why we recognise its importance today with the plans to provide additional financial support.

I attended Warwick racecourse more or less a week ago, and I was really impressed by the safeguards it has put in place. Some 500 racegoers attended, and it could easily have accommodated 1,500 to 2,000 very safely. However, the point I want to come on to is about general sport, but also about football, which affects so many communities. The Leamington Football Club supporters trust—Brakes Trust, as it is known—wrote to me at the beginning of the week and highlighted the support it needs. The Government have announced such support, and it is welcome, but can the Minister explain how much Leamington FC will get and when it will get it?

The hon. Member is correct to highlight the importance of the successful pilots, which proved that sports grounds and racecourses take their responsibilities incredibly seriously. They did a great job of making sure that hygiene, social distancing measures and so on were in place. However, given the backdrop of rising infections, we could not move forward at this stage. Unfortunately, we are unable to do so. Again, I am afraid I cannot give him details, because we are working on the details of the package as we speak.

The scrapping of pilot crowds in rugby league has been described as a hammer blow for clubs like Warrington Wolves. The £16 million package of support in May was welcome, but the longer rugby league clubs are without matchday revenue the more significant the financial hardship, which could ultimately prove fatal, will be. What additional measures will be taken to support rugby league through winter?

We have had some conversations on this issue. I recognise—I think we all recognise—the vital role that rugby plays in its communities. That is precisely why we took the measures we did back in May. We understand, though, that the financial pressures continue. Conversations are continuing. I am afraid I cannot give any details today, because we are working on the current measures.

Last week, I provided the Prime Minister with a Grimsby Town football shirt to match his woolly hat. The reason I did that was to highlight the plight of lower league teams such as Grimsby Town. Will the Minister please tell me what steps are being taken to allow the safe and speedy return of dedicated football fans like the Mariners back to the stands where they belong?

I notice that I do not have a Grimsby Town shirt yet, but I am sure it is coming. My hon. Friend makes a really important point. As I said and will repeat, we have had to pause the plans for further reopening, but we have not abandoned them. We want to get back to that as soon as possible—the whole country does—and we will do so in consultation with medical advisers, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and other bodies, including the governing bodies of each sport. We all want fans back in stadiums as soon as possible. If we get fans back in stadiums, there will be less need for financial support from the Government. That makes sense for the Government and it makes sense for sport.

Cas Tigers is at the heart of Castleford. In normal times, the whole town turns out to support the club and the club always supports the whole community. Those are the values of rugby league. The first supporters were due back tomorrow, but of course that now cannot happen. The loans earlier in the year were welcome, but can I urge the Minister to do more now to support our rugby league, to talk with me further about Cas Tigers and the support all our rugby league clubs might need, and to give us a guarantee that none of our important rugby league clubs will end up going under because of covid? Rugby league is vital to our towns.

The intervention in May was made in recognition of the important role that rugby league plays in its communities, and the fact that it was facing an existential crisis. We are well aware that the problems are far from over. Rugby league, along with many other sports, faces many challenges. I have regular meetings with sports governing bodies and others. I will continue to do so, and I am happy to speak to the right hon. Lady separately.

Throughout the pandemic, Watford football club has done the right thing: it helped the community and our local hospital, and it followed the guidance. I speak regularly to Glyn Evans, the operations director at Watford football club. He shared the frustration that, despite following all the guidance and all the rules put forward to it over the past few weeks and months to ensure it can get crowds back in the stadium, it is now unable to do so. He and I would like to know whether my hon. Friend will ensure that any new measures take into account the work already done to ensure that crowds can get back into the stadium safely, and that he does not have to undo all the work that has been done over the previous months.

I know my hon. Friend is a huge fan of sports and we have talked about this issue. He is absolutely right that many clubs went to enormous efforts to put social distancing, hygiene and other measures in place in anticipation of opening. Those efforts will not be wasted. We want to start again as soon as possible. We did not want to stop clubs opening; we had to in the face of the increase in infections. We want to get back to business as soon as possible.

The AJ Bell stadium in my constituency is home to both Sale Sharks rugby union club and Salford Red Devils rugby league club. Sale Sharks is the only premiership rugby club in the north-west. It has a women’s team. It employs over 100 people, with hundreds more local jobs reliant on its match days. Covid-19 poses an existential threat to clubs like Sale Sharks, to their women’s teams and to premiership rugby. Will the Minister therefore seek a targeted funding package to support them as a matter of urgency, and continue with the extra support to rugby league clubs like Salford Reds?

Other recognition of the important role that clubs play in their local community, way beyond just the sport, is precisely why we are looking at these measures and the broader economic multiplier impact. Again, I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Lady details today, but her comments are received and understood.

One of the most significant ways in which people volunteer is as coaches for youth sports teams, including many netball, rugby, cricket and football teams in my constituency and across Bedfordshire. I was moved by some of the efforts being made by Biggleswade athletics club to provide a safe environment for coaching. So will the Minister liaise with the Prime Minister, as he seeks to build on the volunteerism in this country as we emerge from covid, to ensure that that coaching for youth clubs is supported?

I wish to join my hon. Friend in applauding the work coaches do, often voluntarily, right across the country in so many sports. I will be happy to work with him in communicating this to the Prime Minister, who I am sure is already aware of the important role that they play. My hon. Friend raises an important point and I am happy to continue the conversation with him.

I was delighted to welcome the Minister to Blackbrook rugby club in my constituency. He will know from that visit just how important grassroots sports are in St Helens, but with St Helens rugby league club and Haydock Park racecourse we also have the thrill of elite spectator sports, which not only add to the colour of the borough but provide jobs and a contribution to our economy through visitors. We cannot just say to these sports, “Wait and see.” So will the Minister, who I know is committed to doing this, bring forward, in a timely manner, a strategy and a plan so that we can get fans back and our can communities thrive again?

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to sport; I have seen it at first hand, and it was a pleasure to go to his constituency earlier this year to meet his fantastic constituents. I am afraid that I cannot give him any more details today—as I said, we are working on the details. As soon as we are able to do so, we will announce the support package. Again, I completely understand the points he has raised.

As we know, one of the most brilliant things about football is seeing young talent rise through the ranks from great clubs such as Bishop Auckland, Shildon and West Auckland. The Premier League relies on this young talent; we know that more than 45% of starting line-ups have their origins in the English Football League. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to encourage the Premier League to provide more support for lower league clubs, particularly in these very challenging times?

My hon. Friend raises the important issue of the pyramid structure of football and the pivotal role that the Premier League plays at its top. Others put huge value into the pyramid, playing a pivotal role in developing talent across the board, in the numbers that she has explained. It is therefore vital that the Premier League understands that it has responsibilities. It is at the top of the pyramid and we expect and require it to help further down the pyramid. I have to say that that is exactly what the Premier League seems to understand, and I am confident that it will play its part and we will have an announcement very soon.

Does my hon. Friend agree that national league south sides such as Tonbridge Angels, of whom I am sure he is a huge fan, are at the centre of the community but simply cannot survive without matches being played and fans allowed in? Longmead, the Angels’ stadium, has, I am sorry to say, plenty of room for the normal matchday crowd and could host even more, including with all the social distancing required. I know that that will change as soon as he comes to support the Angels and brings a whole new team of fans with him, but for the moment he could do this. Will the Government work with the Football Association and the national league to ensure that fans can return to grounds now where there is enough room to socially distance, in order to support the work that clubs such as Tonbridge Angels do?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Tonbridge Angels and many other sports clubs across the country have shown their pivotal role in their communities during coronavirus and much before. We will continue to work with all relevant stakeholders. We are continuing to have ongoing dialogue, we have working groups and we have day-to-day dialogue through Department officials—all the things he raises about making sure that all stakeholders work together so that we can come to a conclusion and get out of these difficulties as soon as possible. I completely agree, and I assure him that we are doing just that.

Gymnastics clubs such as Drumchapel gymnastics club in my constituency play a huge role in developing good habits for young people, particularly girls. They set up life habits and do a huge amount to tackle things such as obesity. However, they are struggling at the moment due to limited numbers and the fact that they still have to pay rent in indoor facilities. What support will the Minister provide for clubs such as Drumchapel, and others, which play a key role in improving the life chances of our youngsters?

The hon. Lady makes an important point about the value of clubs, which help with education, confidence, and physical and mental wellbeing. We are encouraging all sports clubs to take advantage of the full suite of opportunities in the Government’s support package. We are constantly talking to all the relevant governing bodies about their plight. I will hopefully be able to make announcements at some point, but we cannot give further details at this stage.

Recent data published by Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust shows that the level of women’s and girls’ sport and physical activity, which was rising, has fallen significantly during covid. I encourage my hon. Friend to lead a national push to get the grassroots going again and engage the likes of the Premier League to play their part. Will he back the development of a groundbreaking women’s and girls’ football centre of excellence in Winsford in my constituency?

We have spoken previously about the Winsford facility. It sounds like a great idea, and we would like to do what we can to back it. As I have said previously, women’s involvement in sport is a top priority for me. I say again that I expect any entity receiving Government money to ensure that a fair share goes to women’s sport. It is absolutely vital that we put a great deal of emphasis on women’s sporting facilities in this country.

Like many other Members across the House, I have been doing what I can to support and listen to the concerns of the likes of my beloved Bluebirds, the Cardiff Devils ice hockey team, my local boxing clubs and the City of Cardiff swimming club—I had the pleasure to see its covid-safe procedures a few weeks ago.

The Minister will be aware that today is National Sporting Heritage Day, and Black History Month starts tomorrow. This morning, I had the honour to sit and listen to some remarkable legends of rugby league who originated in my constituency, in places like Tiger Bay, Splott and Grangetown, and went north to play rugby league—the likes of Billy Boston. A huge campaign has been launched to honour and recognise their pioneering work not only in their sport but in breaking down racial discrimination and the barriers that were faced at the time. Will the Minister back that campaign? Will he agree to come and meet those supporting it? Will he say what he is doing to support grassroots rugby of both codes?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and I applaud his engagement. I will be happy to talk to him further about where I can get involved. Any and all activities that ensure that sport truly is for all are important. I also applaud the work of Sport England and other bodies, whose initiatives ensure that sport is indeed open to all. That will continue with direct non-financial and financial support. I would be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman further.

As the Minister knows, it is one thing to say that the Premier League should help clubs in the Football League that face financial difficulties, and it is another to say that it should be solely responsible and pay for all the assistance that those clubs need. Is he saying that there will be no Government support—no public support, including financial support—for clubs in the Football League, and that it will be left entirely to the Premier League to deliver it? The chairmen of many clubs in the Football League have to make very difficult decisions because of the distress that they are in, and they need to know where they stand.

I thank my hon. Friend for his ongoing commitment to sport. He is very knowledgeable in this field. I cannot comment on the details of the plan because it is currently being developed, but I can say that we expect and require the Premier League to work with the EFL carefully and closely and to make sure that they act sensibly and take their responsibilities seriously. I encourage the EFL and other bodies in all sports to take full advantage of all the other Government support measures. Although I cannot answer my hon. Friend’s question directly today, we are working on all those details as we speak.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).