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Community Amateur Sports Clubs (Support) Bill [HL]

Volume 710: debated on Friday 8 May 2009

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, community amateur sports clubs, known as CASCs, and their predecessors are about as close as we get in political debate in our society to motherhood and apple pie. The reason for that is that they can achieve all you would ever want from a voluntary body. They provide exercise, a sense of community as defined in the Title of the Bill, and most of all they bring people together with a common purpose. They make sure that volunteering activities can be expressed. They offer those who might not otherwise have them the chance of good adult role models. They encourage self-discipline and show you the cost of not having good self-discipline in the form of contempt among your peers. All these come together in community amateur sports clubs.

CASCs can also act as informal job markets. I have to make a small admission rather than a declaration of interest. I have forgotten to pay my subs to a small rugby club of which I am almost a lifetime member and vice-president; I will rectify that. A lot of casual recruitment of labour would take place in the club. There was a support structure in place to which people could go for advice. All these things happen around amateur sports clubs to a greater or lesser extent.

It has to be said that after a fair degree of nudging, but not the worst I have ever known, the Government created a tax relief in the Finance Act 2002 which offered some advantages. It was not a bad first step, which is supposedly the most difficult part of any journey, but equally you cannot say that the first step marks the end of the journey and come to a stop. We have to make sure that the journey continues, and that is what this Bill is all about. It seeks to build on the Government’s acceptance that amateur sports clubs are good things and that they need help. This Bill looks at problems that were not dealt with in the first step and shows what can be done to enhance the status of these clubs, which are generally seen as a public good.

All the major clauses of the Bill propose amendments to other Acts, which shows how difficult it is to encapsulate in one piece of legislation something like adequate support of amateur sport. It also has to be said that the Government—I refer to all parties and so also to my own party, although we have not been in government quite as recently—need a vehicle that can focus the attention of Ministers, who have their heads in other briefs, on the value of amateur sports clubs. That it is needed is shown by the fact that this Bill has to cross a wide range of legislation over many years.

Probably the most topical issue is set out in Clause 1, which addresses the utility bills that amateur sports clubs have to pay. I suspect that I am not the only person who has had a number of messages about water charging of late. A classic example of the problem is this: Carlisle Rugby Club is facing a drastic increase in water and drainage charges, rising from £700 to £4,000. An amateur sports club is being asked to find an extra £3,000-plus. I do not know anything about Carlisle Rugby Club, but that is a heck of a lot of money to find. How do you do it? What is your membership? Do you up the subs? Do you exclude people? Do you lose the benefits of it from doing this? How do you help? The clause also asks for something that I very seldom ask for—that the Government take on a regulation-making power. This may not be the finished item, but we deserve an answer here.

The same applies to other utility bills. Surely there is an argument for making special arrangements for people who are doing a public good that otherwise would not be done or the Government would have to do themselves. Perhaps the Minister can give a conclusive argument for why some form of control should not be placed on these excessive charges. I accept that United Utilities has put a one-year stop to the increase, but that is a one-year sticking plaster. I am sure that club secretaries, managers and trustees will thank it tremendously for having yet another year to worry about this. I hope that the Government can give us some idea of what progress they think can be made and that we can receive some positive assurances from across the political spectrum represented here.

Now we come to a difficult issue in Clause 2, relating to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. I freely admit that, when we are talking about copyright money collection, if you tell anybody in the music industry that you are going to restrict what they are getting, you might just get a degree of wailing in the wind from an industry that is suffering from tremendous piracy. Why do we have something that is very difficult for amateur sports clubs to collect? They have voluntary secretaries. I have a minor consideration here, in that I am secretary of the Commons and Lords rugby club, though not in a venue that hosts much live music. But we should look at the type and complexity of regulation and the fact that we are not quite sure which bits we have exemptions from. Can the Government tell me why they are not going to do something to help the volunteers who run these organisations, who often take on the most tedious, complex and least fun part of the process? We are not talking about people taking on an activity that directly enables them to take part in a sport, but people who take on something that enables others to have a framework in which to take on a sport. Why cannot we have a simpler form of collection? I would be open to any suggestions at later stages of the Bill if a better way can be found of doing this. Of course I wish this Bill every success, as it is my Bill, but if we can use it as an example of getting somebody in to say how this could be done better, I would be very receptive to that in Committee.

Clause 3 deals with the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This is a slightly more straightforward swipe at nimbyism, primarily inspired by the long-running battle over floodlights. Modern floodlights do not cause a great disturbance or nuisance to people. They can be concentrated downwards. Let us face it, who wants to pay extra electricity charges, even if we get some government support on utility bills as I mentioned on Clause 1? I refer once again to my initial comments about what CASCs do. If people have objections, we must ensure that they are about something more substantial than just mild inconvenience. There is a public good to be had here. There will always be people who object to things. To take an extreme example, there is the Daily Mail version of the person who objects to a pub, having moved next door to it. We must make sure that it has to be on firmer grounds and that there is less hassle for those who run amateur sports clubs, as well as less expense on legal fees. These people are working as volunteers and supporting society.

Clause 4, the last substantive clause, deals with something that I have a bit of guilt about because I have not made enough noise about it either when the Act was brought forward or subsequently—but we all know that we will miss something. If we start getting everything right, either we are going delusional or we have reached a deifatic state—that is not even a word; I mean that we have reached the status of a deity. We will always miss things. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 put the emphasis, when giving funding for skills, on to those who do not have skills at the moment, post-16. Unfortunately, a by-product of this was that many people who are involved in coaching and who already have some form of qualification towards a job found out that they had to pay for their coaching qualification. We should accept that they are doing something good and of public benefit. Being taught how to coach well and safely is important. Remember the safety aspect. In my sport of rugby union I have seen many an injury caused by somebody who could not quite grasp the theory that getting your head in the way of somebody’s knee is a bad thing in a tackle. People need to learn how to make contact in that situation and how to move correctly so that you do not twist and injure. That type of thing is covered in the basis of coaching, as is how to restrict the amount of pressure you put on people so that you do not put them off.

There are also legal requirements and duties of care when you take on these things in various places. The Government should seize the opportunity to change this. This particular bump in the economic cycle may not be very friendly to a request to give extra resources to something that is not directly related to the job market, but as we have proved and as was pointed out in the last debate, the cycle is a cycle and we will come out of it. We should also take on board the fact that running clubs helps certain people in employment hunting. Surely we could say that this is something we missed. I am sure it was the law of unintended consequences. Surely we can turn round and change this. Making sure that we get people properly trained and properly helped to develop others in their sporting aspirations might even create a long-term economic gain by encouraging people to stay in sport and exercise for longer because they are well taught initially. A number of injuries may be avoided. I do not have to go on much further. I would have thought that the Government really should act on this. If anybody thinks there may be a good case for expanding it, I wonder whether I have caught dance properly in this. It probably comes under the same heading. Will the Government give a clear idea of their thinking about this?

Those are the substantive parts of the Bill. I hope that everybody who is listening takes on board the fact that I am not going into revolutionary territory. I am not asking the Government to address something that they have not already said is of benefit. I am merely saying that we should back it up. We have heard about the Olympic legacy; indeed, I have probably bored this House about it on several occasions. Surely this could be seen as part of that overall thrust and strategy of making sure that we encourage people to take part in sport at amateur level and making sure that it is easier to do. I hope that the House will look sympathetically on the Bill, and at least on its aims. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on initiating this debate and bringing forward this Bill. By so doing, he has clearly demonstrated the need to support sports clubs up and down the country. I know from other debates on sport in this House how much the noble Lord cares about sports clubs. I share his belief in them and in their contribution to every community in the land—they certainly make a contribution in my area. That is why I readily give up my time to be president of the Football Foundation and an adviser to Tameside Sports Trust. These roles have afforded me the privilege of understanding the problems and pressures facing clubs, their volunteers, committees and coaches.

I shall focus on subsection (1) of the new section introduced in Clause 1, relating to utilities, and on Clause 2(2), relating to music usage. The two clauses hinge on the same issue: the failure of some government departments to recognise the very existence of 151,000 sports clubs, 6 million volunteers and their contribution to community life in this country. Otherwise, why would departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills press regulations which tie up the boot strings and purse strings of those clubs?

Earlier this week, I went to the conference of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and heard two powerful speeches on sport, one from its president, Brigid Simmonds, and the other from the Secretary of State for Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham. Brigid, while recognising that a great deal more money has gone into sport from the centre nevertheless pointed to a very worrying scenario following a survey of sports clubs conducted by the CCPR during the past few weeks. She said that half of the clubs have already been negatively affected by the recession and predicted that many more would follow as the year goes on. Almost 40 per cent of clubs have seen a reduction in renewals; some 59 per cent believe that membership fee income will fall next year; and almost 60 per cent are considering cutting their costs or have already done so—23 per cent have made cuts in coaching and 23 per cent in community initiatives. Perhaps most worrying of all in the longer term is that 4 per cent of clubs believe that they will have to close altogether.

The Secretary of State was rather more upbeat, pointing out that school sport has seen investment of £1.5 billion in the five years up to 2008 and will receive another £780 million during the current three-year cycle. Nine per cent of children are now doing between two to five hours a week of high-quality sport.

I went from the CCPR conference to host a luncheon for the Big Lottery Fund here in Westminster, attended by many parliamentarians and speakers from universities such as Loughborough and Stafford Sports College, who have first-hand experience of the problems facing sport. A brighter picture was painted at that gathering. We heard that the Big Lottery Fund had contributed £77.5 million and Sport England £31 million to sport. That was the sunny side all right, but I do not know whether it can be sustained if the Government do not recognise the damage that they are doing unless they scrap the unnecessary regulations to which I referred earlier. The CCPR suggests a moratorium on new regulations, arguing that Ministers can desist from charging hundreds of pounds for licences to play music in sports clubs, recognise that it is unfair to increase drainage costs for clubs, which amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned Carlisle Rugby Club, but there are many others as well—reject the notion of imposing extra charges on rates and ensure that planning regulations do not make it virtually impossible for some clubs to develop facilities such as floodlights. All this could be done until the UK economy picks up.

Finally, I must express my admiration for the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in hunting down the individual regulations which have led to this situation. However, it seems to me that his approach will tackle the disease only once it has set in. Once we have resolved the problems noted in the Bill, how can we be sure that other government departments will not immediately create more? Perhaps the noble Lord will consider another clause that requires government departments, perhaps via the Cabinet Office, to consider the impact of the new regulations on amateur sport, with a presumption that they will not apply to it. In this way, sports club secretaries would be able to get on with their unpaid jobs, safe in the knowledge that they would not suddenly be hit by some new legal requirement and financial cost which were never aimed at them in the first place. I would like to hear the thoughts of the Minister on that point. I again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on introducing the Bill.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his timely Bill, which we on these Benches are very glad to support. Like all those amateur, non-profit-making, community-building organisations for which he speaks, the churches, too, wish to be associated with the thrust of his Bill. These are non-profit-making organisations which are supported by those who give their services voluntarily and are at the forefront of building that secure, engaged and well motivated community that we all desire for our country.

Let us be specific about what Clause 1 seeks. The utilities tax is estimated to cost the Church of England more than £15 million per annum as it stands, which is the cost of resourcing some 375 clergy. In the past, community groups were largely exempt from drainage bills because of charitable status; now the proposal is that we are charged by the surface area of our roofs. In some medieval churches, the roof surface is extremely large. To take the cathedral at Salisbury for an example, the total surface area is 7,100 square metres, and that does not include the spire, the tallest in medieval Europe, whose octagonal surfaces are very largely vertical but quite substantially increase that amount. It is estimated that the cathedral’s bill might rise by some 4,000 per cent to around £70,000 per annum.

Her Majesty's Government have still not acted to enforce the guidance that they issued in 2000 which recommended that churches should be exempt from surface water drainage charges. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, this is a matter of enormous concern to a very large number of charitable organisations—not just the churches but the amateur sports clubs and the Scout Association, which I know has registered its objections publicly. These groups are not commercial organisations; they are not in it for the money. Any tax will merely mean fewer resources available for doing what they do: trying to help build up the life of the local community which, as we all know, is vital to the well-being of this country.

Will the Minister say what Her Majesty’s Government are planning to do about this? Will he act to ensure that there is, at least, a third band for charitable users alongside that for commercial and private users, particularly since our churches are charged not only with serving our communities but also with caring for a high proportion of the nation’s most distinguished, largest and oldest historic buildings? The matter is causing grave concern and could seriously derail what we and the Government are seeking to achieve—that is, the well-being of our communities and the building up of the proper relationship between those who try to serve those communities and the communities’ own future.

I suspect that it may be just a matter of oversight that the Government have not followed up what they suggested. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, we would all be very grateful for the Minister’s assurance on what the Government propose. Otherwise, this may not be the only Bill that we will need to introduce into your Lordship’s House. As the noble Lord said, there are a number of small and typed regulations that might extinguish many of our more valuable voluntary organisations and the work they do for the country if we cannot have an overall, catch-all attempt by the Government to regulate more widely on our behalf.

I hope that in bringing forward the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will not need to introduce a number of consequential Bills and clauses at later stages. That might waste a considerable amount of time. We could all go home much more content if we had the Government’s assurance that action will be forthcoming and not merely suggested or promised.

My Lords, I, too, thank my colleague and noble friend Lord Addington for bringing forward the Bill. Sport matters for many people. It is not just an optional extra to their lives; it is the most important thing in their lives. That is particularly true for many children and young people. For many such people who do not find life easy and who are not necessarily good at school, sport gives a guiding purpose to their lives. I speak as a father with two sons. I remember very well when my younger son, aged about 10, was first picked to play in a cricket team in a match starting at 2 pm. Habitually, he did not necessarily get up desperately early but at 10 am he was down in the kitchen in his cricket whites, desperate to play cricket because it mattered to him more than how he did in his maths test or in any of his academic subjects.

Therefore, for many children and young people sport is crucial. How they are able to play sport matters very much to them. Sport teaches many of the disciplines which as parents and teachers we try to instil in our children, and which are much more easily instilled very often on a sports field than in a classroom—things such as teamwork, communication skills and leadership. These happen naturally within a sporting context much more easily than in many others.

It is not just as a child or young person that sport matters. A very interesting recent survey by the Isle of Man Government about motivation and business leadership found that, among our top business leaders, more were successful at sport at school than were academically. Clearly, sport at a crucial time in those people’s young lives played an important role in channelling their energies and giving them disciplines that they were able to use as adults to make a success of their lives. I declare an interest as chair of sport at the Prince’s Trust, where we use sport and the relationship with sporting clubs as a way to help motivate children and young people who are failing at school or are unemployed.

Arguably, sport is more important now than ever. We face an obesity crisis in the country, which the Government have failed to stem; I do not blame them, but they have not succeeded. The situation is getting significantly worse. Clearly sport—not least local sport run by amateur sports clubs—is going to play a major part in addressing that issue, arguably when many school leavers are not going to get jobs immediately and unemployment is rising very quickly. The ability of those people, who may not have anything else much to do, to spend some of their time in local sports clubs doing something positive, which helps motivate them and helps retain a sense of self-esteem, is extremely important.

To deliver sport to most people most of the time, community amateur sports clubs are going to be the delivery mechanism. We all have dealings in various ways with such bodies, I suspect. I have two little anecdotes. First, I recently visited my mother in Yorkshire. On getting a cab from Wakefield station to Rothwell, where she lives, the cab driver, who was of Pakistani origin, started telling me about his role as secretary of a local cricket club. He was immensely proud of this role and, indeed, of his club, which was doing quite well. His only concern was that if it was promoted it would have to follow further regulations in terms of the quality of the pitch and various other issues, which he was beginning to worry about. The problem was that when I got to my mother’s house he would not let me out of the cab because he insisted on showing me, with huge pride, his club in a thick directory of cricket clubs in one of the West Yorkshire leagues. For him, as a useful member of society, that amateur sports club was playing an inordinately important role; more importantly, he was engaging with many people in his community in doing positive things around, in that case, cricket.

I give my second example. I suppose I declare an interest: my wife is a vicar just across the river—not at a cathedral, and the roof of her church is extremely modest compared with that of the right reverend Prelate. She has established an after-school club. The bit of the club, into which huge effort has been put, which has really flourished is the football. Other elements have been tried and, if they have not failed, they have been hard going. However, football has worked. In terms of the church playing a role in inner cities, perhaps slightly surprisingly, sport plays a major part.

As the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, set out, amateur sports clubs are facing threats, partly due to the recession and partly due to some of the issues covered by the Bill. He referred to the fact that the recent CCPR report said that up to 4 per cent of sports clubs might fail during the recession, which does not necessarily sound a huge number. However, 4 per cent equates to 6,000 sports clubs, which amounts to several hundred thousand people playing sport. Therefore, this is a big threat when we should be looking to increase the number of sports clubs rather than reduce it.

The Bill deals with a number of real practical issues which have caused problems for sports clubs largely by mistake. I cannot believe that policy-makers intended that sports clubs would be faced with these huge additional water rates or electricity bills, or that they intended that they would be excluded from the apprenticeship scheme, but they are. These measures seek to deal with these intensely practical and sensible points.

I do not intend to go through the Bill. From my own experience I would just like to give one example, which would be remedied at least in part by the Bill as it deals with the situation related to nuisance caused by lights and floodlights. I know an amateur sports club in south London with tennis courts, which was seeking to enhance itself by having floodlights. These were not floodlights like those in a huge ground or that were going to be on every hour of the day and night, but local residents objected to very modest suggestions that these floodlights should be erected. The councillors took fright and they were not erected, which meant that the tennis courts have virtually no community use during the winter except at weekends; they could not be used during the week. The Bill would help deal with that kind of nonsense. It would also deal with many other kinds of nonsense. Therefore, I am very happy to support my noble friend.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the care he has taken and the detail he has put in to bringing this useful Bill before your Lordships’ House. The special nature of voluntary sports clubs and the contribution that they make to society have long been recognised in the United Kingdom. Sports clubs provide opportunities for healthy activity for people of all ages. They increase community cohesion and encourage citizenship through volunteering.

The Charity Commission has for a number of years referred to community amateur sports clubs as distinct from charities. The Finance Act 2002 created the community amateur sports club scheme, which enables clubs that are open to all communities and which operate on a not-for-profit basis to register with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and receive a range of financial and fiscal benefits. The benefits enjoyed by registered community amateur sports clubs do not currently extend as far as those enjoyed by charities. The Bill recognises the role of sports clubs in improving health and social cohesion within their communities, and acknowledges that these clubs face significant regulatory costs and burdens that severely restrict their growth and development, both in terms of finance and voluntary time, as has been referred to this afternoon.

The Bill therefore provides registered CASCs with fiscal and financial benefits equal to those enjoyed by charities, and makes further provision to remove regulatory costs and burdens, thus enabling clubs to focus on their primary purpose of providing high-quality sporting opportunities for the benefit of the community. Sports clubs have been the bedrock of British sport and British communities for hundreds of years. We have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, said, referring to the CCPR’s report. This is serious. Sports clubs are in trouble, and the data that Brigid Simmonds produced proves it. The survey that the CCPR carried out shows that, unless we act, thousands of local sports clubs could go under. The CCPR says:

“That would be a tragic shame for their members and their communities”.

I say that it would be disaster for this nation and its sport.

The Government need sports clubs to introduce the “five hour offer” for sport in schools. They simply do not have the staff or commitment from schools without involving local sports clubs. We now need a moratorium on any new regulations, laws and charges affecting the clubs. That has already been said, and we on these Benches support it.

The DCMS annual report for 2008 found that there was slippage in reaching the government target of increasing the take-up of sporting opportunities by adults and young people aged 16 and above from priority groups by 2008. Will the Minister tell us what steps are being taken to catch up and meet this target? The Minister for Sport has said that over 40,000 amateur sports clubs are missing out on a collective £100 million a year of tax savings. Will the Minister outline what measures have been put in place to encourage more clubs to register with the community amateur sports clubs scheme? Given that the Government want 2 million more people from low-participation groups to be active by 2012, why was a decision made against implementing the proposals to allow community amateur sports clubs to claim gift aid on junior subscriptions with Her Majesty’s Treasury?

Conservatives believe that sport is a powerful driver of health, social, economic and educational benefit, and recognise that all the evidence suggests that people who play sport are happier, healthier and more socially cohesive; and, if we listen to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, ultimately more intelligent, reaching higher up the ladder. With the UK’s current rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and problems in the community, Conservatives believe that it is essential that sport is placed at the heart of a number of policy areas. Conservatives believe in the principles of individual enterprise and endeavour that lie behind the CASC scheme. Conservatives wholeheartedly support the scheme, and look to build on it as soon as economic conditions allow. Conservatives aspire to incentivise clubs by introducing gift aid relief on junior sports club subscriptions.

As noble Lords will gather from the Conservative viewpoint that I have just given, we support the noble Lord’s Bill. Personally, I believe that a great deal could be achieved if the Government could accept an Act on the recommendations in the Bill. As the noble Lord himself has said, it is not a finite Bill, but it certainly raises some important points. By working, and continuing the work that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and his team have done to produce the Bill, a great deal of good could be done, without too much bureaucracy.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on his Bill, which raises a number of significant issues affecting amateur sports clubs. First, I am at one with all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate on the significance of our amateur sports clubs to the welfare of the nation and the community sport system we seek to support. Of course, when we are building up to the Olympic Games, which are on the horizon, the House will recognise the importance with which the Government treat sporting activity at present. We know that sports clubs are the nurseries for a great deal of sporting endeavour, encouraging young people when they leave education to continue in sport.

We know that one great challenge in tackling social problems like obesity and issues of sufficient exercise is the drop-out rate that occurs when people leave education. Sports clubs are increasingly being asked to pick up that mantle in a more constructive way than they have in the past, which is why the Government have been concerned to support those schemes that link sports clubs to schools and ensure that we tackle the issue of drop-out from sport.

We are sympathetic to the aims of the Bill, which sets out to identify financial and regulatory burdens in respect of community sports clubs. We know of the clubs’ importance to the future of sport in the nation. I appreciate the point of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that not everybody is signed up to the scheme. We introduced it in 2002, and it brought significant benefits. Our survey currently indicates that about 6,000 clubs have signed up. We are concerned about the analysis of the dangers to clubs. A survey, based on 160 clubs, looked at the difficulties they had and grossed up into many thousands those that might face real difficulty. We are not sure about those figures.

We are concerned to protect the investment that has gone into sports clubs and sport. Noble Lords will appreciate how much emphasis the Government have laid on school sport and on aiding sports clubs and schemes developing their links with education. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, clubs are experiencing difficulties in this difficult economic climate. However, we are not at all sure that the figure of 6,000 clubs closing during the recession suggested in the CCPR survey stands up to full analysis. However, it is a measure of the difficulties that we face.

Not all clubs wish to join the CASC scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked for a perspective on how things are going. We are pleased with the numbers that have signed up. Some sports clubs may have good reasons for not wanting to be part of the scheme. Their finances may be sufficiently robust to lead them to conclude that they will not benefit from it. However, as the noble Lord acknowledged, the scheme is beneficial for clubs and we should encourage as many as possible to sign up to it. After all, registered CASCs receive 80 per cent mandatory relief on their non-domestic “business” rates, which is not an insignificant figure. This is topped up to 100 per cent by some local authorities. CASCs enjoy exemptions from corporation tax on bank and building society interest, trading income up to £30,000 and income from property up to £20,000. They are also exempt from capital gains tax on disposals of assets. A registered CASC can reclaim up to £25 in tax for every £100 donated from individuals. These are all significant advantages arising from participation in the scheme. Therefore, the Government wish to spread understanding of these benefits as far afield as we can to get as many clubs as possible to join the scheme. As I indicated, more than 5,000 clubs are in the scheme and Deloitte estimates that, since its inception, the scheme has injected more than £48,000 into grassroots sports. This has enabled clubs to spend the reinvested money on everything from improved facilities to kit.

However, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, identifies where the shoe pinches and the difficulties that obtain in discrete areas and has received substantial support for it. Parliamentary Questions have recently been tabled on community sport. My noble friend Lady Billingham, who is in her place, asked a parliamentary Question on this issue very recently. I appreciate the difficulties arising from utility bills. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to Carlisle football club, and a utility company in the north-west of England and mentioned the public concern about this. This concern, echoed by the Government, has caused the company to put a year’s stoppage on its proposed significant bill increases. The noble Lord is anxious about what will happen next. We shall all need to address that. Certainly, United Utilities realises that it has departed significantly from the practice of all other utilities in the country and has paused for thought. We hope that is a constructive pause for thought.

As the right reverend Prelate said, sports clubs are not alone in facing such problems. Many institutions are having difficulty meeting their utility bills. As he said, majestic buildings such as Salisbury Cathedral are particularly hard hit by the way in which water charges are calculated with regard to the removal of surface water. Of course, we understand these difficulties and wish to address them. However, the Bill is limited to sports clubs, while these issues also affect other institutions. The Government have to address the issue in the round. It would not do for us to support a Bill that solves the problem for one set of institutions while not considering the plight of others.

I appreciate the very real difficulty with regard to utility prices, particularly water charges. I entirely accept that certain institutions have real difficulties in this area. Sports clubs are the obvious example but churches are also affected. Indeed, churches’ difficulties in that regard were discussed in a recent debate initiated by a right reverend Prelate. Therefore, we must take a general approach to these issues. Utility companies must bear responsibility for their actions in this regard, particularly when one steps so far out of line and creates the difficulties for the sports club in Carlisle and in the north-west which have been mentioned. We want to see these companies adopt a much more reasonable approach to customers’ ability to pay. There is no doubt that substantial and sudden increases in costs adversely affect voluntary organisations that have no capacity greatly to increase their income in the short term. I accept the point that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made. His Bill emphasises this important issue and I assure him that the Government are very concerned about it. However, we believe that the issue needs to be considered in the round and that other institutions are as deserving as sports clubs and also need to be protected in this regard.

My noble friend Lord Pendry with his sporting credentials and the contribution that he makes to sport in this country referred to entertainment that sports clubs provide. This is a very complex area. It is not unreasonable for the Bill to spell out that something needs to be done. The Government are sympathetic to the thrust of the matter and we appreciate the difficulties that sports clubs face with regard to music licensing. We are aware of the issues involved, having received written responses from them in relation to the consultation exercise that we are carrying out. However, we cannot pre-empt the process by accepting the Bill’s proposal to repeal sections of existing legislation. We are involved in a widespread consultation exercise on this and treat the matter very seriously. We agree that the problems need to be addressed and we look forward to the outcome of the consultation exercise as being one where we can draft legislation covering areas greater than just sports clubs, but which deals with these issues.

On the issue that the noble Lord raised on artificial light nuisance, he is right that modern floodlighting has made a great difference. There was a time when almost any floodlighting was regarded with horror by anyone who neighboured sports facilities, because it was intrusive on the neighbourhood. I recall an occasion not that long ago when I was a Member of Parliament, when the strongest representations were made against what I fondly thought of as one of the most popular development in the area—the enhancement of sports facilities to enable community sport to be enjoyed in the evening by the installation of floodlights—until all those who lived immediately adjacent to the facility took a very different view.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is right that technology has moved on and floodlights do not need to be as intrusive as they once were and they create much less of a problem. Nevertheless, we have some concern. We want to ensure that sports facilities can be available to the community for as long as possible and into the evening. This often means the use of floodlights, but we are concerned about neighbourhoods, too. He will recognise that we have to tread with care in this area. The 1990 Act states that floodlights that spill light and adversely affect people in significant ways have to be addressed and mitigated. This is when the nuisance significantly impacts on someone’s reasonable use of their property or adversely affects their health. Sometimes there is just bad lighting, but the Government have to tread with care in these areas. It would be difficult to see how we could exempt all floodlights from the provisions of the 1990 Act. There are sufficient problems with floodlights that require some protection for neighbourhoods. The noble Lord’s Bill asks for something that requires a balance for communities and that is why we are not prepared for there to be a complete change to existing legislation on floodlights.

The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, mentioned other aspects of sports clubs. He and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, were right to emphasise that sports clubs depend overwhelmingly on voluntary contributions. There is a very limited number of paid professionals in all but the largest clubs. The problem with voluntary activity is that it may often lack the expertise necessary to advance the best interests of the club. This is certainly the case with regard to planning applications. One of the main reasons why applications are turned down is because applicants are often uninformed about the types of issues they need to address, such as light or noise pollution and disruption to traffic. We are concerned to try and give sports clubs and the volunteers who work for clubs a degree of support and the necessary expertise to handle planning applications in the most effective way. We are conscious that this is an important part of our support for clubs and we are concerned to offer guidance. This summer we will publish guidance that will be of assistance to all volunteers and, indeed, professionals in sports clubs, on how to handle planning applications that seek to increase their facilities.

I have considerable sympathy for the point that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made in the Bill on funding for volunteer coaches, because they need to develop their expertise and we need more of them. It is a skill. He is also right to emphasise that often the people who are prepared to train for these sport qualifications are the very people who avoid education and training for more traditional activities, and sport offers an opportunity for the enhancement of their abilities.

However, in the allocation of government resources, legislation is bound to prioritise first qualifications, particularly those that bring the greatest economic benefits to the individual and society. That is a very important part of the Government’s skills agenda. It is difficult for us to think in terms of changing the principle of our commitment to the first qualification to help those who have no skills whatever. The moment we change legislation to provide for a second qualification, as the noble Lord suggests, we would open the door to very substantial expenditure. The Government have to prioritise tackling the basic lack of skills in individuals who need them. That is why our skills legislation is defined in those terms. Nevertheless, anyone who receives a means-tested benefit will not have to pay fees for the qualification included in the Bill, and the Learning and Skills Council provides subsidies for course fees in appropriate areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, graphically illustrated the significance of sport, and this debate has shown the enthusiasm of noble Lords on all sides of the House for the basic premise behind this Bill: a concern that community sports clubs are the heartbeat of grassroots sports in this country. They are so important to the Government’s targets of getting more people to play sport, tackling obesity, and improving the skills of the nation through increased exercise. We all share those objectives and, therefore, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for promoting the Bill, which has given us a chance to air these crucial issues.

Although he recognised that the Government cannot wholeheartedly support the Bill, I hope that he appreciates that, obviously, the Government are already working on concepts in the Bill. We need to take into account broader issues beyond sports clubs, and some aspects of the Bill involve difficult priorities with regard to government expenditure. However, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is always a very strong advocate in this House for sport. He is addressing a Government who are concerned to enhance sporting opportunities, and there is no doubt that community sports clubs are essential in relation to those objectives.

My Lords, I thank everybody who took part in the debate. I am particularly glad that my noble friend did, as I was worried that I would be the only person on these Benches. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, will not mind my picking out his final comment about trying to make sure that people think about these things in the first place. I think that what he said might add to the Bill, which at the moment, to be perfectly honest, is purely reactive. It is about what has gone wrong. It is especially about what has gone wrong with one good idea from the Government. It tries to bring things together. I fully appreciate the noble Lord’s point that, if we looked at this as a whole, perhaps half these problems would not exist and the other half would have been mitigated to an extent.

As I said, amateur sports clubs are motherhood and apple pie. The Minister talked about priorities, but we all know that this is about how you do your accountancy exercise on where the benefit will come from. The noble Lord also mentioned coaching. If you decided that you would drive this as part of the public health agenda, you would probably say that it was justifiable. In some of his responses, I heard in ringing tones words from the song by Tracy Chapman, “If not now then when?”. We should be aiming towards these things and encouraging them to happen, so that we get there eventually. In the failure to respond, I just heard the tone of government; more particularly, I heard the Treasury Bench rather than the rosette that sits on it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, joined us slightly late, but I would have mentioned her when I talked about Clause 3, as it deals with something that she brought very clearly to the world’s attention. I thank her for taking part. The right reverend Prelate asked us to stop looking too much in our own backyards and pointed out that the world interconnects. That is surely what a lot of the Bill is about. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for his support, at least for the principle of the Bill.

I feel that the Bill needs a little more thought and that we should bring our minds together to polish it. I would certainly welcome an amendment along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, if only to see what the Government would say to it. I will give myself that little indulgence. All I can say is that I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.