My Lords, the Government would, first of all, like to congratulate the Club and Institute Union on reaching its 150th anniversary. The Government themselves have no plans to commemorate this anniversary since these are private institutions. However, we are aware that the All-Party Group for Non-Profit Making Members’ Clubs, of which I believe the noble Lord is the secretary, has organised a commemorative event in Parliament on 11 July—tomorrow.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very positive reply. My heart fills with pride in appreciation of the vital and outstanding service that the Club and Institute Union has contributed to the cultural, social, educational and creative life of working- class communities throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain over these past 150 years, which we are joyfully celebrating this week. Will the Minister kindly draw the attention of all government departments to the present burdens borne by the CIU—and not just the CIU but also by Conservative, Labour, Liberal and British Legion clubs and many others—through years of pernicious legislation, and offer them some respite in these very harsh and difficult economic and social times?
My Lords, I am very aware of the traditional nature of the clubs involved—the work they have done for so long, the people they represent, those to whom they give a good time and those whom they support. I will of course draw the attention of other departments to the nature of these organisations as requested by the noble Lord.
My Lords, we are talking about private clubs, and I have no idea why private clubs close. The Government are doing their best to support small businesses such as clubs, and have already granted them rate relief from £6,000 to £12,000 until March 2013. They are also ensuring that rural rate relief is available to public houses in particular, not all of which will have the club connections that the noble Lord refers to. The Government are doing what they can to support small business, particularly in the country, and they do not have a role in the closure of the clubs that he mentioned.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a number of clubs affiliated to the CIU contributed significantly in their early days to advancing political education throughout our country? Thanks in part to them, by the 1880s 100 towns had their own local House of Commons modelled on Westminster. Of those for which information survives, 33 had Liberal majorities and 26 had Tory majorities—33 Liberal against 26 Tory. I offer this on a day when my Liberal coalition colleagues might need a little consolation.
My Lords, it is very welcome that the Government have acknowledged this 150th anniversary and the tremendous work that has been done during that period—particularly the work, although he is too modest to point it out, done by my very good noble friend Lord Bilston both in his own area of Bilston, in Wolverhampton, and here in Parliament in the all-party group. The only thing on which I would like any elaboration is the Minister’s referral to this, I think, as a small business initiative. These are much more than small businesses. As has already been pointed out from her own Benches, these clubs have provided much broader services to their communities over the years. In fact, I would almost suggest to the Minister that she might place them in the category of government business headed “the big society”, because we invented it long before anyone else did.
My Lords, it is always dangerous to align anything with anything. I was trying to suggest that there was an opportunity for small business rate relief for these clubs—I drew attention to that. If I inadvertently said that they were small businesses, clearly that is not what they are; they are private clubs that do a good job for their members and have all the attributes that noble Lords have suggested. They have a valuable history and have seen a lot of people through some very difficult times, as well as through some enjoyable times. As my noble friend behind me suggested, they also have some political involvement.