New Clause 9. — (Non-Profit-Making Open Air Sports Clubs.)

Local Government (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th November 1966.

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Section 4(2) of the Local Government (Financial Provisions, &c.) (Scotland) Act 1962 shall be amended by inserting after the words 'are held on trust for use as an almshouse' the words 'or (c) are occupied for the purposes of a club, society or other organisation not established or conducted for profit and which are wholly or mainly based for the purposes of, or in connection with, open air games or for open air athletic sports', and in subsection (5) of the same section 4, for the words '(a) or (b) of subsection (2) of this section' there shall be substituted the words '(a) (b) and (c) of subsection (2) of this section'.—[Mr. Monro.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I was astonished that we took 65 minutes to agree that we all agreed with the last Clause and I hope that this friendliness and co-operation will continue for another five minutes, while I explain this one. Broadly and simply, the Clause sets out to make it mandatory for local authorities to reduce the rates on amateur sports grounds, recreation areas and on the buildings attached by 50 per cent.

The practical purpose is to further the interests of and help sports and recreation in Scotland. We all know that there are grants from central funds and from local education committees to sports bodies and clubs, and that many councils give remission of rates to village halls. Some authorities give 50 per cent., including Dumfriesshire, so I am not speaking on behalf of my own constituency: it already does what I seek to provide that others shall do.

Some authorities give a lower percentage—15 per cent. to 20 per cent. At the moment the power is permissive, and only a few local authorities use their power to give this relief. I am a great believer in giving local authorities the right to make their own decisions and to use their own discretion wherever possible, but on this subject some authorities seem unable to see the wood for the trees.

I have moved the new Clause for four reasons. The first is the value to the community of good recreational facilities. The second is to encourage sport and thereby to help youth clubs and sports clubs through the provision of opportunities to fill in the evenings and Saturdays and Sundays. I am very much aware that by giving help in respect of these facilities we may also be saving local authorities a great deal of capital expenditure in the provision of youth clubs. Thirdly, there is a feeling that the present situation is unfair because some authorities give this relief and some do not, and it would be very much better if all gave the same remissions.

Fourthly, it is important to realise that the cost would be relatively low, particularly in relation to the advantages. I remind the Minister that some clubs—for instance, a miners' welfare institute, of which I have the highest opinion—are derated entirely by Section 2 of the Charities Act, 1958. It is important to remember, too, that in England 50 per cent. remission of rates is given. I think that there is nothing that England can do that Scotland cannot do a good deal better.

I will give some specific instances to show the burden of this situation. I start by mentioning the Gala Rugby Club, which has an assessed value this year of £235. Last year, on the old valuation, the club had to pay £314, and it would be considerably more this year. At Hawick, the valuation is £265; again, it will be higher this year. At Selkirk, a relatively small burgh, the valuation is £125; they paid £115 last year and it will be higher this year. At Jedforest, the figure is £135 and at Gala Cricket Club, £75. At the Hawick Junior Club Ground, Volunteer Park, the assessment is £210. They paid that amount last year and presumably will be asked for more this year.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

I do not know too much about rugby clubs. We have not many of them in my part of the country. In connection with the well-known clubs which the hon. Member has mentioned, is there an admission charge to the game, or is the game open for anybody to see it without paying?

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

We are delighted to have as many spectators as possible, but there is a small charge at the gate. But these are non-profit-making amateur clubs. That is the point.

I will contrast this situation with that which exists in authorities which gave remission of rates. At Melrose, there is an assessed value of £245. Last year, they had to pay over £200 and they had a 15 per cent. relief from Melrose Town Council. At Langholm the valuation is £120 and they received a 50 per cent. relief from Dumfriesshire. At Kelso, a small burgh, last year the valuation was £180 and it is likely to go up in future. They would have had to pay no less than £208 last year. They had a 50 per cent. remission from the town council who appreciate the value and attraction of having first-class facilities available at the rugby ground there.

I want the Minister to take this Clause seriously. I do not want him to advance the argument which he has advanced in the past that he cannot accept it because it would include clubs with exclusive membership. By this I expect he means the Edinburgh and Glasgow Former Pupils Clubs. The point is that these clubs play on school grounds and use school pavilions, and they therefore do not pay rates. He cannot use that argument to defeat the new Clause.

If the Minister does not particularly like the wording of the Clause, I will inform him that I will accept the wording of Section 5(c) of the Local Government Act, 1962 which would cover most of the points which I am raising. I hope that he will accept this simple addition to the Bill. It is a worthwhile Clause and it will cost local authorities extremely little in comparison with the advantages which will be received.

7.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel , Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire

I rise very warmly to commend to the House and the Minister the proposal in the new Clause so ably moved by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro). I am not certain that he declared his interest as president of the Langholm Rugby Club, but he has been deeply concerned particularly with amateur rugby for a very long time. We have both at different times taken up the matter with the "Minister of Sport", the Joint Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science. If the Government go to the trouble of appointing a "Minister for Sport", with the object of encouraging the spread of amateur sports facilities and interest in sport among the young, it seems rather strange that they should resist this fairly logical demand which we have made.

I should like to give some examples not only of the rugby grounds, which the hon. Member mentioned, but of other sports facilities. I think in particular of non-profit-making clubs such as bowling clubs, which have a very small membership. I had a meeting recently with two such clubs in my constituency. Their rating assessments have gone up considerably and, from a membership mainly of old-age pensioners of between 20, 30 and 40 people, they are asked to raise between £56 and £70 in rates.

An even greater injustice arises here, as the hon. Member explained in relation to rugby grounds, in that different clubs are treated in different ways by local authorities under the present law. In Peeblesshire there are two bowling clubs in very similar circumstances, one in the Burgh of Innerleithen and the other two miles away in the landward area of Peeblesshire; and they are treated differently by the respective local authorities, but both face the same problems and provide the same facilities for the community.

I believe that the hon. Member has put forward a very sensible and moderate suggestion and I hope that the Secretary of State will consider it sympathetically.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will consider sympathetically the principle of the new Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) might also have had to declare an interest as a selector of the Scottish Rugby XV, because the Borders have at times supplied as many as half of that XV. Clearly, anything that will make it more difficult for rugby to continue in the way that it is carried on in the Borders is something which Scotland as a whole would regret.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

I do not dissent from the general point of the argument about the usefulness of this 50 per cent. rating relief to non-profit-making sports clubs. Indeed, although we do not have the figures—local authorities are not obliged to notify them to central Government—I know from communications which we have received that in the majority of cases where such application is made, it is granted. Very few complaints have come to our notice. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) has long carried this ball very persuasively and at times even effectively, but he has never quite scored a goal.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

I am not a rugger man, but a soccer man, coming from a good school.

What the hon. Member seeks to do by the new Clause is by mandate, by dictate of Parliament, to tell local authorities that, without their having a discretion, they would have to give rating relief, no matter who applied as long as the application qualified under the definition.

I admit that I would like to see many clubs getting rating relief, but we must remember that many clubs are rich and successful—[Interruption.]—although I am not talking specifically about rugby clubs. The new Clause would apply to sports clubs generally and there are more sports clubs than rugby clubs, which may come as a surprise to the hon. Member for Dumfries. The Government must be fair and must consider all the possible consequences of a proposal of this kind.

I have given the matter considerable thought, as have my officials, and we have tried to see a way round this difficulty. The simplest way to meet the objections specified by the hon. Member for Dumfries, who is able to quote certain clubs—the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) quoted other clubs—is to persuade the local authorities concerned to give consideration to this matter.

I will not say that all the clubs mentioned tonight deserve rating relief, since I have not studied their circumstances or know the views of the local authorities concerned. If these authorities are doing their work efficiently, I am sure that they are giving due consideration to this matter, in which case we would, if we accepted the new Clause, be imposing on them a decision which they disliked.

It is difficult to construct a provision which will not favour those clubs which do not deserve to be favoured and which should not be embraced in the general motives of the hon. Member for Dumfries in seeking this kind of mandatory relief. I am willing to urge local authorities—as I have done at meetings with the local authority associations—to be sympathetic to the requests of sports clubs which are not financially prosperous but which serve a useful social need.

If the hon. Member for Dumfries or any hon. Member can think of some other way of bringing pressure to bear on local authorities which are, perhaps, not doing their duty in judging the local situation and any applications that may be made, I am prepared to listen and see if I can be of any help. However, I counsel the House not to make the mistake of imposing by mandate on local authorities something which, on the whole, I believe they are carrying out successfully in the exercise of the discretion which Parliament has given to them.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak, but the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) who moved the new Clause, may speak again.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire

I welcome what the Minister said in reply, although it did not satisfy me. After all, if this can be dealt with by Statute in England I cannot see why it cannot be done in Scotland. I cannot believe that Scotland cannot provide Parliamentary draftsmen of equal merit. For that reason I do not propose to ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.

Question put and negatived.