Rugby Football

Oral Answers to Questions — National Heritage – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd March 1993.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain , Neath 12:00 am, 22nd March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he next intends to meet the authorities of the rugby football unions to discuss public funding for that sport.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

It is for the Sports Councils to decide how much, if any, financial support they wish to give to the rugby football unions. I have no immediate plans to meet the English Rugby Football Union.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain , Neath

Will the Minister consider changing those plans in order to meet the rugby union authorities? When he does so, will he discuss not only funding, but lifting the ban on the Neath player, Stuart Evans, a former Welsh rugby international whose rugby league contract with St. Helens expired two years ago? Is the Minister aware that France and Australia interpret the rules more flexibly than our own authorities? Moreover, to end the hypocrisy of shamateurism and to avoid the likely humiliation of the rugby authorities, should Mr. Evans take his case to the European Court, will the Government press for changes in the rules so that rugby players can play rugby union and the oppressive and anachronistic bans may be ended?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise this issue. It is, of course, for the rugby authorities to set and apply their own regulations and for players to decide which code they wish to play by and ensure that they are fully acquainted with those regulations. Only the courts can decide whether any breach of the law has occurred and it must be for the individual to decide whether to pursue the matter. The chairman of the Sports Council, Sir Peter Yarranton, has expressed his disappointment at this. He is a distinguished former English international and the immediate past president of the Rugby Football Union.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Does my hon. Friend agree that national rugby football unions should be self-funded? With respect, Wales would be better able to fund itself if it played better rugby and won more matches. Does my hon. Friend also agree that those authorities have a function in helping school children into the game more widely through the clubs and should be funded to that end?

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of sport for young people, both rugby union and rugby league. That is why a number of programmes of the Sports Council and other bodies fund such schemes.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe , Wakefield

Is the Minister aware of the contents of my early-day motion 1342, which has attracted 130 signatures from hon. Members of various parties, relating to the case of Mr. Steve Pilgrim, the Wasps rugby union player who was banned for a year by the rugby union for having an amateur trial with Leeds? He has not been signed by Leeds and now finds himself in a sporting no-man's-land. Is such an attitude appropriate for a sport which receives extensive public funding and in which players are already paid for playing rugby union, and rightly so? There are people in the Chamber now who have been paid for playing rugby union football.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

The latter point is a matter for dispute. The Rugby Football Union and the other rugby organisations are responsible for their own rules, but I accept the general tone of the hon. Gentleman's remark and I, too, am disappointed about that particular case.