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Rugby World Cup 2015

– in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 11th September 2015.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Barclay.)

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham 2:31 pm, 11th September 2015

After today’s incredible debate, I can truthfully say, “Now for something completely different.” In ancient Greece it was traditional for the actors in a heavy tragedy to return to the arena to perform a comic piece, because that is what the audience needed. My speech is not a comedy, but it will be a joyous piece; it is about rugby.

Soon the world will turn oval-shaped. In just 44 days maybe 3 million rugby fans will visit 11 cities, and maybe £2.2 billion will be contributed to our economy, but definitely some world-class rugby will be played in our country. My constituency will host 10 of the matches, including the first and last, because Twickenham is the alpha and the omega—we are the home—of rugby.

I am pleased that there is already been a legacy of sorts, because many of the people who were fortunate enough to get a ticket online also donated. The rugby world cup has partnered the UN World Food Programme and already 1 million World Food Programme meals have been funded, so the legacy has already started with the ticketing process.

VisitEngland is preparing for the sports tourists, and I am told that they tend to spend more money than other tourists.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South

Milton Keynes is one of the host venues for the rugby world cup, so I just want to add my congratulations to VisitBritain, VisitEngland, Destination Milton Keynes and all the other tourist organisations that are doing so much to market not only the world cup, but the other tourist attractions in the home areas.

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham

I absolutely concur with my hon. Friend. I have been to Milton Keynes on occasion. If it is anything like Twickenham, it will be looking even better as a result of the rugby celebration. All the host cities have already got the bug, which is brilliant.

We have a legacy in Twickenham that I do not believe my hon. Friend has in Milton Keynes, because we have had a Herculean transport project. I commend England Rugby 2015 for what they have been doing. Some residents have already said that their access permits have made the situation even better than it is on an average match day. I know that for every single match the project will be managing the traffic and making things as easy as possible for residents.

Of course, the best, most positive legacy will be if England wins the world cup.

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham

I am half Welsh, I must confess.

We will have a great legacy. I have to say that the England team is looking exceptionally good. Having watched them in August in the friendly with France and seen Anthony Watson score those two tries, there is a chance that England could win the world cup. However, as the Minister is well aware, there are no guarantees in competitive sport. That is why we enjoy sport at this level.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

My hon. Friend’s constituency is the home of the game of rugby; my constituency is its birthplace—where it all happened. The tourism opportunities she has mentioned are incredibly important. The challenge will be for England to do well in order to maintain that tourism offer. That is no more true than in my constituency, where we have a fan zone where we are expecting visitors, but we have no games. Let us all hope that England do particularly well during the tournament.

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham

I absolutely agree. I feel for my hon. Friend in not having any matches. Yesterday we had the Webb Ellis cup touring, and that invigorated people. I can assure him that we were thinking of him, with that trophy named in honour of his area.

For the legacy, we have to go beyond the stadium. The Rugby Football Union in Twickenham is an amazing sports business with annual revenues of over £150 million. It is doing great things in England for rugby, especially for schools and clubhouses up and down the country, and for training. Importantly for Twickenham, it has introduced rugby to some of our schools; I wish it was to all of them. It has given free tickets to some matches to residents who live nearby and are affected by the matches taking place. The RFU also has Home Turf, which is funding street festivals in Twickenham. Very commendably, it donates to charities such as the Dallaglio Foundation, which uses rugby to give young people other skills—life skills—showing that rugby goes beyond the stadium. The RFU is also very energy-conscious. That is important in my constituency, where many people are highly environmentally aware.

The RFU has a very good museum that holds exhibitions that are pertinent to locals. I was very proud that their exhibition of world war one heroes who were also rugby players had my grandfather’s medals—his Royal Flying Corps medals and his Military Cross—because he was a world war one hero and also a great rugby player.

We in Twickenham, and the RFU in particular, do look to the stadium. However, my concern, and the reason for this debate, is that some people in Twickenham consider the stadium to be more like a giant UFO that just happens to there. Some residents do not have on repeat on their smartphones iconic tries such as the one by Sir Gareth Edwards in the Barbarians-All Blacks game in 1973. Some residents do not think of those in the line-out statue as giants but more as extraterrestrials who just happen to be there. We have to look out for residents who are not completely in love with the game—we have to go beyond the sport.

This House has already debated the legacy of the Olympics, which led to many people taking up more sports.

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham

I will come on to that. I hope that people in Twickenham and in England generally will take up rugby. In my area, pre-school children are learning the ball skills of rugby through Rugbytots, which is independent and not run by the RFU.

Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker Conservative, Worcester

Coming from a rugby-mad constituency, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for initiating this debate. I want to mention the fantastic efforts of the Homeless Rugby community interest company. It has been doing brilliant, pioneering work in Worcester with the Warriors Community Foundation and will, in parallel with the rugby world cup, host the first homeless rugby international between England and Scotland in Newcastle later this year. Does my hon. Friend agree that raising awareness of homelessness can be a very important part of the legacy of this rugby world cup?

Photo of Tania Mathias Tania Mathias Conservative, Twickenham

I agree with my hon. Friend. I was not aware of that programme and I hope he will get me a ticket for that match—that is always a plus. It is amazing how much of an effect one sport can have. As I was told by the people running Rugbytots, it is not just about the sport: rugby is incredibly important for children developmentally. Women’s rugby and women’s rugby 7s are doing incredibly well, and it is wonderful to hear about the project in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Just yesterday I came across, from an experiential point of view, wheelchair rugby. I played it for about 15 minutes and was the weakest member of the team, but it is a brilliant sport that is thoroughly exciting to watch and frightening to play. It has come to everybody’s attention only because of the world cup. Rugby can provide a substantial legacy.

Chris Bryant tried to make a point about the legacy of the Olympics. I believe that the Olympics changed people’s sporting behaviour, but before the Olympics a social anthropologist told me that the games would not change behaviour. They said it was possible to predict that people who were sporty before, during and after the Olympics would still be sporty people now and that they might take up another sport or increase their sport participation for a time. The problem was that those who were non-sporty people before, during and after the Olympics, might watch and enjoy the games but would not change their behaviour, and would remain non-sporty people. Although I am passionate about rugby, I am concerned that a lot of people in Twickenham are not going to take it up, so the legacy has to go beyond that.

I was excited, surprised and pleased to hear this morning that the RFU has announced a community project at Murray Park in Whitton. That is fabulous, because the park is more than 100 years old and has a brilliant friends group. I am amazed and delighted that a legacy is already being created. I believe it will be of the order of £10,000, which is great, bearing in mind the annual revenue. I am also told that the community will be able to discuss and bid for other projects, which is absolutely brilliant. I am also amazed and delighted that just this morning the RFU announced that Twickenham may get a capital project. That is exactly what I wanted. Twickenham could get so many things from this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

A resident told me that there was a plan a while ago for affordable housing on the RFU land north of the stadium and that it would be wonderful if we could have such a legacy. My constituency is desperate for affordable, key-worker housing. Friends of the River Crane Environment—an incredibly important group in my constituency—tell me that the Duke of Northumberland’s River is right up against the RFU land. This is another opportunity for the community and the sport of rugby to come together to enhance our rivers and our biodiversity, which we are passionate about. That can also be part of our legacy.

Rugby is an amazingly exciting and creative game, and the legacy should also be exciting and creative. Everybody knows about the A316 because of all the lane closures and the need for a resident’s permit. One of the footbridges over the A316 needs upkeep and maintenance. It is desperately needed and used by primary schoolchildren going to St Stephen’s school, and we have campaigned to keep the bridge. How fabulous it would be if a “rugby bridge” could be one of the projects. There are so many legacy options. I am very glad that such excitement and creativity has begun today.

The volunteers have enhanced Twickenham. As I said in the debate on the Olympics, when I went from west London to the Olympics, I was blown away by the volunteers. What England Rugby 2011 have done, even at friendly games, with the Pack—that is what we call the volunteers—is transforming the experience of rugby in Twickenham. I am very pleased that the RFU will try to continue that legacy.

We have a chance to make a step change in Twickenham. It is an oval world, but a new world for rugby and Twickenham. I think that rugby has taken Twickenham for granted; perhaps Twickenham has taken rugby for granted. This is a chance to make a change. It is great that one community project has been announced today—I applaud it—but I challenge the RFU and other rugby bodies to increase the legacies both financially and by continuing them long term. We need such community involvement not just in world cup year, but in the years to come. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and other hon. Members for this debate.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2:47 pm, 11th September 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Mathias on securing this incredibly important and extremely timely debate. She and other hon. Members have made constructive and interesting contributions on an issue that is clearly of great importance to their constituents. As the Minister with responsibility for tourism, I also welcome and am grateful for the positive comments made about the valuable link between tourism and sport. We know that there is such a link, and we would like to make more of it.

I am delighted that the rugby world cup will be held in England and Wales this year. I am hugely looking forward to the action starting next week. I am confident that the tournament will enable us to show again our expertise in putting on successful major events, and that all the home nations’ teams will give their all and make us proud. The rugby world cup is one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar. It lasts six weeks, and is likely to be watched by a global TV audience of about 4 billion and by well over 2 million people in 13 stadiums in 11 cities across England and Wales. All 48 matches will be shown on terrestrial TV, thanks to ITV.

The organisers, England Rugby 2015, have been very successful in selling tickets for the matches. More than 2 million tickets have been sold at a range of prices, starting at £7 for children and £15 for adults at certain matches. Tickets are on sale for a number of matches, and additional tickets will be available on the official ticket site as fans re-sell unwanted tickets at face value. I know that not everyone who wanted a ticket has got one—my ears are as bent as those of a prop forward from pub regulars and colleagues telling me so—but I encourage those not yet fortunate enough to have secured a ticket to keep trying the official site.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

No, they should not use illegal sites. There are plenty of legal and official sites, on which tickets are still available.

Spectators attending matches will be helped and directed by the 6,000-strong Pack—the volunteers, whom my hon. Friend mentioned—who have been recruited from the rugby community in England and Wales, recognising those who support and deliver the game week in, week out, and from the general public.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

Will the Minister pay tribute to the broader rugby community, which is not just players but ex-players and kids, and to the great nature that exists between rugby supporters from all clubs and towns? When I take my friends to Twickenham stadium in the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr Mathias people ask, “Why are there so few police here? Are we at the England end or the other team’s end?” We do not need that segregation because the rugby community is so warm-hearted.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with my hon. Friend. The rugby community, whether at big games or local rugby clubs, is incredibly friendly. That is why volunteers have been recruited from the entire community and those who deliver the game week in, week out, which includes many volunteers from local clubs. We saw the impact of games makers at London 2012 on the enjoyment of spectators, and I am sure that the Pack will have a similar impact. That is an additional aspect of the legacy of big events such as this tournament and the Olympics.

Before I turn to more general comments about the wider legacy of the rugby world cup, I know that legitimate concerns have been raised by constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham about match-day events at Twickenham stadium. I am also reassured that tournament organisers have held a series of community engagement events to listen to local residents and businesses.

I appreciate that Twickenham residents, while used to rugby, may not have previously experienced this number of matches over a short period of time. This once-in-a-lifetime event will bring significant benefits to the local economy. I hope that the local council and local residents will appreciate that although it might interrupt their lives for a short period, they will get something positive out of it in future.

Turning now to the wider issue, it is vital that, as well as holding a successful tournament, we drive the best possible legacy from the event, both in terms of participation in rugby, and in the wider economic and social benefits. I am delighted that the RFU has put in place detailed plans, and earmarked significant resources for increasing participation in the grassroots of the game. That includes spreading the game in schools, especially state schools that have not traditionally played rugby. This programme has reached 130,000 pupils, one third of whom are girls. As a result 3,000 have joined clubs and are playing the game regularly.

In general, mini and junior sections are extremely strong in rugby clubs. There are 150,000 registered players and 6,000 teams in clubs with players between the ages of six and 13. Tag and touch rugby tournaments aimed at youngsters are becoming incredibly popular—I see that in my own local clubs, as I am sure do many others, where hundreds of children turn up to play rugby. I am sure that I am alone in my neighbourhood, but I find it more of a thrill than an irritation when on the odd day here or there parking is more difficult than usual because of the vast numbers of children playing rugby.

In addition, the legacy will include a programme to train new referees and coaches. Furthermore, building on my comments about little ones playing rugby, the O2 Touch Tour is helping to attract new players to touch rugby, and the Unity Project is building the game across parts of Europe that are at the development stage in rugby terms, linking English counties with European countries, and building relationships as well as the game of rugby.

It is great to see a number of different varieties of rugby being enjoyed—my hon. Friend mentioned wheelchair rugby, which is phenomenal to watch. We are also seeing developments in other areas, such as walking rugby, which can bring an older generation of players into the sport. The tournament is being celebrated at more than 700 events under the Festival of Rugby 2015 banner, which is on target to reach 1 million people. In addition, the Domestic Trophy Tour is taking the trophy around the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and will see 300 events in 100 days by the time it finishes next week—I believe that today is day 93. I feel I have been slightly stalked by the trophy, having seen it on a number of occasions, but it was an incredibly proud moment for my own local club—Aylesford Bulls—to host it last week, enabling the ladies premiership team to run a training session for all the youngsters who had turned up for a picture with the trophy. In turn I hope that that will inspire a future generation of boys and girls to get involved.

In addition to the RFU’s activities, others are using the tournament to promote their own legacy objectives. In one of the host cities, Exeter, all pupils from reception to year 2, across 23 primary schools, are receiving a “My First Rugby Ball” book, promoting rugby’s morals and values while increasing interest in the sport. The city has held an economic business benefits conference, established a cash for communities legacy fund and launched a healthy lifestyle initiative with Devon county council. These may be initiatives my hon. Friend’s own local council might want to pick up with Exeter to see if it can replicate them.

Those of us in government are also keen to drive a strong legacy from the Rugby world cup. UK Trade & Investment and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have plans in place to ensure that the many influential visitors we are expecting from important partner nations receive a warm welcome, and that we maximise the economic and political benefits to the UK. This will include a UKTI-led business festival, which will see events across the regions ensuring the positive effects of the tournament reach every corner of the country. The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games showed how legacy plans that are devised well in advance and implemented by a range of partners working together can pay huge dividends, including £14.2 billion in economic benefits through trade and investment.

There has been a large increase in sport participation since 2005, but I am concerned that the Active People survey shows recent falls in participation numbers among those aged 14 and over, including in rugby. I am therefore especially keen to see participation in rugby increase off the back of the Rugby world cup.

The wider issue of participation is something that the Department is currently consulting on. This will lead to a new strategy for sport, the first such strategy for 13 years. This is not the time to go into detail about the strategy, but I encourage everyone who cares about sport, including rugby, to take part in the consultation, which closes on 2 October.

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to this important event. I am sure that everyone here today will join me in wishing those taking part in and organising the event the best possible success over the next few weeks. I am confident we will be celebrating the tournament’s legacy long into the future.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.