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My Lords, on 17th April the Minister for Sport wrote to 153 of sport's governing bodies, representing 90 sports, outlining the benefits of charitable status. The Government believe that those governing bodies should actively encourage their member clubs to apply to become registered charities. They will be contacting more than 100,000 local sports clubs to outline the possible benefits and to give details of a regional Sport England advice line that will shortly be established to assist clubs with the application process.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very clear and helpful Answer. Does he agree that small sports clubs, covering sports such as tennis, bowls and cricket, in our villages and towns are incredibly important to our communities and that this recognition is long overdue? When I heard the Chancellor make that point, had I still been able to do so, I should have more than happily turned cartwheels round the room because this is such an important breakthrough. Will the Minister acknowledge the role played, first, by Sport England in making the case, secondly, that of the CCPR and the governing bodies, particularly today with Prince Philip at their helm, and, finally, that of all the Members of this House who have contributed so strongly to the debate over many, many years? There has been a real team effort and the victor has been sport.
My Lords, I am happy to join in the congratulations expressed to all those who have made this significant breakthrough in terms of support for sport. I believe we all recognise that the achievement of charitable status by community-based, amateur sports clubs will greatly help their often difficult finances. It will also help to nurture sport in the community—an objective which, I am sure, is shared by all Members of this House.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that all that glitters is not gold? Does he realise that becoming a charity costs the average amateur sports club between £3,000 and £5,000? Is he aware that the Scottish Charity Commissioners do not recognise the guidance given by the Charity Commission and that, as this is not a devolved matter, he should be able to answer for what happens in Scotland? Is he also aware that clubs would have to split profit-making activities, such as their bars and shops, away from the playing activities, but that that would be almost impossible for the average amateur sports club to do? Would it not be much easier to give a mandatory rate relief and call it a day?
My Lords, the latter was an alternative strategy that was widely canvassed and it had some merit. However, I do not believe that one should underestimate the burden of administration and bureaucracy on clubs applying for that status because the offices of accountants, and so on, would be greatly needed.
Every attempt is being made to streamline the process and to make it far more sensitive to the needs of small organisations such as small sports clubs. Against that background, the advantage of the Charity Commission proposals is that, once the initial application—I recognise that it would involve a cost—had been received, the element of bureaucracy and additional costs would reduce over time. Therefore, there are advantages to sports clubs in those terms.
With regard to the Scottish dimension, we hope to see the same strategy being adopted in Scotland as in England and Wales. I do not believe that anyone would doubt that this is a signal step forward for sports clubs, and the Scots would do well to follow suit.
My Lords, I thank the Government for the financial support that was suggested following the Budget. However, can the Minister give an undertaking that that financial support, which, effectively, involves giving money back to the sports clubs, will be in return for the work that they are already undertaking and will not be a pre-emption for saying that such clubs must take on more educational work in the future? If they must do so, will the Government agree that they will need to be given more support?
My Lords, I believe that the applications of the sports clubs will be judged on their merits in terms of their community sports facilities. The educative role to which the noble Lord referred is a dimension of that. However, I believe we all recognise that this measure is meant to encourage the provision of sport in the community. It is meant to be a positive step, and the Charity Commission and all the sports bodies concerned with promoting the advance of sport in our society will take every step to facilitate this development. Therefore, I believe that I can give the noble Lord the assurance that he requires.