Rates (Relief for Community Amateur Sports Clubs) Bill: Second Stage

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 20th October 2015.

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Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 4:00 pm, 20th October 2015

As a valid petition of concern was presented on Monday 19 October, the vote will be on a cross-community basis.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

I beg to move

That the Second Stage of the Rates (Relief for Community Amateur Sports Clubs) Bill [NIA Bill 59/11-16] be agreed.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I start by saying that it is one of the most extraordinary abuses that we have seen in the Assembly for this Bill and this issue to be subjected to a petition of concern and a cross-community vote. The public find extraordinary the levels to which some Members will stoop to torpedo such a proposal. The Bill, in effect, is torpedoed before the debate even starts. Some may ask, "So what is the point?". Members in certain parties should consider how abusive they are of this mechanism and of the Assembly. I hear some Members tutting, but that is exactly what it is.

It is a great shame that the DUP, knowing that many MLAs would support this measure, has decided to kill the Bill. Why? We will probably hear a number of red herrings. We have already heard a number of red herrings about state aid cases in England and the views of the hospitality sector, and I will return to those. However, this question also has to be asked: is it because the Minister, as she has already suggested, wants to bring her own Bill forward? Going by what members of her party have said on social media and on the radio today, that appears to be the case. We are coming rapidly to the end of this term. Legislation is no doubt piling up, and the Minister is bringing forward a Bill that may not even get to the Floor to be passed. It is important that community amateur sports clubs know that. I certainly hope that it is not because certain vested interests or businesses close to the DUP do not see it as being in their interests, although that would not surprise me.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

The party opposite has also said that the consultation was not appropriate and did not go far enough, but the Department and the Minister have said that, in bringing forward their Bill, they want to skip the Committee Stage. We have a Bill in front of us that, if passed today, would go to the Finance and Personnel Committee for proper Committee scrutiny. The party opposite has indicated that it wants to bring forward a Bill that would not be subject to such scrutiny. The appropriate mechanism for moving forward the issue of appropriate support for amateur sports clubs is this Bill. I believe that the party opposite knows that this is the only opportunity that we will get to put in place proper and effective support for our community amateur sports clubs, which are suffering. I believe that most parties in the Assembly recognise that this is a straightforward and simple proposal and one that we should vote for today.

What I find astonishing is the accusation that we are rushing into this: anything but. My constituency colleague Robin Swann MLA moved a motion in November 2011, which read:

"That this Assembly recognises the benefits which community and amateur sports clubs bring to local communities; notes the vital role which they play in encouraging participation in sporting activities and the contribution they make in promoting healthy lifestyles; and calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to raise the rate relief afforded to these clubs from 80% to 100% to ensure parity with equivalent clubs in" — what he refers to as —

"other parts of the UK." — [Official Report, Bound Volume 69, p49, col 2].

The motion was amended by the DUP to call upon the then Minister, Mr Sammy Wilson, to:

"examine the rate relief afforded to these clubs." — [Official Report, Bound Volume 69, p70, col 2].

There was no doubt at that time that the general view of Members was that an increase from 80% to 100% was a good thing. That was four years ago. If you go back nine years, there was a view that sports halls should have been included in the Rates Order 2006. I remember well my party colleague Barry McElduff raising that issue at the time on behalf of sports clubs in the locality. This is not a proposal that has been rushed into. Cearly, the opposite is the case.

At the outset, I thank the gentleman from Armoy who first gave me the idea of undertaking this work some three years ago. He shall remain anonymous, but I can assure Members that it is not Mervyn Storey. I also thank the Sports Forum, Ms Katie Nixon, Mr Ciaran Kearney and Mr Ken Armstrong, the manager of Belfast Bowls Club, and Patrice Hardy, who ably assisted me in our first presentation to the Finance Committee in May 2014.

There was huge support for the Bill. We received in excess of 1,000 responses in support — I am taking a sip of water for a reason — including Fermanagh District Council; Ballyclare Golf Club; Culbann Clay Pigeon Club; Lagan Valley Orienteers; St Brigid's Cross Community Amateur Boxing Club; Bernardines Cycling Club; Salto Gymnastics Centre; Glendowan Football Club; Dungannon Rugby Club; Aghalee Taekwondo Club; Saints Amateur Boxing Club; and Abbey Gymnastics. I read out all these names because these groups will not have an opportunity to contribute to the Committee Stage of the Bill by writing or by giving oral evidence. It is important that their contributions are put on the record.

There was also the Ulster Clay Pigeon Shooting Association; Greenisland Ladies Hockey Club; Valley Rangers Football Club; the Ulster Angling Federation; Coleraine Rugby Football and Cricket Club; Oak Athletic Football Club;

British Gymnastics; Slaughtneil GAC; Ballymoney Gymnastics; Twisters Gymnastics; the Asylum Weightlifting Club in Newtownards; Warrenpoint Town Football Club; Flight Gymnastics Academy; Ardmore Cricket and Football Club; Brigade Cricket Club; Banbridge Rugby Football Club; Belfast Shotokan Karate Club; Malone Rugby; Clogher Valley Rugby Football Club; Ulster Gliding Club; Pan-Disability Lisburn Badminton Club; NI Orienteering; Coleraine Yacht Club; Antrim Hockey Club; the Ulster branch of the Irish Rugby Football Union; the Ulster Seaplane Association; Ballyclare Rugby Football Club; Kazoku Karate; Carrickfergus Rugby Football Club; Sandy Hill Football Club; McQuillan GAC Ballycastle; Belfast Canoe Club; Armagh Rugby Club; Lurgan Institute FC; Beragh Red Knights from west Tyrone; Donaghadee Ladies Netball Club; Ballymena Rugby Club; Loughgiel Shamrocks; Craigavon City Football Club; Duffin Transport Cycling Club; Carrickfergus Ladies Junior Hockey Club; St Joseph's Amateur Boxing Club; University of Ulster Jordanstown Canoe Club; Causeway Coast Kayak Association; Ballymena Road Club; Banbridge District Council; Mossley Hockey Club; North Down Cycling Club; Apollo Cycling Team; Banbridge Hockey Club; Larne Rugby Football Club; Belfast Harlequins; Dunbarton Bowling Club; Randalstown Ladies Hockey Club; Lakeland Cycling Club; Strabane Lifford Cycling Club; Rainey Old Boys Rugby Football Club; City of Derry Rugby Football Club; North Down Cycling Club; Tyrone GAA; Bangor Men's Hockey Club; East Coast Athletic Club; Armagh City FC; Portglenone GAC and Geraldine's Camogie Club; Killyclooney Cricket Club; Strabane Cricket Club; Fivemiletown United; Pegasus Hockey Club; Moyola Park Football Club; Limavady Cricket and Rugby Club; Bready Cricket Club; Holywood Ladies Hockey Club; Coleraine Ladies Hockey Club; Bann Rowing Club; Downpatrick Cricket Club; Riverdale Football Club; Redhog Wrestling Club; Chimney Corner FC; Kaizen Ju-Jitsu Association; Randalstown Rugby Football Club; Falls Bowling Club; St Mary's GAC Rasharkin; Grosvenor Rugby Football Club; Dundrum Cricket Club; Laurel Vale Cricket Club; Carnmoney Ladies Football Club; Portadown Tennis Club; Carniny Amateur and Youth Football Club; Loughgiel Camogie Club; Maghera Cricket Club; GoLift Weightlifting, Newtownabbey; Omagh Thunder Basketball Club; Cuchullains Dunloy; Tandragee Rovers; Splits and Flips Gymnastics; Glentoran Football Club; East Belfast Yacht Club; Lisburn Racquets; Ballynafeigh Tennis and Squash Club; Comber Recreation Football Club; Ballynagross FC; Aquinas FC; Larne Football Club; Sydenham United Football Club; Causeway Netball Club; Ardglass Football Club; the NI Ju-Jitsu Association; Northend United FC; Swim Ulster; The Star Amateur Boxing Club; Carnlough Swifts Football Club; St Mary's GAC, Ahoghill; Ulster GAA; and Ballykelly Cross-community Amateur Boxing Club. They are all in favour of the Bill.

That is to name but a few. I could have put Members through a lot more names of clubs that responded to the consultation.

In total, out of 1,033 replies to the consultation, 1,022 supported the proposal, five were against and six were unsure. It is supported by the NI Sports Forum, the Irish Football Association, the Gaelic Athletic Association and Ulster Rugby. The Sports Forum carried out a survey of members that showed that the move would help to relieve stress on clubs and would result in huge benefits for the entire community. We also had overwhelming support at public consultations, which we held in Enniskillen, Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane and Belfast. What was quite clear from those public consultations is that clubs are suffering. There has been an economic downturn and there is less money for sponsorship. I know of a rugby club in my constituency that had quite a significant sponsor who fell on hard times, and the club now has to try to fill the gap that has been left.

There is less support in place here for community amateur sports clubs than there is for such clubs in the South or indeed across the water. That is outlined in excellent research by Colin Pidgeon, which was produced in this Building. In the South, the Valuation Act, 2001 outlined the grand design that sport is exempt from rates. That refers to outdoor surfaces, including football pitches, tennis courts, racecourses and golf courses, but not fixed buildings and structures. However, a further rates exemption in the same Act concerns properties that are used as community halls. They are not used primarily for profit or gain, but involve the participation of local inhabitants for recreational or other social purposes. It excludes halls that sell alcohol but, all in all, there is a much better deal in the South for clubs than there is in the North.

Under the community amateur sports club (CASC) scheme in Britain, clubs can avail of an 80% relief from non-domestic rates, and there is discretion for the remaining 20% to be relieved by local authorities. Again, we do not have such an option in the North.

Amateur clubs and their volunteers save us millions of pounds. They save money for central government, here at the Assembly, and local government. If those clubs were not there, and if they did not fundraise and put in place pitches and halls for sporting activities, then local councils would have to provide the facilities instead. So, local councils have saved millions of pounds over the years through the activities, voluntary work and fundraising in the community that clubs have carried out.

Such clubs have also saved us significant money in physical and mental health costs. Clubs clearly prevent health problems, such as obesity, from developing. This is not appreciated enough. Recent figures showed that, in 2006-07, spending on sport contributed £452 million per annum to the economy, or 2% of GDP. The 2010 DCAL and Sport NI publication, 'Economic Importance of Sport in NI', found that sport-related activity adds £638·6 million to the economy, which is 2·3% of total gross value added (GVA).

For me, the real benefit is public health. This Bill will help to deliver better health outcomes, because sport tackles obesity, sport tackles diabetes and sport improves our mental health and well-being. What is the cost of obesity? In 2012, an estimate put the cost of treating obesity at £3 million per annum. It put the cost of lost earnings due to premature death at £22 million, and the cost of lost earnings due to illness at £47 million. The total economic cost between 2007 and 2008 — and it would have risen significantly since then — was estimated at £350 million. The indirect costs of being overweight and obese are estimated at £7·4 million.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

A 2012 all-Ireland study concluded:

"The findings on the cost of overweight and obesity highlight the need for significant investment in research to examine the influence of fiscal and other Government policies on consumer purchasing and their impact on overweight and obesity, including, for example, risk-benefits assessment of taxation that supports healthy eating and active living."

At a recent knowledge exchange seminar in the Assembly, Hassan and Hughes stated:

"For all the underlying scepticism and caution, however, in the main there appears to be an emerging, credible body of literature reporting an association between organised youth sports and positive health-related, educational and social outcomes. This is specifically the case in relation to youth with lower capabilities for participation due to economic, cultural or social features, as sports are viewed as an opportunity to engage such vulnerable young people in a leisure context, not only in terms of participation in sports but also across a range of related activities. For example, in a recent British cohort study, it was found that for vulnerable groups, sport club attendance at the age of 16 years reduced the chances of social exclusion outcomes at the age of 30 years."

The evidence is overwhelming. Sports clubs provide a public service, yet they get little in return. I urge Members to use their foresight to see the benefits. A lot of clubs are holding back on capital build and investment because of the additional rates burden. With a full rates exemption and extra finance, the Bill would give the green light for new changing rooms, new stands, new pitches and new facilities for communities in rural and urban areas alike.

I hope that the Assembly will support the Bill today. It is quite clear that the Bill will not apply to bars. There has been a bit of confusion out there, and it has been deliberately put about that the Bill will cover bars, but it will not. Existing legislation is in place, but I have taken into account the views of those in the hospitality sector. I have spoken to bar owners who are supporters of amateur sports clubs and amateur sport, and they have no issue with the Bill. They believe that it is fair and balanced. The fact that 100% relief will not apply to licensed premises on clubs is the common-sense way forward. I do not understand — maybe I do understand — some approaches that have been taken, but they certainly do not stand up to scrutiny.

It has been said that this was bad consultation. We had over 1,000 replies. How many consultations by the Department of Finance and Personnel get over 100 replies never mind 1,000? The consultation has been comprehensive. Over the summer, the Committee put out a call for witnesses to come forward. There were no responses to that, but no concerns were raised. The impression is given that there is huge concern out there about the Bill. There is not huge concern, and the public overwhelmingly support it. The reaction on social media and Twitter last night backs that up.

I tried to get figures from the Department on costs. The latest DFP figure for the cost of community amateur sports clubs — I need to attach caution to this — is £420,000 per annum. I recognise that, with the introduction of rates relief and the number of clubs applying to join CASC schemes, that figure would certainly rise. All in all, if the cost is £1 million, £2 million or £3 million, you are getting more back in return than you are losing in revenue.

This is a public service that delivers health and well-being. I represent a rural constituency, and I know that a number of clubs in rural areas have diversified more and more in recent years to offer more health and well-being activities. Events such as the biggest loser —a competition to lose weight — involve a lot of physical activity, including running. Competition in a community helps to bring it together and increase social cohesion. Community and amateur sports clubs organise marathons, half-marathons, cycling events and health awareness days. They increase suicide awareness, which is a big issue in rural areas. They offer critical support to young people at a very vulnerable time in their life. They teach young people leadership and provide life skills. That, taken as a whole, is a significant public service that needs to be recognised.

The Bill would amend the Rates (NI) Order 1977. At present, amateur sports clubs can avail themselves of rates relief of 80%. To qualify for the relief, an amateur sports club must comply with the requirements of article 31 and, in particular, fall within the definition of a prescribed recreation, as outlined in legislation. My amendments to the 1977 order would exempt community amateur sports clubs from the payment of rates.

CASC schemes were introduced in 2002 to support grass-roots sport and encourage local amateur sports clubs to register with HMRC as a sports club, rather than a business, for rates and tax purposes. Clubs that are not community amateur sports clubs would continue to be able to avail themselves of the 80% rates relief, and clubs registered as CASCs would get 100% rates relief. The 100% rate would not apply to any part of a club that sold alcohol, other than by way of occasional licence, but would apply to the rest of the club premises — halls, gym facilities, playing fields etc. <BR/>The Bill has four clauses. Clause 1 would amend article 31 of the 1977 order. Clause 1(2) to clause 1)(6) would amend article 31 to outline two categories of hereditament: one that includes CASCs; and one that applies to other clubs that currently benefit from relief.

Clause 1(7) inserts a new paragraph that would effect 100% relief for CASCs. Clause 1(8) would apply the apportionment provisions for CASCs. In other words, where part of the hereditament was shown on the net annual value list as not being used for qualifying purposes, it would be valued at the normal rate.

Clause 1(9) and 1(10) would add new definitions of licensed premises, qualifying purposes and registered CASCs and make clear that licensed premises cannot be considered for qualifying purposes.

Clause 2 would amend article 44 of the 1977 order and allow for apportionment of net annual value between parts used for qualifying purposes and other parts. It simply states that such apportionment should be shown on the list.

Clause 3 states that the Bill would come into operation the day after it completes the legislative process.

Clause 4 provides the short title, and that is all there is to it.

The Bill would not cost the earth. It would, on the basis of the CASC list, cost £420,000, as I said. If you were to take into consideration community amateur sports clubs and amateur sports clubs not covered by the CASC definition, the cost, going by the latest figures, would be somewhere in the region of £1·4 million. At the public meetings that we held, a lot of clubs said that they wanted to expand their services and build new stands and new club rooms. They are factoring in the additional rates costs that they would have year-on-year.

It is preventing them from doing those things. Although they would gladly meet the upfront capital cost for such expansions, they are wary of having the additional rates cost year on year, and they believe that that is putting those projects beyond their reach.

One respondent to the consultation referred to the epidemic of obesity, especially among the youth. They said that it is the promotion of:

"amateur sports participation that will prove the most cost effective method of preventing soaring health costs that will cripple our economy. The small loss of revenue from rates exempting amateur clubs is more than compensated by it being a significant investment in proactive health care."

I think there is no better way of putting it. Amateur sports clubs give proactive healthcare to our communities.

To cite another example, Ken Armstrong of Belfast Indoor Bowls Club outlined to the Finance Committee that it has a rates bill of some £13,000 per annum, even with the existing rates relief. That does not include increases in utility costs, such as lighting and electricity, that they are also struggling with. They want to invest, but the rates overheads are blocking that.

To conclude, this is a progressive Bill. It is a potential good news story for the Assembly and the Administration. It is a minimal cost for significant health and social impact. In terms of the process, this is the Bill's Second Stage. We have a Committee Stage, where all of the parties in the Chamber, if they have issues with the Bill, can tease them out. We have Consideration Stage, where the Department or any party in the House can put forward amendments to the Bill. We have Further Consideration Stage, where any party in the House or the Department can put forward amendments to the Bill, and we have Final Stage, so if some parties are not happy, they can vote against it at that stage.

I believe that it is a great shame that the DUP has not allowed us to have that debate. They have abused the process, the Assembly and the Chamber. Once again today, they give this place a bad name, because amateur sports clubs across the North will be disappointed that we could not even have the conversation and debate applying that much-needed relief to our grass-roots communities. I look forward to what the Minister says. I do not believe that she can provide any reasonable excuse for the petition of concern, but, at the end of the day, the Bill is on the table and should have been given consideration like any other Bill. Had Members wanted to vote the Bill down today, I would have been happy enough to accept that, but it is not a Bill that should ever have been subject to a petition of concern.

I look forward to the debate among Members this afternoon.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:30 pm, 20th October 2015

Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Éirím le labhairt ar son an Choiste Airgeadais agus Pearsanra ar an Dara Céim den Bhille faoiseamh rátaí do chlubanna spóirt amaitéaracha. I dtús báire, beidh mé ag labhairt ar son an Choiste agus, ina dhiaidh sin, ar son mo pháirtí féin.

I rise to speak, initially, on behalf of the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the Rates (Relief for Community Amateur Sports Clubs) Bill and, subsequently, on behalf of my own party.

I want to begin by thanking the Member for outlining the general principles of his Bill and his rationale for bringing forward the proposed legislation. I also welcome the opportunity to debate the Bill on behalf of the Committee for Finance and Personnel, which, unfortunately, it seems, will now not have the opportunity to scrutinise it because of the laying of a petition of concern.

Rather than rehearse the main principles of the Bill, as the sponsor has already outlined them, I shall briefly refer to the main points that arose from the Committee's preliminary consideration of the policy proposals in the Bill. In undertaking its preliminary scrutiny of the proposals, the Committee found itself in the unusual, if not unique, position of the Committee's Chairperson also being the Bill's sponsor. Procedural advice was received on good practice for handling such a scenario, and that resulted in the Chairperson stepping aside from the Chair and declaring the necessary interest during the discussions on the proposed Bill. I take the opportunity to declare an interest as a member of St Patrick's Gaelic Football Club, Carrickcruppen. I expect that that approach would be continued by the Chair were the Bill to be referred to Committee Stage, but, as I said earlier, it appears that that will not be the case.

The Committee received an initial oral briefing from the Bill's sponsor on 7 May 2014. Mr McKay was accompanied by Mr Ken Armstrong, who represented the Belfast Indoor Bowls Club, and Miss Katie Nixon, who represented the Northern Ireland Sports Forum. During that session, the witness highlighted a number of points, including the important contribution that is made to local communities by amateur sports clubs, including the value of volunteering. He also mentioned the public, physical and mental health benefits of sport, including preventive spending on conditions such as obesity and diabetes. The other social benefits included better community relations, a stronger community spirit and activities for young people that lead to a reduction in antisocial behaviour.

The Bill's sponsor referred to the comparatively more generous arrangements in other places. He also referred to the increased financial pressures on amateur sport clubs, with increased utility costs and other overheads, and reduced opportunities for commercial sponsorship. The witnesses also pointed to the diversity of sports cubs that responded to the policy consultation and the overwhelmingly positive response in that regard. Finally, the point was made that the cost of increasing the rates relief from 80% to 100% would be modest in comparison with the potential benefits.

Another issue that was identified during the evidence session on 7 May 2014 was the potential for sports clubs that are registered as community amateur sports clubs — CASCs — to be disadvantaged in comparison with those that are registered charities, with the latter being able to avail themselves of 100% rates relief. A further issue was raised about circumstances in which professionals and amateurs share premises.

In pursuing those and the other issues that were discussed, the Committee commissioned the Assembly's Research and Information Service to examine the position in Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The research found that, on the additional discretionary 20% relief that is offered by authorities in Britain, the criteria varied considerably from authority to authority. While the most frequently used criterion relates to a club's provision of licensed bar facilities, such a provision does not necessarily prevent the club from receiving relief.

Also, clubs do not necessarily have to own the facilities they use to qualify for CASC status. Amateur clubs that share facilities with professional clubs are not automatically prevented from receiving CASC status. In that regard, CASCs are allowed to pay professional members up to a limit of £10,000 per year to coach, work in the club and play.

Following the introduction of the Bill before the summer recess and with a view to maximising the use of the time available, the Committee issued a call for evidence, which ran from 8 July to 2 September 2015. While that included public notices being placed in provincial papers and on digital media, only one submission was received. That was from Hospitality Ulster, formerly known as Pubs of Ulster. In its submission, which was circulated to Committee members ahead of today's debate, Hospitality Ulster raised concerns that many of the clubs that will benefit under the Bill are licensed premises and that many of them operate as commercial businesses in direct competition with pubs, hotels and restaurants.

Hospitality Ulster further argued:

"Any revised rating model for sports clubs should take account of the hospitality industry's circumstances and its role as a key economic driver by not introducing any rate relief scheme that will result in additional unfair competition. This could be done by limiting the relief to unlicensed sports clubs."

Given that concern, I note that the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill states:

"The 100% rate relief will not apply to the part of the club which sells alcohol (other than by way of occasional licence) but will apply to the rest of the club premises (i.e. gyms, playing fields etc.)."

In more recent correspondence circulated to Committee members yesterday, Hospitality Ulster acknowledges that point but calls for the Assembly to delay the Bill and to include this matter in the review of business rates, which is to be undertaken by DFP. I expect, therefore, that Members will want to consider this issue further during today's debate. No doubt, if the Bill were to move to Committee Stage, there would be a further opportunity for all stakeholders, including the business community, to provide their views on the proposals and to put forward suggestions for any necessary amendments.

Finally, the Committee is aware that DFP raised concerns about the Bill that were outlined in correspondence from the Minister of Finance and during oral evidence from departmental officials on 15 September 2015. Indeed, the Department indicated that it would oppose the Bill as drafted. I expect that the Minister will explain that in more detail today, but from the briefing received on 15 September, the opposition appears to be on the basis of DFP seeing a need for further consultation and policy development to take account of the views of the business community and some other Departments. The Department has argued that a more suitable vehicle would be its proposed Rates (Amendment) Bill, which would include an enabling power to allow provision to be made for enhanced relief through subordinate legislation at a later date and following consultation with the business community.

In closing, I look forward to further contributions from other Members, and I am sure that, if the Bill were to progress to Committee Stage, the Committee would ensure that it would receive robust scrutiny and that the views of all the stakeholders, including the sports bodies, as well as the business groups, would be heard.

That finishes my contribution on behalf of the Committee for Finance and Personnel.

I move now to my comments on behalf of the SDLP. The SDLP supports the general principles behind the Bill and will be voting in favour of it at this its Second Stage. The reasons for that are clear: we believe that the general principles behind the Bill are worthwhile, positive and beneficial to the whole community in Northern Ireland. The health benefits — physical and mental — have been outlined by the sponsor of the Bill. He referred to the beneficial effects that the provisions of the Bill could have on such illnesses as diabetes and obesity, in general, so one could say that the Bill could be categorised as an invest-to-save measure.

It is clear that community sports clubs contribute hugely to community cohesion. We all know that sport brings people together, not only in a single-identity community but on a cross-community basis. Sport improves community spirits and lifts communities, and the health benefits from sport range across all age groups, from the young to older people.

The voluntary effort that is put into the work of community sports clubs is huge; it is difficult to quantify in monetary terms, but it is huge. It is only but right that government should repay that effort in the small way that the Bill proposes. As I said earlier, the investment is miniscule compared with the huge advantages that could ensue from the Bill. The provisions of the Bill would enable community sports clubs to provide greater investment in better facilities and equipment for their members.

We heard from the sponsor the wide and diverse support that there is from sports clubs across Northern Ireland and the community. Indeed, he said that the list that he read out, which took some time, was not exhaustive. So there is a huge groundswell of support for this measure among sports clubs and sportspeople, and I think that the Department and the House should take cognisance of that.

I regret that it looks as if the Bill will not benefit from robust Committee Stage scrutiny. I am sure that the Committee Stage would have enabled members of the Committee to iron out any anomalies and to fine-tune the Bill. Indeed, amendments could have been brought forward at Consideration Stage and at Further Consideration Stage. The laying of a petition of concern is highly inappropriate. I believe that it is anti-democratic in so far as it denies the democratic institutions here the opportunity to examine, improve and scrutinise an important piece of legislation that would benefit the whole community.

Last night, I watched a programme on BBC Two. It was called 'Taobh Thiar den Gheansaí' or 'Behind the Jersey'. A young man from Belfast, Ainle Ó Cairealláin, looked at the problem of suicide among young sportspeople in the GAA. He also examined the measures that were taken by the organisation to improve the mental health of its young members. The message that constantly came from the various sections in that programme was that it is OK to talk. That is an example of the type of work that community sports clubs do for the mental health of young people. I believe that this measure would give them even more facility to do even more work and to improve even more the mental health of the young people who use their facilities and who are their members.

It is the cause of some regret that the petition of concern that has been laid will not allow us to progress this Bill. That having been said, the SDLP agrees with its general principles. We commend the Member for bringing it forward, and we urge all Members of the House to support it.

A LeasCheann Comhairle, críochnóidh mé ar an phointe sin. Go raibh céad maith agat.

Photo of Neil Somerville Neil Somerville UUP 5:00 pm, 20th October 2015

The Bill deals with a subject that has previously been before the House. In November 2011, an Ulster Unionist motion called:

"That this Assembly recognises the benefits which community and amateur sports clubs bring to local communities; notes the vital role which they play in encouraging participation in sporting activities and the contribution they make in promoting healthy lifestyles; and calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to raise the rate relief afforded to these clubs from 80% to 100% to ensure parity with equivalent clubs in other parts of the UK." — [Official Report, Bound Volume 69, p49]

The arguments advanced in favour of this measure in 2011 still hold true today. The Bill that is currently before us has the same intent, and therefore I am happy to say at the outset that it will receive support from the Ulster Unionist Party.

However, it is a matter of deep disappointment that the DUP has chosen to table a petition of concern against this Bill. As a result, it is doomed to failure. This is nothing less than an abuse of the process. Petitions of concern were designed to protect minorities from being discriminated against. They were never intended to be used as a mechanism to thwart what one might term "run-of-the-mill" legislation. It is precisely this type of action that helps to bring the Assembly into disrepute. In recent weeks, we have witnessed the unedifying spectacle of DUP Ministers signing in and resigning. We have had empty Benches as the Assembly debated waiting lists and autism, yet the DUP managed to turn up to protect the pay and conditions of its highly paid special advisers. By the end of the day, the public will draw their own conclusion on who and what the DUP exists to serve.

Had the DUP not taken the action to table a petition of concern, we would have been here today debating a Bill that would make a real, positive difference to the lives of many citizens. Sadly, the actions of the DUP have rendered the debate academic. A rates reduction would have been a great boost to dozens of sports clubs throughout Northern Ireland. Currently, amateur sports clubs in Northern Ireland can, under article 31 of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, qualify for a rate relief of 80%. This Bill would amend the 1977 Order to make them exempt from rates; a measure which would have been of great financial benefit to them. It is undoubtedly the case that, in recent years, many sports clubs have been struggling to make ends meet.

The community amateur sports clubs scheme was introduced in April 2002 to support grass-roots sport. It enables local amateur sports clubs to register with Revenue and Customs as a sports club rather than as a business so that they can benefit from a range of tax reliefs, including gift aid. The conditions for becoming a community amateur sports club are as follows: a club must be open to the whole community; be organised on an amateur basis; have as its main purpose providing facilities for and promoting participation in one or more eligible sports; meet the location requirement; and meet the management conditions.

There is no question that such clubs play a positive role in their communities. They help to improve public health by encouraging participation in healthy sporting activities. They promote individual self-discipline, build the concept of teamwork, help to reduce antisocial behaviour, promote local pride and draw in young people. There are obvious benefits in terms of physical and mental health and in the prevention of obesity and illnesses such as diabetes.

There are an estimated 37,000 volunteers in community sports in Northern Ireland, and a wide variety of sports are affected, ranging from football, rugby and Gaelic games right through to badminton, athletics, tennis, squash and sailing, to name but a few. As Mr McKay has already noted, my party colleague Robin Swann has been working closely with the Northern Ireland pigeon association to bring forward an amendment that would have seen homing pigeon club halls across Northern Ireland being exempt from rates.

The DUP will have to explain its reasoning to that association and every other sports club in the country whose hopes of a major economic boost have been dashed. Figures from 2010-11 indicated that the figure for the cost of this measure was £1·4 million. This is not a massive figure in terms of the overall Northern Ireland Budget, and, bearing in mind the existing and projected costs to the health budget of diabetes and obesity, it would be money very well spent on prevention.

No doubt, the DUP will try to explain why it has chosen to vote this measure down. One excuse that is not open to it is the notion that the Department of Finance and Personnel is planning to bring its own Bill forward. The Department has had almost four years, since 22 November 2011, to do that. How much time does it need?

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I want to commend Daithí McKay for moving the Second Stage of the Rates (Relief for Community Amateur Sports Clubs) Bill. At the outset of my contribution, I want to note that the objective of the Bill is to exempt community amateur sports clubs from the payment of rates.

I am very heartened by the comments of Neil Somerville and Dominic Bradley in the debate. There is a consensus, one would suggest, on the importance of this issue. The tabling of a petition of concern by the DUP, to effectively guillotine it from this point onwards, has been criticised in this discussion of the Bill. The sponsor of the Bill said that that amounted to an extraordinary abuse. Other Members have suggested that robust scrutiny lay ahead at different stages of consideration, not least the Committee Stage of the Bill. "Truly astonishing" is another phrase that has been used to describe the blocking of the Bill.

I want to amplify that there is huge support for the Bill in the community. That is why the question that has already been presented for those bringing the petition of concern is this: who do you exist to serve, when such a blatant abuse of the petition of concern mechanism has taken place?

As Daithí explained, well over a thousand responses came in. I attended an event at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh, which was very well attended and participated in by clubs in our community across numerous sporting codes. I distinctly remember the enthusiasm of Omagh Lawn Tennis Club for this Bill, and also that of Omagh Bowling Club and Drumragh Sarsfields GAC. Those are three of the clubs that I remember being particularly enthusiastic at the Omagh consultation event. I thought that it was appropriate that Daithí should read from the list because it is clear from the geography and the sporting codes that he referred to that this is absolutely cross-community in its character.

Other Members have talked about the important contribution to local communities made by sports clubs, and it is not too great an exaggeration to say that, in many communities, the sports club is the community — the very essence of the community. That sports club takes on many more functions than merely providing sport and recreation. In my community, GAA clubs in particular are increasingly becoming the health promotion agency in our communities. They are synonymous with the fight against obesity, the fight against diabetes and increasing people's participation in sport in a very targeted way. Football for mums and all of these types of initiatives are emanating from community-rooted sports clubs. I believe that this society in the North and all over the island of Ireland could go forward as an exemplar for the rest of Europe and, indeed, the world, in community rootedness in sport.

I also welcome the fact that the sponsor of the Bill was very clear in his assertion that this does not refer to public bar aspects of club rooms, for example, and that that would be dealt with separately. Indeed, certainly in my community, very few clubs actually have bars. In fact, the ones that are most successful on the field of play tend not to have bars. I could be entering into stormy waters there if there is a tight scrutiny on that in Tyrone. For example, Trillick St Macartan's won the county title this year, and that club does not have a bar. The entire community got behind the Trillick club in its quest for glory this year. On the day of the county final, you would have needed somebody left behind in the community to act as a caretaker because there would not have been a sinner in Trillick that day. The McCanns and the Donnellys and the Gormleys were all in Omagh; every single one of them. This is proper community-rooted stuff, and I have to say that I cannot understand the rationale for opposing it. That is why I was heartened by Neil Somerville's contribution, which reinforced my notion that the idea that this would be blocked defies any rationale. It was a very good process that Daithí McKay undertook. It was a very robust consultation exercise, with strong public interest.

I also agree with the argument that has been made that increasing or retaining the rates burden on amateur sports clubs prevents their capacity for capital development. That is a very strong point. During the debate on the Bill, I noticed some people from my community who I believe are here this evening for a local government event. Some of them are involved in the hospitality industry, and I signalled to one or two of them that I would like to have a chat with them outside. I conducted my own vox pop with those hospitality providers in our community about their views on this Bill. They were universally supportive of it.

I have to ask this question: how representative is Hospitality Ulster, with its grand title? I do not think that it can presume to speak for the hospitality industry in the Province of Ulster. I think that it is out of touch and is way off beam here. It ignores the good working relations between publicans and sporting clubs. I would just —

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Member agree that many sports clubs hold their annual awards ceremonies in the local hotel, restaurant, lounge or whatever? So, many sports clubs increase, rather take away, trade to the hospitality industry.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

Absolutely. There are countless examples of that. Gala dinners are taken to hotels, by and large. Take a small community like Beragh: it is my understanding that 800 people attended the Beragh Red Knights' gala dinner. The Member for Newry and Armagh will be glad to hear that some Tyrone people even go to Armagh for those dinners. On occasion, we go to the Armagh City Hotel and such places to have these big gala dinners. Sometimes — and I ask DUP Members to close their ears — we go South to the Hillgrove in Monaghan, to Ballybofey or to Bundoran. Sports clubs are massive contributors to the hospitality industry. For me, I seriously question the bona fides of this outfit that describes itself as Hospitality Ulster, because it is misrepresenting the communities that I come from. It is a stranger to my experience.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order, please. Lest I get a complaint later on, I must remind the Member that that particular organisation is not present.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

That is fine. Nonetheless, I am happy to stand over my general sense here that Hospitality Ulster does not deserve that title. I call on it to abandon that title because it does not represent anybody I know; it is a stranger to my experience. Thank you.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I take it, Mr McElduff, that you are finished.

Photo of Bronwyn McGahan Bronwyn McGahan Sinn Féin

A Cheann Comhairle, I thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of full rates relief for amateur sports clubs. As a former Gaelic footballer and member of Gaelic4Mothers, which belongs to the Oonagh Celts club in Tyrone, and as a keen cyclist involved with my local club, I have a deep personal interest in the issue.

Amateur sporting groups are part of the fabric of our communities and are essential to the future welfare of our young people, in particular. For many of our citizens, the maxim "Club is Life" rings very true. As we know only too well, amateur sports clubs, rural and urban, are currently under pressure financially, and we know that one of the main reasons for that is the economic downturn, as well as the opportunistic and deliberate British Government policy of austerity, which is having a negative effect on fundraising in the communities in which amateur clubs are organised.

The drying up of sponsorship from local construction firms with deep ties to their local communities has, in particular, affected rugby and GAA clubs. My party colleague Daithí McKay referred to a number of submissions to the consultation from clubs in my constituency such as Fivemiletown United, Clogher Valley Rugby Football Club, Dungannon Rugby Club and, of course, Tyrone GAA. I also attended a very interesting and important consultation event in Dungannon with Daithí.

I know the pressures of fundraising to be true, as I spend a lot of time in my constituency signposting local clubs to new sources of money by way of grants when funding opportunities are opening up at local government and European Union levels.

That funding is open for a club's plans for sports provision offered, which enhances youth development, healthy living, community cohesion and other important goals, including peace building and tackling racism. It is my belief that the money saved by not paying any rates would be better spent on offering the range of measures that try to achieve the goals that I mentioned, especially on offering healthy alternatives for our young people to pursue as well as enhancing well-being in our society generally for young and old.

As was mentioned, there is a public health aspect to the issue, and I believe that, by providing full rates relief for clubs, we are investing in public health. In particular, we are investing in young people who are supported by the clubs, and we will receive a societal return in many ways by ensuring that those clubs are supported. Our clubs not only encourage participation in sport and promote healthy lifestyles but make a positive contribution to the reduction of crime and antisocial behaviour and promote community relations, acting as a driver for positive community activity in our villages, towns and parishes.

Today's debate allows us to promote a progressive agenda that seeks to advance public knowledge by exploring the challenges and opportunities for sport to act as a driver for change in our society. We know the importance of sport and of our leading sportspeople in opening up awareness of important issues such as the need for promoting good mental health among all our citizens. Let there be no doubt that the introduction of full rates relief for our sports clubs will help to enhance public health further and promote well-being.

Photo of Seán Rogers Seán Rogers Social Democratic and Labour Party

It is important to speak on the Rates (Relief for Community Amateur Sports Clubs) Bill. As legislators, we have a responsibility to everyone out there and a particular responsibility to our young people. I come from an educational background, and we always talked about developing the whole person. Sport is very much part of that. Young people spend only a small part of their day in school, but the opportunities that they have in sport develop a lot of skills, whether teamwork or, as other people referred to, health and fitness, getting involved in volunteering and so on. All those things are very important. As others said, amateur sports clubs make a huge contribution to our society. Amateur sports are about participating without getting paid. Currently, all amateur sports clubs can avail themselves of 80% rates relief, which is legislated for under the Rates Order 1977 and was introduced to support grass-roots sports.

Mr McElduff talked about sports clubs promoting health in the community. I will go further than that and say that, in many of our rural communities, it is the glue of those communities. If you travel through north Antrim, you will see young people out with their hurls. If you are in south Down, you will find them playing football. In other parts, they will be there with a rugby ball, a soccer ball or whatever. Some sports organisations provide fantastic opportunities for the disabled. I can think of a group in my area that does sailing for the disabled. As I go through Newcastle tonight, Newcastle Athletics Club will be out running the roads. I can think of the volunteerism and work that has brought people along, including people of the calibre of a past pupil of mine, Kerry O'Flaherty, who represented Ireland recently in athletics.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

I do not want to be too facetious, but, when I mentioned the distinguished Trillick families, I forgot to mention the Kellys and the Brennans. You know those type of people from County Down.

Photo of Seán Rogers Seán Rogers Social Democratic and Labour Party

Yes, I do. One thing that I learned from Mr McElduff's contribution is who will not be sponsoring the Tyrone GAA team next year.

Under schedule 4 to the Valuation Act, 2001, the rest of Ireland is exempt from paying commercial rates if the land is developed for sport. Like us, Scotland, England and Wales receive 80% rates relief, but local authorities have the discretion to increase the relief up to 100%. Community amateur sports clubs relief was introduced by HMRC in 2002, enabling many local sports clubs to register with HMRC and benefit from a range of tax reliefs, including gift aid. We all have people calling at our door, collecting £1 for their lotto and so on, but one sports club in my area, even with rates relief, has to pay £1,000 a year in rates. There are a lot of £1 coins in that £1,000. There is a lot of collecting, and that is down to a lot of volunteers.

Community amateur sports clubs must be open to the whole community, organised on an amateur basis and have as their main purpose providing facilities for, and promoting participation in, one or more eligible sports, while meeting the location requirements and management conditions.

Amateur sports clubs have had their income severely reduced in recent years. That is for many reasons, including the economic downturn that has led to less support from local businesses and the emigration of members.

In 2011, the Assembly debated a motion calling for rates relief for amateur sports clubs to be extended from 80% to 100%. The Assembly agreed to call on the Finance Minister to examine the rates relief afforded to those clubs. Others have spoken about the Bill, and, in the interests of brevity, I will leave that part of my speech out.

Let us go to some of the health-related benefits. The legislation is about much more than saving money. Sport and physical exercise improve people's lives in so many ways. As other Members said, sports clubs do not facilitate just young people; our clubs look after all ages. I should have declared my lifelong interest in and support of the GAA, but, irrespective of the sport, whether you are eight or 80, there is a place for you and something meaningful that you can do. Others referred to mental health issues, particularly among the older generation who have retired, and they mentioned the "man shed" and other ideas that keep people gainfully occupied. If it were not for sports clubs, and the volunteers keeping them open by collecting that £1 or using Gift Aid to keep the electricity and heating on, this would not happen in our communities.

Physical activity contributes generally to health and well-being. It saves society millions of pounds annually, and it saves hundreds of lives. On the other hand, physical inactivity costs us millions year-on-year.

Sports and physical activity improve people's mental health and create social capital, which is the cement that binds society together and creates a more cohesive society. Those who participate in sporting activities provided by sports clubs not only benefit from the physical activity but learn other important skills. Those include teamwork, loyalty, selflessness and volunteering, which can be transferred to others in the family, school, workplace and community.

It is impossible to place a monetary value on the benefits that we can gain from sports clubs. I think of the great work of the volunteers right across my South Down constituency who run the soccer, athletics, rugby and the GAA. Who could do it without the volunteers?

The Bill calls for the rates relief afforded to CASCs to rise from 80% to 100% to ensure parity with equivalent clubs in other parts of the UK. We all recognise that the provision of 100% rates relief in the UK is discretionary and that it is up to the local authority to decide whether it should be awarded.

I, too, regret the petition of concern. The Chamber is the place to debate and argue out this issue so that we can get a Bill, even though it may need a few amendments. Let us debate it here to ensure that we have something meaningful for our community that we can pass on to future generations.

I fully support the Bill and believe that rates relief should be introduced in full and not be discretionary. I commend Daithí McKay for introducing it. Like my colleague Dominic, I support the Bill moving to Committee Stage for further scrutiny.

Photo of Judith Cochrane Judith Cochrane Alliance

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Rates (Relief for Community Amateur Sports Clubs) Bill. I commend the Member for his hard work thus far. I am taking a private Member's Bill through, and I know that, when you do not have the power of the Department behind you, it takes a lot of effort.

There is no doubt that our community amateur sports clubs play an important role in Northern Ireland. Having been a member of a women's hockey club for many years — some would say well past when my playing career should have ended — I know the positive impact that being involved in sports can have on physical and mental health.

These clubs also provide activities for young people, and many are involved in positive community relations work. It is important, therefore, that we, as an Assembly, do all that we can to support these clubs in their growth and sustainability.

Like many businesses, organisations and households, our amateur sports clubs have faced greater overheads in recent years through, for example, the rise in utility costs. Furthermore, many of these clubs have been hit by the loss of sponsorship due to the general downturn in the economy and, as a result, are struggling to balance their books.

As has already been stated, under article 31 of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, amateur sports clubs in Northern Ireland can qualify for a reduction in rates of 80%. To qualify for it, amateur sports clubs must comply with the requirement in article 31 and meet the required definition in the legislation. This Bill would seek to exempt the registered community amateur sports clubs from the payment of rates. Those clubs that are not registered as such would still be able to continue to avail themselves of the 80% rate relief. Furthermore, as has been discussed by the Member, the proposal would ensure that the 100% rate relief would not apply to the part of the club that sells alcohol other than by way of an occasional licence, but will apply to the rest of the club premises; for example, the gyms and changing rooms and stuff.

While I support the Bill in principle, a number of issues would require further input. However, given the tabling of the petition of concern, it is unclear whether we are going to have the opportunity to do that. Should the Bill pass Second Stage, I would question whether the proposal to exempt the bar area from receiving 100% relief actually goes far enough. Perhaps it would be necessary to further explore the mechanism by which rates are assessed to determine whether the 80% relief is excessive in clubs that benefit from extensive social facilities. I know — and it has already been discussed — that there is a view in the hospitality trade that clubs with successful social components are already getting a good deal.

Various Departments have raised a number of other issues in relation to the Bill. The Department of Justice, for instance, expressed concern that the 100% rate relief could, in certain circumstances, act as a passport for different treatment under criminal damage legislation. The Department of the Environment suggested that enhanced relief could have a potential impact on the de-rating grant. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment raised the matter of potential non-compliance with state aid rules. I appreciate that the proposer of the Bill has said that these are red herrings, however I feel that more work would need to be done to iron out some of those issues.

I believe that the Bill comes forward with a proposal that could be refined at later stages. In the absence of any legislation coming forward from the Department of Finance and Personnel, I would support its passage today in order to scrutinise it further.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP 5:30 pm, 20th October 2015

I congratulate Mr McKay in bringing the Bill to this stage. Most of the legislation that has been debated in recent days has come from Back-Benchers. There was also a Committee Bill earlier today. Yet, I suppose that the main reason for blocking the Bill is the hope that our Executive will somehow bring an enhanced policy option to the table. I have a concern about that when I look at all the intentions of the Bill. I fully accept Mrs Cochrane's points that any Bill aims to take advantage of the processes of the Assembly, including a Committee Stage. Yet, we are effectively being told, "We need more time to consult, but we are going to do it by accelerated passage." The very point of having a Committee Stage is that it allows the Committee to consult. That is one of the key points.

The driving policy objective that Mr McKay has outlined from the start of this process is to help amateur sports clubs. Over recent weeks, we have had huge reason to have sporting pride in Northern Ireland and, indeed, across Ireland, with our rugby and football teams doing so well. Every one of those people will have started the early days of their career playing in an amateur sports club. One club that I know very well is, of course, Banbridge Rugby Football Club. You may have heard of a player who started his career there: Rory Best. That is the contribution that amateur sports clubs make to Northern Ireland.

Points have been made about the knock-on effect, the drive and the volunteerism that amateur sports clubs create. People give so much to clubs— their time and their talents — to raise money and coach youngsters. That, I believe, is the driving policy, and that is why I have supported the policy objectives that Mr McKay set out.

In response to Mr Bradley, Mr McElduff mentioned the knock-on effect of sports clubs holding events and functions in various hotels. Of course, I disapprove strongly of people going over the border to take advantage of the weak euro, but that is a debate for another day. We must not underestimate the huge knock-on effect or the sheer number of people involved in sporting clubs. Virtually all of them give freely of their time to help to create a significant — a mammoth — benefit to society by keeping young people occupied in improving their health and fitness, and the link between good physical health and good mental health is long established.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. At various local sports clubs in south Down, the Member has, along with Mr Rogers, other MLAs and MPs and me, attended events on suicide awareness, mental health awareness and even road safety. Gaps that should be filled by Departments and the Government are being filled by clubs holding these extracurricular events. However, in light of emigration and the tight economic times, clubs are having to turn way from such events because they need to look after their own sporting events. This really needs to be addressed. No doubt, the Member will agree that we should do everything that we can to alleviate these hard times for our amateur sports clubs.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I agree completely. They are the point of contact, whether it is for first-aid training or giving community police officers a way in to speak and engage with communities. All that work is vital.

I am hugely disappointed, but I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister and her party will reconsider the application of a petition of concern. The difficulty with that is that, on 9 September, when DFP officials attended the Committee, they were in broad agreement with some of the policy aims but wanted to extend and improve the Bill. Look at other examples: the first private Member's Bill that Mr McKay introduced was on the plastic bags tax. The Department engaged with him and changed his Bill but used it to bring in the legislation and make it work.

The Minister responded to Mr Agnew's Children's Services Co-operation Bill by engaging with Departments and changing the Bill significantly. That is why I urge the Department to use Mr McKay's Bill so that it can go through its Assembly processes. There is broad agreement around the Chamber from all other parties that this is a good policy direction. There is broad agreement that we should do this, so use the Bill as a vehicle. My only doubt is that we have now been told by departmental officials, "We will introduce our own Bill. That gives us more time to consult, but, then, we will ask the Committee and the House to agree to accelerated passage".

I am not a huge fan of accelerated passage because I think it bypasses and short-circuits the good processes and the type of scrutiny that a Committee can bring to a Bill — any Bill. Even departmental Bills, with all the machinery of government and a Bill team behind them, need technical amendments, changes and answers to questions about policy direction. There was ample time for that. Mr McKay did not exactly pull this Bill out of thin air a few weeks ago; it has been consulted on and has been through processes. He has had meetings with people and meetings about meetings on dealing with this Bill and these issues. Yet we are now faced with a choice — if only we had a bit more of a choice — of letting the Bill go through today, getting nothing or possibly getting a Bill from the Department and then ending up with nothing. We might get a Bill; we might not. I know that Mr Nesbitt was to bring a Bill about defamation. That was conveniently killed off by DFP, which promised that it would take a look at the issue, but no such Bill has come before the House.

My huge concern is this: we are about to kill this Bill at Second Stage with no idea of an exact timeline or what all is going to be in the Department's Bill to address this. That is a major problem for us. We could very well end up at the end of the mandate with nothing and no help for the amateur sports clubs that Mr McKay wants to help. We might end up with nothing.

We have an Executive that are not meeting, and there are very few Ministers in office. We do not know when that is going to end or when the Executive will start to meet. We do not know when the Minister can get her Bill fully drafted, out and approved by the Executive. All those things give us a major difficulty in dealing with this.

I plead with the Minister to support the Second Stage of the Bill and to use it as a vehicle to deliver on some of the changes that I know the Department would like to see. If necessary, the Minister should bring a Bill to make the changes to the shopping centre issues that I know the Department wants to make. If those changes cannot be fitted into this Bill, she should bring a separate Bill to do that. However, it makes absolutely no sense to kill a Bill that is before the Chamber and that has support from all the other political parties because it does not fit in with a process that the Department wants and to then consult and ask the House and Committee for accelerated passage. It makes no sense to do that.

I support the broad principles of the Bill, and I certainly hope that the Minister has a rethink on it.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

There is a wide range of issues that I need to cover, so I hope that Members will bear with me just as I have borne with them. I have listened to some points that are factually not correct, but I stopped myself from intervening because I knew that I was going to be able to address them in my speech.

I am certainly not going to take lectures from Sinn Féin on the misuse of the petition of concern. We had a petition of concern to stop the House from sanctioning Gerry Kelly when he was on top of a Land Rover — a police Land Rover at that. We have had Sinn Féin using a petition of concern to exclude us when we wanted to change the definition of a victim. And, indeed, Sinn Féin joined with the SDLP in a petition of concern on welfare reform. So, "Physician, heal thyself" is what I say about the petition of concern on these matters. People need to think of that —

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I just want to check that the Minister is indeed speaking as Minister, or perhaps she could make it clear if she is speaking in a party political capacity.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I understand that the Minister is speaking as the Minister.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The Minister is addressing issues that have been raised, and I thought that I was going to answer them, because, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was asked direct questions about the petition of concern, and therefore I am answering them.

Before I forget, I also want to apologise to those Members who may have noticed that I had to pop out of the Chamber for a little while, but there is a very important function in the Long Gallery on mid-Ulster's economic development plan. They were very upset that I had to leave when Mr McElduff was speaking, but I assured them that I had someone here to take copious notes of his speech and that I would address it when I returned.

The Bill presents a number of issues, and I am afraid that I will not be supporting it. I have two main issues and a number of ancillary issues. One is to do with due process. It is important to highlight first of all that in presenting the Bill to the Assembly there has been a distinct lack of meaningful consultation. We had a long, long list of amateur sports clubs. I cannot say that I was incredibly surprised that they wanted to see a reduction in their rates. I did not hear whether any of the hospitality associations, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIRTA) or the Hotels Federation had a view on the Bill. To my mind, asking a number of sports associations if they would like to pay lower rates does not really fall within the definition of meaningful consultation. I will give way, even though I said that I would not.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin 5:45 pm, 20th October 2015

I thank the Minister for her generosity on this occasion. Perhaps she can clarify to the House whether the DUP, which she represents, received a copy of the consultation document and whether the party submitted a response to the consultation.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am going to talk about the consultation document, because I think that people need to understand what it consisted of. Just so that Members are aware, the consultation document, which was described by Mr McElduff as "a very good process", has the following specific content: less than one page on the existing framework; less than one page on the proposal; and then three pages of questions. I want to read out some of the incisive questions put to those who wanted to respond. The first is:

"Do you support the proposal to make amateur sports clubs exempt from rates?"

That question was asked of amateur sports clubs. It is followed by:

"Do you agree that this legislation is the best way to address this issue? "

"Do you think that the Rates (NI) Order 1977 should be amended to ensure that all community and amateur sports clubs are fully exempt from rates?"

"How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on human rights?", and:

"How do you think the proposed legislation will impact on equality of opportunity?"

Those questions about impact are really incisive and to the point. It is a side issue, Mr Deputy Speaker, but can you imagine the reception that my Department would get in presenting such shallow proposals for change to the Finance Committee, of which Mr McKay is Chairman? Some analysis of cost would have been helpful, I have to say. There may be only about 200 registered community and amateur sports clubs in Northern Ireland, but if they are all to get 100% relief through the Bill we can expect a surge in additional registrations.

If we are not careful, every well-meaning group will seek a willing MLA to promote a Bill giving more rates relief. We have already heard from Mr Somerville, who, unintentionally amusing as usual, talked about empty Benches. He was sitting on one. He then went on to tell us that his colleague wanted homing pigeons and their associations involved in rates relief as well. You can see that we are entering into this realm without a proper assessment of need and affordability.

The ratings system is an intrinsic part of the public expenditure system. It is not something that should deliver support under the counter and outside the priorities of the Executive, which, of course, set the Programme for Government. If we do not exercise caution, we will soon be playing "spot the ratepayer" in Northern Ireland. We give so many reliefs right across the piece, and we have to act responsibly. This is not the first time that you have heard me talking about acting responsibly, but, obviously, people think that they can give everyone rates relief and we will not notice it in our public finances.

Mr McKay's party wants extra money for welfare reform, and, at the same time, he comes knocking on the door of the rating system to increase already generous support for sports clubs. Listening to some of the Members today, you would think that sports clubs do not get any assistance or any help at all. Of course, that is not the case. They get 80% relief in relation to their rating bill.

Does the Member realise that people are practically queued up every week at the Department of Finance and Personnel for rate relief on one issue or another? You only have to listen to my questions during Question Time to hear, "What are we doing about rates relief for x, y or z?" It may be worth remembering that rates are a devolved tax and that central and local government need a stable tax base in order to plan and to be able to pay money out for our public services.

I heard that there has been some commentary — not in the House tonight, I have to say — in relation to whether this was an orange and green issue earlier, which was absolute rubbish, of course, but some particular broadcasters and newspapers love it when you mention orange and green. Let us put the matter straight, and I want to put it on the record. What the Member is proposing is a completely different beast to what people are calling "Orange hall exemptions". First, the exemptions are not just for Orange halls. They are for community halls, and that includes Orange halls and Hibernian halls. Secondly, they are conditional on them being able to use it for the wider community. Thirdly, and most importantly, they do not have a liquor licence and are not being occupied by a registered club. Any club with a liquor licence will have a regular stream of income and can afford to pay some rates, and they also have membership fees. I am amenable to looking at a model like that for CASCs, but only after the necessary due diligence, which is absolutely lacking from the work that Mr McKay claims to have carried out.

Then we come to the state aid issue, which apparently is a red herring. Apparently, state aid is now a red herring. Clearly, the Member has not given any thought to the issue at all, by the fact that he calls it a red herring. Rate relief for community amateur sports clubs was the subject of a recent state aid case in Great Britain taken against Her Majesty's Government, and the decision was not reported until the end of April. I listened to Mr Somerville ask, "Why has she not done anything for four years in relation to this issue?" I actually take state aid as quite an important issue in relation to legislation. It remains an issue for us, and an assessment needs to be made so that we do not fall foul of the state aid rules.

It is a finely balanced judgement —

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

No, I will not.

It is a finely balanced judgement, although I am sure that Mr McKay would stand shoulder to shoulder with me if my Department had to claw back rate relief from ratepayers if we did fall foul of state aid rules, because that would happen, and we would have to go out and get that money from the ratepayers.

It is an issue that was raised by the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and I am only too aware of it, given my eight years in that role. However, other Ministers and their Departments also have further concerns. The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment had the concern over state aid. The Department of the Environment, of course, will have consequential costs in relation to its derating grant. I notice that the Minister of the Environment is happy with the Bill, but then the Minister of the Environment also wants me to find the increased costs to facilitate him to make exactly the same grant. So it is "Give the money away, but give me the same money, because I want to give the same amount of money to the DOE."

What about the issues in relation to the DOJ and the policy on criminal damage compensation? Have those been addressed? No, they have not been addressed.

Finally, what has been done to address the issues raised by his party colleague, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, in her Department's letter to the Finance Committee in May last year, which raised vital issues around social clauses, maximum relief assessment, bar facilities — similar to the concerns raised by the hospitality sector? Again, surprise, surprise, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure said that there should be no impact on DCAL's budget baseline. So, everybody wants relief, but nobody wants to pay for it. That is the fundamental issue. It does not surprise me, but again we come up against that with Sinn Féin.

Another party colleague of his, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, stated at the Committee in September:

"all around this table ... no one wants to give 100% rates relief to amateur sports clubs that also run successful bars, catering operations and function rooms."

That was his colleague Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. Mr McKay’s response to that is to apportion out the bars, lounges, restaurants and function rooms so that only sporting facilities get 100% relief. That sounds attractive, but when you look into it properly, you will find that the rates levied on club rooms are based on cost, which already leads to a hidden subsidy when you compare that to rates paid per square foot by licensed premises and hotels, because they pay their rates based on receipts and expenditures.

It is hard enough. I completely reject — it does not surprise me — the sort of nonsense that is thrown out from Sinn Féin that we are beholden to the business community and that it must be some hidden interest. I completely reject that. This is anti-competitive, and it is hard enough for some —

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I beg your pardon.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order. The Minister will resume her seat. I ask Members please not to make any remarks from a sedentary position. When Members were addressing the Assembly, the Minister did not do that, so I would expect others to do the same.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I would expect nothing less, Mr Deputy Speaker.

It is hard enough for pubs and restaurants to compete as matters stand. It is not just for food and drink. It is the whole function trade in some areas. It is not just the licensed trade either. I have had numerous representations in relation to privately owned golf clubs, for example. In fact, one of them in the Member's constituency is very exercised by the fact that amateur sports clubs get relief on their rates, yet they have to compete while paying full rates. Those are people who have diversified out of farming and have ploughed their money into a new enterprise, yet the Bill would further disadvantage them.

We simply cannot make an uneven playing field more uneven. Asking clubs with successful social facilities to pay just 20% rates on the sporting facilities strikes me as a not-unreasonable balance. That is the question we should be asking ourselves today.

What I would support is a model along the lines that applies to community halls, which would allow community amateur sports clubs to get 100% relief if they do not have a permanent licence. However, I put that to the sponsor when I met him earlier this month, and he refused to consider it. To Mr McCallister's point, perhaps the Assembly would take a different view of it if it knew that I asked the Member whether the Department could take over his legislation and deal with those issues, and he refused.

As things stand, I cannot support the Bill. It would set a precedent for well-meaning but ill-conceived proposals being thrown together in private Member's Bills in order to introduce new rate relief. I will be here every week making changes to rating legislation unless we insist on some standards in relation to policy development.

That is in relation to due process. There is also the separate issue relating to the drafting of the private Member's Bill. With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, allow me to move on to that.

Mr McKay’s Bill requires the community and amateur sports club designation to be shown in the non-domestic valuation list. You may ask what the problem is with that. It will not work, because that is a statutory public document and contains no such designation. Again, that underlines the lack of care in bringing forward the Bill.

I have outlined the fundamental problems that I have with the Bill. They are problems that I brought to the attention of the sponsor of the Bill many months ago and that have been ignored. The issue now needs to come back to the Department. It is nothing to do with taking credit for legislation, but the Assembly cannot pass legislation that does not take full account of consequences and risks — consequences for the business community and risks to my Department that the legislation will be challenged. It is my assessment that there will need to be a further consultation, targeted and over eight weeks, to allow the Department to assess and bottom out those issues.

Out of necessity, the Department's approach will be run on a parallel process, with one process associated with the progression of the primary enabling power and another to complete the due process work on the consultation. Of course, that all depends on how the Committee for Finance and Personnel is going to react. They may well decide, "No. We don't want to play ball. We're going to huff because you wouldn't allow the Bill to proceed." I urge them to look at the bigger prize, which is having legislation that is properly thought out and that properly deals with the risks and assessments. We will be able to do that if they allow us to deal with them in a proactive way.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP 6:00 pm, 20th October 2015

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does she have a definite timeline for when she thinks she could produce that draft Bill?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

We have drafting already completed. We are keen to move on this as quickly as possible but, of course, there is very little point in us moving ahead if the Committee decides that they will block accelerated passage and do not allow us to move forward.

The window dressing rates relief issue that was brought to us by the manager of the Buttercrane Shopping Centre has been consulted on and is ready to go; we do not need to consult on that point. Of course, the Bill that we are proposing is an enabling piece of legislation. It is not detailed legislation, so we would be able to move on it quickly. However, that is a matter for the Committee. I am happy to work with them on that matter but, as things stand, we will be voting against this Bill. I will be voting against this Bill as Minister of Finance and Personnel.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I rise to respond to the debate. I will come back later to some of the inaccurate comments that have been made; they were certainly misleading to this House.

The first Member who spoke was the Deputy Chair of the Committee. I take this opportunity to thank the Committee for its work and, indeed, the Deputy Chair for his work. I understand that he is moving on to pastures green and is escaping this place. I wish him well for the future in that regard. Unfortunately, as Dominic outlined, it looks like the Bill will not go to the Committee. He also touched on the issue of preventative spending. An issue for the Finance and Personnel Committee has been the concept of investing to save and MLAs and, indeed, the Executive taking a more long-term strategic view about how we spend public money and how we can reap dividends in terms of social impact and value for money in the longer term. In the areas of obesity and diabetes, this certainly would be preventative spending.

He also referred to the cross-community benefits of community and amateur sports clubs. I know of one example in my community where a local GAA club and a rugby club have worked together to build bridges in a community where there had been cross-community issues. That has reaped dividends, developed friendships and built links. Sport clubs play a vital role in bringing the entire community together. He also referred to the issue of clubs that are registered as charities. Of course, those that are registered as charities get 100% relief, so more clubs may decide to go down that road if 100% relief is not open to them.

He also referred to the call for the evidence that the Committee — not me; the Committee — put out over the summer period, in which no concerns were raised. Some concerns have been raised by those on the other side of the House, but no concerns were raised by any organisations over the summer period. It was only yesterday that a response was received from Hospitality Ulster to express some of its concerns at a very late stage. There has been quite a significant reaction to that not only from sports clubs but from some businesses, including some bars and restaurants.

As the Deputy Chair rightly said, Committee Stage would give businesses another opportunity to reply. It would also give organisations that represent the business community an opportunity to respond. That is what Committee Stage is for. We are only at Second Stage, and there have been many times in the past when Members from all parties have agreed to the principles of the Bill — the very broad principles of the Bill — and agreed that we need to look at amendments elsewhere. The more reasoned position that the party opposite should have taken was that outlined by Mrs Cochrane. Yes, she has concerns around the Bill, some of them similar to what the Minister has outlined; but the place to deal with them is at Committee Stage, Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage.

The Deputy Chair indicated that the SDLP agrees with the general principles of the Bill and said the deployment of this petition of concern is anti-democratic. I think that that will prove to be the case, because it is quite clear that the majority of MLAs in the House, and the majority of parties bar one, support this proposal moving forward in the House.

I will also say that the programme last night about suicide in the GAA was a great example. It is a big issue not just for the GAA but for all sporting organisations and for rural communities such as I come from. All sporting codes and organisations do fantastic work in the area of suicide prevention.

Neil Somerville responded on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party. I take the opportunity to welcome Mr Somerville to the Assembly. Our paths have not crossed since he took up his post. He also outlined the fact that this is an abuse of the petition of concern. He rightly said that the petition of concern was never intended to thwart run-of-the mill legislation. Some of the issues outlined about Mr Kelly, a Member of the House, are more controversial. However, community and amateur sports clubs, and the work they do, are not controversial in any way. He also said that there would not be a massive cost, and of course, the DUP have had four years to introduce a Bill and nothing happened until this Bill came to the House.

Mr McElduff indicated that there is huge support for the Bill in the community and referred to the public engagement in Strule Arts Centre in Omagh. I remember well the variety of sporting clubs that attended that evening, including tennis, bowling and the GAC. He rightly said that we should be an exemplar for Europe and the rest of the world in supporting community sports. So, there is an opportunity here to show that we can do something different and something good, without it being shot down here today. He also took the opportunity to speak to hospitality providers, who are universally supportive of it, and he was strongly critical of Hospitality Ulster for being out of touch and not representative.

In his intervention, the Deputy Chair, rightly, said that, in terms of amateur and community sports clubs — I have lost count of the amount of dinners I have been at for amateur sports clubs in Ballymena, Ballycastle and Portglenone, sometimes on quite a regular basis. That goes on in our communities all the time, and it makes those hotels, restaurants and bars a lot of profit. So, this goes both ways. The bars in clubs are staffed mainly voluntarily. They are not people who are going out to make a profit. They are people who are volunteering their time to better their club and ensure that money can be raised for good purposes, for supporting their young people, for sports equipment, and so on and so forth. It is a very worthwhile cause.

Bronwyn McGahan opened by stating that she is a former Gaelic footballer and a cyclist. She did say that she is a very good cyclist and is often seen going up and down the hills of Tyrone on a Sunday afternoon. She rightly talked about the effects that austerity and the Tory Government policy are having throughout the entire community; and that should not be forgotten either. She also referred to the various grant schemes that clubs apply to. They repeatedly go back to different organisations to get a couple of hundred pounds here and there. The Sports Forum did some work and research regarding this, and most sports clubs would like something simple and direct. If they were to have a rates exemption of 100%, that would be a lot better than filling out 20- or 30-page forms every year to try and scrape by year in and year out.

The Bill is designed to be simple, which is why it would be so effective.

Seán Rogers rightly said that sports clubs are the glue of our communities. I can assure him that there are many young people with a hurl running up and down the streets of north Antrim — and parts of County Down, I hasten to add.

There is a variety of sports in other communities. Running and cycling have taken off in recent years, and there is football, rugby and boxing, which is a big sport where I am from. That should not be forgotten, especially in view of the success that we have generated in areas such as rugby, as Mr McCallister mentioned, and boxing. We have produced some world-class athletes. Pardon me for saying this, but they started off in some of the dirtiest, most run-down facilities you could imagine. I can think of boxing clubs in my constituency that are covered in damp. They cannot get facilities and find it hard to scrape by and get support. They deserve extra money so that they can improve the environment in which they are delivering this service for our young people and communities. Some are hard-to-reach young people and some come from disadvantaged backgrounds, so this is a big opportunity for many of them. Sport gives them the opportunity to move on in life and to develop skills. Many young people whom I know of credit the sporting code that they are involved in with turning their life around. We should not forget that or the impact that these clubs truly have on our communities.

Judith Cochrane informed us that she is a former hockey player. I do not know how good she was; she might tell us later. She outlined the importance for youth and community relations. She also spoke of the loss of sponsorship for clubs. She supports the Bill in principle but would go further on bars and social clubs. She also rightly said that there are concerns from Departments. She would welcome further scrutiny — as would I — because there are concerns that I want to be addressed. I am not running away from them in any way, so they should be responded to in the way that our legislative process was designed to do by way of Committee Stage, Consideration Stage and Further Consideration Stage. If the DUP had wanted to torpedo the Bill at Final Stage, it could have done that. It is a bit disingenuous to outline concerns and not even to take the opportunity to address them through the stages of the Bill.

John McCallister referred to the fact that the purpose of Committee Stage is to allow the Committee to consult. He rightly referred to the sporting pride that we have seen in recent weeks not only in the North but across the island through rugby and soccer alike. We have produced some fine, fine rugby and soccer players. He is right that they all started in amateur clubs. Rory Best started at Banbridge Rugby Football Club, which, of course, responded to the consultation in support of the Bill. That club deserves the support to produce more Rory Bests. That is what we want to see: more success on the international stage. Being stingy is not the way to do that. This is a drop in the ocean compared with the overall Budget, and these clubs deserve our support.

Chris Hazzard referred to the extracurricular activities that clubs hold such as road safety events. I know of a number of clubs that engage with the PSNI in holding road safety events on their grounds as well as events on suicide awareness and mental health. It is not sport exclusively that happens in these clubs; it is more holistic. If councils or health trusts were doing that, it would cost hundreds — even thousands — of pounds in employees' time and all the rest of it. These are volunteers who do it for nothing. They give up their time, open up facilities and staff them at no cost, yet we are complaining about a few hundred pounds to a club here or a few thousand pounds to a club there.

We need to look at the costs in the round, not just rates but the cost that we would have to pay through central government and local government if these clubs were not there.

Rightly, Mr McCallister flagged the example of the plastic bag levy Bill, which, by the end, had morphed into the Carrier Bags Act 2014. That Bill was totally transformed, and that is the art of making legislation, which has been compared with making sausages: you do not necessarily want to see the ins and outs of it. That, in itself, outlines the ridiculousness of the position outlined from the other side of the Floor. If they were serious about making the changes that they outlined, they could have simply tabled amendments. Taking their ball and running home in the way that they are doing today is totally disingenuous.

Mr McCallister outlined his concern, rightly, that the Department might or might not get a Bill through and that we could end up with nothing for community and amateur sports clubs at the end of the mandate. I share that concern.

Mrs Foster, the Minister, outlined two main issues, and my consultation drew a lot of criticism. I quickly googled consultations by DUP Members who have had a private Member's' Bill. I am not picking on Mr McIlveen just because he is sitting there, but his consultation was pretty similar to the structure that I used. Mr Givan's consultation had seven questions. That is the nature of a private Members' Bill: we do not have a Department behind us to give us a 200-page document. The Department has produced 100- and 200-page consultation documents that did not even get five responses. I produced a short, sharp consultation document that got over 1,000 responses. That, I think, speaks for itself. Members can nitpick over the quality, but it was designed to be simple. We are talking about a Bill with four clauses. We are not talking about something complex; we are talking about a simple change to the 1977 order.

As far as a cost analysis is concerned, we had very little from the Department to work on. We were told that there were no up-to-date figures and that certain things cannot be calculated, so I find it highly ironic that the Minister is criticising me for that when her Department could not produce one. The Department could have been more helpful. My understanding was that, because of the way in which LPS is designed and statistics are gathered, there was genuine difficulty in getting these statistics. I certainly gave the Department the benefit of the doubt. If Minister Foster is saying that I should have been able to get a better analysis, maybe her officials should have been able to do the same. That is another red herring from the Minister.

The Minister referred to orange and green issues. That is not an avenue that I have gone down. The provisions for halls were in the 2006 order. That is in the past and an issue for others to debate. We want to deal with community and amateur sports clubs because they deliver for all communities: orange, green, black, yellow, purple or whatever. We want all GAA clubs, rugby clubs and boxing clubs, and clubs in unionist, nationalist and other communities to receive support — across the board. I do not think that anybody should oppose that.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin 6:15 pm, 20th October 2015

I thank the Member for giving way. It is probably best to declare an interest as a member of an amateur sports club that pays rates of £1,700 a year. I was at a meeting of that organisation last night, and people were aghast at the proposed petition of concern from the DUP. I have fielded a number of calls in the past 24 hours from amateur sporting clubs in my constituency. They had been delighted to hear that the Bill was going through and are now furious that it will not happen.

The Member is talking about red herrings and issues of that nature that the Minister raised. One of the issues that she kept falling back on was the issue of competition between hotels and amateur sports clubs, as if they were competing on a level playing field. Does the Member think that hotels, which are there to generate a profit for their owners or shareholders, are comparable to amateur sports clubs, which reinvest any kind of surplus at all that they get into playing facilities and service for their local communities, or does he think that hotels compete with amateur sports clubs for trade in a local community?

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

The Member is right; you are comparing apples and pears, really. The amateur sports clubs are staffed by volunteers, and the hospitality industry operates in a completely different environment. What was most concerning in the debate today, yesterday and earlier in the week is that there is an assumption that those who run hotels, bars and restaurants are automatically against the Bill. Since last night, I have been inundated with messages from bar managers — people I know who are involved in sport — saying that what was being said does not represent them. That needs to be taken into consideration in the Minister's consultation if she wants to bring something similar forward. It is unfortunate that that is how things have developed over the past couple of days, but all voices need to be listened to.

The Committee Stage, as it has been for most Bills in the Assembly, is when people, groups and organisations, such as Hospitality Ulster, can come and give evidence. The Committee can listen to what they are saying, and it can propose amendments. That is the way this process works. I say again that it is disingenuous for the Minister to come here and make her point and then not even have the courtesy to stay to hear my response to her comments. That she has not stayed for the duration of the debate ahead of the vote shows you how seriously she takes community amateur sports clubs.

Of course, she raised other issues to do with the Bill and said that it is anti-competitive. Well, I think that for the DUP to vote this down and torpedo the Bill is anti-community. As Mr Rogers outlined earlier, the community amateur sports clubs are the glue that holds many of our communities together. They deserve this recognition and support, and if Members want to tweak around the edges of the support that is put in place, they can table amendments to the Bill. What the Minister outlined that she wants could have been done through amendments to this Bill, which is already at Second Stage. I do not understand — well, I do understand — why she could not have done that.

She also referred to the proposal to get a permanent exemption from rates for CASCs if they do not have a bar. That is the first I have heard of it. She said that that was discussed with me in a private meeting; that is wrong. That is the first I have heard of it. At the meeting with the Minister last week, I said that I would be happy to work with the Department if it or the Minister wanted to introduce amendments and we could consider that and the House can make a decision in that regard. That is new to me. I would like to see more detail on that, and perhaps the Finance Committee would like to see more detail on what the Minister has in mind.

At the moment — Mr McCallister referred to this earlier — we have had no indication of a timeline for the Minister's Bill. We were told that the Department's Bill could not be brought forward because my Bill was already in the House, but that was wrong as well. That Bill could have come forward anyway. We have had no indication of a timeline, and the commitment from the Minister is a bit unwieldy. Of course, she wants to bring a Bill to the House without it going through Committee Stage. That is bad legislation; that is a Bill that has not had proper consultation if it does not go through the Committees of this House.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. She not only wants accelerated passage, bypassing the procedures of the House, but she wants to bring in enabling legislation, in which case we would not have the same oversight over the regulations or what we are being asked to do further down the track.

By taking the legislative approach that you propose, we would at least have oversight and control in the proper democratic place — in this Chamber.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his intervention. He is spot on. With this Bill, what you see is what you get. With enabling legislation, the Minister could give the impression that she is going to give support to community and amateur sports clubs but leave that for regulations to deal with somewhere down the line, at a date to be confirmed. The devil is in the detail, and the detail is not there. I would have considered withdrawing the Bill today if I had had that detail, but the Minister did not give me it. It was quite disingenuous for her to come here and outline a proposal that was put to me that was not put to me. She should stop playing silly buggers and stop trying to mislead the public. I challenge the Minister to outline to the public and outline to the rugby clubs, the soccer clubs, the boxing clubs — all amateur sports clubs — what exactly she is proposing to do. If it is enabling legislation, she should give us a date on which she is going to give us something of substance. We have not got that here today. I was going to say that the Minister has taken her ball and gone home, and she clearly has.

I think that this is immature. I knew that the Department had a Bill in the offing. My Bill was already ahead of it. I knew that the Minister wanted to include in her Bill an amendment on window dressing in shops. I think that that is what it comes down to: she did not want to support the Bill because she wants to put forward her own Bill with window dressing on it. That is what it comes down to. It is immature and bad politics, and it is a bad abuse of the petition of concern. At the end of today's debate, community and amateur sports clubs will be left in the dark about what support they may or may not get from the Department of Finance and Personnel. The challenge is there.

I will conclude on this point. The Minister

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

Will the Member give way before he concludes?

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. Having listened to the Member's speech and, indeed, having read the Hansard report of the recent presentation by departmental officials to the Finance and Personnel Committee, I find what the Minister said to be confusing and contradictory. On the one hand, she said that this is not the right way to go about it, that the consultation document and the consultation process were allegedly flawed and that there is a better way in which to introduce an extension of rate relief for clubs. On the other hand, she said that we cannot afford it.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Order, please. I am expecting the Member at some stage to ask Mr McKay a question. Otherwise, I will be put in the very difficult position of the debate having opened up again. I am trying to avoid that at this late hour.

Photo of Phil Flanagan Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin

I hear what you are saying, Mr Deputy Speaker, and far be it from me to put a man of your stature into a difficult position at this hour of the night.

My question concerns whether the Member has any understanding of whether the party opposite is opposed to the proposal to offer 100% rate relief to community and amateur sports clubs or whether its opposition stems from the fact that it is Mr McKay who brought forward the proposal.

Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin

I think that it is the latter. The Minister had an opportunity here today to outline her proposal in detail, yet we are left with a proposal that is bereft of detail. That may change, and I hope that it does change, because what I want is full support for community and amateur sports clubs.

At the end of the day, the challenge to the Minister is this: if she is serious about providing support for community and amateur sports clubs, outline what that support is, instead of bringing forward some silly piece of enabling legislation, with no date for when clubs will get the support. Those community and amateur sports clubs did not come up the Lagan in a bubble. They know when they are being played. If the Minister is serious, she needs to bring forward legislation, outline what the support is and outline when the clubs will get it. That is the challenge for the Minister. She has, along with her party, abused the processes of the House, and she is also proposing to abuse the democratic process by bypassing Committee Stage, as Mr McCallister said. I hope that she reflects on the very strong views that are out there among community and amateur sports clubs and comes back with a proper, detailed proposal that is subject to proper consultation, not a process that is bereft of consultation in the House, as she proposed.

So she needs to come back with that, go out to the community, have a proper consultation on it like I have done and like I proposed through a consultation stage on the Bill and ensure that that is done by the time the elections are held next year.

At the end of the day, communities are struggling out there. Clubs from across the community that represent people of different religions, genders and sporting codes are struggling, and they need that support and deserve it. The party and the Minister opposite really need to reflect on how they have abused not only the House but the clubs that are the heart and the glue of our communities.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 6:30 pm, 20th October 2015

Before we proceed to the Question, I remind Members that a valid petition of concern has been presented. The vote on the Second Stage of the Bill, therefore, requires cross-community support.

Question put.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Some Members:

The Ayes have it. The Ayes have it.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I do not think so.

[Laughter.]

Question put. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 41; Noes 31

AYES

NATIONALIST:

Mr Attwood, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Eastwood, Mr Flanagan, Ms Hanna, Mr Hazzard, Mr G Kelly, Mr Lynch, Mr McAleer, Mr F McCann, Ms McCorley, Mr McElduff, Ms McGahan, Mr McKay, Mr McKinney, Ms Maeve McLaughlin, Mr A Maginness, Mr Maskey, Mr Milne, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O'Dowd, Mr Ramsey, Mr Rogers, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan

UNIONIST:

Mr Allen, Mrs Dobson, Mr Kennedy, Mr McCallister, Mr B McCrea, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Somerville, Ms Sugden

OTHER:

Mr Agnew, Mrs Cochrane, Ms Lo, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McKay, Mr Ó hOisín

NOES

UNIONIST:

Mr Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mr Craig, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Mr McCausland, Mr I McCrea, Mr D McIlveen, Miss M McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Mrs Pengelly, Mr G Robinson, Mr Ross, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr D McIlveen, Mr G Robinson

<TR><TD>Total Votes
72Total Ayes41[56.9%]
Nationalist Votes28Nationalist Ayes28[100.0%]
Unionist Votes39Unionist Ayes8[20.5%]
Other Votes5Other Ayes5[100.0%]
<BR/>

Question accordingly negatived (cross-community vote).

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Bear with us for a moment while we change the top Table.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)