7. What progress has been made by the Government’s Expert Working Group on Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement Group. (906999)
The group had its first meeting on 25 November and shortly after issued a call for evidence. I expect to publish its initial findings in the coming months and a full report later this year.
I am pleased that although it has taken since 2011, when one of the Minister’s predecessors promised it would happen, the working group is now finally up and running. She will be aware of the concern of many football fans—I declare an interest as a Fulham fan—that their club grounds are potentially worth more for purposes other than football and there is uncertainty about clubs maintaining their links with their communities. Fortunately for Fulham, despite misguided property speculators and ill-advised owners in the past, we have managed to survive at Craven Cottage, which is an iconic football ground and part of the English football fabric. Is the Minister aware of the concerns of fans, and does she think it is a good idea to have statutory consultation, ensuring that any change of use of football grounds is done with the fans in mind to protect grounds from asset stripping?
There were a few issues in that question. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This expert group is being set up so that fans can air their views. It will give them profile and a good platform. I am sure that issues such as this will be raised and reported to me in due course. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his point in more detail.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the controversial Glazer family takeover at Manchester United—against the wishes of the vast majority of United fans. This saddled the club with vast debts to pay for the takeover. Does the Minister agree that football clubs and their supporters should be better protected from these predatory takeovers that can threaten the long-term viability of many of our football clubs?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and responsible club ownership is important to all of us. The football authorities take it very seriously, and I am pleased that the owners and directors test has been strengthened. Following two debates here late last year, I asked the football authorities if there was a way of tightening this important test.
Is not the importance of listening to fans and of supporter engagement shown by the welcome decision taken by the Cardiff City board to put Cardiff City back in blue? I was delighted to be there on Saturday to see the club beat Fulham 1-0—in their traditional blue colours.