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Volume 596: debated on Monday 1 June 2015

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on what further actions his Government will take following the election of Sepp Blatter as president of FIFA?

Last Friday, FIFA’s members had the opportunity to embrace the overwhelming call for change that is coming from football fans around the world. They failed to do so. FIFA’s support for its discredited president was incredibly disappointing, but it will not have surprised the footballing public who have become increasingly cynical as the allegations of misconduct and malfeasance have piled up. FIFA needs to change—and to change now. I can assure the House that the Government will do all in their power to help bring change about.

I have just spoken to Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, and assured him that we stand behind the English FA’s efforts to end the culture of kickbacks and corruption that risk ruining international football for a generation. I agreed with him that no options should be ruled out at this stage.

Let me also reiterate the Government’s support for the action of the American and Swiss authorities. Earlier today, I spoke with the Attorney General. We agreed that the British authorities will offer full co-operation with American and Swiss investigators, and that if any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the UK emerges, we will fully the support the Serious Fraud Office in pursuing those involved.

FIFA’s voting system is designed to support the incumbent, and it returned a predictable result, but there is no doubt that what remained of Sepp Blatter’s credibility has been utterly destroyed. The mere fact that more than 70 national associations felt able to back a rival candidate shows that momentum against him is building. We must now increase that pressure still further. It is up to everyone who cares about football to use whatever influence they have to make this possible.

I am sure that fans the world over will be increasingly vocal in their condemnation of the Blatter regime, and FIFA’s sponsors need to think long and hard about whether they want to be associated with such a discredited and disgraced organisation. For the good of the game, we must work together to bring about change. For the good of the game, it is time for Sepp Blatter to go.

Sepp Blatter has shown that he cannot and will not bring about the reform FIFA needs. He may have survived last Friday thanks to his mafioso cronyism, but he is the tainted leader of a corrupt organisation and by clinging on he is merely dragging FIFA further and further into the mud.

Does the Secretary of State agree that UEFA and the other major football associations should now consider setting up alternative competitions for 2018 and 2022? Will the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, call a summit of British representatives of the sponsors, the broadcasters and the football associations to agree a robust common position? Will he make clear the damage that sponsors are doing to their own reputation by being so mealy-mouthed about reform at FIFA? Money cannot have the last say.

The US indictment states that three of Britain’s overseas territories—the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos—played a part in masking kickbacks. Will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ensure the full compliance of those territories with any ongoing investigations—and if they refuse, will the Government appoint their own special investigator and prosecutor for those territories?

We also now learn that Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered have launched internal reviews into whether they were used for corrupt payments, but should these not be criminal investigations being led by the prosecuting authorities in this country? Why is it that the pioneering investigative reporting of The Sunday Times and “Panorama” has been left to one side, with only the US and the Swiss taking the lead on prosecutions?

Can the Minister confirm whether the Financial Conduct Authority and Serious Fraud Office are investigating whether bribery took place on British soil, used British financial institutions or involved British sponsors or broadcasters? If they are investigating corruption at FIFA, do they have the resources they need to prosecute their investigations vigorously and swiftly? If they are not investigating, why on earth not?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Sepp Blatter. We are completely at one about the need for him to go as soon as possible.

The hon. Gentleman raised the possibility of an alternative World cup, and the question of whether UEFA might be promoting such an alternative. I have spoken to Greg Dyke about that. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that any serious attempt to organise an alternative to the existing World cup would be possible only if there were strong agreement throughout the European nations, and preferably with other football associations around the world. The first thing that needs to happen is for that to be discussed within UEFA. As the hon. Gentleman will know, UEFA will meet later this week, and I know that Greg Dyke will be discussing such matters with his colleagues. However, I think that this is, in the first instance, a matter for football to decide, and my answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about a prime ministerial summit would be the same.

There is agreement in this country about the need for change, and the need for us to do all that we can to bring it about. What is important is to try to find allies in the rest of Europe who will join us in making the case for change, and Greg Dyke will be concentrating on that towards the end of this week.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for sponsors to think very carefully. Visa has already made a strong statement, and other sponsors have expressed unhappiness, but we would like them to go much further. We will be talking to them when it is appropriate to do so, and stressing that they should consider the damage that may potentially be done to them if they continue to be associated with FIFA—although I suspect that we may not have much luck with Gazprom.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the British overseas territories, and I shall be happy to talk to my colleagues in the Foreign Office, but I will say now that this and, indeed, all suggestions of malpractice, either in the United Kingdom or in British overseas territories, should of course be investigated. I understand that the Serious Fraud Office has information which it is currently assessing. Obviously that is a matter for the SFO, but we have made it clear that we will co-operate with the investigations that are currently being conducted by both the United States and the Swiss authorities, and will be happy to supply them with any information that they need.

Order. There is understandable interest in this subject, the urgency of which is reflected in the selection of the question, but, as no fewer than 56 Members will be seeking to catch my eye during the subsequent debate, I do not intend to allow these exchanges to continue beyond 2.55 pm. Short questions and short answers are the order of the day.

I commend my right hon. Friend for the measured way in which he is dealing with the situation. However, football fans—not just throughout the United Kingdom, but elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, the world—will be listening and watching in disbelief at what is happening. My right hon. Friend talked briefly about the importance of securing a co-ordinated response; perhaps he will take a few moments to give us a little more detail about how he will ensure that the change that is needed receives widespread support, not just in the United Kingdom and not just in Europe, but throughout the world.

My right hon. Friend is right to stress the need to gather together as many allies as possible. Obviously, that will be discussed by UEFA in the first instance, and when I see Greg Dyke later this week, I will certainly talk to him about the further steps that he intends to take. It is worth noting, however, that while we understand that most of the northern European countries voted against Sepp Blatter, we believe that most, if not all, Latin American countries did so as well, which shows that concern about the way in which FIFA is behaving now extends well beyond Europe .

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s overdue promotion, and the positive signal that it sends to the House about the importance of Select Committees. Does he agree that there is a model for the cleaning up of an international sporting organisation—namely, what we did about the Olympics after Salt Lake City—which will, however, require concerted action by the individual states’ sporting organisations and, critically, their Governments? Does he agree that the British Government and others that want clean football must take the lead in that action?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I completely agree with him. What happened 15 or 20 years ago following the Salt Lake City bid, which led to a complete reform of the International Olympic Committee, provides a very good precedent for the tackling of matters such as this. The IOC, which at that time suffered from allegations much the same as those that are now swirling around FIFA, did clean up its act, which shows that a result is certainly possible. The British Government will work with the FA in putting as much pressure as we can on other football associations to ensure that FIFA takes the same route as the IOC.

Will the Secretary of State make absolutely certain that, with this “cling-on” in charge of FIFA, the sponsors will know that their names will be associated not with the beautiful game, but with a corrupt and discredited organisation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the sponsors as one of the ways we can best exert pressure on FIFA to make change. The sponsors are paying a huge amount of money because they want to be associated with this game, which is popular and loved by so many around the world. If it becomes clear that FIFA is instead identified with corruption and sleaze, it must be for them to consider very carefully whether they still wish to be associated with it.

I declare an interest of sorts as the Member representing Hampden Park in the south side of Glasgow. I know that the Scottish Football Association and the FA are looking to work through UEFA to address both the immediate FIFA governance issues and the ongoing efforts to clean up the beautiful game. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that either he or his Department will seek the views of the SFA, the Football Association of Wales and the Irish Football Association as well as the FA before undertaking any actions for FIFA in the future, and will he keep the Scottish Government fully updated on his Department’s work?

As the hon. Gentleman says, there are the four home nation football associations, all of whom have their part to play, and as far as I am aware at the moment they are united in their stand and will be working through UEFA, but I am very happy to talk to them. I am sure the English FA is in touch with the FAs of the other three nations and I am also happy to talk to my counterparts in the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly at any time.

May I take this opportunity to briefly congratulate your team, Mr Speaker, and mine on its 4-0 victory on Saturday?

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tell the House what sum out of the BBC licence fee has gone to FIFA to pay for the coverage of the 2018 and 2022 World cups and what discussions he has had with the BBC as to whether that money is being appropriately used given the revelations?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I am sure the congratulations to Arsenal will be echoed around the House—although perhaps not by every Member. I am afraid that I cannot give him the precise figure that he requests about the BBC, but I am very happy to obtain it and let him have it in due course. It is a difficulty; if the World cup proceeds, and particularly if England or any of the home nations are participants in it, clearly people in this country will want to watch those games. Nevertheless, my hon. and learned Friend raises a valid point and we will certainly want to take it into account in considering all these matters.

In all his representations to FIFA, will the Secretary of State also have a thought for the thousands of migrant workers who have already died in Qatar during the construction of its palaces for the next-but-one World cup, and lay the blame at the door of FIFA for its sponsorship and promotion of it, and its lamentable failure to put any real pressure on the Qatari Government to protect those workers and give them decent rights?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about reports of the conditions faced by the migrant workers in Qatar. It is obviously a slightly separate matter from the matter under discussion today, but that does not in any way diminish concern about those reports. We have made the Qatari Government aware of our concerns where there are such reports, and they have assured us that conditions are being improved, not least through the workers charter, but we will continue to watch this carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) has rightly highlighted the role of the Fraud Act 2006, the Bribery Act 2010 and the Serious Fraud Office. Is there not a case for prosecutions under section 7 of the Bribery Act and is there not a case for my right hon. Friend bringing Adidas, Visa, McDonald’s and the other sponsors into his office and giving them a bit of a carpeting on that basis?

My hon. Friend will understand that investigations by the Serious Fraud Office are operational matters. I know that the SFO is assessing the information that it has received, but I cannot provide any details beyond that. Nevertheless, it is worth observing the reasons why the American and Swiss authorities have been in the lead in this matter. The US indictments have made it clear that they relate to offences committed by US citizens as well as others, potentially on US soil. Equally, the Swiss authorities have jurisdiction because FIFA is based in Switzerland. That is not to say, however, that if there is any evidence of wrongdoing taking place in this country or by UK citizens, we should not pursue it. I know that that is something the SFO is considering.

There is clearly cross-party support for the removal of Sepp Blatter and for real reform of the governance of world football, just as there is support for those things across the country. Will the Secretary of State have conversations with his ministerial colleagues and his European counterparts about why it has taken a non-football nation, America, to investigate this kind of corruption? The corruption was suspected, yet it was apparently ignored by this country and other European nations.

I think the hon. Gentleman is being slightly harsh towards American football—by which I mean American soccer. It is well known that the reach of the US authorities is longer in some instances due to the legislation on the books there. These matters have been of concern to us for a long time, but the question of whether there is evidence that offences have been committed in this country is still under examination. The important thing now is that we should all work together and we will obviously give every support to the authorities conducting criminal investigations and respond to their every request for additional information.

What a contrast between the beautiful game displayed by Arsenal on Saturday and the ugly dealings of FIFA! And what hope is there for concerted action, not least by UEFA, when countries such as France vote in favour of Sepp Blatter?

The voting on Friday was not public, although there has been widespread speculation about which countries supported Mr Blatter and which voted for the alternative. The important thing now is to try to build as wide a consensus as possible, and in the early stages that will be within UEFA. I very much hope that the French will be a part of that consensus.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s robustness in this matter, but further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), what further conversations is the right hon. Gentleman having with his counterparts around the world? We clearly need to see pressure from UEFA but also courage from the political masters around the world.

The hon. Lady will know from the exchanges that took place last Thursday that the Minister for sport, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), wrote on that day to all her counterparts in the European capitals to call for co-ordinated action. This is a matter for football in the first instance, and I want to work closely with the English FA and the other home nations’ FAs, but if they believe that it would be helpful for us to try to persuade other countries to act together with us by contacting members of the Governments of those countries, I would be happy to do that.

The election of Sepp Blatter is as unsurprising as it is depressing, but does the Secretary of State agree that the biggest losers in all this are the millions of fans and players, not only in this country but around the world, who simply want an open and honest system for managing the sport? They are the ones who are often overlooked in this whole process.

I agree with my hon. Friend. In many ways, this is the tragedy of what is now unfolding. Not only is the game loved by millions across the world, but the World Cup is seen as one of the greatest sporting competitions, second only to the Olympics. For that reason, we would not want to try to interfere with that unless it became clear that to do so was the only way of proceeding. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that it is ultimately the fans who will be most upset and who will lose out unless change is brought about in FIFA.

The Secretary of State has said that it was a disgraceful decision, that FIFA is discredited, and that he is seeking allies across Europe. As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) mentioned, Sky has reported that France and Spain voted for Blatter. What correspondence and conversations has the Secretary of State had with his colleagues in France and Spain, in other European countries and in the home nations to take his agenda forward?

As I said earlier, I am very happy to have such conversations if the English FA suggests that it would be helpful to do so. It is not entirely clear which way France and Spain voted, although I have seen the reports to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Whichever way countries voted on Friday, I hope they will now recognise the strength of opinion right across the world that is demanding change and will join us in pressing for it.

Does the excellent new Secretary of State agree that the situation is so serious that we might see England boycotting a FIFA World cup? Does he have the impression that that might happen, having spoken to Greg Dyke?

The chairman of the English FA has been very clear on this matter: a boycott by England would be self-defeating. If we are to put pressure on FIFA to change, such a tactic would be effective only if we could get the support of a significant number of other countries. So the first priority is to assess how much support there would be for such moves. If it could be demonstrated that there was significant support, that alone might be sufficient to force change. Obviously, that kind of incentive is effective only if it is believed that it will be used unless change takes place.

The Secretary of State continues to say that this is a matter for the football authorities. Does he accept that it is a matter for everybody who is interested in football? He has indicated he will do this, but as a first step will he give a timescale for getting together with the culture Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the football associations of those countries to examine how, in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) said, we could get a collective platform in Europe and start the ball rolling in that sense?

I merely say again that the English FA is in close touch with the other home nations. I am very happy to talk to my opposite numbers from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We will make it clear that we are all united in trying to force FIFA to accept the pressure for change, but I will be guided by the football authorities in this first instance. I have made it clear to them that whatever help they feel they need, I would be happy to provide.

England has repeatedly tried to host the World cup finals and been unsuccessful. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there has been no corruption involved in any of the England bids? Does the fact that England has been unwilling to play FIFA’s games explain why those bids were unsuccessful?

My hon. Friend will have seen the outcome of the process when England did make a bid for the 2018 World cup; we received just one vote, apart from our own. That in itself suggests that probably there were not the same incentives to vote for England as other countries were perhaps offering at that time.

The Garcia inquiry was meant to investigate allegations of wrongdoing and bring to light any proven evidence about corruption, but the report was subsequently locked away and Garcia has disowned the summary that was produced by FIFA. Does the Secretary of State accept that until that report is published in full, the World cups in Russia and Qatar do not have a shred of credibility?

I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Garcia report should be published in full. We were assured that that would happen but it has not, and Mr Garcia has made his profound dissatisfaction about that clear. But even the Garcia report did not go far enough, in that the enormous quantity of evidence suggesting corruption, which was published by The Sunday Times, was not examined by Mr Garcia. So even the report on the rather limited investigation that did take place has not been properly published, which is why the current investigations by the US authorities and, in particular, the Swiss authorities into the bidding process stand a better chance of exposing what actually happened.

I, too, declare an interest as Cardiff City’s ground is in my constituency, and Wales will be playing Belgium there later this month. The Secretary of State is coming across as if he is not taking a very activist approach to this matter. A few moments ago, he effectively said that bribery was responsible for the awarding of the World cup, when the Prime Minister and the second in line to the throne invested a lot of time and effort in that bid and the English FA put in a lot of money. If he really believes that, should he not be calling into his office the sponsors and the authorities and everyone else to ensure that we in this country are taking the maximum action?

A criminal investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups is under way, and we will co-operate fully with it. We will give it every support that it requires, and we will wait to see the outcome of that investigation. Clearly, if it were proven that corruption was involved, there would be serious questions about whether the outcome should remain, but we are not at that stage yet.

I will accommodate remaining interest if Members ask single, short, supplementary questions, rather than taking the Brennan approach, which was enjoyable but marginally longer.

Four years ago, the Prime Minister told Sepp Blatter that he had taken the game of football to new heights. I welcome the change of heart in the approach being taken, but will the Secretary of State listen to those Members who have called for the Government to be behind the efforts that are being proposed?

I was one of those Members. This was a matter that the Select Committee investigated three or four years ago. At that time, we expressed our profound dissatisfaction. We should give credit to the English FA for leading the campaign for change. Under the leadership of David Bernstein, before Greg Dyke, the FA made it plain that Sepp Blatter should not continue. That view received very little support then, but we have been drawing attention to the accusations and allegations of corruption within FIFA for some considerable time.

Newcastle is home to some of the most passionate football fans in the world, and the re-election of Sepp Blatter is a betrayal of that passion. The Secretary of State has implied that most of the support for Sepp Blatter comes from the African and Asian continents. Why is that and what can he and football fans do to address that?

It is a system whereby each country—there are 209 of them—has one vote. Some of those countries are small with very few resources of their own. There is no doubt that FIFA provides considerable resources to support football in such countries. It is a system that is almost designed to ensure that support can be bought. Therefore, what is required is not just a change of leadership but a fundamental reform of the way FIFA operates.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right to say that any decision regarding an alternative tournament must be for football itself. Would he not care to promulgate the idea that the home nations are open for business? We have the stadiums and there would be nowhere more appropriate for football to become clean than for football to come home to Wembley in the London borough of Brent.

I say again that we are not yet at that stage. It is a matter for the FA and other football associations to decide whether it is necessary to consider an alternative tournament. The hon. Gentleman will recall that England put in an extremely convincing bid for the 2018 World cup, although, at the time, it received very little support.

It has been reported that there was an internal report that recommended that there should be term limits for the person who holds the post of Mr Blatter and that that was blocked not by the other regional federations but by UEFA. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that is the case, and if so, is there not a problem in UEFA as well as in FIFA?

Mr Blatter has now been re-elected after 17 years in the post. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman whether UEFA blocked a proposal to impose a term limit, but I observe that Mr Platini was one of those who, unsuccessfully, went to Sepp Blatter to try to persuade him not to stand again.