Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require football clubs to offer for sale to their supporters a specified percentage of shares in the club upon a change of ownership; to require that a minimum number of places on the club’s board be set aside for election by a qualifying supporters’ organisation; to define what constitutes a qualifying supporters’ organisation; and for connected purposes.
With my Bill today, I intend to begin the process of giving football fans their voice. From the very top of the game at FIFA and UEFA down to club boardrooms, fans have little representation. It is a sad fact that as football has become more and more of a global business, fans’ influence on their clubs and the governance of the game has become less and less. Many have talked about empowering fans, but when I have asked how that can be done, no one has had the answers. What do they mean when they say that they want to empower fans, to give them representation on club boards, or to give them the power to buy shares? I undertook to find out what was possible and whether that would fit with what the fans are asking for and meet EU competition rules.
I held a consultation with fans up and down the country, and I am grateful to the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct for their help in communicating with fans’ groups. A total of 95 representatives of fans’ groups responded to my survey. One hundred per cent. responded positively to the question, “Should fans have more influence over the way their club is run?” Around 85% agreed that fans should be represented on club boards, and 97% said that supporters’ organisations were not given significant recognition by those involved in the governance of the game.
In July 2011, in its report on football governance, under the section headed, “A way forward for supporter ownership”, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended that Ministers looked at two areas, the second of which was
“measures that increase the opportunity for supporters trusts to achieve a share in their clubs, whether on a minority or majority basis.”
In response, the Government said, in paragraph 40, that they urge
“the football authorities to consider ways to actively encourage and incentivise methods of including supporter representatives on the Boards of clubs.”
Under paragraph 67, they said:
“The Government is fully committed to ensuring that the changes put forward by the football authorities make a lasting and substantive difference. If that does not happen the Government will introduce a legal requirement on the Football Association to implement the appropriate governance clauses by the swiftest possible means. To do that the Government will seek to secure, using all available channels, appropriate legislation as soon as Parliamentary time allows. There is a strong case for such legislative proposals to be formally considered in pre-legislative scrutiny.”
On the issue of fan ownership, in the same response to the Select Committee, the Government said:
“The Government will consider bringing together an informal expert group to report on the degree to which there are other issues that create genuine barriers and to provide recommendations for practical action.”
That was in October 2011 and it was not until October 2014, six months before the general election, that the Government set up the expert working group. I am certain that the Government will say in response to my Bill that we should wait for the working group’s recommendations, but it took three years for the Government to set up the group and they did so knowing that there was no chance that they would have to respond to its conclusions before the general election. Until I am convinced that the Government intend to act, I shall proceed with my Bill.
The Bill seeks to do three things. The first is to give fans the power to buy up to 10% of shares that are offered for sale when there is a change of ownership, which is recognised as being when 30% of the shares are up for sale. The fans’ right to buy will not stop any transaction being completed and anyone purchasing shares will know that fans have the right to buy up to 10% of the shares purchased for up to 240 days after the transaction is completed. These will be bought at the average price paid by the buyer for the relevant securities in the year preceding the change of control. This automatic option will be capped once the fans have acquired 10% of club shares, but that would not prevent fans from buying more shares if they wanted.
In addition, fans will be given the right to elect and remove two representatives on the boards of clubs or 25% of the board membership, whichever is the greater number. Fan reps will have to undergo training to understand the sensitivities of their role as board members.
Finally, in order to take up these powers, a club’s fans must organise themselves into a single representative body. I would suggest the model of an industrial and provident society, but I appreciate that fans will want to be consulted on the best way forward. I will undertake to do that. There is no escaping the fact that there will be a requirement on fans to act collectively to set up a single democratic and accountable body for the election and scrutiny of board representatives and the management of shares. The Bill will set out what constitutes a viable fan body for this purpose.
We have talked around this issue for too long. Some have said that the people in the fan groups are not representative of ordinary fans, but they are the ones who helped me to consult the members of the fan trusts and fan clubs. They are the ones represented on the Government’s expert working group, whom the FA consult and who step in when an irresponsible owner has destroyed their club. We need only to think of Hereford, which has been resurrected by fans, of Portsmouth and Swansea, and the remarkable story of AFC Wimbledon. They all have one thing in common: football fans have had to step in and save their local club when the owners have destroyed it. As football fans, our passion for our clubs is lifelong. We do not change our clubs like we change the supermarket in which we shop.
We have seen how the game has become increasingly remote from the people who make it what it is today. Football fans create the atmosphere in the grounds and make our leagues so exciting to watch, which in turn makes money from the sale of the TV rights, yet on issues such as ticket prices, club names, sponsorship deals, stadium naming rights, club colours and moving clubs, they are too often an afterthought.
Our football clubs are not simply businesses. They exist because generation after generation of people from the communities in which they are situated have sustained their clubs through thick and thin. I do not present the Bill as a solution to all the problems, but giving fans a voice is a stepping stone to more accountability in the game. Fans are not the solution to every problem, but they can and will be the eyes and ears of an early warning system for emerging problems.
Today we take a step towards putting fans on club boards, but in time it will be the FA board and the boards of UEFA and FIFA. It is time to trust the people who make the game special—the fans, who will be there long after the owners have moved on.
Question put and agreed to.
That Clive Efford, Mr Gordon Marsden, Ian Lavery, Barbara Keeley, Daniel Zeichner, Matthew Pennycook, Jenny Chapman, Bill Esterson, Vicky Foxcroft, Anna Turley, Andy Slaughter and Jim Shannon present the Bill.
Clive Efford accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 December and to be printed (Bill 50).