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Football Governance

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 16 September 2021

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that very warm welcome.

Football is central to our national life, which is why my predecessor announced this root-and-branch review of the game led by the fans. This might be a good point to mention my own interest in football, as well as in rugby league. My great grandfathers were founding members of Everton football club, although I am a Liverpool supporter, so I declare my interest on day one.

My Department has supported the chair and advisory panel to collect more than 100 hours of evidence and 20,000 responses from football fans. I look forward to receiving the final report of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and the recommendations later this autumn, and I am ready to take bold action whenever necessary to protect the identity of our national game.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer and I welcome her to her new post and congratulate her on the appointment. The interim report from the chair of the panel makes it clear that the panel intends to introduce a golden share for fans to have a veto over certain reserved powers such as club names and colours and similar powers to those under assets of community value legislation to protect stadiums and training grounds. This is a welcome recognition of the power of football fans, but what discussions has the Department had in preparation for the final report with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and local government to make sure we can move quickly on the recommendations that we know are coming in the autumn?

I obviously do not want to predict the findings of the final report or predetermine the outcome, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, the interim report is available on the Government website. My predecessor saw at first hand at Brentford that a golden share can do what the hon. Gentleman outlines without undermining the ownership of clubs. The review has been extensive, involving over 150 clubs and 20,000 fans, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford has met numerous organisations and stakeholders throughout the industry. I look forward, as the hon. Gentleman does, to my hon. Friend’s report later this year. I can promise from the Department’s perspective that it will be extensive and will certainly have consulted many people.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment; she will do a sterling job, as she has done at the Department of Health and Social Care in extremely difficult circumstances over the past year and a half. The fan-led review is hugely important, especially given the recent European super league proposals. What discussions is she having with football clubs on the review and does she plan to meet any clubs in the near future?

The review is a root-and-branch examination of football in this country and looks at the financial sustainability of the football pyramid as well as governance, regulations, ownership and the merits of an independent regulator. There is much work to do; being just 35 minutes into the job I have not arranged a meeting yet, but I will be holding a roundtable this coming week with football industry representatives.

The Secretary of State will be fed up with congratulations soon, but let me add mine as well. She mentioned the question of ownership in football. She knows the north-west well enough where we have seen the collapse of Bury football club because of incompetence and malign owners, and very recently a hostile takeover bid for Rochdale football club in my constituency, which was resisted and, fortunately, defeated. There needs to be some review not only of a potential super league but of the capacity of owners to deliver to the communities that spawned their clubs in the first place. Will the Secretary of State make sure that that is taken properly on board following the review?

I absolutely will. Fans are the lifeblood of football and sport. The review is considering the issue of club ownership in light of the submissions and evidence from supporters representing more than 150 clubs, and I will certainly consider any proposals very seriously.