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Football Governance White Paper

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 23 February 2023

I take your point on board, Mr Deputy Speaker, but please forgive my enthusiasm for this great announcement that we are making today.

Let me start by offering my deepest condolences to John Motson’s family. John had an incredible impact over his 50 years working at the BBC, and his legacy as a legendary commentator will not be forgotten.

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s reform of football governance. As I am sure many Members on both sides of the House will agree, in this country football is more than just a sport. It is part of our history, our heritage and our national way of life, bringing communities throughout the country together week in, and week out. We invented “the beautiful game”, and the Premier League and the English Football League are true global success stories, with matches exported and watched in 188 countries across the world and streamed into 880 million homes.

Despite this global success, however, it has become clear in recent years that there are systemic issues at the heart of our national game. Since the premier league was created in 1992, there have been 64 instances of clubs collapsing into administration. Some are historic clubs that we have lost forever, taking with them chunks of our history and heritage, and leaving huge holes in their communities. Bury football club is one example. Over its proud 134-year history, it managed to survive world wars, countless economic cycles and 26 different Prime Ministers, but it was driven to the wall by financial mismanagement, which damaged the local economy and left behind a devastated fan base. Those fans are still coming to terms with the loss of their beloved club. But it is not just Bury that has been affected: the same is true of Macclesfield Town, another century-old club, and of AFC Rushden & Diamonds. Countless others, such as Derby County, have been driven to the brink after stretching far beyond their means.

Despite the global success of English football, the game’s finances are in a parlous state. The combined net debt of clubs in the premier league and championship is now around £6 billion. Championship clubs spend an unsustainable 125% of their revenue on player wages alone and some clubs face annual losses greater than their turnover. Many, if not most, club owners are good custodians of their clubs, but all too often we hear of flagrant financial misconduct, unsustainable risk-taking and poor governance driving clubs to the brink. Owners are not just gambling with fans’ beloved clubs, but threatening the stability of the entire football pyramid.

Aside from the financial roulette putting clubs’ futures at risks, this is also about the way that fans have been treated. Over the past two decades, too many lifelong supporters have been let down, ignored or shut out by their own clubs. That has included the decision to move their stadium to a different part of the country, as happened with Wimbledon FC, or to change kit or badges without fan approval, such as when Cardiff’s owners tried to change the traditional kit of the Bluebirds, from blue to red. We also saw it with the European super league, when a small group of club owners planned, without any engagement with their fans, to create a closed-shop breakaway league, which goes against the very spirit of the game.

Football would be absolutely nothing without those fans, and yet too often their voices have not been heard. But we have heard them. That is exactly why I made sure that my first meeting as Minister for sport was with fan groups. I heard at first hand how poor ownership and governance can leave clubs at the mercy of careless owners. In our manifesto, we committed to a root-and-branch review of football, with fans at the very heart of that review. That review, excellently chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), highlighted a number of key issues that urgently needed resolving in football, and today we are acting on its recommendations, with the most radical overhaul of football governance since the rules were first invented in a London pub back in 1863.

With this White Paper, we will do five key things. First, we will bring in a new independent regulator to make sure that clubs are financially resilient. The regulator will operate a licensing system for all clubs in the top five tiers of English football. Those clubs will have to show that they have sound financial business models and good corporate governance before being allowed to compete. They will also be tasked with ensuring the stability of the wider football pyramid.

Secondly, we will strengthen the owners’ and directors’ test, to protect clubs and their fans from careless owners. There will be greater tests on suitability and on the source of funds. Thirdly, we will give fans a greater say in the running of their clubs. This will include stopping owners from changing vital club heritage, such as names, badges and home shirt colours, without consulting the fans first. Likewise, clubs will have to seek regulator approval for any sale or relocation of the stadium, and fan engagement will be a crucial part of that process.

Fourthly, we will give the regulator the power to block clubs from joining widely condemned closed-shop breakaway leagues, such as the European super league. Finally, we will give the regulator fall-back powers over financial redistribution. Supporting the pyramid is crucial and this Government have already committed £300 million of funding to support grassroots multisport facilities in England by 2025. When the financial health of the football pyramid is at risk, and football cannot sort out this issue, the regulator will have the power to intervene and protect the game. In short, we are protecting the long-term success of our national game, and restoring fans’ position at the heart of how football is run.

I want to reassure Members that this is not about changing the fundamentals of the game, or imposing unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on clubs. In fact, we would not naturally find ourselves in this space—having to regulate an industry that has enjoyed huge success without Government intervention over many years. However, despite the scale of the problems, and the huge harm that those problems can cause, the industry has failed to act, despite repeated calls for reform, so we have been forced to step in to protect our national game. This is about taking limited, proportionate action to maintain the premier league’s position as the strongest league in the world. It is also about safeguarding clubs across the country, from the biggest to those single- club towns where football sits at the very heart of the community.

This Government have proven time and again that we are on the side of fans. We committed to this review in our manifesto. We stepped in during covid to make sure that English football was one of the first leagues back across Europe. We got fans back into stadiums quicker than almost any other country, and we took action under competition law to support broadcasting revenues during one of the most difficult periods that sport has ever faced. That secured £100 million of funding for the game. We stepped in once again to block the European super league—a competition no fans wanted. When fans have needed us, we have been in their corner. Now we are putting them right back at the heart of football, and I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for his statement and for advance sight of it. The shadow Secretary of State is sorry not to be here. She managed to keep her diary clear on all the other days that we were warned to expect the White Paper, but on the day it finally arrived she had a commitment in her constituency. I echo the Minister’s comments about our sadness on the passing of John Motson. With the loss of Motty we have lost a real football legend.

Football clubs are at the heart of our communities. Football is a key pillar of our culture, society and economy, but it has long been in need of reform. Too often, decisions affecting our clubs have been made without reference to the fans, without whom football would be nothing. Historic clubs have collapsed because of the reckless actions of owners, and the perverse incentives created by pyramid finances. The longer we wait for change, the more clubs are at risk. Even now, Southend United is in crisis, facing a winding-up hearing next week. There is still no agreement between the Premier League and the English Football League on financial redistribution. Rumours continue about revised proposals for a new European super league. We are regularly reminded that this is an urgent issue.

Labour’s support for football reform and a fan voice has featured in all our manifestos dating back to 2010. That is why Labour welcomes the measures set out in the White Paper. We will look at the detail, but we strongly support the key proposal for the creation of a fully independent regulator of English football. Indeed, we backed the implementation of all the recommendations of the fan-led review from the beginning. Once again I thank the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for her leadership in getting us to where we are today, but I must ask the Minister why it took us so long to get here.

The excellent fan-led review report was published in November 2021. When the Government responded last year they said they would back all 10 strategic recommendations. They delayed—too consumed by chaos in the Tory party and the Government—and the promise to legislate was watered down to the publication of a White Paper. The White Paper was promised for months, and although we were finally told that we could expect it weeks ago before recess, instead it was leaked to The Sun newspaper. In the meantime, more clubs have struggled and come near the brink of collapse. I am pleased that we are finally making progress, although today’s announcement should not really have been about a White Paper; it should have been about a Bill. It is not clear how much more we will learn from a consultation on a White Paper that was not already explored by the fan-led review, which had wide-ranging fan and stakeholder input, supported by an expert advisory panel.

Given where we are, Labour wants to use the opportunity to help the Government make the future Bill as strong as possible. In welcoming the broad proposals, I ask the following questions of the Minister. First, financial sustainability is at the centre of the fan-led review. We need a regulator with sufficient teeth to ensure that our game as a whole is sustainable, as well as individual clubs being sustainable. We look forward to seeing the full detail of powers that the regulator will have to step in on issues such as redistribution if the football bodies do not resolve them. What can the Minister say about the review’s recommendations on other important financial issues such as the transfer levy, parachute payments, or sustainable player contracts?

The fan-led review proposed what was called a golden share, which is simply a requirement that there should be democratic fan consent for actions around heritage items such as club colours, names, badges, or relocation outside the local area. How will that supporter consent be guaranteed? When the White Paper was leaked, The Sun reported that the then Secretary of State wanted legislation in place for the 2024-25 season. Will the Minister lay out the consultative and legislative timetable that would allow that to happen? Is it the intention to legislate in this parliamentary Session, and how soon does he think we can get a Bill passed and an independent regulator up and running? Those are important and fundamental questions, because our national game needs action and change. Football fans have waited long enough.

I am grateful for the support that the hon. Gentleman has indicated today. We all recognise that action needs to be taken, and I am grateful for that support from the Opposition. I accept that time has been taken, but it is important to put on record that these are not simple matters. They are complex, and it has been important for us to ensure that we get this right. I have not been sitting on my hands; I have dedicated considerable hours to this, building on the extensive work in the review led by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford.

The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the finance side of things, and of course the regulator will have the teeth it needs to ensure support for the whole of the game. On fan voice, although we have not gone down the golden share route, the voice of fans is front and centre in this White Paper. It will basically achieve exactly the same thing, and it will be a condition of a licence for clubs to compete in English football. I am extremely grateful for the offer of support on the Bill, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman as we try to progress it through the House.

I join those on the Front Bench in paying tribute to John Motson. He was not just a commentator of great football matches; he was a commentator inside the head of millions of kids playing football in their back garden. He commentated many times on my Ricky Villa-esque swerves around flowerpot midfielders, and my Gazza-style chips over defenders, before my Clive Allen-style cup-winning glory goals against the back wall. His voice was unique, his expertise second to none, his sheepskin was iconic, and he will be much missed.

I thank the Minister for the White Paper. It has, I know, been a painstaking experience for him, but we are here due to his perseverance, and that of his officials. The White Paper honours and reflects the vast majority of recommendations in the fan-led review, which I and the panel, and the thousands of fans who contributed, appreciate. I genuinely believe that the White Paper does nothing to threaten the competitiveness, wealth or attractiveness of the premier league, but it will protect English football from vulnerabilities that in the past have had devastating consequences. I appreciate that we will now go away and look at the detail of the White Paper. I also appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have to ask a question in response to the statement, so is the Minister able to set out his vision for the timeframe for the next steps of the White Paper?

May I again put on record my thanks for all the considerable work done by my hon. Friend in this area? She is right to highlight the fans, and they have been at the forefront of my mind in all the meetings I have held to discuss the White Paper. I agree that there is no threat to competition within the White Paper. If anything, it will bring about a great deal of confidence, and I hope we will see even more investment—dare I say from the right people? On the time frame, we will be doing a short, targeted consultation following the publication of the White Paper. My vision is to get on with this as quickly as possible, and I know that the Secretary of State shares that as far as—Members will expect me to say this—parliamentary time allows. In the meantime we are also considering the establishment of a shadow regulator to do much of the preparatory work, so that once it is enacted, the regulator can get on with the work straightaway.

I welcome the White Paper, which contains most of the important recommendations of the fan-led review. Most football fans in this country will not read the White Paper, and probably do not have an understanding of our deliberations here, but if we do not implement this and get it right, the same devastating consequences will befall some clubs over the next few years as have already befallen clubs such as Bury.

One of the most important things is that the enormous wealth of football is distributed more fairly through the whole pyramid. The Minister says the regulator’s powers will be a fallback, but I think they will be necessary. Paragraph 9.12 of the White Paper talks about the regulator deciding on the

“issues that any financing would need to address.”

Is it not more than that? The regulator needs a steer from the Government and from this House on what those issues should be. Does the Minister accept that the issues are twofold? We should have a fair distribution that, first, ensures the sustainability of all clubs throughout the pyramid and, secondly, prevents the cliff edge of parachute payments, which create unfair competition at various points in the pyramid.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his work and for his extensive interest in this important area. He is right that we have to get this right, and that the implementation of the independent regulator will be critical. He is also right to talk about the distribution. We have secured powers for the regulator to use should there not be an agreement between the football authorities. We still urge them to get on with it. They can still come up with a deal, and I sincerely hope they do. As we progress towards legislation, we will be looking for the steer he mentions so that we can get on with the deal that everyone expects and for which they have waited far too long.

I congratulate the Minister on not only producing this long-awaited and welcome White Paper but on broadly agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), which in my experience is usually the easiest and quickest way to reach a conclusion.

The House knows that the Premier League is one of this country’s most successful businesses, exports and brands. The key issue for fans is how much can be squeezed from this golden goose without damaging it, so that we can give proper, long-term and sustainable support to clubs lower down the professional pyramid and, indeed, to the vital grassroots of football. Whatever happens, and however quick the consultation, the regulator will not be in operation for another 18 months or two years. How long does the Minister propose to give the game to sort out the key issue of the distribution of money?

I thank the acting Chair of the Select Committee. He is right to point out that the premier league is the most successful league in the world. We were careful not to do anything to damage it as we developed our thoughts in the White Paper. He is right to talk about the importance of grassroots sport. In every meeting, I have urged the EFL, the Premier League and others to come to a deal and to get the distribution of payments sorted out as quickly as possible. Only when we have the regulator in place will the powers be available for a deal to be struck, but I urge the people in those negotiations to get on with it, and to get on with it quickly.

I associate myself and my party with the sadness expressed on the passing of John Motson.

Well done, His Majesty’s Government. I think Kieran Maguire, the host of “The Price of Football,” will be very pleased with what has been said today. I am the only Scot remaining in the Chamber, but I believe football is for everyone, on whichever side of the border they live. Scotland has gone some way down this road. I appeal for everything humanly possible to be done to co-ordinate with Scotland and Wales to make sure there is a universality of approach, because we can learn from each other to get it right.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As a proud Unionist, I am more than happy to work with my counterparts in the devolved nations. If we want to have a lesson on how to deliver sustainable football, we will happily talk to our Scottish colleagues.

I welcome the White Paper, on which I congratulate the Minister and the Secretary of State. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and her team on their excellent work on the fan-led review.

I especially welcome the proposal for an independent regulator for English football, but will the Minister please confirm that the financial powers of the regulator, which are essential to rebalancing the game, are not just powers of last resort? If they are, it will surely be a potential lost opportunity.

It is always hard to answer questions from my predecessors, but it is a privilege to do so. My hon. Friend is right to talk about the financial support needed by the whole pyramid. I can assure her that we have made sure the provisions of the White Paper and the powers of the new independent regulator will be there if there is no agreement, but I still believe that football can come up with a solution, and it needs to do so quickly.

I welcome the White Paper and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), but I take issue with the paragraph that says:

“Both the Premier League and EFL are in agreement that a greater quantum of cash needs to flow through the pyramid”

That is absolutely not true. The position of the Premier League is that it should continue with the parachute payments, which is the impasse to our getting a fairer distribution of resources. Ministers can stand at the Dispatch Box and say they have pleaded with the two parties to come together to reach an agreement, but it will simply not happen because of the intransigence of the Premier League. We cannot wait for the independent regulator to go through all the processes set out in chapter 9 before coming to a decision about what side to come down on in that argument. We need urgent action, otherwise other clubs could disappear. What will the Government do to urgently address that issue?

If we had not published this White Paper, and if we did not have the intention to introduce an independent regulator, there would be no option for bringing the parties together to make sure a deal is secured. The regulator will look at the detail of the deal, and it will be able to consider issues such as the parachute payments. The independent regulator will have those powers.

It is wonderful to see ideas presented as Government policy that many of us in this House have been advocating for more than a decade. I fully welcome the White Paper, but will the regulator have the power to demand access to real-time financial information from the clubs, and not just rely on the clubs to self-report their own budgets and forecasts? As we know, failing clubs often try to hide that they are failing for as long as possible, often until it is too late.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that the independent regulator has access to that real-time information. In preparation for legislation, we are considering exactly what we need to do by learning lessons from other regulators, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, to ensure that the independent regulator has the power to look at the proper figures on owners’ wealth and the source of that wealth. That will give confidence and stability to the whole football pyramid.

I, too, welcome the publication of the White Paper. I agree with Gary Sweet, from Luton Town, that an independent regulator will

“provide all clubs with the fairest opportunity to compete through sporting endeavour whilst operating sustainably, with the inclusion of supporters and influence on their communities.”

I wish to press the Minister on the supporters’ voice element, given the absence of the golden share mechanism. Can he assure me that there will be formal recognition of the supporters in any shadow regulator or regulator, to ensure that licence conditions that affect fans so much can be considered in a formal sense?

I absolutely can give that guarantee. One of the four thresholds to securing a licence to compete within English football will be the fan interest—that will be an important element. Those clubs will have to demonstrate that they are regularly engaging with their fans, and talking about the strategic plans they may have for the club and other important aspects, such as the club heritage. Throughout this, the fans need to be front and centre of everything the regulator is thinking about.

My brother and sister—the whole family—are complete football nuts, so I know from them that, because I do not spend every weekend on the terraces, I should not comment on football. What I do know, however, is how important football is to communities, and seeing Forest Green Rovers fans in Nailsworth on match day, all over Stroud district and in schools whenever I visit is a genuine joy. Other Members have raised concerns, which I share, on the speed with which the football wealth will flow down to the lower leagues, but I want to press the Minister on the fact that the Forest Green Rovers owner wants the regulator to regulate the environmental performance of clubs as well. Forest Green Rovers are an absolute beacon in that regard. Does the Minister envisage sustainability being part of the regulator’s work or that of the football authorities? Will he meet Forest Green Rovers to discuss that matter?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and she is right to highlight the great experience that so many fans at Forest Green Rovers have each week. The independent regulator will primarily be focused on financial stability, but I assure her that, whenever I have opportunities to raise issues such as sustainability, I always do so. Of course, I would be more than happy to meet as she requests.

Further to what the Minister has said about the redistribution of funds, how will he ensure that funding gets down to the real grassroots, not just to the lower leagues?

I assure the hon. Lady that for me grassroots football and grassroots sports are really important. It is a force for good in so many ways. It is important in increasing people’s activity levels, it is good for their mental health and it has so many other benefits. That is why we have already committed nearly £300 million for the provision of grassroots sports facilities. We will continue to work with the Premier League, the EFL and others across sport to encourage more investment in grassroots facilities, because we recognise the huge benefits that brings to the population as a whole.

Fans in South Ribble of proper football clubs such as Manchester United—I am aware that there may be others—were deeply worried about the European super league and will hugely welcome the regulatory proposals to prevent a travesty such as that happening in future. So I thank the Government, but I note that this is covering only the men’s game at the moment. We have LetGirlsPlay Day coming up on 8 March, when junior schools such as St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in Penwortham and St Catherine’s Catholic Primary School in Leyland will be encouraging women and girls to get involved. What does this review have to say to women’s football, in order to both increase ground-level participation and ensure that investment is going into the ever-expanding women’s professional game?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue, which was of course an important area of work within the review. I am pleased to say that we have set up an independent review of women’s football. We can all celebrate the wonderful expansion in the popularity of women’s football that we have seen since the Lionesses’ tremendous success. I have been meeting colleagues within the Department for Education to talk about the provision of sport for women and girls, because we recognise that that is an important area of work. I am looking forward to that review concluding and providing its report. Obviously, we will give our comments on it once it is published.

I declare an interest, as honorary vice-president of Hayes & Yeading United football club. May I turn the Minister’s attention to page 50 of the White Paper? It looks at enhanced due diligence on sources of wealth, which I welcome completely. In the engagement process that the Government are now going to undertake, will we also look at other criteria as to sources of wealth? In particular, I am thinking of sources of wealth from state funds, sovereign funds and individuals associated with regimes that have records of human rights abuses. Such criteria are being introduced on the London stock exchange and elsewhere, and they need to be taken into consideration, because of the reputational damage to the individual club and to the country.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We are going to look at all these issues in preparation for the legislation and we will, of course, look at the issue he mentions as part of the consultation that will happen following the publication of the White Paper.

Following years of misery and uncertainty for fans at local clubs such as Charlton Athletic, I welcome the news on an independent football regulator. Will the Minister assure my constituents that the regulator will have sufficient powers to deal with regulatory breaches and strengthen those ownership tests?

Absolutely. This is why we will make sure that the independent regulator is backed by legislation; we want to ensure that it has the powers that are needed. We need to ensure that it has the sanctions needed so that it can do the important work that we are commissioning it to do. My hon. Friend is right to highlight those specific areas and as we develop the legislation we will ensure that that aspect is as strong as possible.

I thank the Minister for his statement and very much welcome the publication of the White Paper and the strategy that has been outlined.

Amateur leagues in Northern Ireland— I know that that is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I use it as an example—are thriving. People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to train, play and attain physical fitness. How can we ensure that all levels of football can be enhanced through the application of this report’s findings? What will his Department do to help smaller and amateur leagues because it is important that they are part of this process?

I have mentioned, time and again, in the many Westminster Hall debates in which the hon. Gentleman has appeared that leagues such as those he mentions are incredibly important. I see my job as dealing not just with the professional side of the football pyramid; all those amateur clubs are incredibly important, as they do so much good work in our communities. Supporting them will be incredibly important and they will feature heavily in the sports strategy that we will develop very soon.

Football would be nothing without the fans, which is why I am so pleased that the Government are putting them at the heart of football governance. Today, we are sending a clear message that, regardless of which team Members support, we are all on the same side as the Baggies fans in our fight for our club. I congratulate the Minister on the publication of the White Paper, which is world-leading. While he continues to support us with ongoing issues at West Bromwich Albion, will he meet fan groups that he has joined me in championing?

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), who have been diligent in campaigning hard on behalf of their local fans. I would be more than happy to meet them. As I said, I ensured that my first meeting as Minister was with fans, because I wanted to hear their voice loud and clear, and I am glad that through this White Paper their voices will be heard loud and clear by the regulator.

May I declare an interest, as the chair of the all-party group on football supporters, the secretariat of which is supplied by the Football Supporters’ Association? Kevin Miles, its chief executive, is with us in the Gallery today. Fans are the lifeblood of clubs, not just an asset to be cynically sweated, as was said by Mike Ashley when he took over Newcastle United about 14 years ago. I really welcome this White Paper, although it is long-awaited. The Minister said that before legislation is passed he would establish a shadow regulator that would do some scoping work to closely analyse what is happening on the ground now, and the preparatory work so that, once the regulator is properly established and underpinned by legislation, it can hit the ground running. Will he now commit to setting up that shadow regulator?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman referred to Kevin Miles and all those at the FSA. They were the group I was talking about a few minutes ago and I was particularly struck by some of their horrific stories, including that of Blackpool fans who had to boycott their own club for five years, which shows the huge sacrifice they were making.

Absolutely, there is a long list. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am actively looking at the shadow board and, while I cannot make that commitment right now, I understand the merits of our having one.

We have heard about the importance of having good owners. In Bassetlaw, we are fortunate to have both Worksop Town and Retford United top of their respective leagues, but I am a Notts County supporter, and we have pretty much been through it all over the years. I have seen the club in administration for a record period, unscrupulous owners and the fans trying to take over the club, which did not quite work out either. Now things are a bit better and we are top of our league as well, due in no small part to 30 goals from our “non-league Haaland”, Macaulay Langstaff. The problem is that the football authorities have failed time and again with clubs up and down the country, whether on financial fair play or the fit and proper test. Can the Minister reassure us that the independent regulator will put right many of the things that the football authorities have managed to get so wrong over the years?

I know some within football are somewhat critical today of our publishing this White Paper and our intention to establish an independent football regulator, but they had their chance. They have had many opportunities to sort this out and have failed to do so. It is precisely because of the examples that my hon. Friend rightly points out and the difficulties that so many fans have experienced in the past that we have stepped in and we will sort this out.

Will any strengthened owners and directors test overseen by the independent regulator take into account human rights violations, and will it make a proper assessment of ownership and bids that are likely to be connected to state ownership?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. While this is not about a foreign policy, we will ensure, first, that we know who the owners actually are—I have had examples of some clubs that have no idea who actually owns the club—and, secondly, that that person will have to go through a vigorous fit and proper person test, so we can examine the points that I think all the fans want examined. Fans want to know that owners have the best interests of their clubs at heart, just as they do.

Southend United football club is the heartbeat of our local community, but that heart is currently on life support. Will the Minister pay tribute to the Shrimpers Trust, the ShrimperZone and The Blue Voice for all they have done to keep Southend United going? They will warmly welcome this White Paper and having a greater say in the running of their club, but will the Minister confirm that the strengthened owners and directors test in the White Paper should mean that Southend United’s current situation will never be repeated?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and pay tribute to her for the enormous amount of work she is doing on behalf of her constituents and the fans at Southend. She has been relentless in pursuing me on this issue and I am sure the fans will be extremely grateful to her for that. She is absolutely right: the independent regulator will be monitoring the situation in each club at a much earlier stage so that there can be intervention, if necessary, before we get to the crisis point, to put those clubs on a stable footing so that they can be there not only for the people who enjoy them today, but for their children and grandchildren.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I declare an interest as a Norwich City season ticket holder and King’s Lynn Town supporter. I welcome the White Paper’s focus on a sustainable and competitive game, but introducing new regulation should be the last resort, so we need to ensure this is a truly proportionate regime. Given the focus on fans, will my right hon. Friend consider proposals to allow non-league clubs that took out sport survival loans, the repayment of which may threaten the viability of some, to convert those loans into equity gifted to supporters’ trusts, leaving a legacy of greater fan ownership of community clubs? Will he meet me to discuss those proposals?

My hon. Friend is right that it is disappointing that we have had to step in here to introduce the regulation. That is why we have taken time. We are ensuring that it is proportionate. We do not want to put too much pressure on the clubs that are lower down the league, but we need to ensure they are run properly. He is asking me to make a spending commitment; I think my colleagues in the Treasury would be extremely cross with me if I committed to that, but I am more than happy to meet him to discuss his proposal.

Bill Presented

Holocaust Memorial Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary James Cleverly, Secretary Suella Braverman, Secretary Kemi Badenoch, Secretary Gillian Keegan and Secretary Lucy Frazer, presented a Bill to make provision for expenditure by the Secretary of State and the removal of restrictions in respect of certain land for or in connection with the construction of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 254) with explanatory notes (Bill 254-EN).