My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question given earlier today in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. The Statement is as follows.
“Mr Speaker, the arrests that took place in Zurich yesterday, along with the statements released by both the US Department of Justice and the Swiss Attorney-General were shocking in both scale and scope. Unfortunately, they were far from surprising. Anyone who has spent any time looking at FIFA will know that this is merely the latest sorry episode, which has revealed FIFA to be a deeply flawed and corrupt organisation.
These revelations have shown how important it is for sports bodies to uphold the highest standards of governance, transparency and accountability. That is what we ask and expect of all our domestic sports bodies in the United Kingdom. International bodies should be no different. This is particularly true for an organisation like FIFA: an organisation that should be the guardian of the world’s most popular sport, not one whose members seek to profit personally from the passion of the game’s fans.
I welcome the investigations that are now under way into the allegations of bribery and corruption and I fully support the Football Association’s position that significant and wide-ranging reforms are urgently needed at the very top of FIFA, including a change of leadership. I also welcome the statement from UEFA, which has called for a postponement of the election, and the statement from Visa this morning. It is important that other sponsors reflect on their links to FIFA and consider following Visa’s lead. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport will be writing to her European counterparts later today, setting out our concerns and seeking their support for change.
Finally, I pay tribute to the insight team of the Sunday Times, without whose investigative journalism many of these allegations may never have come to light. Football is the world’s game, and it is our national game. It is a fundamental part of British life and culture. Yet these revelations have dragged the game’s reputation into the mud. The time has clearly come for a change, and we will offer whatever support is necessary to the Football Association to see that change realised”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Question and congratulate him on his appointment. There are two points that I would like to press him on. The first is whether investigations have been undertaken in this country into whether British nationals and British banks have been involved. Is he confident that no licence fee money has found its way into corrupt hands?
My other concern relates to Qatar and the World Cup. I have raised the issue of human rights today; clearly, hundreds of workers have already died building the stadia there. Their human rights are being systematically abused. Will the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to press Qatar on those conditions and on its current kafala visa system? Also, what representations have the Government made to Qatar on the detention of BBC journalists investigating human rights abuses in Qatar?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his very kind welcome once again to the Dispatch Box. It has been some long years since I last did it. He mentioned three points. On Qatar and the workers’ charter, we have very close relationships with Qatar, which we are continually keeping under review. In response to a request by FIFA on 12 February 2015, the supreme committee announced this workers’ charter, developed with the International Labour Organization, which seeks to protect the rights of migrant employees. The charter includes measures on health and safety, living and working conditions, wages and grievances. It also highlights plans to ensure that all workers are treated equally and fairly. We will keep a careful watch on what is happening.
The noble Lord also mentioned organisations and banks, and asked whether any investigations were ongoing in this country. It is currently too early to say, but no doubt the SFO will keep a very close watch on what is happening in both America and Switzerland, and will be taking great care to keep an eye on these events.
On the noble Lord’s third point, the BBC journalists have now been released. Great concerns were raised between ourselves and the Qatari Government, who claimed that the BBC crew trespassed on private property. The BBC has demanded a full explanation from the Qatari authorities, while FIFA issued a statement saying that it is to investigate this. Any instance relating to an apparent restriction of press freedom is a concern to FIFA.
Will my noble friend take this opportunity to recognise and congratulate the Swiss authorities on their co-operation with the US judicial authorities, particularly given the presence in Switzerland of many of the international sports federations? Will my noble friend also reinforce the point that the key to resolving crises in sports administrations, whether international or national, from Salt Lake City to FIFA, is the need for state-of-the-art good governance, transparency, accountability and professional management equivalent to that of a FTSE 100 company, and a move away from their own lex sportiva, under which, as with FIFA, they too often hide behind in order to operate?
My noble friend is quite right. As the House knows, he is very experienced in matters of international sport. As the Secretary of State said in his Urgent Question, “These revelations have shown how important it is for sports bodies to uphold the highest standards of governance, transparency and accountability”.
My Lords, I congratulate the Secretary of State on all aspects of what he said. More or less five years ago, I suggested that FIFA operated as a Mafia family and was thought to be either excessive or mad. That turned out to be a very modest statement compared with the reality. Would the Government welcome the opportunity to have joint detailed discussions with the FA, possibly involving people with long experience of the FA and football administration, to make sure that the discussions with the FA finally rest in reality? I am not offering to do this but think of noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who produced an extremely important report on the FA. Secondly, will the Government urge that all investigations are now undertaken by the police and formal authorities rather than through FIFA’s internal processes, which are at best obscure and the outcomes of which are always secret?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord who is well known in this field and is a man of honour and integrity. He raised important points. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will take careful note of what he said. The SFO will carefully monitor what is happening in both America and Switzerland with regard to the investigations.
My Lords, allegations about FIFA are nothing new. There have been repeated suggestions that all has not been well for a very long time. Sepp Blatter should hang his head in shame and resign immediately rather than wait to be forced out for the appalling state of FIFA’s affairs. The UK Bribery Act requires firms to guard against the risks of corruption so that staff and management are simply not put in a position where inappropriate influences are brought to bear. These principles are urgently needed in sport where the fans rely on good governance to secure the best for their competitions. Therefore, I ask the Minister to look at the principles set out in the Bribery Act to see how these might be applied to sporting governing bodies to ensure that those involved in sports governance are subject to the same rules on propriety, ethics and transparency as we would expect from public officials and business leaders.
My Lords, the noble Earl’s welcome return to the Dispatch Box is marked by unanimity across the Chamber. That is very welcome indeed. Does he agree that UEFA holds the key to whether FIFA can be reformed? If it is willing to boycott the assembly which is due to start tomorrow and effectively pull out of it, that would make a great impact on FIFA and could assist with the reforms which I think everyone in the Chamber wishes to see. I wish to press the noble Earl on what he said about sponsors. Are the Government willing to talk to some of these not just household names but very great worldwide brands and their representatives in the UK to make clear our displeasure at what is going on and the fact that their names are being tainted by the association with FIFA?
My Lords, the point the noble Lord made concerning sponsors is very valid. The fact is that the disgust of the paying footballing public will not go unnoticed by the sponsors. I feel that more and more pressure is being put on FIFA. As the noble Lord said, UEFA and Michel Platini will no doubt play a very important role in this regard.
Given my noble friend’s close connection with Switzerland and, indeed, my own, will he take on board the fact that there is enormous good will within Switzerland and UEFA for everything that is done in this country—I call it the home nations: Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales—with regard to FIFA? The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has put down a marker not just in your Lordships’ House and with the Football Association—on at least three occasions he has laid the ground for what I hope could be fruitful diplomatic solutions to start to sort out this major problem. Will my noble friend take that on board and recommend to the Minister that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, be put towards the front in this regard?
I thank my noble friend for his very important point. He referred to another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that I failed to answer—namely, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is having a telephone conversation with Greg Dyke this afternoon and will have a meeting with him next week to take this matter further.