Skip to main content

English Football: Independent Regulator

Volume 821: debated on Monday 25 April 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to introduce legislation to create an independent regulator for English football.

My Lords, the Government have endorsed the principle that football requires a strong independent regulator to secure the future of our national game. I am pleased to say that we will publish the government response later today, where we will set out plans to reform radically the governance of men’s football in England, accepting the 10 strategic recommendations of the fan-led review. Any legislation required to put an independent regulator on a statutory footing is of course subject to parliamentary time.

My Lords, as a supporter of Derby County Football Club, who as a team have shown tremendous spirit again adversity in the past months, I followed the fan-led review closely. Does the Minister accept that the time to legislate for an independent regulator is now, in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech? Further delays will add to the risk that the proposals will be watered down or simply not happen. What plans do the Government have to introduce a shadow regulator before legislation takes effect, which was also one of the key recommendations in the fan-led review?

As the noble Lord will know, the Government continue to engage closely with the English Football League about Derby County Football Club. Speaking so close to the gracious Speech, I hope that he will forgive me if I do not anticipate that, but the full government response to the fan-led review—which the Government commissioned —is published this afternoon. We have accepted all 10 of the strategic recommendations put forward by Tracey Crouch and the review. My honourable friend the Sports Minister will be setting out further detail in another place.

My Lords, as a supporter of Aston Villa, who beat Derby County to return to Premier League three years ago, I tell the House that the Premier League has accepted the need for reform of football. Can the Government therefore reassure the House that nothing will be implemented that could damage the global success of the Premier League and, in so doing, undermine the rest of the football pyramid?

The noble Lord makes an important point. We want to make sure that those who generously invest in football are able to continue to do so, and to make sure that this investment flows right down the football pyramid so that it can be enjoyed by people, because football clubs are important to their local communities, as noble Lords know. We think that the owner and director test needs to be looked at, but we want to encourage investment across the whole of football.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that history demonstrates the need for tough regulation? I am slightly worried about the wording here, which refers to creating an “independent regulator”. We need something stronger.

My Lords, the independence of the regulator is an important aspect of its work. The Government see the two key problems in English football as the significant risk of financial failure and the risk of harm to the cultural heritage of clubs. That is why we agree with the recommendations of the fan-led review and are setting out our details in another place.

My Lords, today’s announcement on football governance is of course a very welcome step forward. Fans, when you talk to us all, are demanding more than just consultation about club colours and stadiums. It is the day-to-day running and ownership of clubs that makes a difference to fans’ real involvement, as with their counterparts in Germany, for example. Therefore, can the Minister give assurance that this first step is not the last, and that fans will at long last have real input and a say in the running of their clubs in their communities? As already mentioned, can he explain why we need a White Paper or another consultation when Tracey Crouch has already consulted so widely? The last thing that football needs is more dilly-dallying and delays on this really important matter for fans and clubs.

The noble Lord is right that the voices of fans need to be heard clearly. That is why this was a fan-led review and why we are grateful for all those who participated and gave their thoughts. The issues highlighted in the review are, in some areas, complex and the reforms need careful analysis to make sure that we get them right and safeguard the sustainable long-term future of the sector. My honourable friend the Sport Minister will set out further detail in another place.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that all professional sport has had problems? Community-based clubs representing us nationally in both forms of rugby, for example, have come under pressure and indeed collapsed or had to be reconstituted. Will the Government use this example as a way of making sure that all sports are better regulated? If they become successful, they become community assets, and all deserve to be looked after.

The noble Lord makes an important point. There are lessons to be learned for other sports from the work that is being done here. The fan-led review had its origins in some of the challenges facing a number of football clubs, which is why the Government set it up. We are grateful to Tracey Crouch and to everyone for their thoughts. This review does have a wider application.

My Lords, I am grateful for this government initiative. It is overdue. Will Ministers talk to people in Europe and around the world? Given the problems we have seen in recent years, the same regulation is needed for both the European and international game.

The focus of the fan-led review is on men’s football in England. This is where the Government’s response, which is being set out today, is focused. There is work to be done internationally. We are discussing this with the international bodies, as well as with those at home.

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord’s ministerial colleagues will have heard the strength of feeling in this House about the need to legislate quickly and to include something in the Queen’s Speech. I understand that the Minister cannot give an answer now. I accept the very welcome commitment in the response published today, but what assurance can the Minister give that the excellent report by Tracey Crouch does not suffer the same fate as that of the Football Task Force, on which I served more than 20 years ago? Those recommendations were kicked into touch, in effect, by the Football Association and the Premier League. I urge the Minister not to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Austin. He certainly does not speak for fans on this matter; nor does he reflect the feeling in this House.

The noble Lord knows Tracey Crouch, the former Sport Minister, as well as I do. She has worked extremely hard in leading the review and is the greatest evidence that it will be followed through. She will see that action is taken. We are glad to accept all 10 strategic recommendations in her report.

My Lords, will the activities of the regulator be confined to football or might other sports be included; for example, cricket?

My Lords, at the end of March it was reported that DCMS had hired a New York consultancy firm, Oliver Wyman, to design the future independent regulator of English football. The department confirmed that but did not offer any further comment at the time. Can the Minister update your Lordships’ House on this contract today? Can he provide further information about, for example, the length of the contract, the terms of reference and its estimated value?

I cannot give the noble Baroness all these details, not least because my honourable friend the Sport Minister is setting out further detail in another place. I shall be glad to write to the noble Baroness to follow up on all these points.

My Lords, the running of the football league includes Welsh clubs. Under the new auspices, what do the Government intend regarding, for example, Swansea, Cardiff, Wrexham and Newport? In this sense the English football league is also the Welsh football league. Lastly, will the Minister use his considerable influence to persuade the Lords spiritual to pray hard for my own team, Everton FC? It is in trouble and may go down to a hotter place.

I cannot speak for the Lords spiritual, but I know that their prayers will be ecumenically directed. The noble Lord makes an important point. As with the application of the review to other sports, there are lessons to be learned for football internationally and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We are discussing this with individual teams and with sports bodies.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the problems with the Football League is that it never seems to have enough resources to conduct a proper fitness test on prospective owners and directors of football clubs? I realise that the Statement is yet to come. Is this issue being taken seriously enough to ensure that the regulator will have sufficient resources to do an effective job?

As I said, the current tests for owners and directors do not go far enough in assessing the suitability for ownership of clubs. My honourable friend will set out more detail, following the recommendations made in Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not anticipate what he will say.