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Football Governance

Volume 825: debated on Thursday 3 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they expect to bring forward legislation to implement the recommendations of the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance, published on 24 November 2021; and in particular, the proposal for an independent regulator.

My Lords, the Government published their response to the recommendations made by the independent fan-led review of football governance in April 2022. The Government recognise the need for football to be reformed to ensure the game’s long-term sustainability. We continue to consider the policy and consult interested parties, but the Government remain committed to publishing a White Paper setting out our detailed response to the fan-led review.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the noble Lord back to his place on the Front Bench and commiserate with the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, his predecessor, but this is part of the problem. The Conservative Party made a strong manifesto commitment, as did our party, to hold a fan-led review of football’s governance. I appreciate that we have had a year of on-off, merry-go-round government, but a year has passed since the review was published and nearly six months since the Queen’s Speech announced a White Paper. When can we expect some legislative protection for our football clubs? When can we start to see the interests of the fans who give their support week in, week out to football clubs properly represented? This has been going on for far too long, and I think we are all beginning to run out of patience.

I join the noble Lord in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Kamall, with whom I swapped places on the substitutes’ bench; I hope that his stay there will be as brief as mine. However, for all the changes in ministerial positions, the work to continue examining the recommendations made by Tracey Crouch, in commitment to and fulfilment of our manifesto pledge, as the noble Lord said, has continued at official level. The Secretary of State and my right honourable friend the Sports Minister, who have stayed in place, have been engaging with organisations. The Sports Minister made sure that his first meeting was with the Football Supporters’ Association. They are taking the time to continue that engagement and to look at the policy, and they will bring forward a White Paper with the answers to these complex issues soon.

My Lords, will the Minister assure us that the Government are still in absolute agreement that there needs to be change and that it will happen soon? If that is so, can they assure us that we will not be talking about this in another year’s time, because there needs to be action now? Those assurances are required, and other sports have similar problems. I put my hand up as a rugby union player.

Yes, we still agree that football needs to be reformed to secure its long-term sustainability. Some of the action can be taken now; it does not require legislation or government action. The clubs can do it—for instance, on the financial flows throughout the football pyramid. We continue to encourage clubs to do that, and we are discussing the challenges facing rugby football clubs as well.

My Lords, on 25 April, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, answered a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, about the fan-led review. His first words were:

“My Lords, the Government have endorsed the principle that football requires a strong independent regulator to secure the future of our national game.”—[Official Report, 25/4/22; col. 4.]

He has not referred to a regulator in his answers so far today. Can he confirm that it remains the Government’s policy? In an interview with the Sun newspaper on 19 July, his right honourable friend the Prime Minister was reported as having made the following promise:

“In a bid to pitch himself as a footie-mad man of the people, Tory frontrunner Mr Sunak promised to hand fans power over dodgy owners in a radical shake-up. The diehard Southampton fan said he would implement all ten of the recommendations from former sports minister Tracey Crouch’s fan-led football review in time for the World Cup.”

I do not think he can do it in time for the World Cup, but can the Minister say whether it will be before the end of the Parliament?

My Lords, much has changed even since the Prime Minister made those commitments. My right honourable friends the Secretary of State and the Sports Minister are taking the time to consider the recommendations of Tracey Crouch’s review. We remain grateful to her and the thousands of fans who took part in it and informed it. The noble Lord should not read any more into that than that they are taking the time to look at this complex area of policy and to discuss it with the FA, the EFL and supporters’ organisations among others. We will bring forward our response in the White Paper.

My Lords, I declare an interest in so far as I am the president of a football club with 47 children’s teams, and as a struggling Evertonian. I spoke in April about the need for fans to have real input and real say in the day-to-day running of their clubs in their communities. Nothing has changed since then apart from the fact that, particularly in the Premier League, more owners than ever are foreign investors, particularly from the USA, or even people from the Middle East who murder innocent journalists. Can the Minister explain why these takeovers are being allowed to happen in our national game, without the fans being given any real say or influence?

We want to give fans a strong voice in the governance of the national game. That is why we had the fan-led review, and we are grateful to everyone who took part in it. The response in April stated that

“new owners’ and directors’ tests will help to ensure the future sustainability of our … clubs”,

which play such an important role in their communities, and that ensuring that football has suitable owners and directors is crucial to securing the long-term future of the game.

The Minister has given some rather vague assurances today, which cause some concern as to whether the Government will row back on what has previously been said about the regulator in particular. Can he be firmer about the commitment the Government will make? These problems have been around for a long time. He has said that we “will” get a White Paper and that they “will” consider the problems. When will we get a White Paper?

The White Paper will set out the detail that I am unable to give at the Dispatch Box today. My right honourable friends the Secretary of State and the Sports Minister have engaged directly with football organisations and football supporters to discuss the complex issues and to take forward the recommendations made by Tracey Crouch and the fan-led review. The White Paper will be coming soon, but I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Baroness a date today.

I thank my noble friend for the kind message regarding my being put on the subs’ bench. I want to ask about the thinking in the department. Can we still set the same objectives in a fan-led review, but without a regulator, and are there alternatives that may be considered just as effective?

Officials and Ministers in the department are discussing the recommendations of the fan-led review with all the interested parties, taking into account all those views, and the White Paper will provide the answers which my noble friend and others seek.

My Lords, words such as “discussing” and “reviewing” indicate that the department seems to be kicking this ball into touch. Does the Minister recognise that, with every month and every year that passes, clubs that have been part of communities are being lost, and that more delay will mean that more clubs are lost?

As I said to the noble Lord’s noble friend earlier, football itself can take forward some of the recommendations in the fan-led review which we endorsed in April, such as financial redistribution throughout the leagues. We urge them strongly to do that, and my right honourable friends have done so directly.

My Lords, we need to be a little careful that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water. The Premier League is the envy of the world; it attracts the world’s best players. As a Liverpool fan, I could not let this debate go by, being led just by an Evertonian. I urge us to be very careful to ensure that the Premier League stays the premier league.

My noble friend raises some of the complex issues with which my right honourable friends are grappling in their discussions with everybody interested in this matter, including supporters’ groups and the fans themselves, and they will bring forward our answers in the White Paper.

My Lords, we have had two attempts on this side, first from my noble friend Lord Faulkner and then from my noble friend Lady Taylor, to get an answer to a specific question, which is whether the Government stand by their commitment earlier this year and endorse the principle that football requires a strong, independent regulator. If I ask the Minister a third time, might it be third time lucky?

I may disappoint the noble Lord by repeating that we are looking at that and all the recommendations that Tracey Crouch and the fan-led review made. He should not read anything more into it than that we are taking the time to give those complex recommendations the thought and attention they deserve, and the White Paper will provide the answers to his question.