Clause 1 - Purpose and overview

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Christopher. I thank members of the Committee for their time and commitment, and I thank all the officials who have done an enormous amount of work in preparing the Bill. It would be remiss of me not to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford for all her work on preparing it.

Clause 1 sets out the purpose of the Bill and summarises what each part of it provides for. Its purpose is crucial: it underpins the regulator’s entire regime, as the regulator will be obliged to act in accordance with it at all times, so far as is reasonably practicable. Since the fan-led review was published, the Government have been clear that the pre-eminent failure in this market is the growing risk of football clubs being unable to continue providing their service. The potential harm that that can cause to fans and the local communities reliant on the clubs is unacceptable, and the industry has not been and is not doing enough to tackle the risk. That is why we are intervening here, and that is the Bill’s purpose.

The clause explains that the purpose of the Bill is

“to protect and promote the sustainability of English football.”

It goes on to define that, for the purposes of the Bill, sustainability refers to a continuation of service in the interests of fans and for the wellbeing of local communities. In essence, clubs should not be lost to their fans and communities now or in the future, be that through financial collapse, relocation 60 miles away or turning their back on their fans to join a new breakaway competition. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

It is great to be here today to welcome the Bill as it enters its next stage of scrutiny. As I outlined on Second Reading, Labour has supported reforming football through an independent regulator for football for a long time. We echo the Minister’s thanks to all the officials for all their hard work, to all Members on both sides of the Committee, and in particular to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford for all her work on the fan-led review.

We want to scrutinise this Bill appropriately, and I look forward to doing just that in the coming days. However, given how long it has taken for this legislation to be introduced and the number of fans who have had to watch their club pushed to the brink in the meantime, we want to see the regulator implemented as swiftly as possible. I am therefore pleased to see a degree of consensus around the implementation of an independent regulator across the House. With that in mind, I have been focused on tabling amendments and will shape my remarks to be constructive where possible, while of course giving the Bill the scrutiny it deserves. I hope to be able to work with fellow members of the Committee to make sure that the Bill truly achieves its aim of ensuring the future of English football for generations to come.

Getting clause 1 right is crucial to the rest of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill, and therefore the regulator, will underpin all the other measures that we go on to discuss. It will act as a reference point to return to when interpreting the overall sense of intention and direction of the whole regulatory system.

It was the fan-led review that first noted that the regulator would need a clear statutory objective, which it said would be useful for dictating to the board and employees of the regulator what the body is there to achieve, how it should assess any problems and the outcomes it should deliver. If well designed, it should seek to tackle many of the problems identified within English football: the poor management of clubs, substandard corporate governance, the lack of fan involvement and the unsustainable finances that have threatened the long-term health of football. As a result, the fan-led review suggested that the objective should include acting in the interests of both local fans and communities. It said:

“There is no one else more important”,

a sentiment with which I absolutely agree. It must be central to both the Bill and the future regulator that football works in the long-term interests of fans and communities. I am therefore pleased that the clause defines English football as sustainable if it

“continues to service the interests of fans of regulated clubs” and

“continues to contribute to the economic or social well-being of the local communities” with which the clubs are associated.

Given the centrality of those concepts, it is curious that the likes of fans’ communities and social wellbeing are not defined in the Bill. The explanatory notes indicate what those terms might mean in practice: “fans” might mean season ticket holders and regular match-goers, and “local communities” might mean the people

“who live, work or trade in the geographic area associated with a football club”.

However, those indications will not become law when the Bill is passed, which leaves ambiguity as to how they might be interpreted. I ask the Minister why fans, communities and social wellbeing are not given clear definitions and whether he believes that there is potential for such terms to be misunderstood or misused as a result.

Further to that point, some clarity is needed that when we talk about the “interests of fans”, we mean their long-term interests. I can imagine quite a few scenarios in which it might be in the fans’ interest for their club to adopt reckless short-term strategies to achieve immediate on-field success. Yet those short-term strategies might lead to the club’s long-term financial demise, which is contrary to the aim of the Bill and against the long-term interests of fans and communities. Can the Minister therefore confirm that the phrase “interests of fans” must be taken to indicate a long-term continuation of the club and its heritage, rather than anything to do with on-pitch results at any given time? I agree with the principle of centring fans and local communities in the Bill and the regulator, but we must make sure that we are clear on what that means right from the very beginning, to ensure that the intended outcomes are achieved.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

I thank the hon. Lady for her opening comments. She will know from our engagement that we centre fans in the whole of the Bill’s process. She is right that as we go through line-by-line scrutiny, I will be able to give more indications that fans need to be consulted when it comes to important decision making by clubs up and down the country. Some clubs are doing that brilliantly, but we need to raise the bar. I hope that the provisions in the Bill will ensure that that happens and that fans will rightly be at the centre of the clubs they support.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.