Clause 5 - Establishment of the IFR

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss schedule 2.

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)

The provisions in schedule 2 ensure that the regulator has the necessary structures in place to function effectively and efficiently with appropriate accountability as a public body. It ensures that an agreed and transparent process is adhered to when establishing a governance framework, including its board, committees and expert panel. It provides the necessary flexibility to future-proof the regulator and the agility to act quickly where required.

We have made provision for the regulator to appoint an observer from the Football Association. As the national governing body for English football, it will be able to provide insights on behalf of the football industry to support the board if needed in the execution of its functions. Ultimately, the regulator will be accountable to Parliament, but it will be operationally independent and free from undue political or industry influence. The provisions in the schedule are central to creating this framework and strike the right balance between those competing demands.

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

I am extremely pleased to welcome these provisions, which establish the long-awaited Independent Football Regulator as a body corporate. This is a good opportunity to discuss why it is important that the independent regulator has been established in the form it has—a body that is operationally independent of current football governance structures. This independence will be key in ensuring that decision making is impartial, free from conflict and credible. As the fan-led review clearly reveals, public confidence in existing football authorities is unfortunately very low. Part of the reason for this, according to the review, is that the constitutional set-ups of existing authorities are inherently conflicted and

“the rules of regulation being set by the parties that are to be regulated.”

There are two big problems with that. First, it results in clubs being naturally incentivised to prioritise their own interests rather than the long-term view of what is best for the game. Secondly, it means that there is a natural disincentive for disciplinary action to be taken where it might be commercially damaging for the club involved. Though this new phenomenon was identified by the fan-led review, it is not a new concept. It has been over a decade since the 2011 Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report that made recommendations to improve the accountability of the regulation of football, and it is almost 20 years since the Burns review, which found football governance unfit for purpose.

Opportunities have been presented over and over, but the same problems have prevailed. This is why it is important that we are finally here today. Independence does not mean that the regulator will have no relationship with existing structures. As we will discuss, working constructively with football governance will be vital to the regulator’s success. This does, however, bring up questions of regulatory clarity.

As it stands, I am not entirely convinced that everyone is clear about whose rules will take primacy and when. The Government’s response to the White Paper consultation seemed to be firm on this, identifying that although there needs to be collaboration, the regulator will be the ultimate authority on matters within its remit. However, the Bill is not always clear, so I hope this is something we can come back to and clarify as we progress.

It is also important to note that the regulator will be independent from politicisation and undue influence from the Government, which is important not only for the sport as a whole, but to ensure that the regulator in no way impacts compliance with UEFA and FIFA rules. Overall, however, I am pleased with the institutional location of the regulator and the fact it is finally being established through the clause.

I move on to schedule 2, on membership of the regulator, which provides some welcome insight into the structure that the regulator will take in reality. However, I believe that some questions have been left unanswered by the information in this schedule, particularly with regard to appointments. We will go on to discuss that during amendments 14 and 15. For now, I have a couple of other points to make.

First, it would be good to get clarification from the Minister on the appointment of an observer from the Football Association. The fan-led review recognised that as the national governing body of English football, the FA should be considered for observer status. However, the actual provision in the Bill seems slightly broader and more ambiguous—the power is given to the Secretary of State, who “must” appoint a representative from the FA; further to that, this representative will be an observer of not just the board, but the IFR’s proceedings. As a result, it would be good to know whether the intention of this provision is that the FA’s observer role allows it access to internal proceedings, or just formal meetings of the board, and whether in such meetings it will be able to participate and input, or its role will be limited to observing and listening.

I would also appreciate some clarity on how the legislation will ensure that the observer is independent of interest, including in any specified competition. This is particularly important if the observer does not have access to internal proceedings, as it could allow them to access confidential information provided by clubs. Will the Minister set out whether he expects that the observer would have access to that confidential information, and whether there is merit in requiring some confidentiality from them in return? This is an important issue, as the regulator must be truly independent if it is to provide a solution to many of the issues, as we hope it will.

Secondly, and finally, I know some supporters’ trusts, including Everton’s, have raised concerns that supporters will not be involved on the IFR board and expert panel. To be clear, I am not advocating for any formal representation for fans at this level, but I think there is an opportunity for the Minister to set out the ways in which the regulator itself will engage with fans so that supporters can be confident that their voice matters.

Overall, however, I am pleased to see the regulator established as an independent body, so I support what these clauses are trying to achieve.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Llafur, Luton South 2:30, 16 Mai 2024

I would like to build on the comments made by the shadow Minister, particularly on the appointments to the independent regulator and the expert panel. We heard much in the evidence sessions around equality, diversity and inclusion, and I seek assurances from the Minister that there will, in the usual way with public appointments, be a desire for the board to be reflective of society. We have heard, sadly, that we do not see people with a range of diverse characteristics coming through to senior levels in all aspects of football, across the game—there are very few such referees, and so on.

On appointments to the expert panel, I would like a little more clarity from the Minister on the fact that the chief executive officer must exercise the power to secure

“the range of skills, knowledge and experience of the members of the Expert Panel”,

which includes skills, knowledge and experience relating to

“the operation, organisation or governance of clubs or competitions, and financial or other regulation.”

Reflecting on what we already know about the game, could we have some assurance that this provision merely includes that range of skills, and that we could, in fact, have a wider range of skillsets? We want to ensure that we recognise equality, diversity and inclusion in appointments to the expert panel and the board, so that we are not restricted only to people who have experience of the operation, organisation or governance of clubs or financial or other regulation. Other regulators often have a lay person, for example; they may be a senior professional, but they bring a sort of objectivity to the table that others who are very involved in the industry sometimes cannot see. I hope we can have some clarity from the Minister on that.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Can I just raise two issues? The first is about appointments to the board. Does the Minister feel that the issue of conflict of interest is important? Does he feel that he ought to be setting down somewhere what conflicts of interest may amount to, and what may disqualify someone from being a member of the regulator’s board? Secondly—this issue arises in Select Committees from time to time—will the regulator’s chair be subject to a pre-confirmation hearing by the Select Committee?

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 agree with the hon. Member for Luton South about the independence of the football regulator; we were really careful to ensure that as we drafted the Bill. She is right that we have to take into account the UEFA and FIFA rules. That is why we have made sure throughout that the regulator will be independent, including from political interference. We would not in any way want to see any sanctions on English football because of any pressure that might be given. As with others, we have engaged with both of those bodies. So far, we feel that they recognise that we have gone to great lengths to ensure that that independence is recognised.

On the board being reflective of society, I am a big advocate of making sure that that happens. There are the usual processes of Government appointments; as hon. Members will know, that issue is very much a consideration. Work is constantly being done to encourage a wide range of candidates to apply. I suppose this gives me an opportunity to shout out to the wider society: get involved! We need a very diverse range of candidates to apply for these positions.

We absolutely need to ensure that the measures on conflicts of interest are in there, just as we would with any other public body, and, yes, there will be a requirement for pre-confirmation of the chair through the Select Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.