Schedule 2 - The Independent Football RegulatorSchedule 2

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:30, 16 Mai 2024

I beg to move amendment 14, in schedule 2, page 82, line 20, leave out “is satisfied” and insert “has ensured”

This amendment would strengthen the responsibility of the appointer.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 15, in schedule 2, page 82, line 20, at end insert—

“(1A) A person appointed to the board must declare any interests they consider might give rise to a conflict of interests or the perception or a conflict of interests.”

This amendment would strengthen the duty of an appointee to declare a conflict of interest.

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

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the appointments process for the regulator. I was pleased to hear the Minister’s comments just now and those by Dame Caroline Dinenage on Second Reading; she confirmed that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will be holding a pre-appointment hearing with the chair of the regulator once there is a preferred candidate.

The first chair will have a formative role in shaping the regulator at a time when implementation will be key to success. However, on the whole, the Bill has provided limited information about how candidates for roles will be vetted. This is an incredibly important process to consider, not only due to the sheer importance of many of the decisions that these experts will be making but because we must be very careful not to import the same industry groupthink that has caused us to need an independent regulator in the first place.

There is no point in setting up an independent regulator if it is run by those who can offer no real independence from existing football governance structures. To ensure the strength and independence of the regulator, therefore, we require more detail in the Bill about appointments, as well as due diligence on behalf of those making the appointments in practice. The schedule does offer small bits of guidance in this area. It states that a person can be appointed only if their appointer is satisfied they do not have a conflict of interest, and that is an important start.

However, as Fair Game points out, the schedule is not comprehensive enough to provide the necessary assurances that the board will be free from such conflicts. Indeed, as the Bill stands, it does not say that a person cannot be on the board if they have a conflict of interest; instead it is more subjective, giving the power to the appointer to make the determination that they are satisfied there is no such conflict. I am simply not sure that that is strong enough.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Llafur, Liverpool, West Derby

What the shadow Minister is saying is so important at the moment, because there is a complete lack of trust and faith in the game. That is why we are sitting here today. We heard from the evidence sessions that that lack of trust is hardwired in the National League, the EFL and the Premier League, so ensuring that everybody who loves the game sees the independent regulator as something to be trusted and as completely independent is so important. That is one of the key reasons why we are here today.

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

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. He is absolutely right, and he sums up why the process for appointments must be robust and underpinned by transparency and accountability on all sides.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Ceidwadwyr, Chatham and Aylesford

The shadow Minister is making a very important point, but has she looked at the public appointments process on the Government website? The appointment to the independent regulator will be subject to the processes from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which has stringent rules around appointments, particularly regarding transparency and conflicts.

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

I welcome that input, and that is absolutely right. I am trying with these probing amendments to seek some clarity from the Government, so that all hon. Members and everyone who has an interest in the Bill are satisfied. I tabled them to make important clarifications and to ensure that appointments to the regulator are free from vested interests. I believe that that is the intention behind the Bill.

It is peculiar that the process of declaring a conflict of interest does not involve potential appointees making any declarations themselves. Given that potential appointees are the experts on their own history, they must take a level of responsibility for ensuring that time is not wasted as part of their appointment. Amendment 15 would ensure that candidates are obliged to make a declaration if they hold any relevant interests that might give rise to a conflict. That would create a pathway for unsuitable candidates to be easily and quickly dismissed, and ensure that the appointer is not the only person responsible for identifying conflicts. That shared accountability would strengthen the process.

The involvement of the appointer in any investigation of any potential conflicts will also be crucial. I tabled amendment 14 to require appointers to categorically and objectively ensure that the candidate is free from vested interests. It is not enough for an appointer to simply say they are satisfied that there is no conflict; the Bill must require a level of intentional due diligence on behalf of the appointer, so that if any conflicts are identified later down the line, there is a level of objective accountability. Replacing “is satisfied” with “has ensured” will strengthen not only the wording but the entire system of appointments.

I hope that the Minister can accept the changes as a necessary part of achieving the Bill’s aims, or at the very least can provide clarification on why the Bill as drafted allows for subjectivity in decision making when it comes to conflicts. It is only by getting the appointment system right that we will get the regulatory system right. We hope that the process will be watertight.

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 Government recognise the intent behind the amendments, which is to make certain that the board is free from conflicts of interest—not least given the fact that so many of the witnesses talked about trust, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby just mentioned. It is essential that the regulator can deliver its regime free from influence from Government or the industry that it will regulate, which is why independence has driven the design of the regulator from the start. That is reflected throughout the Bill and will continue to shape how the regulator is established, including the appointment of its board.

I strongly support the objective that conflicts of interests should be managed appropriately, but the amendments are unnecessary. The current drafting, supported by public law principles, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford hon. Friend mentioned, and non-legislative measures already in place achieve that objective. The appointer must already satisfy themselves that a candidate board member is free from conflicts before appointing them, and the board members will have responsibilities to openly and honestly declare any interests that could give rise to actual or perceived conflicts.

In addition to the checks for conflicts at the point of making the appointment, there is an explicit requirement in schedule 2(22) for members of the board to declare their interest in any matters that fall for consideration by the board. That paragraph sets out a process for managing any interests in line with the approach taken for other regulators, and provides assurance regarding the suitable management of board members’ interests. Members of the regulator’s board and their terms of appointment will be subject to the Cabinet Office’s “Code of Conduct for Board Members of Public Bodies”, which sets out clear requirements on the appropriate disclosure and management of conflicts of interests. For the reasons that I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Barnsley East, and I hope that she will withdraw it.

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

I am grateful to the Minister, and on the basis of what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.