Clause 11 - Football governance statement

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 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 clause 12 stand part.

Clause 13 stand part.

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)

Clause 11 provides a power for the Secretary of State to issue a statement on the Government’s policies relating to football governance. A football governance statement can be used only to flag issues within the scope of the regulator’s regulatory regime and should not be used to direct its day-to-day operations.

The regulator’s general duties, set out in clause 7, require it to “have regard” to any football governance statement when exercising its functions under the Bill. It is common practice for the Government to issue a similar statement with other regulators. The clause is an appropriate and proportionate power, which will help to give assurance to the Government and Parliament that the regulator is acting within its regulatory scope and has regard to arising issues. It will not interfere with any daily operations or affect the independence of the regulator.

On clause 12, the football industry should not be left to piece together what is expected of it based on the legislation alone. That is why the clause empowers the regulator to prepare and publish guidance on the exercise of its functions. That guidance will be crucial to translating the legal framework in the legislation into a detailed and practical explanation of the regulator’s regime. It will ensure that the industry understands the regulatory system, what to expect from the regulator and what is expected of it. Not only will that reduce burdens but it should, hopefully, improve compliance. The clause sets out that the regulator must publish guidance about the exercise of its functions under specific sections of the Bill and also permits the regulator to publish guidance about the exercise of any of its other functions. The regulator must consult any persons it considers appropriate before publishing guidance for the first time and before revising guidance in future, unless those revisions are minor. That will ensure the regulator takes into account the views of all relevant stakeholders and experts when preparing its guidance.

Clause 13 permits the Secretary of State to prepare and publish guidance on the regulator’s functions. That guidance is an opportunity to provide some additional detail as to how the Government intend the regime to be implemented, which was not suitable for inclusion in legislation. The industry and fans alike have been clear that they do not want to see ongoing Government involvement in football. That is why the regulator must have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance but is not obliged to follow it.

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

Clause 11 allows the Secretary of State to prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a football governance statement setting out the policies of the Government that relate to the governance of football, to which the regulator should have regard. First, I want to acknowledge that it is right that the regulator’s processes are independent of political influence. The core purpose of the new body is to be given independent jurisdiction over a remit focused on the sustainability of English football and it should have autonomy over its decision-making processes. I know that the likes of the Premier League are concerned that the statement might jeopardise that independence. Can the Minister confirm otherwise? I am sure he spoke about that in his remarks, but he can add more when he gets to his feet again.

Regardless of that, the independence of the regulator does not mean that there will be no interaction between its work and the will of the Government on football governance more broadly. It will therefore be helpful for the regulator to have a clear statement from the Government on relevant policies that might have an impact on its work. It is right that the statement is non-binding, to hopefully give the regulator the contextual information it needs without compromising its independence. It is also right that the statement cannot contain policies that are inconsistent with the purpose of the Bill or the regulator’s objective. That means that Government policy and the regulator will be united on the cause of ensuring the sustainability of English football. I am hopeful that the clause will therefore act as another confirmation that the independent regulator will work collaboratively within the many existing structures that have an impact on the game.

As the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford said on Second Reading, clauses 12 and 13 will be key to how the regulator evolves. Indeed, many of the questions I will ask the Minister in Committee are on topics that I believe will likely be answered more fully as part of the guidance that will accompany the Bill’s provisions. In short, the Bill is intended to provide a robust framework, and the guidance will flesh out how that framework can be translated into a real-life explanation of how the regulator will work in practice.

The guidance will improve transparency while also providing clarity for the competitions and clubs that will have to comply with the new regime. On clause 12 in particular, which relates to guidance that will be published by the regulator itself, that set-up will also enable the regulator to have some autonomy in the detail of its approach, subject to proper consultation and clear parameters set by the Bill. The IFR guidance on how it will exercise its functions relating to the discretionary licence conditions will be mandatory, with further guidance in other areas being optional. That will be incredibly important for clubs, allowing them to understand what the regulator seeks to achieve through the use of club-specific licence conditions and to become familiar with the detail of how the regime will be enforced.

There are many further areas in which I believe the IFR guidance will be beneficial so that the minimum standards are set. One area that springs to mind, and that I am sure we will go on to discuss, is how clubs can ensure their fan consultation meets the regulator’s expectations, as well as the requirements in the Bill. I would be interested to hear from the Minister on any other areas in which he believes guidance would be helpful. As with the state of the game report, the timely publication of the guidance will be crucial. Clubs and competitions will want clarity at the right time as they prepare for and adjust to the new regulatory regime. Can the Minister provide some insight on the timelines to which the IFR will or should be working to with regard to the guidance on passage of the Bill?

Clause 13, “Guidance published by the Secretary of State”, will primarily benefit the IFR. It is important that the regulator is able to understand the full intention behind the framework that the Bill provides so that it can exercise its functions accordingly. It is right that the guidance involves consultation with the IFR and relevant parties so that the resulting guidance is genuinely useful for facilitating the IFR’s work on football governance. In combination with clause 12, this will provide the colour to the clear boundaries that we are working to set through this 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)

I absolutely want to assure the hon. Lady about independence. It is essential that the regulator can deliver its regime free from any undue influence from industry or Government. However, as is the case with other regulators, it is appropriate that the regulator is accountable to both Parliament and Government. Holding it to account is also important to industry, which is why the Bill provides for that in a way that is proportionate while also protecting the regulator’s operational independence.

It will be for the regulator to determine when and where it publishes its guidance. We do not specify where it should be published, but we strongly expect that it will be published on its website in an easily accessible format in the way that most other regulators do, such as the Financial Conduct Authority with its handbook.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy

Could the Minister imagine a situation in which the Secretary of State issues guidance as per clause 13—for, example, on some of the issues raised by the shadow Minister, Stephanie Peacock—and the IFR then subsequently issues its own guidance as per clause 12?

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)

Yes, I have been very clear that the regulator must have regard to statements from the Secretary of State but is not compelled to follow them entirely. That is an important safeguard to ensure that independence in the setup that we are establishing.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 12 and 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.