Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I believe that I can tick that off in the box of "a mildly encouraging reply". Perhaps we shall come to the issue again when the next Bill relating to the electoral commission is debated. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 62:


On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 63 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 64 to 69:


    Page 23, line 29, at end insert--


("( ) Omit subsections (1) and (2).").


    Page 23, line 30, at beginning insert ("In subsection (5),").


    Page 23, line 32, leave out ("this section") and insert ("subsection (5) above").


    Page 23, line 44, leave out ("any such special lists or records,") and insert ("the place and manner of its publication, and


(ii) the procedure to be followed in the preparation of any such special lists or records,").


    Page 24, line 9, leave out ("section 13A") and insert ("sections 13A and 13B").


    Page 24, line 14, leave out ("or 13A(2)") and insert (", 13A(2) or 13B(3)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Bach: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

14 Feb 2000 : Column 991

Football: Commercial Issues

7.33 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the report of the Football Task Force on commercial issues.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to those of your Lordships who have put down their names to speak in this short debate, which is about the primary report of the Football Task Force on commercial issues. I served as the task force's vice-chairman from its inception in July 1997 to 22nd December last year when the final report was delivered to the Minister for Sport.

The task force was established as a direct response to widely shared concerns about where football was going and how it was treating its customers. Our terms of reference from the Government were to draw up plans to help to eliminate racism in football, improve disabled access, encourage greater supporter involvement in the running of clubs, encourage fairer ticketing and merchandising policies, develop the opportunities for players to act as good role models and reconcile the potential conflict between the needs of shareholders, players and supporters. Therefore, your Lordships may judge our effectiveness against those criteria. Taking our four reports together, did we achieve what we set out to do? My view is that on the whole we did, and much more effectively and with a greater degree of consensus than many thought possible at the outset.

The consultative process which led to the drafting of each report was extensive and thorough. Its central element was the programme of away-days to the 10 major cities of England, during which we took evidence during the day and held well-attended public meetings during the evenings. What impressed all of us about those occasions was the strength of feeling displayed by the supporters. At times, that approached outrage over the way in which they were treated by those who control and in many cases own football.

We took as our starting point the assumption that things were seriously wrong with the game and its governance. We learnt that football is quite different from any other consumer product or service. Supporter loyalty for a team lasts from the cradle to the grave. Perhaps the attachment that individuals have for their church is in the same category. However, one is not charged for a seat at a service and one certainly does not find worshippers buying replica cassocks from a church shop with the vicar's name on the back.

The football product may be on offer in scores of outlets almost every day of the week and, theoretically, the consumer is free to choose which supplier's product he or she wishes to buy. However, in practice each club is a monopoly supplier. The Newcastle United supporter has no more than one first team Newcastle product to buy. One would be ill advised to suggest to the fans who are taking their club to court

14 Feb 2000 : Column 992

because they are being forced to move seats that they can always take their custom down the road to Sunderland, Hartlepool or Darlington.

What are the issues about which supporters feel most strongly? The answer, overwhelmingly, is ticket prices. Sixty per cent said that they were not happy with the level of prices and half said that clubs had not got the pricing right. And no wonder! We compared prices which prevailed at the end of the 1980s, before the Hillsborough disaster, with now. The average for an adult non-concessionary ticket in 1988-89 was £4.03. Now, it is £17.42. That is a price increase of 331 per cent. Prices generally, as measured by the RPI over the same period, rose by just 54.8 per cent. It is hardly surprising that 70 per cent of those who have stopped going, or hardly ever go, say that the price is the main reason for their non-attendance. We encountered a range of other consumer complaints, including poor treatment of away fans, the availability and price of concessions, replica kits exploitation, and so on. Your Lordships will find the details in our report.

We took a lot of evidence on what happens when clubs are floated on the Stock Exchange. We found that three-quarters of supporters believed that flotation was a recipe for conflict between their interests and those of shareholders. We also received allegations of financial impropriety--sometimes horrifying impropriety--and examples of how club grounds had been sold for private gain against the interests of the club and its supporters.

Therefore, it was obvious that we had to include in our recommendations proposals for some form of independent regulation and a means for providing a consumer voice for disaffected fans. But could we do that and still manage to keep all the task force members on board? For a while it looked as though that might be possible. In August last year the football authorities produced a paper which contained proposals for,


    "the establishment of best practice guidance, the setting up of an independent scrutiny panel, performing a function not unlike that of the British Standards Institution or the Audit Commission, and the conduct of a health check/audit on the state of regulation, best practice and governance on a regular basis".

Most of us on the task force took the view that that represented a huge step forward. It was very much in line with the new approach which the new Football Association chairman was bringing to his organisation. It involved major changes in corporate governance and action, at last, on the implementation of Sir John Smith's recommendations on dealing with financial impropriety.

In my view, the independent members of the task force at least would have signed up to a report which gave the FA as the governing body a clear, defined role as the regulation enforcer. Accordingly, we produced a further draft of the commercial issues report which made the authorities' idea for an independent scrutiny panel the centrepiece of the new regulatory framework. But because in the end the football authorities were not prepared to make their scrutiny

14 Feb 2000 : Column 993

panel a permanent standing body, they decided that they had to produce their own report. That is why there was a split report.

Their paper represents a substantial step forward compared with where they were three years ago. They accept the need for a customer charter and a code of practice. They propose some valuable safeguards to prevent the sale of grounds. They stick with their plan for an independent scrutiny panel which would review and assess the quality of the system of regulation, best practice and governance provided by the authorities.

But the majority of us on the task force felt that more was needed. The main recommendation in our report was the establishment of a football audit commission to make football and the actions of football clubs publicly accountable. We also proposed the appointment of a supporters champion, who we christened the "ombudsfan", who would be able to investigate individual complaints and seek redress. The third element in our paper covered the code of conduct for clubs, including such matters as limits on price rises, fairer ticket distribution, supporter representation and the running of clubs and limits on clubs which go to the Stock Exchange.

Both reports were considered by the All-Party Parliamentary Football Committee on 11th January. That committee supported the majority report and tabled an Early-Day Motion in another place which has so far attracted 97 signatures.

So now it is over to the Government. Everyone concerned with the game awaits their response with great interest. I know that my noble friend may not be able to give us a definitive reply this evening, but I hope that he will allow me to suggest what may be a way forward. I do not believe that the gulf between the two sides is so wide that it cannot be bridged.

I would be willing, for one, to give the new chairman and the new chief executive of the Football Association the opportunity to show that they can address the issues which the task force's investigations have uncovered. It should still be possible to establish an independent regulatory body at the FA provided that it is at arm's length from the FA. It does not matter whether it is called the football audit commission or the independent scrutiny panel provided it does the job properly. It must show that it would have dealt effectively with the scandals of recent years; that it would apply a strict fit and proper persons test to root out of the game people who should not hold any sort of office in it--the sort of thing that the Jockey Club does routinely in racing.

The new body would also have to demonstrate that it is on the side of football's customers, the fans, who must be given the means to have their complaints properly considered and to seek redress. It must be a permanent standing body, not one that meets for just a couple of weeks a year and has no teeth.

I am sure that the Government would much prefer effective, independent self-regulation of football to statutory control; and so indeed would I. But I must say to my noble friend that the Government have raised the expectations of supporters to such an extent

14 Feb 2000 : Column 994

by establishing the task force and involving them in it that they cannot afford to ignore the conclusions which we reached and the concerns which we uncovered. I am sure they will not.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I am immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for introducing this debate. Indeed, he asked me to speak in it. As your Lordships know, that is very dangerous. I have only six minutes because the debate is time-limited.

First, in congratulating the noble Lord, I ask your Lordships and, indeed, the noble Lord to start at the beginning of this fascinating report. The chairman, who used to be a right honourable colleague down the Corridor, said that:


    "We resisted the temptation to go to see how much better the game is regulated in Hawaii, Bali and the Seychelles".

Perhaps the vice-chairman will tell me where he and his colleagues did go. Did they go to "Baywatch" or Australia? We are not told. It may be that he will not have the time to do so.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page