Council of Europe (UK Chairmanship)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:09 pm on 27th October 2011.

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Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 5:09 pm, 27th October 2011

It is a pleasure to be called, and a privilege to have the chance to play a small part in this debate. The UK chairmanship of the Council of Europe comes round not very often, so we can truly say that we will not see the like of this parliamentary occasion for decades to come.

I concur with many colleagues who have spoken, particularly on the urgent need for reform of the European Court of Human Rights and the terrible problems caused by the large backlog of cases. I am sure that all hon. Members know of constituents who simply do not know whether a case that they have submitted will ever be heard, and who do not know where they stand.

My hon. Friend Mr Gale and others commented on the importance of internet governance in Europe. That is important in terms not only of internet freedoms, which were an important part of the Arab spring, but of personal security and trade. We need the internet to work as an open common trading environment. People who seek to pass off goods or to break copyright and intellectual property protections on goods and services in the EU, and who use the internet to facilitate that, should know that the force of law will come down on them. That is a challenge for the Council of Europe, the Government and the EU.

I should like to use the time allowed not to go over some of the matters that have already been covered, but to ask the Minister to consider ethics and integrity in sport—another important matter—as part of the work of the UK chairmanship of the Council of Europe. The debate is timely, given the Council’s work on match fixing, on which it has engaged with UEFA. It is also part of the general debate on the reform of FIFA, the governing body of world football, about which members of the Council have also had things to say.

Sport and the ethics of sport have played an important role in the Council of Europe since it was started in 1949. Through the years, the Council has built up significant competence in specialised areas such as quality assurance in sport, and agreements adopted at world and European political levels. The Council of Europe has a unique and important role to play within the sporting environment. It is not a member state Government, an EU institution or an international Government or body, but a forum that brings together people who have concerns about the future of Europe, how countries work together, and the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy. It works across the political spectrum, including in the world of culture and sport.

The Council passed the enlarged partial agreement on sport, which provides a forum for a discussion of ethics in sport and for championing those issues. In 2005 the Committee of Ministers adopted a recommendation that called on the Council to consider that

“good governance in sport is a complex network of policy measures and private regulations used to promote integrity in the management of the core values of sport such as democratic, ethical, efficient and accountable sports activities; and that these measures apply equally to the public administration sector of sport and to the non-governmental sports sector”.

The Committee also called on the Council to consider setting up

“mechanisms to monitor the implementation of good governance in sport principles, and put in place mechanisms to deal with inappropriate or unethical behaviours in sport, including prosecution where necessary.”

Those are fundamental points, and I am pleased that the Council considered them in its working activities. It could bring those recommendations to bear and raise the issue of good governance with FIFA, the world football body. An active debate on that has been led by Members of this Parliament—the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport this year produced a report on FIFA reform and allegations of corruption against senior officials within the game.

FIFA is based in Europe, and as we have heard, almost every country is represented in the Council of Europe. One country that is not represented is the Vatican, which FIFA is like in some ways. It has an extremely powerful global figure—Sepp Blatter—who is beyond the protection of government. He certainly moves around the world like a latter-day pontiff or monarch, and is above the counsel of both court and Parliament.

People who love the game of football, which is played around the world, including within the jurisdiction of this Parliament, ask, “Is that right? Is there a role for international bodies such as the Council of Europe and parliamentary bodies and Parliaments to speak up?” Allegations of corruption against senior members of FIFA and members of the FIFA executive committee have been made in this Parliament. It is right that we take those allegations up with such governing bodies, and that we challenge the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter. It is also right to ask whether FIFA is putting its house in order, and whether the concerns of the citizens of Europe, including citizens of this country, are being dealt with by governing bodies. Should we not seek to prosecute people who have done wrong, and launch independent investigations into allegations of wrongdoing?

FIFA is a particularly good—or rather, bad—example of a body challenged by allegations of corruption against its most senior people. In the past 12 months, of the leading 24 FIFA members who make up the executive committee, 11 have faced serious allegations of corruption, two have been suspended, one has been banned for life, one has resigned and four are currently under investigation. This is a body in considerable crisis. In June Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, committed the organisation to leading a process of internal reform. I believe that that process needs to move a lot more quickly. I believe that no real progress has been made. At the FIFA congress earlier this month, Sepp Blatter set out a taskforce.