European Football Proposal

– in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 19th April 2021.

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Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 4:55 pm, 19th April 2021

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement. Football is in our national DNA. We invented it, we helped to export it around the world, and it has been at the heart of British life for over a century. Football clubs, of course, are not just businesses but define communities across the country, so along with almost every Member of the House, I suspect, I was appalled by the announcement made late last night that a handful of clubs are proposing to form their own breakaway European league.

These six clubs announced that decision without any consultation with football authorities or with Government. Worst of all, they did it without any dialogue whatsoever with their own fans. It was a tone-deaf proposal, but the owners of those clubs will not have been able to ignore the near universal roar of outrage from all parts of the football community over the past 24 hours.

This move goes against the very spirit of the game. This is a sport where a team such as Leicester City can ascend from league one to the premier league title in under a decade, earning the right to go toe to toe against European heavyweights in the champions league. Instead, a small handful of owners want to create a closed shop of elite clubs at the top of the game—a league based on wealth and brand recognition rather than merit. We will not stand by and watch football be cravenly stripped of the things that make millions across the country love it.

As a Conservative, I believe passionately in defending our nation’s institutions and our rich heritage. They are central to our identity and help to build a sense of solidarity between people of every generation and every background. Just as the Government would not hesitate to act when other treasured areas of our national life are under threat, nor will we hesitate to protect one of our greatest national institutions: football.

This is, of course, for football authorities to handle first, and today I have met with the Premier League, the Football Association and the president of UEFA, while the Sports Minister has had another series of meetings with the Football Supporters’ Association. The football authorities have robust rules in place to deal with this, and I know from my conversations with them today that they are rightly considering a wide range of sanctions and measures to stop this move in its tracks. My message to them was clear: they have our full backing. However, be in no doubt that if they cannot act, we will.

We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening. We are examining every option, from governance reform to competition law and mechanisms that allow football to take place. Put simply, we will review everything that the Government do to support these clubs to play. I have discussed those options with the Prime Minister this morning, and we are working at pace across Government and with the football authorities. I reassure this House of a very robust response. We will do whatever it takes to protect our national game.

However, it is clearer than ever that we need a proper examination of the long-term future of football. To many fans in this country, the game is now almost unrecognisable from a few decades ago. Season after season, year after year, football fans demonstrate unwavering loyalty and passion by sticking by their clubs, but their loyalty is being abused by a small number of individuals who wield an incredible amount of power and influence. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that football is nothing without its fans. These owners should remember that they are only temporary custodians of their clubs, and they forget fans at their peril. That is why, over the past few months, I have been meeting with fans and representative organisations to develop our proposals for a fan-led review. I had always been clear that I did not want to launch this until football had returned to normal following the pandemic. Sadly, these clubs have made it clear that I have no choice. They have decided to put money before fans, so today I have been left with no choice but to formally trigger the launch of our fan-led review of football.

The review will be chaired by my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch and will be a root-and-branch examination of football in this country. It will cover the financial sustainability of the men’s and women’s game, governance and regulation and the merits of an independent regulator. Crucially, in the light of this weekend’s proposal, it will also consider how fans can have an even greater say in the oversight of the game and the models that might best achieve that.

We are the people’s Government. We are unequivocally on the side of fans, and their voices have to be heard when it comes to the future of our national game. It starts with fans, and it ends with fans. In the meantime, we have thrown our full weight behind the football authorities and stand ready to do whatever is necessary to represent fans and protect their interests. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:01 pm, 19th April 2021

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of parts of his statement. This is a watershed moment for our national game, and this statement is welcomed, as is the chair of the review, but it is short on detail and on the urgency that this situation merits; fans will have noted that. The Secretary of State tweeted last night extolling the virtues of the football pyramid, but if anything exposed the Government’s lack of understanding of our broken football system, that tweet summed it up. Tory trickle-down economics does not work, and it especially does not work in football.

Football governance is broken, football finance is broken and football fans, whichever club we support, are ignored. The hedge fund owners and billionaires who treat football clubs like any of their other commodities have no care for the history of our football, for the role it plays in villages, towns and cities up and down our country, and especially for the fans who are the beating heart of it. They should understand their role as custodians, rather than cartel chiefs. The future of our national game and all our clubs depends on it.

Labour has repeatedly called for the reform of the governance and finances of football by the Government. Government intervention is needed to fix this broken system. That is why we pledged in all four of our manifestos going back to 2010 to take action, and it is why I and the shadow Sports Minister, my hon. Friend Alison McGovern, repeatedly urged the Government to get on with their promised fan-led review of football—a promise that they made in 2019. It is nearly a year since our letter to the Sports Minister offering support and help with 16 questions that the review should focus on. We know that Members across the House have supported reform for the past 11 years of Conservative-led Governments, so it is time for the Government to get off the subs bench and show some leadership on the pitch, because we need reform of football.

It is not as if there has been a blockage in Parliament preventing the Government from taking action to sort out the problems. Former Conservative Sports Minister, Mrs Grant, has said:

“no one is speaking for the football world with the independence and authority needed to address the big issues.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2021; Vol. 688, c. 207.]

She is right. The former Conservative Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins, has said:

“We should have long ago reformed the governance of football”.

He is right as well. The current Conservative Chair of the Select Committee, Julian Knight, has said:

“What’s needed is a fan-led review of football with real teeth and here we have more evidence to strengthen the case for it.”

I welcome the review, but why the long delay? Why create the vacuum that has allowed these super-league proposals the space and ability to become a reality? Eleven years have been wasted when a small amount of Government time could have been found to bring primary legislation to the House to sort out the problems. Instead, it has been all punditry and no progress on the pitch, and in that time, clubs and fans have suffered disasters. Fans in Bury know only too well the importance of reforming the way in which football is governed, and supporters in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Manchester, my city of Cardiff, Portsmouth and most football towns and cities have seen the damage done to clubs when profit outstrips the role of supporters in our game.

We are in a global pandemic and the owners of the six clubs behind this proposal think that now is the time to ride roughshod over their fans and endanger the future of football, on the back of a year when fans have been at the heart of supporting communities up and down the country. What a contrast! These proposals have been carved out behind closed doors without consultation with fans or players, and they have at their heart a plan that is anti-football—a super league from which teams can never be relegated and in which they are always guaranteed a place because of their wealth. That represents a fundamental attack on the integrity of sporting competitions.

It is very rare that an issue unites football fans and organisations across the rivalries and divides, but this super league proposal has managed to do just that. From supporters trusts and groups, including the Football Supporters’ Association, to the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Football Association, UEFA, the Premier League, the League Managers Association and the European Clubs Association—I could go on—it has been universally rejected as the greedy, obscene and selfish proposal that it is.

Let us act urgently. It is already too late for some clubs and their supporters, so I ask the Secretary of State when the review will be launched, what the terms of reference will be, who will take part and when it will report. What exactly will the Government do to stop the European super league decimating our national game? They should explore every option, and I hope that they will, whether that is a super-tax on revenue or investigating whether the proposal breaches the clear rules that govern markets and competition in this country.

For football fans up and down the country, our message is clear: Labour stands ready to do whatever it takes to stop this plan, and I hope that the Government will make exactly the same commitment.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and I think hidden in there somewhere was a welcome for the approach the Government are taking and for the fan-led review.

The hon. Lady asks what we have been doing for the past year, and I will tell her a few of things we have been doing. We have been working to get football back behind closed doors, and we were one of the first leagues in Europe to achieve that. We acted to get a third of games free to view with Project Restart, including the first ever premier league games on the BBC. We acted to stop clubs going bust, with hundreds of millions of pounds through covid support schemes, and ensured that the big clubs looked after the smaller ones with the £250 million boost from the Premier League. We acted to keep football going through the pandemic, including through secure protocols to enable travel between the UK and elsewhere. Indeed, that was sometimes in the face of opposition from Labour, saying that we should stop the sport behind closed doors. Now, crucially, we are working to get fans back into stadiums. This weekend, Members will have seen that for the first time, which was very welcome, at the FA cup semi-finals. We are working and making good progress towards a further return of fans at stage 3 of the road map.

Alongside all that, we have continued to engage on the fan-led review. The Minister responsible for sport, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, and I have engaged extensively with, to list a few names, Anton Ferdinand, Jordan Henderson, Karen Carney, the FA, the Premier League, the English Football League, the PFA, the national league, the Football Supporters’ Association, Kick It Out, Women in Football, David Bernstein and Gary Neville. The hon. Lady referred to my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), and I have discussed the matter with them and with the Chair of the Select Committee. All this work has been essential in ensuring that we get to the point where we can launch the review today.

As I said in my statement, I would much rather that we had waited until fans were fully back and the game had been stabilised, but because of the actions that took place over this weekend we have launched the review now. The hon. Lady will have seen from my statement that it will be led by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. I hope that my hon. Friend will command support from both sides of the House; she was an excellent sports Minister, is a fan and is passionately committed to the game. We will shortly publish the terms of reference for the review and will work at speed. As the hon. Lady will have seen from my statement—I am happy to repeat it from the Dispatch Box—we will do whatever it takes to protect our game and we will examine every single option. We are doing that right now.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation

Just when we thought the beautiful game could not get any uglier, along come the big six and show that they could not care less for the fans up and down the country. Will the Secretary of State please outline to the House what specific levers he can pull to ensure that football authorities come to the negotiating table rather than indulge in this unseemly civil war? Does this involve, for example, a windfall tax on these clubs? I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to a fan-led review and pay testament to the work that he has done in order to ensure that football was one of the first sports to return last year. I also welcome the further meat on the bones. But will he tell the big six today that this review will have the power to recommend that their nascent super league could be given the red card and be legislated out of existence if they insist on pressing ahead?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

It is worth bearing in mind that there are two parts to this. In the medium term, we are working on the fan-led review that has been launched, but that should not prevent us from us taking action now to stop this proposal going ahead. My hon. Friend highlighted some of the measures that we might consider taking. I assure him that we are looking at all those options and at competition law. In essence, we are looking at what the Government do to facilitate matches and those clubs, and asking whether we should continue to provide that support, because it does not strike me that the Government should be providing that support in the face of this proposal.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I think it is the first time that I have agreed with every single word of his statement—provided, of course, that he meant Scotland when he said, “We invented it.”

It must be made clear to the clubs and owners involved that no quarter will be given and that there will be no concessions whatever in the current arrangements. It is well past time that a line was drawn in the sand. There is already a huge and unhealthy imbalance in the game, with the big clubs in the big leagues with the big TV deals holding huge sums. This insatiable thirst for more—this greed—must not stand.

Club football in countries beyond England, Spain and Italy faces being left even further behind. Clubs in Scotland—such as Rangers, Celtic, and league cup winners and Scotland’s second most successful club in the last decade, St Johnstone—are not involved, but this has not stopped the widespread condemnation. Scottish Professional Football League chief exec Neil Doncaster said:

“These proposals, or any like them, would have an enormously damaging impact on the very fabric of our sport at all levels… We believe that any such ‘competition’ would dramatically undermine the global appeal of football and would be financially catastrophic for all but a very tiny minority. The proposals…assembled by a small, self-selected group of very wealthy clubs, appear to be a cynical and very worrying attempt to thwart the core principle of sporting merit which rightly underpins European football. They represent a clear and present danger to the sport we all love.”

The public are exhausted by the sleaze and greed associated with the elites at the top of our society. How do this Tory Government plan to eradicate greed and corruption at the heart of politics and business, and, in doing so, to protect football for the fans? Or does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that greed is good? Some overseas owners are from countries with concerning human rights records and links to dubious regimes, and may use their ownership of popular teams to sportswash their image. What actions do the Government plan to counter this?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am tempted to thank the hon. Gentleman for the first line of his question and then to stop there; from my perspective, it all went a bit downhill after that. He is absolutely right to say that we should—and the Government will—stand up to greed and stand up for the fans, and to identify that even though it is English teams that are proposed for this league, it will have a severely damaging effect on all clubs in all parts of our United Kingdom. The game is, of course, as central to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish identity as it is to English identity. It is a sport for the whole of our United Kingdom and it is right that we work together as a United Kingdom to stop this dreadful proposal.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the decision to launch the fan-led review but, as he said, this is a review for the medium term, and decisions about the super league will need to be taken in the coming weeks and months. If, judging by what he said today, it is clear that, under existing competition law and existing powers of the premier league and the FA, nothing can be done to stop these six clubs joining the super league, are the Government prepared to amend the law to give those bodies the powers they need, in particular to prevent clubs from joining competitions that have not been sanctioned by either the FA or UEFA?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work he has done, which has helped to shape the fan-led review we have announced. On competition law, we are already engaging with BEIS on our response. As I said, we rule out nothing. I know from my conversations with the premier league and UEFA that they are already proposing to take some pretty draconian steps to stop this, but we stand ready to act. We will not allow anything to stop us in terms of timing; we will get on with it as soon as we need to.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

This is a devastating attack on the English game, as a shameless, arrogant and desperate elite seek to make millions at the expense of the millions of us who love the game and love our clubs. The statement contained some rhetoric that I found good and urgent, and detail that was ponderous and thin, so as well as a lengthy review, will the Secretary of State fast-track legislation that will force any club seeking to break away and join a new league to first ballot its fans and be mandated to abide by the outcome of the ballot; and will he make sure that the legislation is retrospective and active from the beginning of the current football season? Those who wish to steal and destroy the English game must be stopped. English football must be saved. This Parliament has the power to do it, not just to review it.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be doing three things. First, we are backing the actions by the football governing authorities. Secondly, at the same time, we are looking at all options—he raised some important further options—and we will proceed at the fastest pace required to deliver a result. Thirdly, these events give rise to major questions, which have become ever more apparent to me. We had the promise in our manifesto. My dealings with football over the past years, as we have sought to negotiate the support that the game requires, have demonstrated again the need for governance reform and the need to look at finance and whether an independent regulator is required. All these things will now be examined by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his statement and on the announcement of the fan-led review. Does he agree that the pyramid structure of the English football league gives focus to football clubs right across the country to compete and progress to the highest level based on performance and competition? Does he recognise that it also provides the opportunity for community links and rivalry across the country, even between Wales and England, when clubs such as Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham choose to compete in and are welcomed into the English football structure? Will the review he has announced also consider the interests of those clubs that are not in England but compete in the English football league?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As almost always, I agree with every word that my right hon. Friend has said. I am happy to give him precisely that assurance. He is absolutely right to highlight the two biggest problems with this super league: it removes a large element of the competition and the joy of the game, and it risks taking money away from grassroots football, which is central to the game.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the Secretary of State for his clear statement. It was not that long ago that I watched my club, Manchester City, which I now represent, beat Gillingham in the second division playoff final. We are now in what might be called our glory days, but those of us who remember the Gillingham game know that the glory days do not always last. Does the Secretary of State agree that a closed-shop league, where there are no bad days and no glory days, is no league at all and has no place in our national game? British football fans are rightly outraged by that notion, which goes against our deeply held culture of fair and open competition and backing the underdog. It is an American export that we just do not want.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. We cannot have money and brand triumphing and trumping the colour and joy of the game. Football would be massively damaged by this move.

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon Conservative, Orpington

I have been a supporter of Manchester United for 42 years and held a season ticket at the club for more than a decade, so I am aghast that the owners of my club have signed up to this proposal. It is wholly unnecessary and will be deeply damaging, on the altar of pure greed. It betrays the management, players, fans, history and tradition of not just my club but the wider game as a whole. So I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement today and the tone of the statement he made yesterday. Will he reassure us that the Government will move at speed to do everything within their legal power to prevent this ghastly plan from seeing light?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. His reaction, as a loyal fan of that club, has been replicated: I have heard messages from many loyal fans of all six of those clubs, who share the same sense of deep frustration. I assure him not only that we will act at speed but that we have acted at speed. All of Sunday, I had meetings on actions and today we are moving at pace. I am engaging closely with No. 10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister to make sure we do whatever is required.

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

In the light of the shocking news that six of our national football clubs—it is heartbreaking to see Liverpool football club among them—are looking to break away from the football pyramid in England at a time when, collectively, we should be working together to rebuild our football communities from the ravages of covid, the anger across the country is palpable. I welcome the long overdue fan-led review, but can the Secretary of State outline how the Government will act to stop capitalism and corporate greed destroying a game that millions in this country love, and economically many communities rely on?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight that. It seems extraordinary, at a time when most stadiums remain completely empty and clubs are under tremendous financial pressure, that, rather than focusing on the rebuilding of the game and getting fans back into stadiums, these six clubs are distracted by something that is not in the interests of the game. It is right that we look at competition law. We need to look at the range of things that Government do to help games happen, to help clubs participate in the league, and say, “Why should we be doing this anymore for those six clubs?” That is precisely the work that we are undertaking.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Newcastle United fans have long suffered from the greed and self-interest that drive premiership owners, but this attempt to turn our national game into the cash cow of a narrow elite shows just how morally bankrupt the premiership has become and how little Government care. There seem to be more rules to prevent the removal of a window frame in a listed building than the wholesale destruction of this jewel of working-class culture. Can the Secretary of State believe that the owners of these six clubs meet the fit and proper person test?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady will have seen from my statement—I am happy to repeat it—that I completely agree with her. This is absolutely central to our heritage. These clubs are as much a part of our heritage as the great castles, stately homes, cathedrals and orchestras of England and the rest of the United Kingdom. We stand ready to do whatever it takes to support this. On the fit and proper person test, that is precisely why we have set up the fan-led group and it will be one of the things my hon. Friend will be looking at as we go forward. In the short term, we need to stop this in its tracks. We do that by working with the leagues—I gave the president of UEFA my 100% support for the measures that he outlined today, and similarly we will see measures coming forward from the Premier League—and then, if that does not work, the Government themselves stand ready to take steps to prevent this from happening.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

Down here on the Sussex south coast, we are very proud of Brighton and Hove Albion. Ten years ago, it was playing at the local athletics stadium; tomorrow it plays in our world-leading premier league against Chelsea, one of the six clubs that are doing their best to destroy it. These six clubs are not currently or historically the most successful six clubs, yet, acting as a cartel, they use their clout to undermine competition. If the six clubs refuse to back down in totality, will the Secretary of State look to introduce legislation to immediately break up their ownership structures and bring in the German model, where 51% of the club is owned by the fans and custodians of their club?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the central risk, which is that this creates a closed shop—it freezes in perpetuity what is only a snapshot of the game at this moment and makes the game so much poorer for it. We have examined the German model very closely. It is interesting to note that German teams are not participating in this. That rather makes the case for the fan-led review looking at the German model and I can assure him that it will do so. In terms of other measures we may take, we have not ruled out legislative measures, if those are required, but the first line of action needs to be with the football leagues themselves.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

People like my own father, who was one of those who supported Manchester United in the ’20s and the ’30s, would not have recognised the stranglehold that the corporate greedy have got around the windpipe of football already. The words that the Secretary of State has spoken today are very helpful, but the corporate greedy have corporate lawyers, and he needs to guarantee that they will not tie the Government —and, in the end, football and its supporters—in knots, so we need to see action from him quickly if legislation is needed. Is he talking to his opposite numbers in Spain and in Italy, because it is important that we have not just a global response but a European response to what is not simply an English or a British problem?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that those meetings will be happening this week; we are in the process of setting them up. I have already discussed with Her Majesty’s ambassador to Paris having a meeting with my French opposite number later this week, and I will be seeking meetings with my Spanish and Italian opposite numbers as well.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Conservative, Burnley

In forming these proposals, the six premier league clubs involved have shown no regard for the impact on clubs such as Burnley in my constituency, but also no regard for the fans who offer their unwavering loyalty season after season. I therefore welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of a fan-led review that will put supporters front and centre. Will he confirm that the Government will do everything possible to protect top-flight football in this country, which provides so many economic benefits to communities, including in Burnley and Padiham?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I often say, as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, that the two things that people around the world know about the United Kingdom and instantly mention, whether I am speaking to an opposite number in east Asia, in North America or in Europe, are the royal family and the premier league. It is a jewel in the crown of the United Kingdom and we will do what is required to defend it.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Labour, Pontypridd

As a football fan and a usually proud Liverpool supporter, I am now ashamed of my club and heartbroken at this outrageous European super league proposal, which is just another example of the fundamental structural flaws at the heart of our beautiful game. It is clear from contributions here today that our country’s proud and rich history and love of the game cut across the political divide, and I am gutted that we find ourselves coming together to push the Secretary of State, once again, for some urgent answers. It is also concerning to note that we have heard nothing from the Government on the potential impact of these proposals on the women’s game. The strength of feeling across the House and across the country could not be clearer. Time and again, this Government have failed football fans. Will the Secretary of State do whatever it takes to stop the European super league from going ahead?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The short answer is yes. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the impact on the women’s game, which I mentioned in my statement. That is part of how the pyramid works, as she will well know. The finances that have helped the women’s game to go from strength to strength in recent years—it is wonderful to see the strength of the game—come from the pyramid supporting it. If that failed to happen, that would be another big cost of this proposal.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

This is an outrageous proposal, so I strongly welcome the robust set of measures that my right hon. Friend has announced today. On the point of competition law, these clubs will have very powerful legal teams, and they have huge financial resources. Whatever the current legal advice, does he accept in principle that, where a league operates on the basis of not having relegation and is basically based on the wealth that the clubs have, it must be a cartel?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. That is a very valid interpretation of the effect of this proposal. Clearly, I will be working with BEIS and competition lawyers to get greater clarity and definition on that, but I can tell him that I have already discussed it with the Premier League and the FA. We are well aware that competition is going to come into play in this scenario, and we stand ready to work with them and take measures that may be required.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

My hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones, who is my constituency neighbour, can always come next door and support Cardiff City if she wants a real club.

This super league proposal is the sporting equivalent of a billionaires’ gated community, with a football favela for everyone else on the other side of the fence. Could the very robust response that the Secretary of State says he wants from the Government include the Prime Minister ringing up, or perhaps even texting, the former No. 10 spin doctor Katie Perrior, who also worked on his mayoral campaign and whose public affairs agency is promoting the super league launch? Will the Prime Minister tell her that this is one occasion when insider connections will not win any traction with the Government, and that this betrayal of football fans and the ethos of fair competition in sport will be blocked by the UK Government using urgent legislation in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am very happy to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will take the robust action that is necessary. In fact, I think the best place to start—it is where I started—is speaking to the president of UEFA and the leadership of the Premier League and the FA. I hope that their actions can stop the proposal in its tracks, and I think we will see some very robust action from them. I have been clear, and I am happy to be clear again, that if that does not work, the Government stand ready to act. We will not wait for it not to work; we are working through the options for measures now and stand ready to take them at the appropriate juncture.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I very much support what my right hon. Friend has said. Does he agree that the survival of clubs such as Stoke City in my constituency is the No. 1 priority for fans, and that Labour’s cynical move to try to stop football carrying on behind closed doors twice over recent months would have been catastrophic for clubs and therefore fans? Will he confirm that sport continuing throughout the pandemic has been, and always will be, a priority for this Government?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that the game has continued behind closed doors, and I am happy to give the assurance that I will work tirelessly until we reach the end of the road map and we have every single seat taken in stadiums so that we can get football back on its feet. It is only at that point that we should be considering those wider questions of the governance of the game. It is a source of deep sadness to me that we are having this distraction rather than getting on with getting the game back.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The Northern Ireland women’s football team, with amateur players, qualified for the Euros for the first time ever. That demonstrates what football is about. Many people regard the announcement today as a tactical move against UEFA. Whatever it is, will the Secretary of State back up his rhetoric today, which I welcome, with action, along with the football authorities, to ensure that the views of billions of fans worldwide prevail over the views and tactics of the billionaire financiers?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

May I begin by sharing in the hon. Gentleman’s congratulations to the Northern Ireland women’s football team? That was a fantastic result and I was very cheered to see it.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this is not confined to the UK. The premier league and English football are loved globally, and we can see the reactions in France, Spain and Italy: it is not just here in the United Kingdom that we feel dismayed at the proposals that have been put forward—that feeling is near-universal.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this proposal is motivated by greed and shows contempt for fans and the footballing pyramid? Does he also find it sad that while the boards at Manchester United and Manchester City were negotiating this proposal to make millions of pounds for their owners, they and others did nothing to save their local neighbour Bury FC, whose fans were also betrayed by an owner who had attempted to profit from its heritage and history?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am sympathetic to the concerns raised by my hon. Friend, and I would also note that many clubs, including some that are seeking to break away with the announcement last night, have benefited enormously from Government and taxpayer support, and they should think carefully about the duty they owe to taxpayers in return and whether they are discharging it with these proposals.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and the announcement of a review. Do the Government agree that tougher rules are now needed on who can buy major sports clubs in the United Kingdom? May I add my voice to those of other colleagues in the House asking for the Government to look at the German model, because it is vitally important that we have a model of pre-agreed conditions requiring a minimum percentage of each club to be owned by everyday supporters and fans?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the German model; it has merits and it is right that the fan-led review should look at it. I should also note, however, on the flip side of this that foreign investment in the Premier League and the English Football League has brought tremendous benefits to the game: it has meant that we have had very strong games played up and down the country every night of the week with some of the finest players in the world. I am not against foreign investment in our game per se, but that cannot be against the wider interests of the competition and ensuring that we have a rich and diverse game, and these proposals are, at their heart, putting that at risk.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield

Football fans in Ashfield think that common sense in football is in short supply these days: inside grounds we have billionaire bosses plotting to sell our beautiful game to the highest bidder, and meanwhile, outside Wembley stadium, we have the brother of the ex-Labour leader talking nonsense about vaccinations while fellow protestors shout abuse at genuine football fans. I have a simple solution: keep these greedy football club owners as far away from our football grounds as possible, and the same goes for Piers Corbyn. Please will my right hon. Friend tell the football fans in Ashfield what the Government’s plans are to protect our beautiful game inside and outside the stadiums?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I do not think I can add a great deal to my hon. Friend’s remarks. I was somewhat bemused when observing the protest outside the game yesterday, and I can also assure my hon. Friend and all his constituents that the Government will not hesitate in taking robust action to ensure this does not happen.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

My 50-plus years of watching Man City has brought me a lot of emotions—pain, despair, misery and, more recently, a lot of elation and joy—but always pride, whatever tier we were in, until last night, when the overriding emotion was shame and anger at my club being part of this. In, in effect, ending competition by merit at the top of the pyramid, this ends hope for clubs throughout the pyramid, and it is absolute anathema to the values of a lot of sport in this country. So I welcome the tone of the Secretary of State’s statement, and I want to ask him three things. When he speaks to the clubs, will he try to convey the anger in this Parliament and across the country at this proposal? When he speaks to the Premier League, will he encourage it to take the strongest possible action against these clubs, including my beloved Man City? Finally, a review will take time, but does he recognise that there is a will in this Parliament to take strong action quickly, if necessary?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I think the hon. Gentleman spoke very eloquently. Indeed, what he has said is shared by, sadly, so many supporters of those six clubs. I will of course be conveying that anger, and I am sure that that will be reflected in the coverage of this statement. I have already met the Premier League, and I have said that we will support it in taking the strongest possible action. I can also give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that if the actions by the Premier League and UEFA are not sufficient to stop this in its tracks, I have noted the level of support in the House for taking further measures, and it gives me confidence that we will be able to get any measures through should those be necessary.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

Being a top premiership club is not a franchise; it is to be part of the contestable apex of the whole sport. In turn, that whole sport is part of our culture, part of our heritage and part of who we are. So I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s robustness in his statement and in bringing forward the fan-led review. Can he assure me that both his immediate response and the fan-led review will be far-ranging, with nothing off the table?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Yes, I am very happy to give my right hon. Friend that assurance: nothing will be off the table. He is absolutely right when he talks about the heritage of these clubs. The owners are but temporary custodians of something that is precious to our national identity, and they really should take that responsibility seriously.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Interestingly, only one of these six clubs has always been in the top division in English football, and now they want permanent status. The Secretary of State’s announcement of a review is welcome, if slightly overdue, but, frankly, has been met by contemptuously indifference by these arrogant oligarchs. The only thing they understand is power, and the Government should be using the power of the state with full force and co-ordinating with other countries. Will he rapidly refer them to the competition authorities, cut them off from any further public funds and look at the tax status of image rights—just for a start—and, quite frankly, drive these sharks out of British football?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Somewhat unusually—although not that unusually, to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman—I agree with pretty much everything he said, and I can assure him that we will be looking at all of those options. To reassure the House, we will take robust action when it is required. We will not wait for the outcome of the fan- led review, and all the things he is talking about are the sort of things we are discussing internally in Government.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Football’s governing bodies must stand firm against this European super league, and I welcome the statement from the Secretary of State that he is not going to leave any stone unturned in assisting with that. We now control our own borders, having left the European Union, so this will be a major test for our new powers over our borders, whereby we can prevent people from entering the country if they are not playing matches sanctioned by the sport’s governing bodies. On the fans’ review, will the fans be able to lead it wherever they wish to go—for instance, on the right to buy shares at a time of transfer of ownership or on fans being elected to the boards of football clubs? Will the fans really be able to lead and to go where they want to go with this review?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the point about controlling our borders. I can assure him that we will be considering those powers if it is necessary, and those discussions are happening. The review will be able to go wherever it needs to go. My hon. Friend the Sports Minister and I have already engaged a lot with fans, and indeed it is worth noting that, at the Budget recently, the Chancellor announced proposals to allow fans to take stakes in and take control of their own clubs, so we are already moving in that direction.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I suspend the House for three minutes for cleaning purposes.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming.