The Government remain committed to putting fans at the heart of football and to ensuring that the game has a sustainable financial future. The football governance Bill was included in the King’s Speech, and we intend to work closely with the Football Association, the leagues and fan associations to build the best independent regulator possible.
I thank the Secretary of State for that response. My understanding is that while negotiations are taking place between the Premier League and the English Football League, there has not yet been agreement on redistribution of money. Is there anything she can do to bring the two sides together so that progress can be made on that very important issue?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. It is really important that football comes to a deal in relation to distributions. I support him in encouraging the football associations to do so, and I continue to urge them to reach an agreement in that area. Although our preference is a football-led solution, given the importance of distributions to financial sustainability, the independent football regulator will have targeted statutory powers to intervene on financial distributions as a last resort, if necessary. If football fails to deliver a solution, the regulator will deliver one.
Like many people across the House, I love football—I always have done. It is more than just a game; it is the social fabric that runs through communities, and it can make our weekends or break them—but enough about United’s current form. The England manager, Gareth Southgate, has warned that the regulator is
“another VAR waiting to happen”,
with the Government possibly looking to solve complicated questions with simple answers. Will the Secretary of State explain how we will get this right, and will she ensure that the regulator is implemented swiftly, so that more clubs do not go the way of Bury in the meantime?
I understand the hon. Member’s concerns: Bury has suffered in the past, as have many other clubs across the country. That is why we are bringing in a regulator. I have had a number of conversations with the leagues, my parliamentary colleagues and fans to make sure that we get the regulation right. We committed in our manifesto to bring forward a fan-led review White Paper. We have done so, and we are at a very advanced stage, having announced the football governance Bill in the King’s Speech. I note that Labour did nothing in its 13 years in office.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee.
The inclusion of football governance in the King’s Speech is very welcome. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm what discussions she has had with the FA on whether the independent regulator will include women’s football, and when the Government intend to publish their response to the Carney review?
I have regular discussions with the FA—indeed, I met its chair yesterday. At the moment, the regulator will cover the men’s game, but I also met Karen Carney a week or so ago. Her review is extremely important to women’s football and women’s sport, and I very much look forward to publishing our response to that report, which we will do very shortly.
We want to ensure that we get the regulator right. It is essential that we protect fans and bring forward the legislation that the Labour party failed to bring forward. The legislation will strike absolutely the right balance between protecting fans and ensuring that our premier league and our football remain a competitive, world-class sport across the globe.
Football clubs are more than businesses; they are at the heart of communities up and down the country, but too many clubs are being pushed to the brink, leaving fans from Scunthorpe to Reading worried that their club might be damaged beyond repair by the time a regulator is brought in. Will the Secretary of State update us on what immediate action and interim measures the Department is taking to ensure that an independent regulator for football is ready to go as soon as new legislation is passed?
We are taking absolutely those measures: we are putting in place a shadow regulator, and we have advertised for the appointment of the regulator’s chief operating officer. We want to ensure that as soon as the legislation is on the books, everything is ready so that it can come into force as soon as possible.
I notice that the Football Task Force was set up in 1997 by the incoming Labour Government to look at systemic issues in football and make recommendations to Ministers on how to address them. However, despite a number of reports identifying significant failings in the sport, a member of that taskforce’s working group reported that the Labour Government made it clear that they could not, and would not, deliver a statutory regulator. This Government are bringing that regulator in.