My Lords, the majority report of the football task force's report, Football: Commercial Issues, proposed an independent regulator for football--the football audit commission. The Government are considering their response to that proposal and to the football authorities' alternative proposal for an independent scrutiny panel. Ministers have had a number of useful discussions with the football authorities and other interested parties over recent weeks and the Government will respond to the report shortly.
My Lords, I am extremely encouraged by my noble friend's response. However, I should like to draw to his attention and to ask for his views about the current negotiations taking place with the television companies, which are likely to produce over £1 billion in funding over the next five years--a 20 per cent increase. Is he aware that on the last occasion that a deal was struck with the television companies, all the increased income went into the pockets of players? There are now over 100 players earning £1 million per year from football. At the same time, the cost to fans for admission to the grounds is soaring. The lower clubs are finding it extremely difficult in such outrageous circumstances. Does the Minister believe that the appointment of a regulator would go some way to correct those disastrous circumstances?
My Lords, it is important to consider those parts of the report of the football task force upon which there is agreement rather than the single issue of the nature of the regulator, upon which there is disagreement. All members of the football task force recognise the seriousness of the points raised by my noble friend concerning the needs of the less rich clubs and the need for affordable access to football. That is linked to the television agreements, which are still to be concluded.
My Lords, it sounds as though the regulator should report to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell! That would do the trick. If there is to be a single regulator, rather than an independent scrutiny panel, it is important that that position is set up by the Government rather than the football authorities. The exact terms of reference would still be a matter for discussion.
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the football task force and as a signatory to the majority report to which my noble friend referred. Is he aware that a number of us who were majority signatories, including supporters' representatives, met his colleagues, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport, last Thursday? We were gratified to learn that the football authorities have made considerable progress on their own plans on matters such as consumer representation, financial compliance and the independence of the regulatory body. We believe there is now some prospect of an agreed solution being presented to my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues which will satisfy the expectations of supporters and substantially take the game forward.
My Lords, I am glad to be able to confirm the meeting at which my noble friend was present. I confirm too that a meeting took place with the authorities on 16th March which was also constructive and had the benefit of a detailed presentation from the football authorities. All that underlines the importance of making progress on those parts of the report of the football task force which are agreed without waiting for a final decision on the nature of the regulatory person or body.
My Lords, one of the proposals contained in the report of the football task force was for a supporters' direct unit. That unit is already in place in shadow form, providing advice to fans who are interested, in particular, in taking part in the management of football by setting up trusts. That confirms the importance we attach to ensuring that fans have a voice in football.
My Lords, the noble Lord knows perfectly well that I am no good at sporting metaphors. However, I can inform him that there is no truth in the report to which he has referred.
My Lords, I thought that those with Welsh grandfathers tended to come from New Zealand.