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Sport: Governance — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:23 pm on 4th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour 3:23 pm, 4th December 2014

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on initiating this important and timely debate, ahead of his Private Member’s Bill, the Governance of Sport Bill, which will spell out a comprehensive road map for an effective policy for the future. I also, of course, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, on an excellent maiden speech. Many of us will welcome a Baroness coming here and speaking on behalf of sport, as so many of our colleagues present in this debate already do.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and I go back a long way. We have both done a bit of sparring on sporting issues. Indeed, we have also done some sparring in the ring as well: we both boxed for Oxford, although at different times and at different weights. More seriously, we have both engaged in sports debates, especially in the other place, when I shadowed him when he was Minister for Sport. It is fair to say that in the vast majority of cases we have been colleagues, taking up the fight on behalf of sport, on issues such as the ill advised boycott of the Moscow Olympics and the selling off of playing fields—even though that was by his Government—and many other issues.

On the subject of the Moscow Games, I am reminded of a time in the English-Speaking Union in 1980, when I moved a motion that we should not boycott the Games as Margaret Thatcher had recommended. In the course of my speech I noticed a young man dressed in a tracksuit coming into the debate and speaking on my side—and we won. Afterwards I discovered that that person had hastily travelled from Henley, where he had been a cox—and it was the noble Lord who has moved the Motion before us today. The noble Lord went on to the Moscow Olympics and won a silver medal, accompanied by someone who was then thought of as his accomplice in crime—the noble Lord, Lord Coe, who won his gold and silver medals at the same Games.

The noble Lord and I have crossed party lines from time to time. Even last week or the week before, under his leadership and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, we made significant progress on the issue of ticket touting and protecting fans from the actions of unscrupulous ticket touts. The amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill was passed by this House, and hopefully the Government will recognise the will of the House and see that the amendment is enshrined in law.

I will touch briefly on betting and its integrity. Unfortunately, in the Labour Party’s sports policy that I wrote in 1997, we did not mention it at all. That goes to show how fast things move in sport. With the growth in betting worldwide, it could now be defined as the biggest threat to the integrity of sport. As a consequence, some of us have sought to secure a change in the Gambling Act 2005 and the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014.

At the moment we have a patchwork of laws and policies to deal with match fixing. They may just about do the job. The jury is out on that. But they could be clearer and more concise. We certainly need more consistency in the definition of the offences committed by those who cheat. The Gambling Act, which should be the flagship policy, has a maximum sentence of just two years for those who may be involved in highly sophisticated financial and sporting corruption. In my view that is just not enough.

Betting operators are the only commercial services that directly use the content produced by sport without making any payment for the use of that content. Historically, UK copyright law gave sport protection over the use of its content, such as fixtures and match data, by betting organisations. Indeed, for more than 40 years the pools companies paid football for the right to use fixtures data, which was a vital source of income for football across the country, particularly smaller football clubs. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, must take great credit for his major contribution when he was vice chairman of the Football Trust.

At a time when we have such pressure on public budgets, it seems that the priority for politicians is to empower some to earn a fair return from betting, as they used to, and to charge them with spending that money on the grass roots of sport. I declare an interest as the current president of the Football Foundation, which has a great interest in grass-roots sport.

I conclude by once again congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and those who have taken part in this debate. I hope that the Government recognise the content of this debate when they enact legislation in this area.