Clause 55 - PART 6: OVERVIEW AND INTERPRETATION

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:12 pm on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund 4:12, 21 May 2024

I beg to move amendment 27, in clause 55, page 45, line 1, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment allows the regulator to consider the effect of “parachute” payments when assessing the distribution of revenue between competition organisers.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 31, in clause 55, page 45, line 3, at end insert—

“unless the IFR specifies otherwise in rules.

(2A) The IFR can only make such rules if it can be satisfied that their inclusion furthers its objectives under section 6 by protecting and promoting—

(a) the financial soundness of regulated clubs, and

(b) the financial resilience of English football.

(2B) The IFR should also have regard when making any rules under section 7 to act in such a way that avoids any—

(a) effects on sporting competitiveness of any regulated club against another regulated club,

(b) adverse effects on the competitiveness of regulated clubs against other clubs, and

(c) adverse effects on financial investment in English football.”

Clause 55 stand part.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Could I ask for a bit of advice, Ms Nokes? I have a selection list that says that new clause 4, which I also tabled, should be debated with amendment 27, but another selection list says that it should be debated under clause 56. There seems to be some discrepancy. It would be helpful if you could provide an explanation.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

The suggestion is that you are looking at a previous selection list. New clause 4 will be debated with clause 56.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Thank you for that clarification—I am sorry for mixing myself up.

Let us get down to the issue of parachute payments, which almost everyone spoke about on Second Reading, and which the Minister seems to believe should be treated as a given in their current form, with no change. I think he has the support of the Premier League—or some clubs in the Premier League, because it is by no means certain that the Premier League speaks with one voice on these issues. But it clearly is a very important issue.

I am calling for the removal of clause 55(2)(b), which stops the regulator, as the backstop, being able to consider removing or changing parachute payments in their current form. Under the regulator’s remit, they have to be treated as a given.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

Is the hon. Gentleman talking specifically about parachute payments from the Premier League into the Championship, or is he talking about the smoothing process of the parachute payments to clubs that are relegated from leagues in general, indeed most probably from the EFL into the National League?

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

I am talking about parachute payments that currently exist, which is what the Bill refers to—I do not think it refers to parachute payments that might exist in the future in some other arrangement.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

It is important to place on the record that National League clubs get 100% and then 50% of an EFL deal for League Two upon relegation, and a Championship club once relegated gets one eighth of the Championship deal for one season, and a League One relegation gets one ninth. This is not the same solidarity payment. It is important to remember that, when clubs are relegated to the league below, there is some sort of parachute payment in order to smooth out the process of losing the revenue received from being in that upper league.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

The point I was going to go on to make was that I am not suggesting that parachute payments should never be allowed under any income redistribution. That is not the case. My amendment does not say, “No parachute payments”. It says that parachute payments can be considered as part of the overall distribution of finances within the game.

The Bill as drafted states that parachute payments are exempt from consideration at the backstop stage—full stop, end of story. Everything else, including media income, can be considered, but not parachute payments. That seems strange, given that the Minister has repeatedly said that the independence of the regulator needs to be preserved and recognised, and yet on this key issue its hands are being specifically and absolutely tied. That just does not chime as an appropriate situation for the Government to get themselves into compared with everything else that they have said about the Bill. The regulator needs to be independent and have discretion, but on this issue it is not allowed to have the freedom to look at the situation, particularly with regard to the state of the game report. If the regulator believes that it is necessary to revisit the issue of parachute payments in order for income in football to be distributed properly and appropriately, and for it to be sustainable not just for individual clubs but for the whole of the football pyramid, this proposal is a significant mistake.

We must recognise that 80% of what the Premier League gives to the EFL is in parachute payments to a handful of clubs. When the Premier League talks about its generosity to the game, it is talking about generosity to a handful of clubs that have just been in the Premier League. That is not a real position. When we look at the distribution of the media money overall, we find that 92% goes to 25 clubs—namely, the Premier League clubs and five others that have been in and out of the Premier League in the recent past. That is not sustainable, and if a reasonable and fair distribution of money should be agreed in the future, the regulator must have the power to take that into account.

I have also said to the Minister that we ought to look at not just the importance of parachute payments to the clubs that receive them. I do not think that anyone I have met who has talked about this issue has said, “You cannot have parachute payments.” They say that it must be looked at in terms of the totality of the game and the distribution of money. I would understand, very quickly, that a club going up into the Premier League faces an enormous difference between the wage bill it had before being promoted and the wage bill it will need once promoted, and it must have some reassurance on what happens if it gets relegated. That is an understandable situation, but we must also take into account the impact on the finances of clubs in the same division as the relegated clubs and their ability to compete.

It has been said over and over again that Championship clubs are getting completely overstretched, because the holy grail of promotion to the Premier League means that clubs try to extend their budgets beyond what is reasonable. Owners put in large sums of their own money, often beyond what is reasonable and sustainable, in order to compete with clubs with parachute payments, and the difference is enormous. Parachute payment clubs will come down with budgets three times the size of those of many other clubs in that league, so in order to compete clubs often do fairly stupid things to try to ensure that promotion becomes a possibility.

My amendment says that the regulator ought to take account of those issues. It is not reasonable to say to the regulator, “The only thing that matters is parachute payments to protect clubs that get relegated and you should have no regard to the impact on the clubs already in that league.” I hope that the Minister will consider this seriously. It is obviously a concern across the House, as was reflected on Second Reading.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East on the Front Bench has a slightly different way of addressing the issue, but the wording in her amendment 31 relates to what I have just said. Yes, parachute payments and the impact on the clubs that receive them must be taken into account, but the impact on other clubs that must compete with them must also be taken into account. The position under the Bill as drafted is that that cannot happen, because it is fixed as it is and cannot be changed by the regulator.

The Minister will probably say that the leagues themselves could come to an agreement and change it. What happens if they do not do that? There has not been much evidence of the leagues being able to reach an agreement for a long period of time now—that is why we are here debating this Bill. In the end, it is down to the backstop. That backstop, the regulator, needs to have the flexibility to address these very important measures.

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

Does the format of how parachute payments are directly paid not imperil the Independent Football Regulator’s key objectives, which are to protect and promote the financial soundness of regulated clubs and financial resilience? The imbalance in parachute payments is driving clubs into making decisions that they would not usually take.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Absolutely. I just made the point about the enormous difference in budgets that Championship clubs now experience because of that. Of course, when we look at this season of the Championship, three out of the top four clubs have received parachute payments. Yes, other clubs, such as Ipswich, have done remarkably well without them, but clubs are always trying to compete with those clubs receiving the payments. Last year, two of the three clubs that came up had parachute payments, and it is now almost becoming a cycle of clubs getting parachute payments, going back up, then sometimes being relegated, and then getting another lot of parachute payments. That really is not a sustainable position for the clubs receiving those, for the clubs that are trying to compete with them, for the competitiveness of the game, or for the sustainability of the pyramid as a whole. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this because it is an issue that really needs addressing.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I am pleased to be able to discuss part 6 of the Bill, which provides a backstop power in the event that certain thresholds are met and football is unable to resolve the issue of financial distribution. Before I begin to explore this clause, it is important to set out that, in an ideal situation, these powers would never be used. As the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford set out during the evidence sessions, based on her experience with the fan-led review, a football-led solution to the issue of distribution has always been and remains the preference. I hope that can be kept in mind when discussing this part. Indeed, I welcome the powers but my hope is that their enforcement will not actually be necessary.

Clause 55 broadly sets out the process under this part but most importantly defines what might count as “relevant revenue”, which is money to which the backstop will apply. Relevant revenue is broadly defined as revenue received as a result of broadcasting rights, with the Minister given the flexibility to change that if broadcasting is no longer the predominant source of income. There are a couple of things to clarify. First, it would be good if the Minister could confirm whether such broadcast revenue is meant to cover domestic competitions only. Secondly, it would be appreciated if the Minister could clarify whether broadcasting revenue will still be considered relevant if the funding model changes so that it is paid directly to clubs, rather than through competition organisers. Broadly, though, I think this scope is generally accepted as being the right one.

Issues have, however, been identified with clause 55(2)(b), which is the part of the Bill that excludes parachute payments from the definition of relevant revenue. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East tabled amendment 27, and I will speak primarily to amendment 31 in my name. First, I would like to set some background to the issue, as it stems from the fact that there is an ever-growing gap between the Premier League and the EFL. Indeed, 30 years ago, EFL revenues were 75% of those of the Premier League; today they are just 6%. In real figures, that means that 30 years ago the gap was £11 million, and today it is £3 billion.

The Premier League’s approach to mitigating that gap is the so-called parachute payments to clubs relegated from the Premier League for up to three seasons. Those payments help to ensure competitiveness in the Premier League by providing clubs with the confidence to invest on promotion in the knowledge that they will be supported if they are relegated. For example, parachute payments might give the club the confidence to sign players on multi-year contracts, and that is incredibly important to consider. The Premier League’s competitiveness and the fact that any team, no matter their size or experience, can compete on any given day is what makes it the most beloved and exciting league in the world.

However, while they help to boost competitiveness in the Premier League, parachute payments—by the White Paper’s own admission—can distort competition in the Championship. In each of the last six seasons, two of the three clubs promoted from the Championship to the Premier League have been in receipt of parachute payments. The knock-on effect of that is that owners of clubs not in receipt of parachute payments are compelled to put ever greater levels of funding into their clubs to try to remain competitive. That overreliance on increasing owner funding has deeply exposed clubs when the funding does not materialise, as we have seen for Wigan, Bolton and Bury.

Further, the size of parachute payments has increased in recent years. Between 2010 and 2020, they have risen from £30 million to £233 million. That is an eightfold increase in a period in which player wages have only doubled. That means that, of the total distributable revenue of the English and Welsh professional game, the top 25 clubs—those in the Premier League—and the five in receipt of parachute payments in the EFL received 92% last season. That is £3 billion for 25 clubs, and £245 million for the other 67 professional clubs. Given the scale of parachute payments, therefore, it is notable that the Bill has definitively excluded them from the definition of relevant revenue. That is why I have tabled amendment 31.

4.30 pm

I want to be absolutely clear that the amendment is not about abolishing parachute payments; I believe that they provide clubs with the confidence that they need to invest, and they are a crucial tool in ensuring the competitiveness of the best league in the world. The amendment would simply give the regulator discretion to decide that, if certain criteria are met, parachute payments need not be excluded from the revenue to be distributed under the backstop provision.

Certainly, there is no reason to single out parachute payments. Whether people are in favour of significant parachute payments or not, they agree that they have an impact on club finances. As such, they will have a significant impact on the regulator’s objectives of protecting and promoting the financial soundness of clubs and the resilience of English football. Given that that relates to the regulator’s core role, the regulator should have the ultimate say on whether parachute payments are considered as part of the backstop provision.

Further, solidarity payments are explicitly linked to parachute payments. Solidarity payments are worked out as a percentage of the value of a year-three parachute payment. Championship clubs receive 30%, League One clubs receive 4.5%, and League Two clubs receive 3% of the value. The regulator, therefore, might find it difficult to look at one without looking at the other.

I emphasise again that the amendment does not predetermine whether the regulator includes or excludes parachute payments. If the regulator has a case, based on its objective evidence base, that excluding parachute payments from relevant revenue is more likely to make clubs financially sound and promote the financial resilience of English football, they will remain excluded. The amendment simply recognises that it should be the regulator that makes the decision, independent from any vested interests.

When making that decision, the regulator will have to pay explicit regard to the fulfilment of its core objectives and its secondary purposes: financial sustainability, financial resilience, competitiveness and investment. Taken together, those are the principles that should decide whether parachute payments are included—not the leagues and not politicians. Only then will we ensure that the regulator can fulfil the purpose of the Bill.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I will make a few points on parachute payments. It is fair to say that they are not part of the redistribution mechanism between the Premier League and the Football League. They can be set as an amount alongside the redistribution that takes place, but, of course, they are not fixed. They are a contractual arrangement that the Premier League enters into with clubs that are in the league or when they get promoted.

For reasons that hon. Members have rightly set out, if the income of a Premier League club drops by at least half after being relegated, even with parachute payments, that will be a severe challenge to its sustainability. It is anyway and it certainly would be if those payments did not exist. Of course, if a club is promoted straight back up, as Leicester City has been this year, the year-two and year-three parachute payments are not kept by the Football League—the money never goes to the Football League—but goes back to the Premier League. Therefore, in many ways, the payments have nothing to do with the Football League; they are made by the Premier League to its member clubs in the event that they go down.

The question is then whether the existence of parachute payments has such a market-distorting effect that the regulator would have to intervene. It is difficult to see why the regulator would need to intervene on the basis of the impact on the clubs that have been relegated; they clearly need that support. From all the evidence that we heard as a Committee—I have not heard anyone this afternoon say anything to the contrary—there needs to be some compensating mechanism for clubs that go down, otherwise the risks are too great.

It is not always about clubs that have gone up and come straight back down again; it is often about quite large clubs—it was Leicester and Southampton last year. Everton could easily have gone down last season and the impact of such a relegation would have been catastrophic. The regulator would therefore have to take a view as to whether the existence of those payments has a distorting effect on the Championship.

Given the remit of the regulator, I urge hon. Members tabling amendments to be careful what they wish for. The regulator may well take the view that its job is not to have an impact on the nature of competition in the Championship, or to make it easier for more clubs to get promoted. Its interest is to promote financial sustainability, so it could easily take the view that parachute payments should stay because they are necessary for the clubs that are relegated.

Alongside that, there must be effective financial controls on Championship clubs. The question of whether a Championship club feels the need to compete against parachute payments is not necessarily one for the regulator. The regulator’s role is to ensure the financial sustainability of the league, so it might say that it can do that through the checks that it can put in place now, and therefore ensure that the situation created before does not happen again.

One could ask whether it is fair for the Championship to be run such that Championship clubs must compete against Premier League clubs, and cannot cook the books or rely on director’s loans because the regulator will stop them. Of course, in some ways the Championship is not competing with the Premier League. It is a league of clubs seeking to get promoted to the Premier League, but it is also looking to develop its own talent. It can buy talent from the lower leagues and from Europe, as it effectively does already. The TV revenue for the Championship, as it stands today, is already greater than for the top division in the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium or Denmark, all of which are highly-competitive football nations whose pedigree in major international tournaments has been somewhat better than the home nations over the last few decades.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Is it not one of the great strengths of the English pyramid that there is, or should be, the ability for clubs to move around? If there are massive differences in the financial capabilities of the clubs that come down from the Premier League with a view to going back up again very quickly and the other Championship clubs, that effectively removes the element of competition and removes the prospect of promotion from so many clubs that it changes the fundamental nature of the pyramid. Surely that goes against one of the objectives that the Bill is trying to achieve.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The strength of the pyramid is one of the most important parts of the English game. It is probably the reason why the Premier League is such a commercial success—there is real promotion, relegation and competitive matches between the leagues. Parachute payments have come in out of necessity because of the requirement for clubs to jump up into a competition in which players are paid so much more and then to come out of it again. The regulator, as we are setting it up, would view the sustainability of the clubs in the Championship as important.

It is difficult to say that Championship clubs in England cannot recruit talent from other major European leagues and cannot develop their own talent. My concern is that, if all we do is push more money into the Championship, we will see a very large inflation of Championship player salaries. There will not necessarily be an improvement in the quality of players in the Championship but those players will be paid a lot more. There would also be even greater calls for bigger solidarity payments between the Championship and League One.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, League One club owners already complain that unless a big club happens to have been relegated into League One—a league that it is not normally in—getting promoted and sustaining a place in the Championship is becoming increasingly difficult because the Championship has largely become a division of former Premier League clubs. There are one or two exceptions—such as Preston North End, which have never played in the Premier League—but they are increasingly rare.

If the amendment were made and parachute payments were to be considered by the regulator, that might lead the regulator to demand much greater payments from the Premier League to the Championship. The logical argument that the Football League is advancing is that it wants more money for the Championship, not that parachute payments should go.

A question that was raised in the evidence session would also come into play: would it be fair for the medium and smaller clubs in the Premier League if the only method of distribution was UK broadcasting revenue, which the Premier League clubs receive equally? As we heard in the evidence session, that would place a much greater financial burden on clubs such as Brighton, Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Everton than it would on Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, for whom that money is a smaller part of their total revenue. Unless European money, other prize money and commercial gate money could suddenly be considered along with parachute payments, we are picking winners. We are saying, “We are going to favour the Championship side at the expense of the teams that play in the lower half of the Premier League.”

This is a highly complex matter with lots of moving parts. As we have heard throughout the debate on the Bill, the different parts of the football pyramid have different demands and income streams, and would make different cases. It is therefore right that parachute payments are kept out of the Bill, because they are a matter for the Premier League and the clubs that are relegated. Of course, the regulator will still be free to take wider consideration of the sustainability of the whole pyramid, which is purely about redistribution and where the money is drawn from. My concern is that—to use the phrase that we have used throughout the Committee’s consideration of the Bill—the unintended consequence of the amendment would be to create different winners and losers. The regulator has the power to look at all those things in the round.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Premier League’s objective in having parachute payments protected in this way is to ensure they that continue, while the issue of the pyramid and more competition lower down is met by even more money from the Premier League to the EFL, irrespective of parachute payments? It seems to me that that is not its position; it actually wants to hang on to as much money as it can for Premier League clubs and to protect parachute payments too. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the multitude of issues surrounding competition between clubs in different leagues, but the fact that we cannot solve everything with this amendment does not mean that we should not address one of the problems.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

One of the reasons why the Bill is important is that the biggest problem in the pyramid at the moment is the financial sustainability of Championship clubs. There are different pressures and the greatest financial risks are taken there; some of the biggest failures have been at that level. That is why it is important.

Parachute payments exist only because the Premier League wants a more competitive, more attractive league. It does not want a closed league where the same three clubs are going up and down all the time, and the clubs that come up are just cannon fodder for the teams that play in it regularly. It is incumbent on the regulator to take a view on the sustainability of the pyramid, but the Premier League would not wish for that outcome.

We can choose which seasons we want to pick, but I do not think it is proven that parachute payments are having that effect already. There is plenty of evidence of badly run clubs—Sunderland is a good example from not long ago—that have been relegated from the Championship while still in receipt of parachute payment money. A lot of clubs come down with players who are not worth what they are being paid, and are stuck with a Championship squad on Premier League money. That is a problem that many clubs face.

Many problems are about the poor decisions made by managers and owners in the Championship, and a lack of financial oversight. The regulator needs to fix that financial oversight first, alongside considering redistribution in the round. It is easier to do that if we do not confuse that with parachute payments, which as the hon. Gentleman says are a much bigger quantum than the amount of redistribution anyway. We need to get the financial oversight right and look at redistribution in that context. I am concerned that simply asking the regulator to recommend a transfer through the backstop of money from the Premier League to the EFL corporately without the right financial oversight will pour petrol on the fire and drive wage inflation in the Championship.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman is making a really comprehensive argument for parachute payments. I want to be clear that my amendment is not proposing to get rid of parachute payments; it simply says that they should not be ruled out. I appreciate that he is saying that we should get this right before we move on, but we are here now setting the regulation. Obviously, if they are excluded, they are excluded.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I will draw my remarks to a conclusion. I appreciate that—the hon. Member for Sheffield South East makes a similar argument—it is not an argument for the abolition of parachute payments. My concern is that if we take that step, we would have to bring into scope all football money, not just the money that the Premier League pays in redistribution to clubs in the lower leagues and through parachute payments. That would be a much wider step and would require further consideration. If such recommendations are to be made in future, that should be done after the regulator is established and we have the state of the game report.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

I find part 6 to be one of the most infuriating parts of the Bill, not because it is a bad aspect of the Bill but because it should not exist. The truth is that if there had been a deal between the two parties—the Premier League and the EFL—part 6 would look very different. We made it clear in the fan-led review that distributions are an issue for football and they should be able to resolve that issue themselves, but that it was important for backstop powers to be there to intervene if no solution was found. That is what part 6 is, and it has become a more controversial part of the Bill than was perhaps ever envisaged. We had hoped back in November 2021, when we published the fan-led review, that there would be a deal.

Looking now at clause 55, I see the outcome of that impasse between the two organisations. It is important to pick up on some of the comments and probe a bit on some of them. On Second Reading, I asked the question that the shadow Minister has asked on clause 55(2)(a)(i) about whether that is domestic revenue only or whether it also includes international revenue. Interestingly, inquiries further to Second Reading made it clear that it is talking about net media revenue, and therefore it includes the international competition revenue. Certainly, when I was in the Minister’s place, that was a red line for the Premier League on distribution, but clearly there has been progress to move on from that. That is welcome because that will increase the amount of money in the pot.

However, when we heard evidence from Steve Parish last week—my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe alluded to this—he made the point about European competition money. My hon. Friend’s reference to the four clubs that tend to be in Europe more often than others reminds me of when, during the fan-led review, officials always referred to the big six as the “big five plus Tottenham”. Yet again, at the end of this season, it has jarred that he has not referenced Spurs in that European competition context. However, I think that it is something for clause 55(2)(a)(ii), whereby the Secretary of State can designate other sources, and European competition revenue could well be included within that designation.

On clause 55(2)(b) and the point about parachute payments, I think we all agree that parachute payments are an important aspect of the long-term financial sustainability of the pyramid. The truth is that, when clubs are promoted, they have a contractual agreement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said, they sign up to be part of that league, and that happens in both the Premier League and for a National League club going into League Two. I think that the way in which the Bill is currently written is right:

“it is not revenue that the specified competition organiser distributes to a club by virtue of a team operated by the club being relegated from a competition.”

The challenge is in the explanatory notes around the current vernacular, which is “parachute payments”. The truth is that, even as far back as 2021 when we were talking about this in the fan-led review, the panel was hearing discussions about how there could be a reformed process of parachute payments. I think that we have ended up getting ourselves into an agreement—or a disagreement—on whether they are included in the redistribution, because the leagues themselves have not reached a conclusion as to whether there should be a reformed structure.

It goes back to the questions that we heard in the evidence session about getting the coding right in the Bill to ensure that, if part 6 is ever triggered, it is correct. However, we cannot ignore the fact that, at the moment, those parachute payments are contractual agreements. Therefore, I think it is right to include the wording as it is in the Bill, which future-proofs any reformed process going forward. At the same time, it is clear that we respect the long-term financial sustainability of football clubs. It is a difficult conversation to have, because we all want to see more money going through the pyramid, but at the end of the day these are agreements between a club that is promoted and a club that is potentially relegated to ensure that they have that safety net if they are relegated. The Bill is correct, but the explanatory notes could be broadened to be a bit more future-proof.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) 4:45, 21 May 2024

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a slight danger, if we go down the path suggested by the amendment, of creating an even bigger gap between the big six and everyone else? We would basically be saying to the rest of the clubs, “The parachute payments are not for us: they are for you—the other 14 clubs in the Premier League. If you want them, you can pay for them and pay for the solidarity payments for the football league as well”, because that is effectively what would happen.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I always refer back to that point in the fan-led review, and we mulled over that issue at length. The truth is that we did not come to a conclusion ourselves, because it is so complex. We have made it clear in the chapter on financial distribution that we hope that there will be reform to the system, but this was back in 2021, for goodness’ sake. I want to bang everybody’s heads together and send them to bed without any tea, because we are dealing with the failure of the leagues to reach a solution, and I hope that the message they get from today’s sitting and the evidence sessions that we had last week is to go away and come up with another solution. The Bill sets out the process if there is no deal on that, and ultimately if there is no amendment to the Bill, let that be an inspiration to people to come together and find a solution.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

I must say that I almost want to stand up, say what other Members have said and sit down again. I agree with everybody else: I wish we were not at this stage and that there had been a deal between the parties concerned, because it is in the interests of football for them to come up with a deal. I hope that the mechanisms we are talking about will enable us to encourage that deal to happen sooner rather than later.

On amendments 27 and 31, although the parachute payments can have the distorting effects outlined, they play a pivotal role in protecting clubs at risk of relegation from going bankrupt, as others have said, and certainly give certainty to clubs competing for promotion. As I mentioned on Second Reading, in the past, relegation from the Premier League often meant financial ruin, as teams such as Bradford City failed to adjust to the huge drops in revenue. Given the important role that parachute payments play in helping to ensure the financial sustainability of relegated clubs, removing them entirely could have significant adverse effects on the game, and we do not want to create an opportunity through the Bill’s distribution mechanisms to get rid of parachute payments by the back door. Including parachute payments in the Bill’s scope, as amendment 27 proposes, could do just that. It could mean the regulator accepting a final proposal from one of the leagues that removes those payments, and if the mechanism allowed for that, it could create significant financial uncertainty for clubs that could not confidently invest in promotion. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford also mentioned the commercial agreements that are in place.

An exciting, competitive and sustainable pyramid is at the heart of what makes English football the asset that it is, and we should not put that at risk. We have excluded parachute payments from the backstop, because it needs to be targeted and simple to work effectively. Including parachute payments in the backstop means that the regulator could be presented with two entirely incomparable final proposals, which could render decision making almost impossible, but it is important to remember that the backstop may never be triggered, and is only ever intended as a last resort. We expect the leagues to reach a football-led solution themselves and will continue to press them to do so.

I recognise there are also concerns about the potentially distortive effects of parachute payments, and that is why the broader regulatory framework is designed to address it. If the regulator finds that parachute payments are causing a structural or systemic issue, it could attach discretionary licence conditions to parachute payment clubs to address that. We are creating a financial regulator, and it is entirely right that we solve issues like this through financial regulation wherever possible.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

It would help if the Minister was clear on what he was suggesting the regulator should do to deal with the massive gap between the clubs with parachute payments and those in the Championship without. Is he suggesting that the regulator should come in and tell clubs with parachute payments, “You have got them, but you cannot actually spend them, or not all of them, because that is distorting competition”? It seems a very odd way to try to deal with the problem.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

The whole point is that the regulator can look at financial controls and make discretionary licence conditions if it wants to try to minimise that impact. However, if the backstop ever gets triggered, if two very different bids are put in, the regulator is put in an incredibly difficult position; in contrast, if those backstop payments are there, the two sides will be able to adjust their bid to address it in another way, such as by improving the solidarity payments to other clubs as a proposal to reduce that cliff edge. That is the point we are trying to make. As I say, I cannot accept the amendment that the hon. Member tabled and I hope he will withdraw it.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

Could the Minister explain what he has just said? I still do not understand how it is going to work. On the regulator’s powers to deal with the problem created by parachute payments, which he accepts could be created, what exactly are those powers? How does he expect the regulator to use them?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

As I mentioned, it can introduce a discretionary licence condition. There will be a range of options that the regulator may consider, but it will have discretionary licence conditions that it could put on clubs in receipt of those payments that will manage the amount of money they are spending while helping to keep clubs financially solvent and sustainable. That is the point I am trying to make.

By way of background to clause 55, the Premier League earns significant revenues from selling its TV rights. It then determines how much of its broadcast revenue is distributed within its own league, and how much is distributed to the rest of the game, including the EFL and the National League. These backstop powers have been designed to incentivise reasonableness, encourage industry solutions and tackle any bargaining imbalance between the leagues. The clause sets out an overview of those backstop powers and defines some terms that are important for setting their scope.

One key term defined in the clause is relevant revenue. It expressly includes broadcast revenue, which is the predominant source of revenue for the relevant leagues and of any redistribution. The clause allows the Secretary of State to specify other kinds of revenue to be included as relevant, which will future-proof the policy—for instance, if broadcast revenue is no longer the main source of income for the leagues. There are safeguards on the use of this power, as the Secretary of State must consult the regulator, the FA and the relevant leagues, and can use the power only when there has been a material change in circumstances.

The exclusion of parachute payments in the clause is to ensure that the two final proposals can be easily compared. That is based on detailed analysis and advice on similar mechanisms. However, as mentioned, the regulator will still be able to consider parachute payments through the licensing regime.

The clause also sets out several other definitions, including the idea of a “qualifying football season”. The effect of this definition, together with the operative clauses in this part, is that the backstop can be triggered only in relation to the current season and the five subsequent seasons. That ensures that the backstop powers are used only in a reasonable timeframe and not for the remote future. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

I am not convinced by the Minister’s arguments, I must say. I think that we will be giving further consideration to this, as I hope the Minister will, and that we will come back to this issue on another occasion. I just hope that, by the time we come back, the Minister might be able to better explain the powers of the regulator to smooth out the issues where there are problems for Championship clubs trying to compete with those clubs with parachute payments. I was not convinced about that point from his arguments, but we will consider that further at another stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 31, in clause 55, page 45, line 3, at end insert—

“unless the IFR specifies otherwise in rules.

(2A) The IFR can only make such rules if it can be satisfied that their inclusion furthers its objectives under section 6 by protecting and promoting—

(a) the financial soundness of regulated clubs, and

(b) the financial resilience of English football.

(2B) The IFR should also have regard when making any rules under section 7 to act in such a way that avoids any—

(a) effects on sporting competitiveness of any regulated club against another regulated club,

(b) adverse effects on the competitiveness of regulated clubs against other clubs, and

(c) adverse effects on financial investment in English football.”—(Stephanie Peacock.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 5 Football Governance Bill — Clause 55 - PART 6: OVERVIEW AND INTERPRETATION

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 55 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Mike Wood.)

Adjourned till Thursday 23 May at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

FGB09 STAR (Supporters Trust at Reading)

FGB10 Dr Jan Zglinski, Assistant Professor at the LSE Law School and Research Fellow of the Oxford Institute of European and Comparative Law.