§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Lord Donoughue rose to call attention to the problems of the football industry and the need for more effective regulation; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will agree that the subject of this debate is of concern to the House, to the Government and to the country at large. Association Football is our premier national team game, attracting the greatest support among the British people, and attendances have been rising in the past decade.
§ The Government are deeply involved, with considerable public finance concerned. Tax concessions to the Pools since 1990 have injected £121 million into the game via the Football Trust. Government money is going to help stage the 1996 European Championships. Local authorities provide the amateur game with most of its pitches; the Sports Council also assists to some extent the amateur side of the game. So football is not just a great national game; it is now a great industry. But several aspects of its conduct raise concern.
I should point out that not all of those concerns are new. I myself was a member of the Chester inquiry into the state of football which reported in 1968. The House may note that the cost of that 11-man three-year inquiry was £2,805.13s.1d. I think it was value for money, especially compared with some expenditures on various quangos in recent years. I have re-read that report and it stands up well. I recommend other noble Lords to read it. Much of it is still relevant. It reported a game that was flourishing with rising attendances but found that there was a:
disturbing increase of cases of misconduct by players".
It concluded that:
misconduct in football will not greatly improve until there is an improvement in the manners and attitudes of society as a whole".
Little has changed in that respect.
§ But elsewhere it is a different world. That committee was impressed by the unity of the game and the fair spread of resources from top to bottom. The average wage of players in the top division was £2,600 per annum—less than double that of the lowly Fourth Division players. The average First Division transfer fee was £29,000. Even allowing for inflation, that would not buy many Premier League strikers now.
§ The motivation behind our debate is the widespread belief that football is in some kind of crisis which its own authorities are not able to resolve. We have the opportunity to examine that issue. I shall raise some general points and my noble friend Lord Peston will deal with some regulatory details as well as other points that may come up.968
§ I do not propose to deal with the quality of the game on the field, although our national team seems to perform relatively worse than at times in the past. But our game remains excitingly physical and competitive, and club fans are usually satisfied with their weekly matches. However, it is clearly deficient in basic skills, which is often why we fail internationally. In particular, we appear to be inferior in our "first touch" control of the ball. That may be beyond the influence of this House, despite the skills of first touch control which noble Lords periodically display in other areas.
§ Our main concerns lie with the conduct of the game, not with the play. Two aspects which must concern us today are the increasing allegations of financial irregularities and the violence and social misbehaviour close to football on and off the field. Reports of the bribing of players and "bungs" to managers fill the media, though the evidence is sometimes hard to establish. Massive tax evasion has been alleged. It is claimed that 15 clubs have already paid £16 million in tax penalties.
§ Much of the alleged irregularity appears to be related to the transfer system, where larger sums are said to have been paid than received by the clubs, sometimes involving hundreds of thousands of pounds, with the difference disappearing into the pockets of various intermediaries. The problem is that the football authorities seem a little dilatory in pursuing those allegations, which may in some cases involve them personally. I ask the Minister whether the Government are satisfied that those scandals are being investigated with proper diligence by the football authorities and whether the relevant public authorities—the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and the DTI—have been instructed to investigate.
§ Central to that is the new role of players' agents. They manipulate the serpentine transfer system that exists. They appear sometimes to be close to the dubious transactions. In my view, agents should be registered and closely regulated, and I believe the league is considering that. That is a matter mainly for the football authorities. Surely we need to ensure that there is a clean-up in our game, not a cover-up, before hosting the European championships next year. I ask whether we may in fact need another Chester-style inquiry into the game. That is not established convincingly, but I find attractive the idea of an independent monitoring unit to monitor breaches of integrity in the game.
§ On the social side, the most obvious area of concern is the violence and hooliganism manifested on and off the field. Such behaviour conducted abroad is a matter of national shame and we have seen tragedies in various stadia abroad, most recently Bruges, and the disgraceful behaviour at Landsdown Road, Dublin. At home there has been some improvement at club matches in recent years; arrests are down by 30 per cent. But it is still a weekly issue of law and order. Some games operate in an environment like Belfast during a civil war. There are mounted police, surveillance cameras, anti-riot squads and intelligence officers infiltrating gangs of supporters who themselves are "apartheided" into separate tribal camps.969
§ We must ask why this violence appears to be unique to soccer. Rugby is a more physical sport, with more pain inflicted, yet the behaviour of the crowd is quite different. What is the cause of soccer's affliction of violence? It is certainly not helped by the violence on the field, but that is not a sufficient explanation. Nor is the social class of the supporter. A recent survey showed that on average a Premier League fan earns £20,000 a year and pays £24 a game to watch his team.
§ One certain problem is a fanatical political minority. What can the clubs do? Their approach has certainly improved, but they can probably do more. It is encouraging that some are introducing hotlines so that decent fans can report troublemakers, including their seat numbers. Clubs should then confiscate their season tickets and ban them. It should always be the case that clubs work closely with the supporters' clubs, which often do an excellent job, sometimes with too little club support.
§ The problem is that the worst hooligans, especially abroad in relation to England, are not members of the supporters' club. They are often political extremists, British Nazis; groups with the money and motivation to disrupt any match they choose. Of course, matches on the Continent are easier because those grounds do not have the kind of fortress defences which have sadly become common in England. They do not have them because they do not have our appalling hooligans.
§ The inquiry into the Dublin riot conducted by Mr. Thomas Finlay, former Chief Justice of Ireland, was most revealing. It concluded that some 50 to 80 English louts started it and more than 200 took part. It described the riot as "well-managed and organised" including the use of mobile telephones and hand signals to orchestrate violence. Large amounts of Nazi racist pamphlets were found at the scene and some groups wore Nazi insignia of the notorious Combat 18 group, the British National Party. The report concluded that the violence at Landsdown Road was "targeted, planned and intended"; it was not due to overcrowding or provocation on or off the pitch.
§ The actions of those fanatical louts bring shame to Britain and fear to thousands of peaceful football fans. I ask the Minister what further plans the Government have to curb them. There is already provision to require known troublemakers to report to police stations during games. That is said not to be rigorously applied. Can we have more rigorous application by the authorities? I am sure the Minister will not repeat criticism of the Irish or other police forces. The problem is ours. We must ensure that these louts do not go abroad and are locked up where they belong. If that requires more football regulation and legislation, we will give our support.
§ Returning to the game of football itself, I am worried by the progressive division of our game into the very rich and the very poor. Nearly three-quarters of all football revenues now go to the Premier League, and the league is dominated by a few elite teams. Self-perpetuating, they attract the top talent because only they can afford the transfer costs and the top wages, so they remain at the top and receive the bulk of the television coverage.970
§ Television is accelerating that elitism. The latest reported Sky satellite deal for soccer offers £600 million for five years; that is £6 million per season to each top club but nothing to the rest of the game. We note that attendance for the Endsleigh Insurance League is down 7 per cent, since saturation television coverage of the Premier League began. This minority club coverage is for the minority who can afford satellite television. The BBC and ITV cannot hope to compete to provide national coverage at that cost. Here I should stress how crucial it is that major sporting events—not only soccer—remain available to all on national terrestrial television.
§ What a change there has been since the Chester Report, when every club received an average £11,000 per season from the whole of television and the pools. Now relegation from the Premier League can deprive a club of up to £6 million. Television is now shaping and determining the conduct of the game, the days on which matches are played and times of kick-off. The same problem arises in the Football League, which was debated today in another place. Television is a ruthless paymaster and is creating a game of financially dominated showbiz top-end clubs, with poverty below. I should point out that the lottery may accelerate that. For local clubs, their local lotteries and scratch cards are often their main financial line of support and the National Lottery is cutting some of that off. There is a squeeze on the football pools which through the Football Trust have provided so much for ground improvements. Those funds are under threat too.
§ In the Chester Report we proudly surveyed a unified game, a fabric stretching from village and schools teams up to the First Division. Our prime aim was to sustain that healthy national game with deep and thriving local roots. The fear is that these days that unity, with its fair spread of resources, has been disrupted. It is perhaps inevitable that money values have come to dominate the game; but must we really hand over our great national games to foreigners such as Rupert Murdoch? I really question whether that is good for the games.
§ Some of the problems I have raised could of course be approached by government, and I shall look forward to what the Minister has to say on that. Many are endemic in our modern society. Most lie at the door of the football authorities themselves, and surely we should look for improvements there. The Football Association, the senior authority in the game, was criticised by Chester 30 years ago as outdated. I must say that it still looks anachronistic and increasingly bewildered by the problems which face it. The FA Council seems archaic and its decision-making is cumbersome. It is constantly outmanoeuvred by the commercialism of the Football League. It often appears inert amid the growing sleaze around it.
§ We should never forget that professional football is only 1 per cent, of the whole of football. All the other participation is amateur. The Football Association is responsible for that.
§ Having made these criticisms, however, I must emphasise that I totally support the existence of the Football Association as the single senior body responsible for the whole game, amateur as well as professional. We 971 cannot leave the conduct of football to a small group of league chairmen who are mainly motivated by money. I do want the FA to be more efficient and more effective. Equally, we want the management of league clubs to become more professional. The turnover for this season so far has meant that 47 managers have been sacked by 39 clubs. It seems to me that lack of continuity is really very destructive. It is important that football, as an industry, as we now describe it, should become managed with the full modern professionalism of industry.
§ In conclusion, I must emphasise that not all is gloom in British football. The commitment of our players, the excitement of the game and the welcoming of the family are all to be applauded. However, there are issues of major concern involved and I have raised some of them. I have deliberately not mentioned the delicate issue of inconsistent refereeing, since my noble friend Lord Howell, a former practitioner, is sitting, whistle in hand, behind me. My noble friend Lord Peston will have more to say in detail on the whole matter. I look forward to the contributions of other noble Lords, and especially to any answers and encouragement which the Minister may offer. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lord Aberdare
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, for giving us the opportunity to debate football and some of its problems, and also for starting us off with a very interesting speech. I should also like to welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who I know has been seriously ill. We are delighted to see him back in our midst.
§ Lord Aberdare
My Lords, I was a little sad when I first read the terms of this Motion to see that football was termed an industry rather than a sport. I suppose it is inevitable, with the vast amounts of money that are now involved, that it should be considered an industry. However, I hope very much that we shall continue to look on it as much as we can as a sport and to maintain the sporting traditions associated with it.
No one can possibly deny that there are problems and the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, has mentioned quite a few of them: problems such as hooliganism, player misbehaviour, and financial impropriety. Those problems receive the full attention of the media, as bad news always does, and they overshadow many of the good things that have occurred in recent years. In the few minutes that I have at my disposal I should like to concentrate on the good things, which tend to receive so much less attention than the bad things.
In the first place, tremendous advances have been made as a result of the recommendations of the Taylor Report, especially in the provision of new, all-seated stadia throughout the country. As on previous occasions, I should like to declare my interest as chairman of the Football Trust. I must say that I am extremely proud of the contribution that the Football Trust has made in helping clubs to fulfil the requirements of the Taylor Report. We in our turn owe a debt of gratitude to the pools companies, who supply us with our ways and means, and in particular 972 Littlewoods, who were our original sponsors and who have continued to put large sums of money at our disposal towards the safety of our football grounds. I would even like to express thanks to Her Majesty's Government who over the years have made a very significant reduction in pool betting duty, from 42½ per cent. in 1990 to 32½ per cent. as a result of the recent change made in this year's Finance Bill.
Since 1990 the trust has allocated over £132 million to new projects which themselves cost a total of over £420 million. In other words, we have contributed not far short of one-third of the total money required. The programme for the Premier League, the First Division of the Endsleigh League and the Scottish First Division is now almost complete and we are tackling the considerable problems that remain concerning the lower divisions of the league and the Vauxhall Conference.
The face of British football, in terms of ground facilities, has been transformed in the last five years and great credit for this achievement must go to the clubs themselves who have contributed towards it. They have shown great determination and commitment in seeing the job through. The host venues for Euro '96 are magnificent examples of what has been achieved. Following his inspection tour, the UEFA Stadia Committee Chairman, Ernie Walker, said that:the clubs, with major help from the Football Trust, had transformed their grounds and that there will be eight splendid venues for what will be the biggest and potentially the best ever European Championship Finals".In the Football League alone, no fewer than seven brand-new stadia are now in place and a further seven are in the pipeline.
It is not always realised how much is being done by league clubs in their own local communities. Every two years or so the Football Trust has run a competition known as the Littlewoods Community Award Scheme, in which financial awards are made to the winners in the different divisions for what they have done in their local communities. This year, of the 92 league clubs 80 have competed and their submissions cover an enormous range of services for the old and the young, the disabled, the unemployed and ethnic minorities. They also include many imaginative ideas for making use of club facilities for community purposes. I believe that these initiatives are of great significance and an example of the acceptable face of football.
As the noble Lord said in his speech, the problem of hooliganism has been very largely eliminated within grounds, largely thanks to the installation of closed circuit television, for which the Football Trust was largely responsible. But, as he said, unfortunately it remains present in the context of international matches, but even then, most commonly outside the stadium and caused by a hardcore of thugs quite distinct from the fans who regularly attend their own club's games. I fully agree with what the noble Lord has said.
The Premier League has recently published an interesting survey of the views of genuine fans. It was carried out as a result of research done at the Sir Norman Chester Centre. The noble Lord mentioned that Sir Norman Chester was on an earlier inquiry. He was a remarkable man. With the setting up of the centre we 973 thought it only appropriate that it should bear his name. It is at Leicester University and it is partly financed by the Football Trust.
The recent report contains further evidence of the progress made in implementing the Taylor Report. More than nine out of 10 fans believed that facilities at their club ground had improved; 84.6 per cent. were of the view that their club was now more attractive to families and 83 per cent. stated that they arc now more likely to take their school-aged children to watch a match than they were a few years ago. This shows a welcome improvement in behaviour at grounds and it is significant that more families are now coming to enjoy the game.
I have tried to give some account of why it is not all bad news in football. But there is one matter of which we must never lose sight, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord. I refer to the fact that the problems which arise are all confined to the professional game. We should never forget that there are innumerable amateur clubs, youth clubs, school teams and women's teams all over the country, some in leagues, some not, but all contributing to the sporting traditions of football. We have done our best in the Football Trust to try to help the game at grassroots level by developing pitches and facilities and by providing strip and equipment for schoolboy and schoolgirl teams. We hope to continue as much of this worthwhile work as we can in the light of the impact of the national lottery which has somewhat affected our income. We hope in the future to play our full part in ensuring that our national game fills its rightful place in the country's sporting future.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord St John of Bletso
My Lords, as an avid sportsman, but not an enthusiastic football supporter, when I first saw the Motion for debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, calling attention to the problems in the football industry—or should I call it a sport?—I immediately thought that the debate would focus in the main on crowd violence and unruly spectators, much of which has already been dealt with in the Football Spectators Act.
On closer reflection, however, I soon realised that I was off track and that the debate would focus more on the commercialisation of the industry—on transfer fees, match fixing, pay-offs and even bribery. Hooliganism has plagued English football since the 1890s, but it is really the subtler problem these days which appears to be practised with pounds, deutschmarks and dollars.
It was Hunter-Davies writing in the Guardian on Tuesday, 4th April under the heading, "A New Set of Goals" who in my opinion admirably summed up the position when he wrote:Once upon a time football was about glory and loyalty and local identity. Not any more".In an age when money dominates our national game, he, a life-long soccer fan, accused Manchester United and other top clubs of ignoring the community and abandoning sport for the relentless pursuit of profit.
974 While I have a certain amount of sympathy for the need to remunerate sportsmen and sportswomen who entirely dedicate many of their prime years to achieving sporting excellence—in many cases having to support their families on their meagre earnings—I nevertheless feel that sport has become far too commercialised.
In my research into the commercialisation of the football industry, I was surprised to find that until the 1970s almost none of the major football clubs accepted advertisements on their grounds. Their club's name was sacred and their team shirts were sacrosanct. A team's shirt meant that the shirt could be worn only by the team. For example, only a Manchester United player could wear a Manchester United shirt. Sadly for many, those days are gone forever.
Last season Manchester United's turnover was in excess of £44 million with a profit in excess of £11 million. The club has now reached the stage where it earns most of its money from merchandising, television, catering and sponsorship revenues. Clearly, in the past 20 years money has taken over completely in the football industry, dominating all decisions and in many cases perverting traditional values.
I should like today to focus on one key issue in the football industry; namely, that of transfer fees. Over the past five years there has been a progressive, if subtle, change towards self-determination by players: that is to say, where 20 years ago players were largely lowly paid and "life members" of clubs, such as the great characters Billy Wright of Wolverhampton and Bobby Moore of West Ham, the scope for players being paid substantially more, and moving clubs, has arisen as a result of the increase in the commercialisation of the football industry.
As I understand the situation, most of the top players arc now signed up for a specified contractual period, normally three to five years, at the end of which, should the player not be able to reach contract renewal terms with his club, he is free to be transferred on the open market at a price which is decided by an independent tribunal appointed for this specific purpose.
Whereas players used to rely on their managers for advice, an unregulated agency system, similar to a head-hunting system, seems to have emerged where these agencies strive to obtain the best terms for the star players. The first noticeable case where a player without a contract was able to obtain far better terms by moving from his club rather than leaving his fate to his manager, was that of Gordon Strachan, a famous Scottish international footballer whose transfer from Glasgow Rangers to Leeds United resulted in the player getting almost 50 per cent. of the transfer fee.
Increasingly, the star players like Cantona and Klinsman, are moving from club to club on a season-by-season basis, obtaining their wages from the highest bidder. The detrimental effect, of course, is that the amount that these players are paid has not just severely depleted the coffers of many clubs, but has also resulted in an enormous disparity in salaries between the so-called "stars" and ordinary club players. At one south London Premiership club, for example, two of the first team players who have been promoted from the junior 975 learn earn £400 per week, playing alongside the star players who have been transferred to the club and are earning upwards of £6,000 per week.
Of course, as the hold by the major clubs over the transfer of players has eroded, so too the players' loyalty to their clubs has in many cases fallen. The players who get hurt most appear to be the players who are most loyal to their clubs, as their reluctance to move clubs results in many cases in their having to forfeit far higher salaries. The Football Association has become much more like the American system, where players are like highly paid guns for hire. Many of the major clubs that have invested millions of pounds in building their teams—such as Blackburn, Manchester United and Spurs—fear that the introduction of legislation regulating the transfer system would substantially reduce the value of their top players.
The other major problem resulting from the high wages that are paid to the top players is that many of the 92 clubs in the professional league will, and have already, fallen into financial difficulties. The obvious result of the disappearance of many of the smaller clubs is that many of the up-and-coming young talented players may not have the opportunity to exhibit and enhance their talents in public. The English team would certainly be without Ian Wright if this system had prevailed in the past decade as his talents did not emerge until he was 26 years-old. There are many other late developers and players who have been developed and recognised through the lower leagues.
I feel that a committee or commission should be established, incorporating representatives from all of the clubs, including player representatives, to consider not only the commercial but also the legal implications of the current transition to self-determination, so that both players and their clubs can have a more secure future.
As your Lordships may be aware, the honourable Member for Vauxhall in another place recently called for a government inquiry into England's football industry. Fans, she argued, have to pay more because of, and I quote,dirty deals which cause money that should be in the game to be siphoned off in back-handers, bungs and fixes".—[0flieial Report, Commons, 30/1/95; col. 828.]In conclusion, I firmly believe that football should not be run like a supermarket. Football is a team sport and not just about profit and loss. It is about sporting talents; the excitement of winning; about loyalty and legends; about local identity; about families and about history, none of which can be computed on balance sheets.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I too am grateful to my colleague and noble friend Lord Donoughue for initiating this debate. He covered a wide spectrum of the problems and achievements of football, so there is no point in repeating them. I should also like to pay tribute to the detailed speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who is chairman of the Football Trust, which has done a tremendous job in allocating funds and in ensuring that ground improvements have taken place.
976 However, I find some football clubs lacking in terms of their public relations. One Monday it was announced that one of the richest clubs in the game, which was about to undertake a massive extension programme, had received about £2.5 million from the trust in grant. I am not arguing about that, but four days after the first announcement the chairman of that club announced that it was making £6 million available for the manager to buy new players. It does not look very good to the public if a club takes £2.5 million from the trust but says within four days that it will spend £6 million on players.
As Members of your Lordships' House probably know, I have been involved in deliberations on the last two Bills on football which have been considered by this House. I refer to the Football Spectators Bill and to the Bill on alcohol control. There is no question but that the crowd situation has improved tremendously. However, I am not sure that the Taylor Report was entirely right in specifying that all spectators should sit down. I still think that there was a case for leaving some areas where people could watch football in the traditional manner—standing on the steps. I am not suggesting that that should apply to large areas of grounds. However, it has become clear that some of the worst excesses at foreign cup ties have occurred in seated stands.
Turning to a point raised by my noble friend Lord Donoughue: what has really happened since the inception of the Premier League? I was present at a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group when the idea of such a league was first mooted. I do not know of one speaker at that meeting of any political persuasion, from your Lordships' House or from the other place, who spoke in favour of a Premier League. The people who were present included those who had been spectators all their lives, and some who had played the game or who had helped to run top clubs. All were of the same opinion, that such a league would damage the game because the seedcorn would not come through.
My noble friend Lord Donoughue made the legitimate point that we now appear to have two Premier Leagues. There are the top 10 clubs of the Premier League, and below them the others who will never quite make it to the top. Transfer fees are escalating so rapidly and their value is so totally false that a market is being created in which only eight to 10 clubs will be able to operate. That is not good for football.
I then have to ask myself whether the game on the pitch has improved. I have heard it argued today that the game has improved. I do not agree. I do not think that the skills are any better today. The game is harder, more competitive and dirtier, but it is not a better game of football. Some might accuse me of nostalgia, but I had the privilege of seeing the English team play at Main Road just after the war, scoring eight goals against Scotland. The forward line included Matthews, Carter, Lawton, Hagan and Denis Compton. What would they fetch if they were available today? It is no good saying that they would not have made the grade today because they would have. By way of a little aside, perhaps I may correct the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, who was a little wrong about Gordon Strachan. It was the 977 noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who put me right. Strachan moved from Aberdeen to Manchester United and then to Leeds United.
I do not believe that the changes have benefited the ordinary spectator—and I am more interested in the spectators than in the football clubs. Football has become money-mad. I would not refer to "the football industry" because it is not an industry. If we have a debate on Wimbledon, are we then going to call tennis an industry? We cannot go along that route. We must try to keep football a sport. If we start to deviate from that and refer to the game as an "industry", the idea will start to sink in that football is an industry.
I turn now to a development in football that has frightened me. A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of the all-party group which was attended by a man—I shall not use his name—who was described as prominent among the new breed of agents in the game. I listened to him for 20 minutes and thought, "This fella is nothing more than an East End spiv". That is all that he was. He said that he had been introduced to the game as an agent on the recommendation of Terry Venables. If that is the sort of man who recommends you, you would not get a job from me. But those are the men who have been let loose in football. Nobody has any control over the situation.
The agents tell the players what they are worth and how much to ask for. That is why I ask myself whether the introduction of such agents, who have a totally free rein, has been any good for the game. I do not believe that it has. However, it is one of the biggest factors in the explosion in transfer fees and the price that people have to pay to watch a game. Even Manchester United has to produce a new strip every few months in order to survive. That is the argument, although it is very poor.
I should like to go back to the days when I knew that Arsenal played in red and white, that Manchester United played in red and that they had an alternative strip. Today when I see some teams playing on television I have to ask, "Who is it?", because the colours are totally alien to anything I have ever known. It is the result of the commercial involvement. I hope that the football authorities will get together and try to get rid of the agents because they are of no benefit to the game.
Some noble Lords have referred to crowd behaviour, but I believe that there has been a sad deterioration in the behaviour of players on the pitch. Every era of football has had its hard men but I shudder when I see some of the activities of highly paid professional footballers whose main intention appears to be to get a member of the other team taken off on a stretcher. The worst recent act of violence was committed by a United player. We then heard a former international who plays for the same club defending such conduct.
Such incidents ruin all the good work that has been done by clubs to bring families back into the game. Manchester City, Manchester United and most of the other clubs are doing a wonderful job by encouraging children to go to the club. But it wants only one stupid act such as that to blow the whole thing out of the window. If children see their idol tread on a fellow they will say, "That's the game and that's the way to play 978 it". It is about time that managers started disciplining people. I wish to mention Arsenal, the team supported by my noble friend Lord Peston. I understand that if in yesteryear an Arsenal player was sent off he did not play again until he had seen the board of directors. That was the system and it is about time some discipline was brought back.
As regards the incident involving Cantona, I was as surprised as anyone about some of the quick reaction. However, I was disappointed even more by the reaction of those at Crystal Palace to the lout who triggered it all off. They said, "We have suspended him for the rest of the season". That meant two whole matches. There may have been other matches but officially there were only two matches left on the fixture list and I thought, "That's some punishment!". I believe that such people should be dealt with severely and stopped from watching matches.
The FA has published a list of Manchester United supporters who have sold Cup Final tickets at excessive rates, and it has dealt with them. Manchester United has kicked those people out of its club membership and that is 10 years' punishment. However, a fellow who triggered off the worst act of violence on a football field will miss only four or six matches. Then he will be back mouthing his filth at somebody else. I make no excuses for Cantona; what he did was mad.
I turn to the issue of referees on the field. They must show a yellow card, which must be followed by the showing of a red card. The foul that prompted the yellow card may have been the dirtiest that the referee had seen for ages. I believe that a man who commits such a foul should be sitting with his manager and should be taken out of the game immediately. Certain teams are noted for causing the other side to have to bring on substitutes pretty quickly. A fellow can commit two terrible fouls in order to get rid of a star player from the other side and only then be dealt with. That is a situation in which we must become involved.
I appreciate that one cannot turn the clock back. There is no question about the fact that money now decides where the honours will go. A perfect example is rugby league, which is being debated in another place. Wigan became the first team to become totally professional and it wins everything in sight. The same thing has happened in football. While a few teams have all the money, competition will be false and the sooner that we can return to a reasonable situation the better for everyone concerned.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, but I hope he will not mind if I do not follow him down the same path. Although his speech was most amusing, I believe that if he repeated some of the comments outside the Chamber he might find himself in a little hot water.
I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, for tabling this Motion tonight. However, I have to admit that when I read its terms I was puzzled by what the noble Lord meant by,the need for more effective regulation".979 I thought, "Heaven forbid, does he want the Government to be involved in some way, however loosely, with the operational running of our national sport?". If that were to happen perhaps snooker would be in the newspapers next. All governments are accused of over-legislating; let us not get them involved with sport. Having said that, I agree with a lot of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue.
I have no interest to declare—financially, that is—but like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I am an avid Arsenal supporter. In the past I have enjoyed the club' s hospitality in the directors' box but, alas, not this season. However, I would like to thank the club and the FA for their help in preparing for tonight's debate. Although the Gunners have had a torrid time in the domestic game, as well as the bad publicity, and although they were on the brink of demotion for the first time, I congratulate them on their fine performance in Europe this season. I wish them every success in Paris on 10th May. For the second season running it is the only British club to make progress in Europe.
Regrettably, this season has had a turbulent period, provoking unwelcome publicity; namely, that concerning financial irregularities in the transfer market, match fixing, drug abuse and, regrettably, the old story of spectator violence as was seen in Dublin. The first two matters are under inquiry, one by the Hampshire police and the other by a commission set up by the FA with a leading QC as a member. Both those inquiries are still under review and as they are sub judice I shall not comment. However, I am led to believe that the George Graham case should be reported towards the end of May or in June.
With regard to drugs, the FA has stepped up its monitoring and testing procedures wherever usage has been established. Swift action has been taken to help players; not only the high profile players such as Paul Merson who, I am glad to see, has made a good recovery—and may it last.
I am told that new arrangements are being put into place to ensure that there is no repeat of the nasty events in Dublin. But I strongly believe that if the Irish authorities had accepted help from our police force the incident may not have happened. I believe that it was caused in the main by a minority of mainly Left-wing extremists or fascists, as has been said. Whoever this rent-a-mob are, they are about the worst kind of people in our society today and should be dealt with by the courts in no uncertain terms. They are hellbent on upsetting other people's enjoyment. I believe that they are known by the police and I hope that they will be brought to book very soon. Provided that the courts have the powers, and use them with tough punishments, this behaviour could I hope be stamped out.
Likewise, the transport police could be stronger. Why do not they stop the known troublemakers from travelling to the matches simply by stopping them from boarding the trains? Perhaps my noble friend could pass that suggestion to the appropriate department for consideration.
980 I am told that soon members of the FA will be seeing my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to discuss the existing rules and possible amendments to them. I hope that he will listen with an open mind to their requests.
Another problem from which our national game suffers, which is nearly as bad as the last problem that I mentioned, is racism and intimidation, which causes a nasty atmosphere at many games. That must be dealt with severely. I am told that the FA is working with the Commission for Racial Equality and other bodies to tackle that problem. They are building on the "Kick Racism out of Football" campaign and will be launching a comprehensive campaign for the new season.
As regards taxation, I am told that the Premier League clubs have agreed voluntarily, at an aggregate cost of about £0.5 million, to commission independent accountants to prepare reports for the Inland Revenue so that clubs can put their houses in order. That has been agreed voluntarily with the Inland Revenue on the basis of voluntary disclosure. There is no truth in the reports that the clubs are being investigated.
Despite the damaging headlines this season, one should not lose sight of the achievements and success of the sport in recent times. If one casts one's mind back to the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough disaster, people up and down the country in this House and in another place were saying that all-seater stadiums would be a disaster and that clubs would lose support and money. Not many people like change but sometimes it can be good, as in the case of football. In the 1993–94 season, the total attendances at Premier League matches topped 10.6 million. For the first part of this season the likely attendance figure will be over 11 million. It will be only the second time in the past 11 years that the figure has exceeded 10 million.
In the past, fathers and sons went to watch football. Now more women and families are attending than ever before. The majority of fans prefer the new stadiums as they are more comfortable and have much better facilities. It may be that the old traditional supporter is staying away but those supporters are being replaced by new supporters who turn up week after week. One has only to look at the top clubs which have full houses every week. Arsenal consistently has gates in excess of 35,000 with a capacity of around 38,000. That is despite all-seater stadiums and an increase in price, although not in every case, all of which was frowned upon not so long ago.
The association is not complacent. It welcomes this debate about the future of our national sport. It knows that there are problems to be solved which are being properly investigated and which will be dealt with in the appropriate manner. If the sport were in such a turmoil, as some of the media suggest, how is it that UK Ltd. has been awarded the Euro-cup next year? As Bryon Butler of the Daily Telegraph said, English football is facing a new 981 dawn; its health has never been ruder; its profile has never been higher. My Lords, let us keep governments out of sport.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Donoughue and Lord Peston for arranging this extremely timely debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his kind personal remarks.
I am extremely sad that the Minister has not found it possible to answer this debate. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, that my regret in relation to the Minister is in no way to be taken as any reflection upon her, for whom we all have great affection. I know that she will listen faithfully to the debate and transmit our views to Ministers.
My complaint is that Ministers should be here to listen to the debate and reply to the vital matters raised in this Chamber. The reason I say that is because there has been a succession of events recently about which the silence of the Minister for Sport has been the cause of the deepest regret. There is the threat of a television war, to which I shall return, which my noble friend Lord Donoughue mentioned. That will affect all sports and is a matter of the most serious concern. There has been not one word from Ministers on that. There has been the violence of criminal groups in Dublin and Bruges. Although the Home Secretary has spoken, there has been not one word from the Minister for Sport. There was the criminal activity at Walsall caused by alcohol, to which I shall return, which resulted in the death of an innocent supporter. There has not been one word from the Minister for Sport about that.
I was a Minister for 11 years and I was brought up in the belief that my first duty was to the House and to be present to respond in person to matters which were raised. Now one could be excused for thinking that the silence of Sports Ministers of this Government means that:Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest".The truth of the matter is that they are mute and inglorious, which is a matter of concern to us all.
I wish to turn, first, to the question of television which is the matter of the greatest concern for all sports. There is a fight taking place between Murdoch and Packer, as we have seen in relation to rugby league. But it will not only be rugby league and soccer that will be affected. Cricket, tennis and boxing will also be affected. They will try to buy the whole gamut of sport for television. The Government must do something to regulate that. This debate makes the case for regulation. We must prevent those buy-outs and monopolies.
The governing bodies of sport have been inclined to take the money and run. One can understand why they have done that. They cherish their independence, but if those television moguls are allowed to buy up British sport in the way that they seek to do, the independence of governing bodies will count for nothing. Television will become the governing body of sport. A predatory Murdoch will run sport. Public service broadcasters, the BBC and ITV will be also-rans.
982 The question to which we need an answer is what the Government intend to do about that. As Mr. Michael Grade said last night in a striking lecture, the new Channel 5 may well prove to be catastrophic if the decision goes in favour of handing it over to those people who already own so much.
The Premier League is to be congratulated on keeping a close watch on the effect of its arrangements with BSkyB Television. The research that it commissioned from Leicester University is first-class and some of that has been read out to us. Last Thursday, the Premier League clubs took two very enlightened decisions of which we should approve. First, they are requiring every club to provide an audited statement that the club has complied in every direction with the rules of the Football League. That will do a great deal to get rid of the sleaze and will help also to control the agents. I agree wholeheartedly with what my noble friend said about that. The activities of agents are a matter of concern to the Football Association, which needs our support to keep that matter under control.
The second decision of the league chairmen is to ensure that an appropriate portion of the funds of any TV deal is directed to the Football League for the benefit of the clubs in the lower leagues. That is absolutely essential. I can tell my noble friend Lord Donoughue that the Football League tells me that the reports in the press of a £600 million deal are totally erroneous. At least we can be grateful on that score.
I turn now to the second of the Government's responsibilities which they are not discharging adequately, if they are discharging them at all. I refer to the violence and crime which now attach to our football. There has been a total failure to stop criminals travelling abroad. Why on earth should we impose upon our European partners the havoc and destruction which those people create, for example, in Dublin and Bruges?
I had a great deal to do with the Football Spectators Act when it was in another place. We opposed the system of identity cards but we were unanimous in our support of Part II of that Act which provided that if the police bring an offender before an English court, the court can make an order requiring the offender to attend at a police station at any stated time; for example, when the England team is playing abroad.
I understand that the number of those criminals creating havoc in Europe who have been brought before the court under that Act is one. I repeat, one. That is a gross negligence of duty on the part of Ministers and of the Government who obviously have not been pursuing the matter. What are the Government doing about all those people involved in Dublin and in Bruges, (many of whose names are known), in terms of bringing them before the courts under the Football Spectators Act? That is a question that I should like to be answered. I do not expect the Minister to be able to do so this evening, although I would be delighted if she were able to do so. However, if she is not able to do so, could she please arrange for her answer to be given to the House and not sent to me in the post? It is a matter of great public importance and something which we need to pursue. I am sure that the Football Association and the police 983 intelligence unit, especially as regards Chelsea Football Club in the Bruges case, have acted with great forethought and commendable precision.
I turn now to the Villa Park semi-final where two motor coaches—one from either side—spent two hours at a pub by arrangement which resulted ultimately in a punch-up and one death. I hope that noble Lords will excuse me for returning to my own experience, but when I was Minister for Sport we issued a code of conduct with the support of all the football authorities, the police and the coach operators. It stated that no coach would be allowed to stop at a public house anywhere during the journey going to or from the match and that no coach would be allowed to carry alcohol. Why have those regulations gone into disuse? Can the Minister tell us why such successful efforts have fallen by the wayside? I suspect that it is due to the fact that we no longer regulate coaches; indeed, it is all part of the evils of deregulation from which we are suffering. However, I am glad to say that the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs (of which I happen to be the patron) is reassessing and revamping its own guidelines in order to draw attention to the great dangers associated with alcohol consumption.
Then there is the question of racism and chanting which has been mentioned. The concern of the league is commendable. The Football Association has said:In the near future, we will be launching a new initiative to combat racism and intimidation in our grounds".The National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs has written to every league chairman pointing out that,the anger felt by [our supporters] who are now forced to sit in an environment polluted by the foul-mouthed, whose response to any personal appeal to tone down their excesses is met with a verbally or even physically intimidating response".That is the evidence of people dealing with the problem. Again, one can only hope that the Government, in association with everyone else, will deal with the matter. I should tell the Minister that I can tell the time. Therefore, there is no need for her to keep pointing at the Clock. When I refereed, I always played extra time if I thought that it was necessary. However, I shall do my best not to do so on this occasion.
I should like to extend a word of commendation to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and his trustees. Because of the lack of time, I can only say that they have done a magnificent job and that they deserve the support of all of us as, indeed, do the football pools. However, we should take note of what the Football League has told me. Its income is down by 22 per cent. because of the National Lottery and that of the clubs is likely to be down by 24 per cent. Those of us who supported the lottery are entitled to express such concerns. We ask the Government to keep the matter well under control. The tax paid by the football pools is still well out of kilter with that paid by the National Lottery.
Finally, I should like to say—and I am still within my 11 minutes—that when I wrote a report on sport sponsorship a few years ago, I said on every page of it that, while welcoming sponsorship,the governing bodies at all times must govern their sports. They must not hand the control of their sport over to television or sponsorship".984 I wish to end by drawing attention to that great danger. If governing bodies governed and if the Government accepted their responsibilities—and, indeed, if we all encouraged both of them in that respect—football and sport would be much healthier than it is today. However, if we do not do so, then the dangers will stare us in the face and they are very real.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, what a pleasure and privilege it is to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on his first appearance. We are all delighted to see him back. We hope that he will be in fine training very soon. Perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, for giving us a chance to look at the football industry. I understand that there are some machinations with noble Lords opposite about the question of regulation.
My one thought on the regulation of football is as follows. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has just spoken and other noble Lords opposite, should think back to 1988 and remember the words, "No, don't". I recall the incredible scenes in your Lordships' House when my noble friend Lord Hesketh was taking criticism—much of it perhaps justified—from noble Lords opposite, and above all from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, about the Government getting involved in areas, especially as regards sport, where it was thought much better not to do so or, indeed, to do so with considerable thought and to the minimum extent.
I believe that the Football Spectators Act 1989 was a prime example of fine rhetoric, followed by what I like to call "marking time" in a swamp with considerable difficulty. However, I should like to consider one or two thoughts on the football industry; in other words, on the sport and how it is run. Football for me, and for all young Scots—and, indeed, even older Scots such as I can see on the second row opposite—consists of dreams, romantic notions, emotions and, above all, money. That is because, until recently, the Premier League was stippled with Scots.
The people involved in the sport—and we have to be politically correct—are boys or young men. Your Lordships may remember an excellent movie released about 20 years which was called, "Gregory's Girl" in which a young Scottish girl demanded as of right to play in the school team; and, indeed, did so. I must say that the young lady was extremely attractive. Your Lordships may also like to consider what happens at World Cup matches. The cameras pay scant attention to what is happening on the football field, unless the Brazilian team is playing well. They pan the stands where, if one is lucky, hundreds of stunningly attractive Brazilian young ladies are to be found in national jerseys. That prospect will clear your Lordships' Chamber. Even the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and myself, no matter what is being discussed, will head for the television in such circumstances. Perhaps when she responds, my noble friend the Minister will tell us about the time when she wore a rugby jersey on a fairly public occasion. If she has time, she can fill us in.
985 The football industry is—and, again, we have to be politically correct—for young men and boys. However, I am reminded of meeting the late and much respected chairman of a very distinguished football club at a bus-stop in Oxford Street. I refer to the late Sir John Smith who was chairman of Liverpool. He told me that he was trying to conduct the business of a properly run football club. The last four words will predicate much of what I have to say. A "properly run football club"—such as many of those that we have heard about today—will have a development programme whereby it will take, if I may be politically incorrect, young boys. Those boys are taken to separate, dedicated premises from nine years of age upwards. They undergo a training session of one-and-a-quarter hours twice a week. I am sure that that would be very beneficial to the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Donoughue. However, I shall excuse my noble friend the Minister in that respect because her managerial qualities are the highest.
Those young boys undergo a trial period of four weeks. If their commitment, talent and behaviour are reasonable, they are then invited to sign a commitment to the club on a yearly basis until they reach the age of 14. At that time, if they still wish to go on, they make a further two-year commitment, At the age of 16 the boys will almost certainly be offered something under the YTS scheme with the club. The process is taken step by step, once they are 16 and have left school, as part of their intellectual development.
The youth development officer of the club who has given me that information is a school master. He has up to 130 boys in the development programme aged from nine to 16 and six part-time coaches. Last week, the club played a reserve game. Ten out of the 14 players, who were either on the pitch or sitting on the substitute bench ready to go on, were what I call "home grown"; in other words, they had come through the system. Perhaps that is fairly typical of top Premier League clubs—the 10 or the 20 described by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for example. Certainly the club I am talking about is, I believe, unique in that one director takes personal responsibility—he reports to the chairman and to the board of directors—for the development programme. The director has returned with the under-16 team from Bludenz in Austria. He goes to Coleraine where there is an annual tournament to which the club, thanks to its conduct and behaviour, is invited most years. We have not yet heard about that side of things and it is the obverse side to the problems of money and transfer fees.
Four weeks from tonight many of your Lordships may be sitting in front of the television set watching the team of Milan—an Englishman founded Milan Athletic and Cricket Club—play Ajax of Amsterdam. If any of your Lordships raise one finger against Milan, he will be subjected to a starvation diet. Noble Lords will appreciate what I mean when they leave the Chamber. Twelve out of the 15 members in the Ajax team are home grown and that team is at the pinnacle of the European club system. That point should be considered as well as the large sums of money that have been mentioned in the debate.
986 How should the idyllic system to which I have referred be regulated? I refer now to dull, boring accountancy which might be pertinent to the regulation of the game. I refer to my profession of accountancy and to simple, dull accountants and auditors. The Premier League has a working party which is considering how to regulate the money that clubs receive and handle. I learnt my first lesson in auditing on 2nd October 1962 in Glasgow—the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, will appreciate this—as a young apprentice. One must separate the cash from the traders. The kinsmen of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, may have seen the article in today's press entitled "Footloose traders". The subject matter of that article is relevant to many of the scandals of which we have heard.
We have heard about problems as regards transfer fees. I spoke to one former chairman of a leading club—in the top 10—who referred to what he called the Eight Commandments. He said that when a club wishes to buy a player, first, the manager responsible for the teamwork and the playing staff ought to say to the chairman, "I am interested in this player. I would like to bring him to the club". Secondly, the buying chairman speaks to the prospective selling chairman. Thirdly, if he is told he may contact the player, the manager, or the chief executive, and the director should travel to the selling club and arrange a professional and businesslike meeting. I am not talking about a motorway service station or other out-of-town area, but of a room where records can be kept and verified. Fourthly, if the transfer is agreed, the fee, the methods of payment, the contract, and what I might call odds and ends, should be agreed in writing. Fifthly, this matter should be settled between the two chairmen. Sixthly, the buying chairman should inform his board in writing that the player has been bought for a certain sum of money. Seventhly, the cheque should be signed by two directors of the buying club. Eighthly, the cheque should be paid club to club. Those seem fairly complicated steps but I believe they form at least a basis of such negotiations. That is what the Premier League wants. At least dull, boring auditors have a part to play in these matters.
I now refer to agents. They can cause an emotional reaction but of course they act entirely for the players. Some clubs are naive enough to think that they should pay the agents. However, the agents act for the players. It has already been said in this debate that agents should be registered. I understand that they must be registered under European or world—UEFA or FIFA—rules. I wonder whether that is enough.
I conclude by referring to the ever popular gospel of St. John, Chapter 8, verse 7. I recall asking the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to look at this last July. The gospel states,Let he that is without sin cast the first stone".If clubs put as much effort and professionalism into their financial and auditing arrangements as they do with the playing arrangements, let alone the youth development programme, we would have properly run football clubs. We need to take advice from auditors. Then I believe the clubs would have the great motto of,"Nil saris nisi optimum".987 That is not the motto of the club in which I must declare an interest as, last Saturday, I actually spent money in sponsoring my local club Forfar Athletic. There were 611 hardy souls present. The temperature was extremely low. I gave a prize to the man of the match who said, "Lord Lyell, let us get out of this. I am going to freeze". As we speak, the referee is attempting to calm the excitable Italians in Lithuania. I declare my interest and I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister will say.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I, too, wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Donoughue on tabling this Motion and for introducing it in the way that he did. It is with some trepidation that I stand to say a few words on this subject, particularly as there are so many noble Lords who are experts on football, and officials involved in the game of football, present in the Chamber. I refer, for example, to the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Peston, Lord Aberdare and Lord Donoughue, and the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. They are all experts in this field. My only reason for speaking in this debate is to express my feelings as a worried spectator. I have no higher claim to speak than that.
Like many thousands of others in this country, I was brought up in a small community where football was the major pastime. Football was our life. Saturday was the biggest day of the week, when we all trooped down to the local football ground, Douglas Park, to watch Hamilton Academical. We went there in our thousands, or perhaps in our hundreds! At least there were some of us. One week we watched what we called the "big" team—the first team—and the next week we watched what we called the "wee" team; that is, the reserves. We were fiercely loyal to our side because in those days the name of the game was loyalty to one's team and to the local community. One took pride in the achievements of one's local team. A win for Hamilton in those days was something to be proud of but if the team went any distance in the Cup the whole town became ecstatic. When the team reached the final of the Cup, people in the town went absolutely berserk. If it had not been for the referee, we would have won the Cup. One of his relatives is a Member of your Lordships' House and I have never spoken to him since.
However, just before the war I moved to London, to Tottenham, and I have been a Tottenham supporter ever since. I supported Tottenham during the war and up to this day. Even though Tottenham has been though a difficult period during the past two or three years, and that continues at the moment, I still support the team, and I am hopeful for its future.
Little changed in the game over a long period. It was a fairly steady game which involved loyalty, fervour and excitement. However, during the war I served an apprenticeship in an aircraft factory and many professional footballers entered that factory at that time. I noticed that they were restless as regards their conditions. They were beginning to feel that they were due more than they were getting—they were only receiving a pittance for playing—and that they ought to be better organised. I watched that development. That 988 led shortly after the war to negotiations—for example, between Jimmy Hill and Fulham—and the introduction of individual contracts, and so on.
Those changes have been developing for a long time, but none of us could have foreseen what has happened since footballers first wanted great recognition for what they do on the football field and the situation that we have now. The emergence of the agent has been mentioned. The agent has almost taken the place of the union, the negotiating body and the management. The agent has become rather a sinister figure in this area. It is an issue which has to be dealt with before it gets much worse.
The signing of the new contracts was a good development. There were some changes to the game. There are still changes, some of which I cannot follow. They keep changing the offside rule. I rely on my noble friend Lord Howell to interpret some of those rules for me. The team positions also changed, I do not think for the better. I used to enjoy the formation of the two backs, two half-backs and five forwards. In my view that made for a far better game than some of the negative things we have now. However, those are minor points.
As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, said, in the past 20 years the game has become so commercialised that it has almost destroyed itself. If we are not careful, that is exactly what will happen. It is all very well to say that there have been improvements. There have been major improvements in the grounds. No one can deny that. But there is a feeling among ordinary supporters that the improvements and additional revenue are not being fed back into the game on their behalf. It is being fed into the coffers of the clubs, for the benefit of the directors and shareholders. The supporters have not seen the benefit of the improvements.
The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, also mentioned the article in the Guardian on 4th April. That was an excellent article, which dealt at length with the situation at Manchester United, which is typical of the five or six major clubs in the country. The article referred to Manchester United plc. That is a new development. The club is now quoted on the Stock Exchange. It is bound to be in it for profit. Sleaze comes into it. That is what has caused corruption and fraud, because we all know that that is rife in the Stock Exchange.
The article says:Last season, Manchester United plc, our leading club, turned over around £44 million and made a profit of £11 million. So well done, Man U. In their annual report, the actual football successes—winning the Premier League and the FA Cup—were almost dismissed, meriting only a couple of sentences, while 24 pages were devoted to how marvellously they had managed their finances and marketing. Merchandising their own brand name had earned them £14 million, an increase of 180 per cent on the previous year".The club congratulated itself not on winning the FA Cup and the Premier League, but on managing its affairs to make massive profits.
It has also been mentioned that football clubs have discovered the new gimmick of the club strip. The strip was sacrosanct. A thrill went through you when you saw the lads come out on to the field in their colours. In 989 those days they were the only colours. Nowadays, as the noble Lord, Lord Dean, said, when you watch a match on television it takes a few minutes before you know which team is which, because each club has a strip for home games, a strip for away games, a strip if another team has the same colours, and for black and white television or colour television. There are so many reasons and excuses for having more strips.
That is another constituency problem that I had to deal with. Parents are being blackmailed and bullied by their children, who have to be seen in the latest outfit. It costs a fortune. It is not just a shirt, but there are pants, socks, boots, badges, holdalls, scarves, hats— everything. That creates a problem for parents, who are placed in a difficult situation by youngsters. That does not seem to bother Manchester United and the rest of them; they are making a bomb.
The clubs have their own shops. Arsenal has its own shop. Tottenham has its own shop. They are like supermarkets. They started in tatty little premises, selling programmes or booking seats for coaches. Now they are getting bigger and bigger. The Arsenal shop at Finsbury Park is like a shopping precinct, selling everything.
Making money has become part of the industry. That is what bothers me. I know that the money is certainly not being fed back in the direction of the spectators. On the contrary, they are being priced out of the game. The people who were and should still be the backbone of the national game can no longer afford to go to football matches. I spoke the other day to the youngster who cut my hair. I said, "I suppose you will be going to Highbury on Wednesday night to see the match". He said, "No." I asked why. He said that it costs £15 to get into the ground. Then when you get in you may want to buy tea, a sandwich or a drink and may spend another £10 or £15. He said that you can spend £25 before you come out of the ground. He said, "Who can go there, unless I can fiddle my mate's ticket, because he's older than me and has a ticket? If he's not going he lends it to me". The clubs are encouraging that kind of behaviour.
Youngsters can no longer afford to go to football matches. That applies to other people. Who can afford to go to football matches if they are on income support, or the jobseeker's allowance? So who do the clubs rely on? They rely on hospitality suites, which are getting bigger and bigger. There are more and more of them. I understand that some companies are prepared to pay £100 or £200 for a seat in a hospitality suite. They get a bit of nosh with it and a few drinks, and they might meet a player to introduce to their customers. That is where the money is coming from. The clubs are inclined to forget the fellows who made the team what it is.
We ought to remind the clubs who those people are. I had a conversation with my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees, who had hoped to be here tonight to speak but had to attend a meeting. Leeds United has written to him outlining some of what the club had been doing to combat hooliganism, and so on. I congratulate Leeds. I hope that other clubs are doing the same. I do not have time to list the steps they are taking to tackle the problems facing them.
990 We ought to take note of what the honourable Member, Kate Hoey, said in another place. She has raised the matter on a number of occasions. She is absolutely right. I do not agree with her on everything, but I agree with her in this instance. She is of the opinion that it is important that the authorities do not to look for an official scapegoat. She says that:The only way to counter that is for the Government to set up an inquiry along the lines of the Taylor report or other reports into football, independent of the cosy relationships in football and with the power to subpoena evidence, to examine accounts and make a full and impartial report. That is what the country wants and that is what is needed if we are going to get back that confidence in football—the national game."—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/95; col. 831.]Somebody once asked Bill Shankley whether it was true that some people look on football as a matter of life and death. Bill Shankley said, "No. It is far more important than that". So it is.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, we are all extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Donoughue for giving us an opportunity to have this important debate on the problems which face the football industry and the need for more effective regulation.
No one can disagree that our national game has suffered a bleak few years, with one scandal after another hitting the headlines. I do not think that any of us can recall a time when the game that we all love has suffered so many allegations and controversy involving chairmen, directors, managers, players and so-called supporters.
In today's debate it is essential to determine what kind of regulation the game requires. I do not think that any of us want a great national game run by government and wracked by litigation, but we should not forget that the taxpayer is putting up in the order of £20 million each year by way of tax relief on the football pools betting duty. Also, the Government have the ultimate responsibility for ground safety and for public order, both inside and outside football grounds.
We all hope that football will he a self regulating industry with decisions taken within the game. However, one of the main obstacles to efficient and effective decision making is the fact that the game is still governed by an outdated Victorian rule book whose relevance, if any, to today's game is purely incidental.
What are encouraging are proposals by the FA Premier League to introduce a package of measures next season which will bring in the new code of conduct for managers. There will also be rules which cover the inducements to young players to sign for a particular club as well as measures to license agents, and better financial accountability for directors and chairmen of the Premier League clubs. Proposals were announced only today for the FA to strengthen the finances of the Football League.
Perhaps I may say a word about agents. I heard the agent to whom my noble friend Lord Dean referred. I can use his name. It was Eric Hall. He said, "We say that footballers are entertainers. Entertainers have agents. So footballers should have agents". If a theatrical 991 agent induced an actor or actress to leave the run of a successful play half way through its run to join another manager, he would soon be out of business. I know that the PFA is prepared to act for its members at a much lesser cost than other agents charge. Therefore I cannot understand why the players do not use their own organisation.
The picture is not all doom and gloom. We know that crowd attendances have continued to increase. The extra revenue generated by the Premier League clubs means that we can compete with the rest of Europe for the top players, although competition seems to have led to a number of side deals which have created some remarkable differences between the prices paid by the buyer and those received by the seller.
In passing, it is interesting to note that it was always said that those large transfer fees all stayed within the game. That was never an argument that I accepted. However, those fees are not staying within the game now; they are going overseas.
In a matter of five years we have transformed our stadia throughout the game thanks to the vital support of the Football Trust, which has been mentioned. The chairman of the UEFA Stadia Committee concluded recently,It is quite clear to me that city for city, England has the best football stadia in the world".However, we have only reached half time in the projected 10 year programme of the Taylor Report. Future progress will depend on the impact of the National Lottery on football's income stream. We know that the turnover of the pools companies has suffered. That in turn has affected the amount paid to the Football Trust which is then used for ground improvement.
The trust is not the only body to be hit by the effects of the National Lottery. The football leagues are losing the income paid to them for their fixture copyright contracts as the payments are calculated as a royalty on the pools' turnover. According to figures released by the Football League, income on the current contract is running at 22 per cent. less than last year, although the situation will be remedied a little by the welcome reduction in the pool betting duty introduced earlier this month by the Government in another place.
Much more serious has been the impact on the game's own activities in fund-raising. According to recent figures for the Football League, the introduction of the lottery resulted in football clubs suffering an 18 per cent. downturn in net contributions to their own lottery and fund-raising schemes. On top of that, a midweek draw is to be introduced by Camelot and 15,000 more terminals are to be set up to sell tickets. All that will put tremendous pressure on the pools companies and the football clubs throughout the professional, and the extremely important non-professional, game as well as the thousands of grass root clubs for whom the local lottery competitions represent a vital source of income.
All noble Lords who have taken part in the debate are interested in football and recognise the importance of protecting those vital sources of income. I hope that the Government will see their way clear to addressing the 992 fundamental concerns sooner rather than later, preventing any further loss of income to clubs throughout the game.
In today's post I received the report from the NCVO regarding the effect of the National Lottery on charities. I quote some figures. There was a fall in the numbers reporting a donation to charities in the previous month from 81 per cent. before the launch of the National Lottery to 67 per cent. in March of this year. The number of people buying charity raffle tickets is down by 15 per cent; and those giving to street collectors is down by 9 per cent. There is a projected loss of £212 million in charitable income over the first 12 months of the National Lottery. If that is what is happening to charities, one can see what will happen, too, to the fund-raising schemes of football clubs.
I return to the point I made about legitimate Government interest because Government represent the taxpayer. Every year the taxpayers put some £20 million into the game. There is also considerable parliamentary interest. We have today's debate. There is also the excellent book which I hope noble Lords have seen—if not, your Lordships should buy it—entitled Football and the Commons People. All the profits go to help the Child Poverty Action Group. In that book some 34 MPs, all fans, (as we all are) who love the game describe their football memories. As I say, all the funds from the sale of the book go to the Child Poverty Action Group.
The game is trying to put its house in order with one important and large area of omission to which I shall return. We have had from the Football League Managers Association some imaginative proposals regarding disciplinary procedures. Anyone who watches the game regularly must agree that the new FIFA mandatory instructions to referees have led to enormous inconsistencies, as individual referees interpret them differently. One can go to two games in successive weeks. The games are extremely similar in the speed of play and the amount of fouls. In one, one can see 11 bookings and in the next week one sees two. There is an interesting idea in France. All the penalty points that a player has are erased if the player goes through 10 consecutive matches without a caution.
A new code of conduct for Premier League managers is proposed dealing with the registration of managers' contracts and arbitration procedures in the event of a dispute. It is important that if that proposal is adopted by the Premier League but not by the Football League, it could lead to poaching of the Football League managers by the Premier League clubs because those clubs will be under the control of the code of conduct.
It is extraordinary what supporters expect football managers to do. I recall the wise words of Mr. Ted Bates who served Southampton Football Club as player, manager and director over many years. After a game he once said to me, "Always remember, Denis, there are 20,000 managers out there watching every game". In the case of Southampton, it used to be 20,000. We have just spent £1 million net to reduce our capacity to 15,000 because of the all-seating requirement.
Much has been said in the debate about money. What is so worrying is that it is now quite clear that it is possible to buy the championship. That is what is 993 happening, with very rich men prepared to put enormous sums of money into their favourite clubs. That is a situation that we would never have thought possible.
The influence of television has been referred to already. About a million people watch matches on Sky compared with an average of 7.5 million to 8 million who watch on the terrestrial channels. We have Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer and the Rugby League saga. Exactly the same could happen to football and, I believe, is likely to happen to Rugby Union. It is extremely worrying, as my noble friend Lord Howell said.
The important area of omission to which I referred is corruption. I know that my noble friend Lord Peston will deal with that issue when he winds up. It is an area in which the Government have a tremendous responsibility and should pay considerable attention to it. There is a need and a duty for the Government to encourage and to advise—and, yes, if necessary to intervene and regulate to ensure that what Sir Stanley Rous once called "the beautiful game" is properly regulated and free from corruption. Football is not just "the beautiful game", it is also the "people's game". We must all hope that it can deal with the current problems, learn from them and emerge cleaner—both on and off the field—and much more like the game that we all grew up with.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, this debate has probably one of the most intriguing titles that we have ever had. It refers to the "football industry". What is becoming increasingly apparent as we listen to the debate is that two aspects are involved: we are mainly talking about football's decline from being a sport to a position where the entertainment industry is attempting to claim it as its own.
The debate revolves around those two components. The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, expressed best the feeling that sport is about belonging, a sense of achievement, and an identification.
We must bear in mind that those who play professional football are professionals. Not many professions will willingly restrict their earning power. We then find that those two factors—the restriction of earning power and the ideals of sport—come into conflict. As more money is brought in, the conflict will become clearer. The only thing that will keep the balance is some idea of where the line will be drawn.
In the press we have heard much of late about corruption and allegations of bribery. None of the most recent salacious headlines has yet been proven, but one of the researchers in our office discovered for me a list of football scandals of the past. They start in 1900 when Burnley needed to win at Nottingham Forest to avoid relegation from the First Division. Jack Hillman, Burnley's captain and goalkeeper, asked the Forest players to "take it easy" and they would get £2 per head. At half time, the score was 2-0 to Forest and the offer was doubled. Forest won, 4-0.
994 We move on to other events until a major series of allegations in 1960. They involved my own team, Norwich. I am not a dutiful supporter, my football affiliations go with the Rugby Union code and not the Football Association. I shall try to avoid using the term "soccer", which I imagine is as irritating to a football fan as I find the term "rugger" to one who prefers Rugby Union. There was a five-year investigation resulting in certain people being banned for life.
If we take into account that there are those pressures on us, we must try to guard against them. One way of doing that is to call on the Government to try to keep a firm but distant hand on the game's finances. That involves the attempt at corruption; and the abuse of money matters and monopoly powers.
It has already been mentioned that Rugby League faces obliteration in its current form with a series of super teams playing across the world. We do not know that the proposal is guaranteed success because people like to identify with whichever team they support. Teams generally need a regional basis for that support. If we have the global game, we may lose that support and destroy the structure that we have. Also, if we accept the idea of having a sports syndicate, I doubt whether any of the teams in any type of competition that is held will have true competition as regards facing relegation. If one buys something like that, as is shown in the United States, one does not wish to risk having the investment wiped out.
Guaranteed possession in the Premier League of any type of sport does not appeal to me. If there is one thing that football has given to us, it is the idea of promotion and relegation on the basis of achievement. That leaves us open to the idea of buying players, but at least we have real competition. Ultimately, real competition is what fans wish to see. They want to identify and they want to see it. Surely here the Government have the role of keeping an arm's length position on finance.
When we are dealing with football, we must remember that our nation is a footballing nation. Association football is the premier game. To be perfectly honest, I would prefer another code, but that is not possible. This is something in which national pride is invested and thus we have the problem that racist and extreme right wing groups hijack our nation's premier game for their own purposes.
Much has already been said about the failure to implement that part of the Football Spectators Bill which was universally welcomed. Something must be done. We have passed legislation which can give us a chance of controlling the ultimate outlet of an extremely obnoxious element in our society. We must take it. The FA talks about trying to crack down on racist abuse and chanting in its games. There is not much point in doing that at club and domestic level if it is not done on the international scene. Such groups are not interested in football; they are interested in publicity. Cut off publicity and we will stop them behaving like that. I do not know where they will go next; I hope it is not to my sport. However, we shall stop them at the most effective stage.
995 Surely, the Government must take more action. The legislation which was passed gives the authorities the opportunity not to inform police abroad but to keep the problem at home. It is, after all, our problem and we have responsibility for it.
Most of the other points which I wished to make in the debate have been covered, so I shall conclude—to great smiles from the Government Front Bench. Unless we look after the game and guard the control of it by people with money and with monopoly competition, we shall deny access to many people to watch the game in anything other than a passive capacity on a TV set. Any sporting event watched on TV has nowhere near the level of involvement of actually being there. Unless we take some action to ensure that football is not strangled by commercial interests, regardless of the just aspirations of professional sportsmen, we are in danger of throwing away a game which is not only our premier game, but the world's premier game.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Donoughue for introducing the debate. With one exception, to which I shall come later, I do not propose to devote my speech to football per se. I agree with nearly all of what other noble Lords said and so there is no need for me to repeat it. Instead, I shall concentrate on professional football as an industry and clubs as firms. The reason is that that is what they are. They are not clubs in any meaningful sense of the word. Fans and supporters are paying customers and not members. I say that not with any pleasure but with deep sadness.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, used the word "identification". I and all other noble Lords interested in football identify. If any of my children ring me on a Saturday evening and ask: "How did we do today?", they do not mean: "How did we, the Pestons, do today?", they mean: "Did Arsenal win, lose or draw?" That is because in a sense we are silly and do not recognise the reality of what has happened to our great game.
My point of departure is the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. The relevant part is Section 1(1):If any agent corruptly accepts or obtains, or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain, from any person, for himself or for any other person, any gift or consideration as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do, or for having after the passing of this Act done or forborne to do, any act in relation to his principal's affairs or business, or for showing or forbearing to show favour or disfavour to any person in relation to his principal's affairs or business; … he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour".That applies to all employees of a football club: the players, the manager and other staff. That means that if any of them accepts an inducement not to perform his duties or to perform them in a particular way, he is guilty of the offence specified. I look forward to the Minister's confirmation. I take that legislation to mean that a manager or any member of his staff who accepts an inducement or a reward to buy or sell a player is guilty of a misdemeanour. I go further. The offence occurs if the inducement leads to or encourages such 996 buying or selling. I must also mention that serious penalties would then be involved. I emphasise the word "serious".
Now, it is alleged that this kind of thing is or was widespread in football. The Inland Revenue has taken an interest because it believed that payments were made and not declared as taxable income. Gathering in the revenue is its concern. I must ask whether the Inland Revenue has a legal duty in all such cases known to them to pass on the relevant information to the authorities; namely, who was paid what, by whom and for what. Since we are concerned here with the criminal law, I take it that the relevant authorities are the police.
One problem I have is that I have been advised that the Inland Revenue has no such duty. If that is so, it is most upsetting, since the information that it has would be the first hard evidence available prompting police action. In addition, I am puzzled that it is the FA Premier League and the FA itself which are taking the lead in looking into all that. They have a role to play, and I shall return to it in due course. But my question to the Minister concerns what part the legal authorities play, are playing and ought to play.
I turn next to the players themselves. What has made the news are allegations of match fixing. There has been some misunderstanding of what might be going on. To be profitable either to gamblers or to bookmakers match fixing does not necessarily mean fixing the precise result, which is hard to do. All that is required is to make sure that certain results are not possible. In that respect football is no different from racing or prize fighting. I must be careful not to get too close to any actual case. Let me point out purely logically, not with respect to any specific case, that a goalkeeper who lets in a goal ensures that all bets involving the other side being scoreless ipso facto lose. That is all he needs to do to rig the whole match.
On match fixing, my legal advice is that it may be covered by the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 to which I referred. But I am also advised that it may involve conspiracy to defraud, which is a common law offence. I am advised that even if the gambling occurred abroad, English courts would accept jurisdiction on the grounds that the conspiracy was hatched in England. Can the Minister confirm all of that?
Can we also be told—I repeat a question that I have asked but now apply it to this particular case—who are the relevant people to pursue the matter? I hope that I am right in assuming yet again that the relevant people are the police.
I now come to the subject that other noble Lords raised; namely, the role of footballers' agents. I am bound to say, as someone who is not expert in the law, that their role needs clarification. If they are part of the process of inducement and reward to which I referred in connection with the Prevention of Corruption Act, it seems obvious to me that they, too, are guilty of a misdemeanour. I hope that the Minister is able to confirm that. In that case, am I right in saying that the police have a responsibility to pursue the matter and to investigate the role of agents in particular cases, or is it that the police can get involved only if there is a 997 complaint from a specific club? That is one of my examples of why it is so difficult fully to understand all this.
That brings me to the question of footballers' contracts with their clubs, a point which my noble friend Lord Carter mentioned. This, too, is a murky area. My understanding is that footballers' contracts certainly are contracts. If then an agent persuades a player to act in such a way as to call the contract into question and breach it, a civil action for the tort of inducing a breach of contract arises. If this involves inducements and rewards for the player and his agent—and it certainly does; the player receives signing on fees and the agent receives a large fraction of the transfer fees—I must again ask: does the Prevention of Corruption Act apply to the behaviour of agents? We read about such matters in the newspapers every day. We are told almost every day that this or that player is to leave one club and join another even though his contract has several years to run. Is it then the police who have the responsibility to investigate? If the police do have that responsibility (I am fairly sure that they do) they will be pretty busy if what we read in the newspapers turns out to be anything like the truth.
An equally important point is this. Why do the major football clubs not look in some detail at the kind of contracts that they sign and at the penalties for breaching them? My fear is that they see what goes on every day as swings and roundabouts. But if they were to see that and not take action, it is not obvious to me that that would be in the public interest.
I have already referred to the role of the various football authorities. A central question is what is the statutory basis of what the football authorities do? Again, I gave the Minister notice that I would like her to answer that point definitively. As I understand it, to give an example (it is hard for these words to pass my lips) Tottenham Hotspur football club (I think it-is a football club) argued successfully that the FA did not have the power to deal with transfer irregularities in the way that it did. Unfortunately, it is not obvious whether the FA's procedure in that case was wrong or whether it did not have the powers that it thought it had anyway. I think we need to know precisely what are the FA's powers with respect to player and club behaviour, and how this relates to the law. Certainly, whether we are discussing Mr. Cantona, Mr. Merson, and now this new gentlemen Mr. Tait, to name just three among many, they seem to suffer double jeopardy from the courts and from the football authorities.
A final question relating to this area is violence on the field. Commentators of all sorts make idiotic judgments and statements about football being a man's game. I for one do not believe that violence is or ought to be intrinsic to football. There have been some celebrated court cases on that in recent years, the outcomes of which have left me deeply disturbed. Violence is violence whether it occurs on or off the field. Again, this not something which, when it occurs, can be left just to the football authorities, but there is a great deal that they can do to outlaw it.
998 Let me return to my main theme of corruption, and say what has to be done. Concerning the past, what is required is the completion as a matter of urgency of the full investigation by the Premier League Commission of Inquiry. I hope that it will have examined every transfer, say, of more than £1 million that has occurred in the past five years. The clubs involved, buyer and seller, should demonstrate how much the former paid, how much the latter received, and what happened to every penny of the difference, if there was one. That information needs to be placed in the public domain.
For the future this very same policy needs to be extended so that every transfer of substance is monitored in exactly the same way and every penny accounted for. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, used the word "accounting", because that is what is required here. Every penny should be accounted for, and in my judgment preferably publicly. If there is some objection to that, which I cannot see, then a certificate of legitimation should be issued by a fully independent body to say what happened to all the money and that it was all used legitimately. Only such an approach will be sufficient to stop the kind of experience that I had recently; namely, of people whom I normally regard as being of good sense and probity saying to me apropos of tonight's debate, "I see you are going to speak about football. You know it is the most corrupt industry in the country". I beg to differ, but I am profoundly disturbed when people make that kind of remark.
There is a public interest in football being conducted according to the highest standards. I should like to reassure noble Lords that I believe strongly in self-regulation in football—based on a proper statutory foundation. In other words, I want the FA to be the regulatory body. But that means, as in other cases of self-regulation, that it must do the job well and satisfy the public that it has done so. I do not exaggerate, and I echo other noble Lords when I say that at the moment the FA is on trial, and any suggestion that its commission of inquiry will brush things under the carpet will prove disastrous for the future of the game.
I said that I had one actual football point to make. In the last few moments of my time, I now make it. There has been only one English international team—only 11 men—which has won anything of importance internationally. That was the 1966 World Cup team. I happen to believe that the 1970 team was better and should have retained the World Cup. But, despite being a know-all football fan, I have no time tonight to go into the detail of why I believe that. I am extremely upset that while some members of that great team have been honoured, not all have. That is a cause for shame, especially when one sees the number of also-rans and failures in so many other sports who in traditional British fashion have been honoured. I shall not rest until this anomaly has been dealt with. I hope that all noble Lords who have spoken and the Minister will agree with me on that, if on nothing else.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, I know that the interest in football of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, goes back a long way, and that he has a genuine concern 999 for the game. My football knowledge has greatly increased since I was driven by a GCS driver, a girl who plays for the English women's football team. I welcome the opportunity that this debate has afforded the House to discuss the problems that football has undoubtedly suffered recently. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for giving me warning of his questions, and to my noble friends Lord Aberdare and Lord Lyell for allowing me the privilege of a preview of their speeches.
This has been a turbulent season, accentuated by the fact that anything which happens in football is certain to be caught and magnified by the media spotlight. That is not of course to suggest that the problems have not been real or that corrective action has not been needed. Football is our national game and is followed by millions who regularly go to watch their local team, and many millions more who watch the game on television. Although football is run by private clubs and administered by independent governing bodies, where issues of legitimate public interest are raised it is right for the Government to ensure that appropriate action is taken both to resolve the immediate problems and also to ensure, as far as possible, that there will be no repetition.
That is not to say that it is always the Government themselves who must take action. That is an important distinction. As your Lordships know, the Government's role in football is to encourage the development of, and participation in, the game through appropriate policies and expenditure programmes.
Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the game rests with its governing bodies, such as the Football Association, the FA Premier League and the Football League, which are self-regulating and entirely independent of government. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, will note that those bodies do not have any statutory basis, and their powers in relation to their members are purely contractual. It is to those bodies that we must, in the first instance, look to see what action is being taken in response to the problems which have been mentioned.
One of the main concerns—this point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston—has surrounded the area of player transfers, with allegations of financial improprieties by clubs, managers and agents. In response to those concerns the FA Premier League set up a commission of inquiry, and appointed as a member of that commission an independent QC who is also a deputy High Court judge. That commission has a wide-ranging remit and is looking into all overseas transfers since the Premier League was established, together with a number of alleged irregularities in domestic transfers. I am confident that that inquiry is conducting a thorough investigation, and that any evidence of wrong-doing will be vigorously pursued. The commission's recent findings in the case of Mr. Graham, the former manager of Arsenal Football Club, who has been accused of taking bungs, demonstrate that the inquiry is proceeding speedily and that there is no reason to fear a cover-up of any of its findings. Mr. Graham now faces disciplinary procedures by the Football Association, so your Lordships will understand 1000 that I should not discuss this particular case. Whether any offence has been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 is a matter for the police to consider. The question of whether to take action against a particular individual under our corruption legislation is not something in which it would be appropriate for the Government to intervene. It is a matter for the police and prosecuting authorities.
I am pleased to say that the Premier League has already taken a number of steps to improve its regulatory mechanisms, as a direct result of the inquiry. New rules covering the registration of managers' contracts and codes of conduct for clubs and managers are being introduced, as are new disciplinary procedures. New rules to regulate the activities of agents, who, as the noble Lords, Lord Peston, Lord St. John of Bletso, and other noble Lords have noticed, have been a major source of concern, are also being introduced. These new rules will require contracts between agents and principals to be registered; and for agents to comply with a new code of conduct. Agents are now also governed by FIFA regulation, and must be licensed. The rules under which agents must operate, which came into effect this year, clearly state that an agent shall neverapproach a player who is under contract with a club so as to persuade him to break his contract or not to adhere to the rights and duties contained in the contract".Agents who breach that rule are subject to penalties by FIFA, which include the withdrawal of the agent's licence. The law in relation to contracts makes inducement of breach of contract a tort, and clubs have in the past claimed damages where a player has been induced to break his contract. The FA Premier League is looking to introduce even tighter controls over agents involved in domestic transfers.
Concern has also been expressed about financial irregularities by clubs. As your Lordships will know, the principal responsibility, within government, for such matters rests with the Inland Revenue. The Inland Revenue has, for some years, been looking at these issues. Football clubs are, of course, entitled to the same confidentiality in their tax affairs as any other private organisation or individual, but where offences come to light and merit prosecution then that will be done, as it has in the past. My noble friend, Lord Brougham and Vaux, will wish to know that the FA Premier League has also taken that concern seriously, and has voluntarily agreed to commission independent accountants to prepare reports for the Inland Revenue, which has agreed their scope and contents. The, aggregate cost of this exercise to football clubs is likely to be around £½ million. The Premier League is also considering the introduction of a new requirement for each club to have to satisfy its auditors each year that the club has complied with all the relevant Premier League rules. The football authorities have also set up a bank account through which money for transfer fees between English clubs must pass, thereby ensuring that it is clearly accounted for.
Another problem which has received much attention has been that of the behaviour of players and spectators. The disgraceful scenes in Dublin and in Bruges will 1001 have saddened all true football supporters, and it is essential that we ensure that such problems are not repeated. Good intelligence is the key to tackling hooliganism. The football unit of the National Criminal Intelligence Service was established as a centre for the collation of police intelligence on serious and persistent hooligans and has been fully operational since March 1990. The unit operates a confidential "hot-line" for the public to pass on information about the activities of hooligans. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux and the noble Lords, Lord Donoughue and Lord Howell, will be pleased, as I am, to learn that, following the disgraceful events in Dublin last February, the football unit received over 1,000 calls from members of the public providing information, including details about the identity of some of those involved.
It is, of course, a matter for the Irish authorities to consider whether to take criminal proceedings against those concerned. If they decide to do so, police officers here are ready to offer them every assistance, just as they did in the lead up to the game itself.
Over the past few years the Government have introduced a range of measures to counter the threat posed by football hooliganism both inside and outside the ground. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, your Lordships can be assured that the Government are considering carefully what further legislative or administrative measures may be necessary to deal effectively with the problem of football hooliganism. Those measures will, I am sure, take particular account of the findings of the various inquiries into the disorder in Dublin and will lead to tightening up on those intent on creating trouble at matches abroad. As someone who travels regularly on the train from London to Dover, and Dover to London, I have experienced at first hand the dreadful and shameful behaviour in which a small number of so-called supporters engage when they join the train on their return from a continental football match. Frankly, I wonder how they can afford to pay to go all that way and get drunk.
I am aware that the behaviour of players has also caused concern. It is, of course, extremely regrettable when players, who should be setting a good example to young supporters, become involved in loutish or criminal actions. Allegations of match-rigging made against a few players are being thoroughly investigated by the police and it would therefore not be right for me to comment further on this issue. When footballers break the law they will be dealt with by the courts like anybody else, on top of which they are also likely to be penalised by their clubs and the Football Association.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dean, said, several players have been banned from games this season as a result of their behaviour off the pitch, while on the field of play referees are now penalising fouls and dissent more severely. I am confident that the Football Association is aware of its responsibilities to ensure proper behaviour at all levels of the game. I appreciate that during a game emotions and adrenaline run high, and winning is 1002 important, but so are honesty, respect and fair play. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I want those to be the qualities that shine through to supporters young and old.
It would be wrong not to,Always look on the bright side of life";and there are also several reasons to be optimistic about the future of our national game. Attendances at football matches have gone up every year since the 1986–87 season and arrests at league games have gone down by 30 per cent. over the past five years. A recent survey of Premier League spectators has shown that going to matches is increasingly becoming a family affair with a third of supporters going as part of a group of both men and women and almost a quarter taking children with them. Some other sports have long been more family friendly and this is a trend which I heartily welcome.
The vast majority of fans say that grounds have improved and are now more attractive to families and children. Although the Premier League's contract with BSkyB and the BBC was criticised by some people, the majority of fans believe that television coverage has improved. More than three-quarters of fans approve of recent changes to top stadia and only 18 per cent. disapprove the move to seats.
Returning to the question of television and television rights, the Government believe that the governing bodies are best placed to decide what is in the interests of their sport. My noble friend Lord Aberdare explained the sums of money that have been spent on major football ground development projects since the Taylor Report. He is right to be proud of the contribution of the Football Trust. The noble Lords, Lord Donoughue and Lord Howell, and my noble friend Lord Aberdare mentioned that the National Lottery had harmed the income of the pools companies and hence the football clubs themselves. The Government have already made changes to the rules affecting the pools companies and reduced the level of duty. I can assure your Lordships that the Government continue to watch the situation closely.
UEFA have demonstrated their confidence and faith in English football by inviting England to host the 1996 European Championship Finals, known as Euro 96. Both the Department of National Heritage and the Home Office are actively assisting the Football Association in its preparation for what promises to be a celebration of European football. My ministerial colleagues at the Department of National Heritage have held a number of meetings with football governing bodies and impressed upon them the need for football to be seen to be putting its house in order. It is clear that that is being done.
The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, queried the need for a Chester-style inquiry or an independent monitoring unit. We are not convinced that that is necessary. Football governing bodies are taking action. I have listened carefully to your Lordships but do not believe that there is anything further which it would be appropriate for the Government to do at this stage, though we shall certainly continue to monitor events closely and in conjunction with the game's governing bodies. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that I shall ensure that all Ministers read his golden words and those of other noble Lords. Football has been one of our 1003 most important games for over 100 years and I have no doubt that as we approach a new century it will continue to receive the public's support long into the future.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Donoughue
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for participating in what has been an excellent debate and I thank the noble Baroness for her full and helpful reply. She will note that some in the House regretted the absence of the Minister. I am sure she will pass to him the House's concern regarding the inadequate application of the law and of certain regulations in specific areas. I am sure also that the noble Baroness will note the anxiety in relation to the media dominance and the way football is media driven, and our regret that where Rupert Murdoch is concerned, the white flag appears to be flying permanently over Downing Street. However, I note that we must give way to dangerous dogs, which I assume refers to Millwall Football Club. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.