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5.34 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I agree with little of the analysis of the impact of likely developments in the European Union that was given by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but I will say this for him: he is remarkably consistent in what he says. I am only grateful that on this occasion he said it so briefly—I shall try to emulate him in that regard if no other.

I want to raise a couple of issues that are slightly tangential to the debate, but significant to large numbers of people outside, if not inside, this House. Before I do so, I must point out for the record that I speak as an enthusiastic supporter of the European Union and the draft constitution. Nevertheless, in terms of the subject that I want to discuss—sport—the constitution is remarkably inadequate, and a lot of work remains to be done. If we are trying to bring the European Union closer to the people, there is particular relevance in the context of sport, as we have seen in recent events in this country and this city.

I personally want to see a European superstate—it certainly does not frighten me—although we have to make it democratic and accountable. History does not show that political and social development has to stop at the borders of the nation state; and who says that it is the highest form of political, cultural and economic and human organisation that we can possibly aspire to?

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Politically and economically, the imperative has always been towards federations, larger groupings, alliances and single markets. Logically, therefore, the governance of such institutions must reflect that. No hon. Member, whatever their feelings about the European Union and the constitution, would seriously believe that in 50 or 100 years the structures of Europe and the EU will in any way resemble those that we are contemplating today. The trend towards a European unitary state is irresistible. That is not to say that we should simply sit down and let it happen—we have to shape the process to ensure that we maintain a high degree of regional decision making.

I want to leave those heady issues for the moment to consider how the EU affects football in this country and the way in which European football is developing. As hon. Members are well aware, I have been a Chelsea supporter for more than 50 years, despite the fact that I am the Member of Parliament for West Ham: that gives rise to some embarrassing moments from time to time, but I can live with those. I trust that several Members had a chance to see last night's match between Besiktas and Chelsea in the AufSchalke arena in Germany. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring), who talked in glowing terms about Turkey, is no longer in his place. I do not disagree with him about the country and its people generally, but I hope that he would join me in condemning the behaviour of the Besiktas fans, which was utterly appalling.

If the scenes that we witnessed on our television screens had been replicated in any football arena in this country, UEFA, the European governing body led by Mr. Gerhard Aigner, would already be denouncing the club concerned, whether it be Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal, and demanding that we be struck out of European club competition. I detect more than a whiff of hypocrisy around the halls of UEFA in terms of the way in which it handles clubs and the national team in this country and clubs and national teams elsewhere in Europe. We are still suffering from a reputation as troublemakers in European football, largely derived from the so-called fans who follow the English national team. Club supporters whose clubs are playing in the UEFA Champions league or the UEFA cup behave very well indeed. I travel around Europe a lot with my club, and we certainly do not deserve the kind of treatment that we get from clubs and authorities when we visit the various cities of Europe.

We make European club supporters who come to this country very welcome. Yes, we segregate them, but we do not keep them back for more than an hour after the game has finished until all the transport links have gone, so that they cannot get back to their hotels or to the airport, as I found out had happened in Rome when I was there a couple of weeks ago. We treat them decently. Our police tactics are efficient, effective and sensitive. That is not the experience that we, as football supporters, have when we travel in Europe.

What we ask of our Ministers and our Government is that they stand up for the decent English club supporters and national team supporters when we travel. We do not leave our rights behind. We have dealt with the problems as we see them: our stadiums are well

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regulated, and in no circumstances would we allow the kind of scenes that we saw in Germany last night to be repeated here. Yet we know that if something like that—or even an incident of a far lesser nature—had happened here last night, UEFA would have condemned us. I believe that UEFA should take immediate steps to expel Besiktas from the UEFA cup; anything less would give rise to the justifiable accusation that UEFA was anti-English in its sentiments, its bias, and its hypocrisy. I look forward to hearing Mr. Aigner condemn Besiktas in the same way that I know he would condemn any English club, had its supporters behaved as the Besiktas supporters did last night.

The other subject that I wish to raise is summed up in early-day motion 242, which is tabled in my name and has been signed by 57 Members of all parties. It is entitled, "The effects of EU proposals on English football". It arises from the demands being made by the Commissioner responsible for the Competition Directorate, Mario Monti, who appears poised to issue a statement of objections to the Football Association premier league over the television deal with BskyB. If a prohibition notice is served, the premier league will have two months to respond before a full prohibition notice is served. At that point, the premier league would end up in the court of first instance, with the real possibility that its TV deals would be struck down. If that were to happen, league football in this country could face meltdown.

It appears that the Commissioner does not like the principle of collective selling of broadcasting rights within football. The premier league and the football league have done their very best to try to meet the Commissioner's demands half way; they even split the broadcasting rights into four live packages, which were put to a transparent and open tender policy. The Commissioner now appears to want to overturn a fair, free-market process and to break up the present deal between the premier league and BskyB.

If that happens, a number of dire consequences will follow, and that is not only my view but that of the premier league. If, for example, the premier league were forced to award a set of live matches to another broadcaster in an artificial process, it would achieve—at best—a marginal impact on UK broadcasting markets, but it would have a devastating impact on the premier league's rights, which would be reduced by 40 to 50 per cent. in value. If that were to happen, what would be the impact on the premier league—the most interesting, the most watched, and some would say the most exciting, if not the most technically proficient, football league in the world? If the deal were to be struck down, there would be no premier league matches broadcast on television from August 2004. A number of our premier league clubs—we know that Leeds are the most obvious example, but there are others—face a great many financial problems and some will clearly go straight into administration.

Clubs will be forced to sell off their top players, though God knows where or to whom they will sell them. Youth academies and youth development programmes will be threatened. The premier league's £20 million three-year funding programme for the football league to bail it out of the ITV Digital fiasco will of course go, which will leave a large number of football clubs in a precarious state. The Football Foundation,

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which receives £67 million from the premier league over four years, will itself be threatened and be in crisis, as will the Football Association, due to the loss of revenue. That will have a knock-on effect on the national stadium at Wembley.

Those are the problems that we face. I do not want the House to sleepwalk into such a crisis, which will be faced in football. It will all arise from the actions of the Commission and of Commissioner Monti himself, who appears not to understand that football needs to be organised in leagues. Those leagues need to sell their rights collectively if they are to spread that wealth among the various clubs and prosper.

To suggest, as the Commission is doing, that each club should negotiate individual rights is dangerous nonsense and if it is pushed through it will do enormous damage to football. That is happening in Italy, where the individual clubs are negotiating individual rights. The result of that was a delay to the current season as the small clubs were left with no one ready to take up the broadcasting of their matches. They could not sell their rights and therefore had insufficient revenue to pay either their players or the people who work for them or to make any further improvements to their grounds. Meanwhile, of course, the big Italian clubs were able to secure enormous and lucrative deals, but they did not have anybody to play. That is the nonsense.

Members should consider the conflict in the constitution between the competition sections and the woefully brief and inadequate item on sport. That conflict is obvious and it needs to be reconciled. I must say to my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe—I have spoken to him about this—that the matter is one of great significance to vast numbers of our citizens. If the consequences that I have described come about, I am afraid that, although that will not be the Government's responsibility, they will find themselves, as they inevitably do in such situations, very much in the frame.

We do not want clubs selling individual rights in this country, as our football would be changed absolutely, utterly and for the worst. We would end up seeing countless matches involving Manchester United playing Manchester United reserves or Arsenal playing Chelsea. That is not what people want. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe suggests that Chelsea could play Rotherham. Who would Rotherham sell their broadcasting rights to? With great respect to and due regard for Rotherham, I cannot see them being a big draw on terrestrial or satellite television, so Rotherham would likely go out of business. My hon. Friend should bear such issues in mind when he is talking about other issues: these events, which may take place at the lower levels, could have dire consequences for the organisation of our sport.

I pay tribute to the work of the premier league and to David Richards, Richard Scudamore and Philip French, who are doing their best to negotiate. The negotiations are ongoing. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, usually I go straight for it—lashing out, boots and fists flying—but that would not be helpful in this case as the negotiations are poised at a delicate stage and I do not want to disrupt the situation. However, I want the Government to be fully aware of what is going on. I know that the Prime Minister is aware of this matter,

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because I have raised it with him directly, and apprised him of the significance—the potential implications—of these events.

I believe that the Government understand the situation. I know that they realise how significant premier league football is, what it means to the great majority of our population, and what a political and economic disaster would result if the current deal between the premier league and BSkyB were struck down by the Commission led by Mario Monti. I hope that the Minister will assure me not just that he is acutely aware of the problem, but that he is doing his very best to solve it.

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