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House of Lords

Tuesday, 16th May 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

Julian Charles Roland Hunt, CB, having been created Baron Hunt of Chesterton, of Chesterton in the County of Cambridgeshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness David and the Baroness Jay of Paddington.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

David Trevor Shutt, OBE, having been created Baron Shutt of Greetland, of Greetland and Stainland in the County of West Yorkshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Smith of Clifton and the Baroness Harris of Richmond, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Football: Free Movement of Labour

2.48 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What support they are giving to the efforts of the European football bodies to persuade the European Union institutions to exempt sport from the free movement of labour provisions of the Treaty of Rome.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, a European Union working group has been constituted to consider the case for exempting sport from the free movement of labour provisions of the Treaty of Rome. The group will also consider the effects of the Bosman ruling on sport within the European economic area. The Government are presently consulting a wide range of UK sports bodies. The replies to that consultation will inform our discussions with the working group.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister very much for that Answer. However, given that the chances of securing a special protocol for sport exempting it from the freedom of movement provisions of the treaty seem to be somewhat remote, will my noble friend look kindly at other measures that could tackle some of the main problems facing our domestic game, the most important of which is the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor? Further, does my noble friend agree that proposals from the British football authorities to limit the number of players from outside the European economic area playing for any one team are certainly worth supporting? In that context, will

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the Government look rather more critically at the applications for work permits from players outside the EEA, in view of the very strong evidence that attempts by unscrupulous agents to exploit the situation are damaging the prospects for young players trying to make a name for themselves and, indeed, are affecting the viability of the England national team?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have to admit that my noble friend has a point about the difficulty of obtaining an additional protocol to the Treaty of Rome. He is also right in thinking that the employment in this country of players from outside the EEA is not affected by the Treaty of Rome and that, therefore, from a European point of view, there is no reason why there should not be the kind of provision to which he referred.

As to the view that the Department for Education and Employment might take, I believe that the Minister concerned forms her views on advice as to what is proper and legal. I am sure that she will take into account the views of my noble friend.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, is it not the case that foreign football players like Zola, Vialli, Leboeuf and Overmars have not only entertained millions of people but also contributed to raising the standard of the game in this country? Indeed, by their example, they have been an inspiration to tens of thousands of young people. Surely we can no more resist this trend than we can resist restaurants run by Marco Pierre White, or executives from Commerzbank in the City of London? Will the Government please continue to resist the dark forces of conservatism and reject this backward-looking, nationalistic, insular, xenophobic and thoroughly outdated approach?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if I say things like that from this Dispatch Box I get torn apart by the Eurosceptics--and that is all I am allowed to say in that respect. As I understand it, Marco Pierre White comes from Yorkshire. Therefore, I do not think that he is a particularly good example to put forward. However, in essence, I agree with much of what the noble Lord said. It is true that the free movement of labour is an important provision of the Treaty of Rome: it widens our horizons in football, in cooking and, indeed, in many other areas. It would be a sad day if we were to have too many exemptions from it.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister clearly confirm that it is undesirable to seek this exemption from the provisions of the Treaty of Rome and that the problems to which my noble friend referred earlier largely stem from the arrogance of UEFA? If the latter had been prepared to hold sensible discussions, there need never have been a case at the European Court of Justice nor, indeed, a Bosman ruling.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, from this Dispatch Box I am not in any position to attribute

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blame for the Bosman case being brought, any more than I am in a position to comment on the legality of the matter. Certainly, the football organisations in this country have expressed some concerns about the difficulty experienced by young footballers of UK origin in finding places in UK teams because of the number of foreign footballers who come into the game. Some protection is provided for those players under the age of 24, which is, perhaps, the right way forward. However, I have not said that the Government will take action; I simply said that we will listen to what football organisations in this country have to say before deciding what to do.

Lord Addington: My Lords, given the vast amounts of money that are generated by the football entertainment industry, does not the Minister agree that we should encourage the football industry to pump as much money as possible into the development of talent in this country? If it does not do that, we have only ourselves to blame if we do not produce players of a sufficiently high quality and then have to buy them in from other countries.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is certainly true that the football organisations undertake to devote only 5 per cent of their earnings from broadcasting to the wider benefit of the sport. That contrasts badly with the position vis-a-vis cricket, and particularly tennis where all of the surpluses from Wimbledon are ploughed into the Lawn Tennis Association. However, this is not a matter on which the Government can lay down laws. Football is not a nationalised industry.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, knowing my noble friend's keen interest in sport, I am sure that he will reflect on the comments of the progressive forces in the House and not just on those made by noble Lords who are pro-European on occasion and anti-European on all other occasions. I know that my noble friend agrees that a problem arises when some Premier League sides field 11 foreign players and others field seven. Even some First Division teams field seven foreign players. That restricts the number of English players at top level. Will my noble friend treat this as a matter of urgency and see what can be done about this grave situation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, certainly we are not delaying on this matter. We are listening to the views of football organisations and UK sports bodies on the proposal to exempt sport from the free movement of labour provisions. We shall not delay our consideration of that. My understanding is that there is no formal proposal on the table and that the French Minister of Sport proposes to take the matter forward during the French presidency. No doubt we shall be asked for our views in due course. At the moment, all we have had is a questionnaire from the French Embassy, to which we have responded.

Lord Luke: My Lords, given the views that the noble Lord has already expressed, does he agree with me that

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the notion that the EU Commission, or any derogated power, could usefully intervene in what is essentially a matter for football authorities is manifestly absurd?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not know that the European Commission proposes to intervene. I have already said that my view is that football is not a nationalised industry and that the Government should show restraint in seeking to intervene in the way football authorities manage their business.

State Pensions

2.57 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to review the level of state pensions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, we shall next be reviewing the level of benefits, including the state retirement pension, in the autumn to take effect from April 2001. Based on the forecast rate of inflation the basic pension will rise by about £2 a week for a single pensioner and by at least £3 a week for a pensioner couple.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, I remind the Minister that in 1980 the then Conservative government did away with the earnings rule as a method of assessing increases in state pensions. That proved a severe blow to pensioners. For instance, up to the year 1999-2000 a single pensioner would have lost £28.30 on the basic pension and a married couple £42.60. Is it not time that we gave back a bit of dignity to our pensioners? Does my noble friend appreciate that that will not be achieved by means-tested benefits or a measly 75p?

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