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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, once again, I am grateful for the noble Baroness's encouraging answer. I hope that the confusion about to whom Montessori should talk—Ofsted, the QCA and/or the department—and where the right people are to further the debate will be cleared up. I do not know why the QCA should have powers over Montessori. As the noble Baroness said, only when matters have been agreed between them would Montessori bodies be tested for compliance. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 not moved.]

8.20 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In moving the Motion I would like to say a few words of thanks to all noble Lords who have given so much time to the Bill and spoken during its passage through your Lordships' House. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Davies for his more or less continuous presence alongside me, his help and support throughout, his dry wit and his unerring ability to reach the heart of an argument. I am particularly grateful for his depth of knowledge and experience of the further education sector.

I am grateful also to my noble friend Lord McIntosh, whose experience has saved me from having to learn a great deal of company law. His advice throughout has been enormously helpful. Similarly, I thank my noble friend Lady Farrington, whose knowledge of Wales and Welsh education has been thoroughly appreciated. Through her I thank all colleagues in Wales for their work.

I thank my noble friends Lord Carter and Lord Grocott and all their colleagues in the Whips' Office. They have each been an invaluable source of advice and support and I am grateful to them.

I turn to the Opposition Front Benches. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for the considerable part she has played in our consideration of the Bill. Debates have ranged far and wide and I have never failed to be impressed by the commitment and knowledge she brings to such a diverse range of issues.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, have been central to all our debates and I thank them for their constructive approach. It has been important to the Bill's passage that, although at times all the Front Benches have disagreed, debate has never been less than thoughtful and courteous. I am grateful to all noble Lords for that.

I should like to pay tribute to a number of noble Lords who have played an important part in our debates. Your Lordships will not be surprised that I wish to thank in particular my noble friend Lord Peston, whose contributions have never been less than stimulating and who has ensured that we have never lost sight of the importance of principle in our debates. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has brought his expertise to bear with such good effect. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, whose great contribution to education in this country informs and lends weight to all his contributions.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has throughout demonstrated his commitment to the better education of children in this country. I thank also the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, whose depth of commitment to the vulnerable and disadvantaged has kept those young people at the forefront of all our minds.

The vital issue of special educational needs has been to the fore in our debates. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for making it so. We have spent considerable time on those issues during the Bill's passage and I hope that all noble Lords will agree it has been to good effect.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn for his thoughtful and considered comments. The tone of his contributions has reflected the warm relations that exist between the department and the Church. I hope he will feel at the end of our considerations on the Bill that his glass is more than half full.

Many other noble Lords have made important contributions to our debates. I think particularly of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lady David. I thank them and all other noble Lords who have contributed.

This has been my first Bill as a Minister. The contributions of Members of this House more than anything have made it a fascinating and memorable experience for me. I also want to thank the Bill team that has worked with me. I have been extraordinarily blessed by such an incredible amount of talent vested in such a small group of people. It has been one of the most interesting experiences of my life to work so closely with such a talented group of people. They have steered me successfully away from many rocks.

I also want to thank parliamentary counsel. She has been excellent and worked unstintingly on the Bill. I thank her not only for her technical work but also for the quality of her advice and the approach she has taken. I give her my warmest thanks.

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Finally, I thank the doorkeepers and all the staff of the House. We have sometimes kept them here at unearthly hours, but they have never failed to be cheerful, helpful and positive. I am grateful to them.

The Bill is an important part of the Government's drive to raise standards. It signals the beginning of a second wave of reform, which we intend should be characterised by innovation and modernisation. We have now the best generation of teachers and the best ever results. Studies show that our young people are doing better than those in most other countries. We want to build on that and place greater trust in the informed professional judgment of our teachers and others on the front line. We want to support them to find new ways to innovate and raise standards.

That is at the heart of the Bill. I commend it to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, this is the noble Baroness's first Bill, as she said. I want to put on the record my warmest congratulations and thanks to her. She has listened carefully, written copious letters of explanation, made herself available throughout the Bill and always been most courteous both in and out of the Chamber.

For the sake of time and all those noble Lords around me who are looking impatient, I do not want to name everyone the noble Baroness named. I simply wish to ask to be associated with many of the tributes she made to noble Lords around the Chamber. I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who have been assiduous in their help to the noble Baroness.

By convention, Members of this House carry out their work assiduously. We take seriously our responsibilities to revise legislation. Individual Members on all Benches have given no quarter in their attempt to champion areas of concern, often playing devil's advocate on behalf of those on whom the legislation ultimately has an impact. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about Members of another place.

We have not made allowances for the noble Baroness, but she has risen magnificently to the challenge on her first and very major Bill. I congratulate her most warmly.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, when the Bill first came to this House in the spring, a number of us greeted it by asking what its purpose was. As a result of our deliberations over the past couple of months, many of us have come to understand its purpose slightly better, although it remains in many senses a portfolio Bill, as many Bills do, and at times somewhat disjointed.

I join others in paying tribute to the Minister and to the noble Lords who have been helping her: the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey; and particularly to the Bill team. I congratulate the Minister on the spirit in

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which she has conducted proceedings. She has listened attentively to our concerns and has responded more positively than I have ever known a Minister respond by tabling many amendments taking account of the issues we raised.

It was the Minister's first Bill, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, she has done brilliantly. I thank all noble Lords for their help.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Football Clubs

8.27 p.m.

Lord Clark of Windermere rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals they have regarding the ownership of football league clubs.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I declare an interest as a board member of the Carlisle and Cumbria United Independent Supporters Trust Limited and as the owner of a few shares in Carlisle United AFC. It is apposite that I mention Carlisle and football, because those of us from Cumbria are all aware that the first game of organised football was played on the green sward beneath the magnificent castle of Carlisle. I leave it to your Lordships' imagination to conclude what was used as the ball.

Over the past month it has become clear that there is no dispute whatever over what is the national game of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The fact that it could halt the rush hour in our cities and towns at 7.30 in the morning when the World Cup was being screened makes the point that our national game is football.

I would like to say how proud I was of the English football team. We did not expect much of them when they went out. They got into the last 16 and they were victims of their own success. The outcome was that the beautiful game of football was seen by millions, but there is a problem in England with the ownership of certain football clubs. Indeed, the football taskforce in its fourth report talked about football in England being damaged by scandals. Many issues are involved, but I want to concentrate on two: those of franchising and of fit and proper persons.

I wish to thank the Football Association, the Football League, Supporters Direct and the Professional Footballers Association, with whom I discussed many issues, for their co-operation in helping me to prepare for the debate. I am very much aware that they are conscious of these issues.

My locus for initiating the debate goes back to last November when Michael Knighton, the owner of my local football club, Carlisle United—he is better known as the man who nearly bought Manchester United—invited myself and the chairman of the supporters trust to help him to sell the club. We agreed to do so. Over the past eight months I have learnt much about the business of running a football club and its

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associated difficulties. I have become wise about such matters as receivership and liquidation. Carlisle United is now in voluntary administration.

I am also aware that many of the difficulties that we face in the United Kingdom emanate from the fact that we have some of the earliest football clubs. Initially that was what they were—football clubs. However, as the clubs became professional, they took advantage of the companies legislation to form limited liability companies. I sometimes wonder, if clubs had not pursued the route of the companies legislation but had instead followed the route of the industrial and provident legislation, whether they might have found it easier to tackle some of the problems with which they are faced today.

However, it is argued that football clubs are companies and therefore should be treated like any other company. Like many others, I dispute that view for many reasons. Suffice it to say that football clubs are unique and have a unique relationship with their customers, their supporters. Their supporters do not switch their support to get a better deal. We would not have many supporters at Carlisle United if that were the case. Supporters want success but that is not essential; they continue to support the same team.

In a sense that highlights the "guts" of the problem. Although football clubs are companies, they are also a community asset. That is what differentiates football clubs from other companies. It is interesting to note that when football clubs get into near terminal difficulties, communities usually rally round to save them. Whether it be Brighton or Doncaster, Bournemouth or Northampton, Portsmouth or Lincoln, fans and communities have tried to save their clubs. Indeed, one can regard ownership of a football club as 80 per cent proprietorial and 20 per cent community. Thus it follows that fans have a place in the running of football clubs. Carlisle United's trust has a handful of members—fewer than 1,000—who pay 3 a week into a fund to buy shares and eventually a seat on the board. That model has been followed by 56 other clubs. We are getting the message across.

But there is a further aspect of community involvement which came home to me forcefully last April. Michael Knighton rang my colleague, and later repeated to me, the devastating news that in his opinion the people of Cumbria did not deserve a Football League club and that it was his intention, unless he received an apology from the independent supporters trust and the local newspaper, News and Star, to take Carlisle United out of the Football League. He said that he would board up the ground, lock the gates and that we could all watch the weeds grow. I felt that that was wrong. I do not believe that any individual has the right to do such a thing with a community asset. I understand that a club should leave the Football League if it is not good enough or if it goes bankrupt, but a viable Football League club should not be forced to leave the League under the circumstances I have mentioned.

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I believe that it is equally wrong for people to purchase clubs to move them elsewhere. I think of Wimbledon in that regard. Only this week Clydebank was bought and will be moved to Airdrie. It will play in the Scottish League in the coming season as Airdrie United. I am delighted for the people of Airdrie. However, I am not sure that people should buy clubs and move them from one town to another. There are huge question marks in that regard. We are following an American route with which I certainly do not agree.

But perhaps the main worry of many of us who are interested in football clubs concerns the characters of a few individuals who own, or have a burning desire to own, a football club. In saying that I pay tribute to the overwhelming majority of football club chairmen, owners and directors who love their clubs and are as much fans of their clubs as those who stand on the terraces and pour their money down the drain labelled "football". However, a few individuals give cause for concern. I shall not list them as we all know who they are.

But when I read that Giovanni di Stephano is on the point of purchasing Northampton Town, I shudder. I understand that he was the right-hand man of Arcan, the Serbian warlord and indicted war criminal. He held the rank of general in the Serbian army and has been arrested on more than one occasion by the British police. He has been involved in United Nations sanction breaking and currently boasts that he is Milosevic's legal adviser and that he counts people such as Saddam Hussein as his friends. I simply pose the question: is he a fit and proper person to run a football club in the English Football League? I believe that there should be a "fit and proper" test for all Football League chairmen and directors. If it is impossible to legislate in that regard, the Football League ought to introduce such a test as a condition of membership of clubs in the league, as, indeed, does the Jockey Club.

In 1999 the owner of Doncaster Rovers, Ken Richardson, was sent to prison for four years for conspiracy to burn down the club's main stand. Following a conviction in 1984 of conspiracy to defraud in a race, the Jockey Club banned the same Mr Richardson from racing for 25 years. Doncaster Rovers might still be a member of the Football League if that league had a "fit and proper" test, as does the Jockey Club.

8.38 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, I declare an interest as a supporter of Carlisle United who has followed them for many years and who lives very near to Carlisle. I believe that the first match I attended was in the 1965–66 or 1966–67 season. All I can remember is that we beat Bury 4-1.

It is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, a fellow Cumbrian. I hope that other speakers in the debate will forgive us for taking a slightly provincial approach in raising concerns relating to our local team, Carlisle United. I

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hope that they will also recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, made clear, that the issues go much wider than Carlisle United and affect many clubs in all parts of the kingdom. Although these matters are not necessarily primarily concerns of Her Majesty's Government, they are matters that concern a large number of people up and down the country. Therefore, it is a good thing that we have found time to debate these concerns in this House.

I make it absolutely clear that, as a good Conservative, I strongly believe in the rights of property and, despite the wording of the Unstarred Question in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clark, I do not believe that the Government should take on themselves some role involving interference in the ownership of football clubs. We have seen nationalisation in the past and we know that it does not necessarily work, and we have seen other ways of regulating ownership, which can be equally dangerous.

Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clark, in his use of the phrase, "a community asset". A club such as Carlisle—or any football club—is of vital importance to the people of its area and those who support it. They do so in large or smaller numbers. As we all know, the numbers of people supporting Carlisle have dropped rather dramatically of late but we hope that in due course, as the situation is resolved, the numbers will go up. They are interested in the success of their local club. When it achieves extraordinary results, that can have a much wider effect on the area itself. Many of us will remember—I believe that it was in 1973—when Sunderland won the FA Cup when it was in the Second Division. That had a knock-on effect in Sunderland and on the rest of the North East, not just in terms of general morale but also, some argued, in terms of beneficial economic effects.

A club, although it belongs to its various shareholders and sometimes to a sole owner, has a greater importance to its locality than many other—most other—businesses. That is why, although I stressed earlier my strong belief in property and the rights of property, one occasionally has to remember the words of a former leader of my party and a former Prime Minister, Mr Edward Heath, whom I do not often quote. When he referred to:

    "The unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism",

he was making a very good point. The owners of many of these clubs must remember that they do not simply own the club for their own personal gratification and—possibly—their own enrichment. The noble Lord referred to various owners with a rather dodgy background; there are many other owners whose interest is not necessarily in football. They may be property developers, for example, and have an interest that goes beyond that of the club and involves some other end in itself. All those owners have a duty to consider the wider concerns of the community in which the club is based and from which it draws its support.

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The noble Lord, Lord Clark, discussed what has been happening at Carlisle during the past few years under the ownership of Mr Michael Knighton. He gave some idea of the strength of feeling in Carlisle about that ownership and he stressed the importance of the Carlisle United independent supporters trust, which is trying to create some support and raise money so as to buy shares in the club in due course and to get some influence over it. He also—I hope that he will not mind my mentioning this—reminded me that during the local elections earlier this year, we saw far more "Knighton Out" posters dotted around Carlisle than we did Conservative or Labour posters. That gives some idea of the strength of feeling in the area, particularly about the ownership of the club by Mr Michael Knighton and his threat to close the club. Those matters are clearly documented in the local press.

I do not wish to elaborate on that but I want to draw attention to one aspect of Mr Knighton's behaviour which bears some repetition; that is, his almost "sub-Maxwellian", if I can use that phrase, attempt to silence his critics, particularly those in the local press. A press release has recently been drawn to my attention that was issued by Carlisle United, presumably on behalf of Mr Knighton. It refers to criminal proceedings and possible legal action against Mr Knighton's detractors. Some of it deserves to be drawn to the attention of the House. I hope that noble Lords will not object if I quote one or two passages from it. It gives some idea of what I have called the sub-Maxwellian approach of Mr Knighton.

The press release is entitled:

    "Criminal proceedings possible over Knighton detractors".

It goes on:

    "Senior Barristers from London are pawing over reports and dossiers (five feet high)"—

I rather like the expression "pawing" over reports and dossiers five feet high—

    "of the activities of those people who have tried to oust the Knighton family from the ownership of Carlisle United.

    It is believed Mr Knighton has been advised by an experienced legal team that he has a strong case to bring criminal proceedings for: defamation of character, conspiracy to defraud . . . victimisation, false and malicious allegation, professional negligence, libel, slander",

and so on and so forth. It continues:

    "Lawyers believe there may be no fewer than 13 individuals who may be named on the court petition should Michael Knighton take the lawyers advice given to him by some of the Country's leading Barristers who take on such cases".

Parts of the press release are quite laughable. It goes on to refer to:

    "A new independent Owners, Chairmen and Directors Association (CDA) whose founder members include the respective Chairmen of Bristol Rovers F.C, Blackpool F.C, Southend F.C and Darlington F.C are said to be backing the case".

I should point out, as the noble Lord stated, that the former chairman of Doncaster had a criminal conviction. The chairman of Blackpool FC has recently served time for rape and the owner of Darlington FC is a convicted safebreaker.

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That is the gist of what we are hearing from Mr Knighton. As I said, it is sub-Maxwellian. It has all the feel of that other late owner of a football club, Robert Maxwell, who owned Oxford United. I refer to his use of writs and legal frighteners of a sort that many of us find particularly distasteful.

I do not suppose that Mr Knighton has any case at all; I doubt even the existence of senior lawyers offering such advice and "pawing" over dossiers some five feet high. He is simply trying to prevent legitimate criticism of his own actions as owner and former chairman by the local press and others.

I end with a brief question for the Minister. I do not expect an answer from her because I believe that it is a question for the noble Baroness's colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. However, I should be grateful if she would pass it on to them and arrange for an answer to be sent to me in due course.

Some years ago—I believe that it was in September 2000—Mr Knighton was disqualified from acting as a director of any company. Following that—such is the way in which such people act—he put his 24 year-old son and one other in his place as director of Carlisle United Football Club. As I understand the law—I can no doubt be corrected if I am wrong—anyone so disqualified should not be directly or, more importantly, indirectly involved in the management of a company, having been so disqualified. It seems to me, from his actions and his press release, that he has been involved, and is still actively involved, in the management of Carlisle United.

I ask the Minister to ask her colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry—unless she has an answer tonight—how that policy is policed and what, if any, action can be taken against an individual who has been so directly or indirectly involved despite being disqualified?

8.48 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, football supporters everywhere will welcome this evening's debate and congratulate my noble friend Lord Clark on initiating it. As a Carlisle supporter, he is well qualified to speak about football club owners who behave in a strange way, as is the noble Lord, Lord Henley. Both noble Lords spoke effectively and with great force.

This is a most timely debate. As the euphoria of the World Cup disappears, football clubs across the country are facing the reality of worsening economic circumstances, which are caused mainly, but not entirely, by the collapse of ITV Digital. There will be many more clubs in financial difficulty as owners who have hitherto been regarded as benefactors attempt to recover the money that they put into clubs or seek to cash in on whatever assets their club possesses, whether they are players who have a value in the transfer market or—much more threatening for the club's survival—the property that it owns.

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I have two unpaid interests which I should declare in this debate. First, I am associate director of Oxford United Football Club, which plays in the third division of the Football League, and which was rescued from extinction by its present owner, Mr Firoz Kassam. I was previously a member of the board of Brighton and Hove Albion, appointed as a "public interest" director on the advice of the Football Association at a time when the club was close to disappearing and there were rival shareholder factions whose disagreements, had they continued, could have proved fatal. Secondly, I am an elected member of the Dons Trust, which was set up under the auspices of Supporters Direct, originally to give supporters of Wimbledon Football Club a stake in that club and a say in its decision-making. I say "originally" because since the Dons Trust was formed, events at the club have taken a bizarre and disgraceful turn, as I shall explain in a moment.

The three clubs with which I have been associated, Brighton, Oxford and Wimbledon, have one thing in common: each faced enormous difficulties over its grounds. Brighton's and Wimbledon's were sold by their owners, who profited immensely in the process but failed to provide or invest in a new ground. In Oxford, work started on a new stadium but was suspended with the ground half built. Once Mr Kassam took over, he got the stadium finished and that club can now face the future with confidence. The boardroom disputes at Brighton were also resolved. The club moved back into the city and in successive years won the third and second division championships. They now await the go-ahead for a new stadium and the outlook there is much more cheerful.

However, that is not so at Wimbledon. I start with a little history. Today's football club was founded in 1889 as Wimbledon Old Centrals and played on Wimbledon Common. It moved to Plough Lane in 1912, and stayed there in the heart of the local community until 1991 when it embarked on what was expected to be a temporary ground share in Crystal Palace's ground in the neighbouring borough of Croydon as it was decided—wrongly, as a recent feasibility study demonstrated—that the Plough Lane ground could not be brought up to the all-seated standards demanded by the Taylor report after the Hillsborough disaster.

During the 103 years of its existence, the club enjoyed periods of extraordinary success, including winning both the FA Amateur Cup and the FA Cup, and was elected to the Football League in 1977. Within nine years it had been promoted to the highest league, where it stayed until its relegation two years ago. During the 1980s and 1990s the principal shareholder and owner of the club was Mr Sam Hammam, a charismatic though at times controversial figure who sought, often successfully, to motivate his players by unconventional means. Mr Hammam bought the disused Plough Lane ground from the club and then, in 1994, sold it to Safeway for development for 8 million. Most football supporters believe that the

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gain which was realised, well over 7 million, should have gone back to the club and been invested in a new ground.

In 1997 Mr Hammam sold 80 per cent of his shareholding to a Norwegian company, AKER RGI, for around 25 million. It is believed that the Norwegians, Mr Rokke and Mr Gjelsten, invested in Wimbledon because they believed that the club would move to Dublin and take its Premier League membership with it. To the short-lived relief of its supporters, whose views had not been sought on any of those matters, the English and Irish football authorities blocked that move.

The next step came in April 2000 when Mr Hammam sold his remaining interest to a company in which the current club chairman, Mr Charles Koppel, is a shareholder. Relegation from the Premier League followed immediately. There then followed a campaign led by Mr Koppel backed by expensive lawyers and PR consultants to win support for the club's move from Selhurst Park, not to a ground in Wimbledon, elsewhere in Merton or, indeed, anywhere in London, but to Milton Keynes, over 60 miles away, where developers offered it a ground, effectively for nothing.

The matter was considered by a series of football authority committees and commissions and was finally resolved by a three-man team on 28th May. It received evidence and submissions from a wide range of organisations, including the Football Association, Wimbledon supporters and Merton Council, all of which were vehemently opposed to the move to Milton Keynes.

The commission's report is extraordinary. It bears reading and can be found on the FA's website. It contains these words:

    "We find the cherished and fundamental principles of football in this country in relation to the pyramid structure and promotion and relegation on sporting criteria alone, admirable. Likewise we respect, value and would seek to uphold the community basis of football clubs.

    We do not wish to see clubs attempting to circumvent the pyramid structure by ditching their communities and metamorphosising"—

that is not a word in my dictionary but it is in the report—

    "in new, more attractive areas. Nor do we wish, any more than the football authorities or supporters, for franchise football to arrive on these shores".

Yet, despite those admirable sentiments, the commission determined by a two to one majority to approve the move to Milton Keynes. It appears that the only piece of evidence which influenced it was the threat by the owners to liquidate the club if the verdict went against it. In what is, frankly, an insult to the intelligence, the commission suggested that in perpetuity there should be a corner of Milton Keynes that would be for ever Wimbledon; that street names be changed to represent names similar to those in Wimbledon; that the area of the stadium be called "Wimbledon Park" and that special subsidised trains run from Milton Keynes, and so forth.

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The truth is that the commission is allowing the owners to steal the club from its supporters and the community of Wimbledon. It is establishing a precedent which will allow other Football League sides to be relocated by their owners anywhere in the country and the principle of a franchise is being established for league membership. There is no right of appeal against the commission's decision. The football authorities say they oppose it but can do nothing.

The one remaining hope is the Independent Football Commission, the final stage in the complaints hierarchy set up as a result of the recommendation in the fourth report of the Football Task Force, to which my noble friend referred and on which I had the honour to serve as vice-chairman. The phrase,

    "the final stage in the complaints hierarchy",

comes from the chairman, Professor Derek Fraser. Professor Fraser speaks of,

    "its potential for ensuring public confidence in what is our national game, a national institution and an important part of our culture and heritage".

The Wimbledon case will be its first big test and will be crucial in establishing whether self-regulation of football can really work and establish public confidence. It is that which lies at the heart of the debate tonight and in the Unstarred Question asked by my noble friend. I hope that the answer he receives will be that the Government see the real owners of football clubs as being the supporters; the people who follow the team in good times and bad over the years.

Directors and owners should see themselves primarily as guardians of a public asset, as temporary custodians of an entity in which others, such as supporters and the local community, have a genuine stake. In the case of Wimbledon, the club existed for over 100 years before the present owners took it over. It is therefore not just another investment for them to do with what they like.

The supporters, to their immense credit, are determined to keep senior football going in Wimbledon and through the Dons Trust have formed a new club, AFC Wimbledon, which won election to the Combined Counties League. While there is still uncertainty about where the other Wimbledon club will play next season—incidentally, it is now known mainly as "Franchise FC" not "Wimbledon FC"—AFC Wimbledon will start in August at Kingstonian's ground, just down the road in New Malden. I wish them well and so, I hope, do all Members of this House.

9 p.m.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere for bringing this debate before the House and for giving us the opportunity to talk about football when the rest of the country is probably fed up to the back teeth with it. I agree with my noble friend's suggestion that there is a need for credible people to run football clubs. I hope that Carlisle United resolves its problems before the start of the new season. The club has a proud history and has actually played in each of the leagues. I am sure I do

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not have to tell my noble friend Lord Clark that for a very short time the club topped the whole of the Football League—a record that I wish Hartlepool could reflect on.

At this point I should declare an interest, as I am a president of Hartlepool United. At the outset of my remarks, I should stress that there are many good chairmen and directors of football clubs in this country. In fact, the great majority of people who run football clubs are honest, hard-working and care deeply about the game. I know that both Freddy Shepherd of Newcastle United and Bob Murray of Sunderland are respected for their loyalty and commitment to their own clubs, and to the North East generally. They both play a very active role in their respective communities—long may they continue to do so.

I do not wish to compare the activities of the premier league clubs with some of the things that have gone on in the lower leagues. I am clearly of the view that the problems of the premier league teams are different from those experienced by the third and fourth division teams. However, I am equally certain that all football clubs should be owned by decent people who have a responsibility to the area where they are located, as well as to the shareholders or the owners of the football club.

I should like to take a little time to talk about some of the problems that the smaller clubs have in modern-day football. It has been my experience, both as a player and as someone who has been involved in the game, to know that smaller clubs could not exist without the commitment and financial resources of the chairman and the directors. For example, in the case of Hartlepool—my association with them goes back many years; in fact, to the 1950s—I know that all the chairmen have been reputable, caring people who have wanted to do a job not only for the club but also for the town.

I also know that the club takes pride in its financial transparency. The club secretary, Maureen Smith, is always quite happy to give doubters a run-down on the system used to check the gate receipts and other aspects of the club's finances. I am also pleased to see that every payment made, whether it be to players or staff, is declared to the taxman; of course, that is how is should be in any case. I am also mindful of the role that the chairman plays and of how difficult it would be for the club to survive if Ken Hodcroft and the company for which he works—a Norwegian oil company—withdrew their support.

Ken not only runs the club with his fellow directors, Harold Hornsey and Ian Prescott, but also contributes most of his spare time to the club's affairs. I am deeply sorry that both he and the town were not rewarded last year by getting promotion, which they narrowly missed. They have now missed it for three years running. However, as the team was clearly the best side in the third division at the end of the season, I am sure that they will achieve promotion this year without the need to involve themselves in the play offs.

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I should like to make a point on crowd behaviour. Once again, perhaps I may use my own club Hartlepool to demonstrate my point. We have an excellent crowd at Hartlepool. A lot of credit for this must go to the directors, especially the manager Chris Turner who spends time on talk-ins with the supporters and has generally built up a good rapport with them.

An outstanding example of how the club views its role in this respect was seen a couple of years ago during a Sky television broadcast, which featured Halifax and Hartlepool in a league game. Unrest broke out among the Hartlepool supporters because, due to ground alternations, they had been put into a corner of the ground that was the worst area from which to see the game. That is not to blame Halifax in any way. Indeed, I am deeply sorry that Halifax lost its league status last year and has been relegated. I have many happy memories of the Shay, and I hope that the club will be back into league football very soon. However, on seeing the crowd problems arising, the then chairman of Hartlepool, Harold Hornsey, waded into the supporters to calm them down. I thought that that was an absolutely magnificent gesture. It was a clear indication of that man's love for the club, and for football. I wonder how many other chairman would do the same. I can recall watching the broadcast on Sky television on that occasion. The only comment made on the programme was, "There's an official trying to help". I thought that the chairman's efforts deserved something a little better than that simple comment.

The current crisis with television cash is a worry. I have no doubt that too many clubs have become much too reliant on their share of the money. If the issue is not satisfactorily resolved, it may have a profound effect on many clubs. I know that some of the first division clubs, especially those with heavy wage bills, will find it very difficult to keep going on the same basis. However, I believe that many of the third and fourth division clubs will manage because they have smaller wage bills; and, in general, they raise their own players—which I think is the way forward for the future.

We have just had the experience of the World Cup, which I felt we were well placed to win this time had we just been a little hungrier, say, like the Irish or the Koreans. Nevertheless, it was a good performance upon which I believe we can build for the year 2006. It may stand us in good stead for the European championships in 2004. We must have a vibrant system for producing young players for the future. The Youth Development Fund, with its supporting agencies, is an excellent way to develop young players but it needs to have substantially better funding. We should not leave this solely to the football clubs or to the colleges where they run academies. Somewhere in between, I believe that we have the right ingredients to, once again, put Britain on top of the football world. To achieve this goal we must have credible people running football. We must ensure that smaller clubs that play by the rules are helped to survive.

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9.8 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, we must thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for bringing this matter to our attention.

On the face of it, football merely looks like a professional occupation consisting of men running around and people trying to make money by attracting fans and selling TV rights. But it is not. Indeed virtually all professional sport involves a degree of emotion and time spent trying to connect with the soul of a community. What they mean to that community is one of the reasons football teams survive.

Only we have a structure where stray teams can struggle on; for instance, not so much moving up and down the league tables, but struggling on in the middle of nowhere, achieving nothing and not progressing for a long time. That is the fate of most professional sporting clubs for most of the time; it has to be.

That is why this is such an interesting subject. It is not about economics; it about what a professional sporting activity designed to attract viewers and fans means to the community in which it finds itself. The same is true of Rugby League and other professional sports, though Rugby League is probably the only one that comes close, with the exception of one or two Rugby Union clubs in certain parts of the country.

So what happens in professional football is of great interest to government. Many of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, are interesting, but the Government do not have much control over them. That is the problem we face. They are professional activities selling a form of entertainment.

When it comes to the idea of franchising we must be extremely careful. The Americans have proven that the best way to make money out of sport is to have a guaranteed franchise with a guaranteed feed-in of players from the selection categories. American baseball and football displays that. Once a team has achieved its status it is not relegated. So it can take the bad seasons. It will always have the right level of competition to attract the fans. That is a way that makes money out of sport. But it runs totally against our culture.

The amount of hurt that seems to come out when people do not feel that those in charge of their sporting club are putting enough into it is a flip side to the actual misbehaviour of those at the top. I come from Norwich. We had a man called Robert Chase in charge of our football team who was hounded out of that position. "Chase out" became a chant that rang throughout the city. He was running it as a professional organisation to make money and it was seen as not the thing to do. He was expected to pump money in to ensure that the team remained at the top, but he did not. Alan Sugar at Tottenham Hotspur received a similar version of that reaction; keeping the club financially stable but not spending money—I hasten to add that that information came from a Tottenham fan.

But the idea that the football club is something different goes against its legal status and the reality. Those two situations along with the amount of money

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being pumped into football have come to a head. In addition we have the withdrawal of money from ITV Digital for those clubs below the Premiership. Football may well be at a cross-roads. It is a fashionable image of late; for instance, it is now the middle class game of choice. People who 10 years ago would not be able to name their local football team now talk about it quite knowledgeably, in wine bars as opposed to pubs. It happened briefly in Rugby Union and that all went sour. Once the corporate hospitality boxes become a little more difficult to sell, one wonders what will happen. And if anything becomes fashionable, by the rules of history it will become unfashionable and something else will replace it.

So in football we seem to have a cultural position that does not respond to the laws of the market. Will the Government intervene to try to encourage the FA to ensure that we have fit and proper tests or a version of them? In theory we may think that is a good idea. Then we consider how on earth we can draw them up. Do we take into account spent convictions, convictions for certain types of activity or somebody who is simply regarded as being unpleasant? Civil rights lawyers are salivating at the thought. We could go on forever with that argument.

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