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Lord Henley: My Lords, the Minister has mistaken me for the noble Lord, Lord Healey.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sorry. Did I say, "Healey"? I do apologise.

I do not object at all to what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about taking a provincial approach. As a Londoner, the provinces are very important in this respect. My department is fully aware of the concerns of the club's supporters. The Minister for Sport received a substantial petition last summer as part of the "Save our Club" campaign organised by the Carlisle News and Star. My right honourable friend was delighted to accept that petition and to set out his personal concern for the club in the pages of the News and Star.

The Government remain fully aware of the important roles played by clubs such as Carlisle in their local communities, but hard cases make bad law. The special circumstances of individual clubs do not make the proposal to introduce a fit and proper person requirement either more workable or more secure in the face of a legal challenge.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked about Nationwide League clubs and pay-per-view broadcasting. The sale of the broadcasting rights is a matter for the league and for broadcasters. Whatever the ITC decides about the future of ITV Digital's frequencies there will still be a possibility of pay-per-view football rights. But it is not for the Government to interfere in that market.

As my noble friends Lord Clark of Windermere and Lord Burlison rightly said, most football clubs are owned and run by people whose sporting and ethical credentials are above question—including Hartlepool United. Incidentally, I wish Hartlepool better luck

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next year. But the Government do not underestimate the potential for club chairmen and owners to exploit both football teams and the communities that follow them.

Noble Lords have referred to a number of possible measures which have been suggested in the past to ensure that ill-intentioned individuals do not damage the interests of the national sport. The Government believe that there is a valid alternative approach. Rather than seeking to exclude individuals or groups from club ownership, the better solution may well be to encourage supporters to take an active role in the running of their clubs. To its great credit, the Football Task Force enthusiastically proposed such an approach and the Government have fully implemented its recommendations in this area.

I am extremely grateful for what has been said by all speakers in the debate. I should like to close on a positive note about the value of Supporters Direct. The Government underestimate neither the importance of football in our national life nor its vulnerability to financial exploitation. However, the accepted limits of government intervention in the workings of all sectors of the economy must apply to football too.

Short of outright criminality, it is right that the Government should have no role in dictating who should or should not own a football club unless competition issues are involved. But there are other approaches. The Government take some pride in their role in establishing and funding Supporters Direct. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said. The consolidation of the involvement of supporters in the ownership and running of professional football clubs is an admirable aim in itself. It also represents a possible solution to many of the historic ills of the sport.

We have had a very useful debate. Once again, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising these important issues and to all who have taken part in the debate.

        House adjourned at seventeen minutes before ten o'clock.

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