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Lord McNally: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, was talking about the role of the Inland Revenue, I was reminded that, as the Member of Parliament for Stockport South, I once had reason to call on the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, John MacGregornow the noble Lord, Lord MacGregorto ask him for leniency because Stockport County Football Club had not paid its taxes for some years. After I made an impassioned plea, laying out the social and emotional commitment that Stockport County made to the whole of Stockport, John MacGregor said, "That's all very well, Tom, but the Inland Revenue cannot act as a lender of last resort to Stockport County Football Club". One of the themes of the debate today, first made by my noble friend Lord Addington, is that there must be strong pressure on the professional game to run itself professionally.
I would not be so ungallant as to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, must remember one of the greatest football games of all time, namely Blackpool 4, Bolton Wanderers 3. After all, it was 51 years ago. But if she would like to see it, I have a video of the game and would be very happy for us to spend a pleasant 90 minutesthe last 20 minutes are particularly good as Blackpool scored three goalsin the Television Room.
Another theme this evening is our lifelong commitment to our football club. My 11 year-old son says that Daddy is always in a better mood on a Saturday night when Blackpool has won. As noble Lords can imagine, there have been some grumpy evenings in the McNally household.
I am looking forward to hearing the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, under whose captaincy I had the honour to play in the Lords and Commons team some 20 years ago. However, my first and real thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, got it absolutely right: over a very long period, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has been the champion of changes for good in soccer, and we are all in his debt, not only for securing this debate but for the campaigns he has carried out on soccer's behalf.
It is because soccer needs not just fans but candid friends that this debate has been so useful. We all give our very best wishes to the new FA chief executive, Brian Barwick. He has taken on the job at a very difficult time and must already feel as though he has joined one of the country's more controversial soap operas. We all know what a high risk strategy it is to become involved in soap operasI am sure my noble friend Lord Newby knows. That is a Lib Dem in-joke, but never mind. All will be revealed on Christmas Day.
The FA has the difficultsome would say impossibletask of representing both the major élite clubs and the grass roots of the game. It has to
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convince the big clubs, as some have said, that what is happening is good for the shareholder value of each clubI agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that that is an almost impossible taskas well as carrying out its grass-roots role.
It is often said that soccer chairmen are self-made men who worship their creators. It can be difficult to run a football club. It may have a ground that is a model of comfort and safety and an exemplary record of community involvement and social awareness, but if it languishes at the foot of the table, the chairman is in trouble. That is why there is a need for some external encouragement of best practice and a discouragement of selfish short-termism.
This is not a threat, and I take on board what my noble friends Lord Newby and Lord Addington said about voluntarism, but if there were any threat of a coup d'état by the Premiership, that would cause the pressure for statutory regulation to become irresistible. People like Mr Shepherd should know that.
The great strength of the English league system is that it is a ladder of achievement which goes deep and leaves even the smallest of clubs dreaming to dream. AFC Wimbledon is already planning its return to the Premiership; as we know, it can also go down, as have Carlisle and others.
The alternative is a Premiership made up of one or two clubs, with about the same attraction as the Harlem Globetrottersentertainment fodder for television. I believe that we are capable of better than that. What is needed is encouragement of best practice. We have had criticism of club chairmen, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, indicated, it is also said of them that the way to make a small fortune out of running a football club is to start off with a large fortune. For most club chairmen and club directors, it is nothing more than a labour of love.
Because football clubs are community assets, there is a need for adequate protection for clubs against the asset strippers, money launderers and some of the mega-wealthy from abroad. If they acquired such wealth so quickly in this country, some of them would probably be behind bars rather than in a football club boardroom. I make no judgment on any particular individual. However, looking for quick-fix solutions from the mega-wealthy from abroad is extremely dangerous for football clubs. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that any government encouragement or legislation which encourages community participation and ownership of soccer clubs is to be welcomed.
About 16 or 17 years ago, I carried out a study for the Government about prospects for development in Liverpool and Merseyside. I was appalled at the lack of community involvement by both Liverpool and
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Everton. One of the first speeches I made in this House about soccer was extremely critical. Some of our greatest clubs were sited in areas of great social deprivation, relying on supporters who lived in some privation, yet the clubs seemed to show no awareness of that.
Looking again at the record, I think that there has been a massive improvement. The FA and the clubs deserve tremendous credit for the way in which they have taken initiatives, not just in terms of community involvement but also in campaigns to kick racism out of soccer. Many other institutions could learn a lesson from football in that regard. The battle against racism has not been won, but football has shown great courage and it could go further. I would like to see clubs send multiracial task forces into schools, preaching the anti-racism cause. However, they have already done a lot.
On agents, I agree with everything that has been said about greed. My brother, at 21, a newly qualified plumber, had as his labourer Johnny McIntyre, the man who still holds the record of scoring seven goals in a First Division game for Blackburn Rovers. He ended up as a 21 year-old plumber's labourer. Jeff Astle ended up as a window cleaner. It is worth remembering that generations of footballers were denied a proper return for their talents by an iniquitous wages system. We must be careful in what is a relatively short career not to prevent footballers earning their worth in our society. They are as entitled to take external advice as anyone else.
On Saturday, I went to the Harvesters Football Club in St Albans, not with either of my two sonsneither of whom shows much interest in footballbut with my nine year-old daughter. The Harvesters Football Club is one of the FA's community clubs that runs 23 clubs, three of them for girls. I have one last message for the FA, sponsors and others: the big market out there for soccer is women's soccer. We should not patronise it; we should encourage it. I have watched my daughter with five of her friends sitting in a circle watching their favourite film, "Bend it like Beckham". A lot of girls out there will be kept involved in sport by women's soccer.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on securing the debate. He is a strong supporter of football and has, as many noble Lords said, done a great deal for the advancement of the sport, especially at grass roots level. I echo his comments on many areas, not least on the abhorrentif occasionaland wholly unacceptable racism in football. Players and the FA are right to take racism seriously. It is utterly unacceptable inside or outside sport.
However, the noble Lord is not alone in this Chamber in his support for football, as we have heard this evening, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, as president of the Football Foundation. He leads an organisation that contributes so much to
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sport in this country with great skill and enthusiasm. Additionally, I commend the Football Association for its efforts at the grass rootsbe it coaching schemes, sport for disadvantaged children, women's football, as we have just heard, or indeed disability sports initiatives. The FA does that work highly effectively.
I begin with one of those grass roots initiatives. The FA's 3 Lions coaching programme began about two years ago. Its principal aim is to offer children free after-school football coaching in FA-accredited clubs. Clubs are encouraged to forge links with local schools and to connect with schoolchildren. The schemes are administered at local level, and funding is allocated by the FA according to how many school links are formed.
Although still in its infancy, the scheme has already reaped two distinct and important benefits. First, it offers children the kind of structured, enjoyable sport that should be a staple of school life, but is now rare indeed. Secondly, it offers participating football clubs a sustainability of membership that was previously beyond their grasp. Children who go to a club as part of the 3 Lions programme are more likely to become full members in the future.
The scheme is a good one. Investing in local sports clubs and enabling them to provide sport for our children makes sense because sports clubs are where so much genuine enthusiasm for the game lies. That is precisely the reasoning behind our Club2School sports initiative, which we launched last week. Club2School will offer every child two hours of free coaching each week in a local sports club. That will be in addition to the target of two hours physical activity in national curriculum time. Children should be able to choose which sport they play according to local availability and sports clubs, and national governing bodies will receive funding dependent on the number of children that they attract to their sport.
In that context, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was right to focus on the importance of clubs. In short, we must double the amount of sport available to children without increasing the burden on our overstretched yet enthusiastic and able teachers. Instead, we should shift the responsibility for youth sport provision on to the shoulders of those who are genuinely, actively enthusiastic about their sport in our clubs. It seems eminently sensible that, wherever possible, children should be taught football by a qualified football coach, and our policy has met with widespread approval. It builds on the good practice of the FA's 3 Lions scheme. It builds on the excellent work undertaken by all those involved in coaching programmes in accredited clubs.
In fact, the only party to remain silent on the matter are the Government, until yesterday. After cancelling the announcement on school sport which was planned for last week, the Labour Party unveiled its new school sports policy. The most widespread coverage of this policy was in today's Daily Mail, which said that the policy was just "more of the same":
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, was absolutely right about the huge increase in lottery money spent in sport, but let us not forget that, at the Labour Party conference in 2000, the Prime Minister stood up and announced that he would spend £750 million over three years on school sports facilities. My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton talked of the importance of access to football pitches. That £750 million over three years should have gone towards ensuring that we had good school sports facilities. Sadly, it is now four years after that announcement, and only £40 million of the £750 million has been spent.
What is more, the school sports partnership scheme alone is not the answer. It produces a patchwork quilt of sports provision in which the amount of sport a school offers is usually determined by the head. That can place unwanted and unreasonable burdens on competent, enthusiastic teachers, and it fails to offer many children the sporting chance that is their right. Worse still, it completely fails to make use of the thousands of volunteers in the clubs who are ready and willing to get involved.
The policy will barely scratch the surface of many of the problems that we have talked about this evening in engaging young people in football. However, if we scratch the surface, we soon see that the Chancellor has not completely lost his parsimonious streak. Other proposals announced include a real-terms cut in the funding allocated to both Sport England and UK Sport, through which many of the government policies for the development of English football are funded. This is the first time in history that the budget for the sports councils has in real terms been cut. The right honourable Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport, has achieved a unique achievement. The 12th Minister for Sport is the only Minister for Sport who has managed actually to reduce, in real terms, the forward budget for the sports councils and decrease the number of people who participate during his term of office.
The Government's own statistics show the seriousness of the problem. Since 1997, participation in sport has gone down. We now have the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe. I regret to inform the House that more than 5 million of our 8 million children do not even receive two hours of quality physical education a week inside and outside school. It is time for a major shift in sport policy for our schoolchildren. That shift should be to the sports clubs that want to provide sport for young people and need to have people coming through their doors.
As my noble friend Lord Lyell mentioned, football, just like all sports in the United Kingdom, is massively dependent on volunteers. It relies heavily on the outstanding and undervalued contribution of those people who give their time freely to coach, referee and support local clubs. Yet worryingly, the Office for National Statistics estimates that the value of formal volunteer activity on which sport in this country depends has fallen by a staggering 26 per cent in the past eight
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years. People are giving up volunteering in sport, and the reason most often given by those people is the,
the so-called compensation culture. The Government would have us believe that the compensation culture is basically a myth, but that is simply not the case, and changes in policy are needed to prevent the slow death of volunteering in sport. A series of steps needs to be taken in this context. I quote the chief executive of Sport England:
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester began by talking about the international perspective. Internationally, the Government need to do far more to support the football authorities in ensuring that they have influential representation on international bodies. FIFA and UEFA should be high on their list of priorities. In parenthesis, I must say that it is utterly unacceptable that the ICC may leave these shores. The Chancellor has an opportunity to raise our country's level of influence on the world stage of sport tomorrow in answering Treasury Questions on this subject. I for one will be using every opportunity in the passage of the International Organisations Bill, that starts in your Lordships' House tomorrow, to keep the ICC here.
Our use of sport as a tool of international development is minimal. Where we employ it, we use it well. Just look at the excellent work undertaken by Garth Crooks and his colleagues in the Caribbean. Our record to date for bidding for and staging international events is unacceptable. We must place a far higher priority on working with the FA and with all governing bodies to ensure that the international federations that are already here stay and that those seeking to come to these shores receive the necessary support so to do.
I regard this as having been an excellent debate. Politicians are most out of touch with the people whom they represent when they fail to feel and understand the way in which football and sport resonate with the public in all sections of society. Pick up your newspaper. For every page of politics there are five pages dedicated to sport. Tonight, it has been demonstrated that noble Lords in all parts of the House are very much in touch with football and the wider world of sport and feel passionately about it, for sport is nothing if not about ambition, emotion, enjoyment and opportunity.
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