Football Governance

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I very much enjoyed visiting both my hon. Friend’s constituency and the club. He is absolutely right. As was highlighted in the report, we need to ensure that the owners and directors test is not just static, happening when a club is sold, but is regularly reviewed, because as he outlined, circumstances change. We will look at that. I think the report suggested every three years, and that sounds sensible to me, but we will provide more information in the White Paper.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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The only thing better than working on this fan-led review of football with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) is being on the football pitch with her. She has been brilliant, as I am sure we all agree.

I know you will be concerned, Madam Deputy Speaker, given historical injustices in the world of football, that women should not be made to wait a moment longer than necessary. Further to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), will the Minister please explain why the chair and terms of reference for the women’s football review have not been announced? Can he correct that situation now at the Dispatch Box and tell us who the chair will be and when we will have in our hands the terms of reference? Women who care about football in this country do not want to wait any longer.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I can assure the hon. Lady that women in sport is one of my top priorities. When I became Sports Minister, one of the first things I did was to set up a women in sport working group, which is making considerable progress, and I am very proud and very appreciative of all the people involved in it. She will have to be a little bit patient, as I cannot announce now, at the Dispatch Box, the chair and the scope, although she will understand that that information will be released very soon. However, that does not mean that this is not a priority; it absolutely is.

Women’s Football

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Wednesday 26th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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I will be brief, Mr Twigg. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) for obtaining this debate. She is an incredible champion for women’s sport in general and football in particular; and, Mr Twigg, nobody could be more perfect to chair the debate than your good self, a supporter of women’s sport, including women’s football, and the finest football team on the planet—that is the women and the men, I should say.

This issue obviously has a long history. I was going to begin by saying that often we talk up women’s football and the position that it has got to because growth has been significant in recent years, but that often people do not talk about the cause of the demise of women’s football previously. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) has just done me a favour there. There is a tendency not to talk about the fact that women’s playing football professionally in this country was banned for 50 years. Many of the problems that we are trying to tackle today, and which have been covered already in this debate, stem from that ban. We have to accept the truth of that. It is not good enough to cheerlead for women from the sidelines; we have to accept the consequences of the ban, which affect every single part of the women’s game today, whether it is the professional game or the grassroots game.

In relation to the professional game, people who love women’s football and want to see it succeed are often told, “We can’t pay the players more, because of market forces being what they are. People want to watch the men’s game on the telly, and unless more people watch the women’s game, the pay for women is going to be lower.” Well, we have just heard that actually there is a root cause as to why more people watch the men’s game than the women’s game. That is why we need extra effort, to restore the women’s game to the place where it should be.

The situation is the same for the grassroots game. I do not just play for the women’s parliamentary football team; I occasionally manage to make it to Wirral Valkyries FC, in the Wirral, and you would not believe, Mr Twigg, how hard it is to get a pitch for a women’s grassroots team. That is because we really have only enough pitches for half the people who want to play football in this country. We are going to double the number of people playing football at grassroots level, so we need some more space for them to play in. That inequality causes tension the whole time. Map the level of abuse that we all receive from a patriarchal society—as rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn; I would not get away with such naked feminism!—and we can see we have a problem.

Rather than going over all that, I would simply ask colleagues one question. There are two professional football players in this country who play for the same team and who are brother and sister. Lauren James, who is 20 and has incredible talent, will probably never be a millionaire; her brother, Reece James, who is 22 and plays for Chelsea—the same team—almost certainly will. That is a level of wage inequality that we would consider absolutely unjust and intolerable in any other sphere of British life. How long are we, in this room, going to look the other way while women in this country face that kind of unjust pay gap? Women who play football professionally do so with a determination that is almost irrational, given the lack of fortune that might reward their talent. It is as simple and as stark as that.

Very briefly, I pay tribute to the fantastic Sue Campbell at the Football Association, who is an incredible woman, as well as Kelly Simmons, the director of the women’s professional game. They do not get enough credit and we should all thank them. I also thank Suzy Wrack at The Guardian, who has covered women’s football absolutely brilliantly, and younger journalists such as Katie Wyatt and Caoimhe O’Neill, who write for The Athletic and are just brilliant. They are changing the fortunes of women’s football.

I will finish with three very direct questions to the Minister—I could talk about this subject for about seven hours uninterrupted, but I will not. First, the Government could do a really helpful job that would not cost them any money, which is to benchmark the interventions that they are already making. Could they check that all the money they already spend on the grassroots game of football is being spent equally on men and women? That would make a big difference.

Secondly, could they ask the FA to look at the FA cup prize money? Nearly 2 million quid for the men’s FA cup prize money does not really make a difference to the winners, but the women only get about £25,000 in prize money. There is absolutely no objective justification for that incredible disparity in prize money. It is our flagship competition. Could the Government ask the FA to look at that?

We have heard my final question from everybody; the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has done an absolutely brilliant job for football in this country, recommended it in her review. We need a women’s review—please may we have one? Let us crack on and deal with these issues.

Oral Answers to Questions

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Thursday 18th November 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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Mr Speaker, you and I both support major sporting events coming to the UK, but I want to return briefly to the situation in cricket. The lesson for all sports is that those who fail to deal with cultures of racism and prejudice will ruin our country’s reputation, not build it. I know, Mr Speaker, that you and I, and all Members, Ministers and shadow Ministers in this House were heartbroken listening to Azeem Rafiq yesterday, but, as the Minister has said, it is deeds not words that will make a difference, and that goes for the Government as well. Will the Minister place in the Commons Library any and all correspondence that he has had with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and can he tell the House what discussions he has had with it about its powers and resources and whether they are enough to deal with what we know, and have known for a long time, are chronic problems in sport?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Lady and I are at one in terms of the intent and what she said there about the abhorrence of what we have heard in cricket this week and, indeed, over a period of time. She is also absolutely right about issues in broader sport. I will happily place whatever documents are appropriate in the Library—I cannot promise to do so with every single document or discussion, because, as the hon. Lady knows, there are sometimes confidentiality and frank discussion concerns that inhibit our ability to put out every single piece of correspondence, but I will happily talk further with the hon. Lady, one to one, about this issue.

Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Wednesday 17th November 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I thank my hon. Friend very much for that intervention. She is entirely right that what lies at the heart of the Bill is providing that comfort—that reassurance—to lenders to make sure that these wonderful artefacts, such as those in the “Tutankhamun” exhibition, come to our shores. If I may say so, I think it is particularly important that we bring this measure forward now, given that covid and lockdown have affected a lot of important museums and galleries. Anything we can do to encourage and improve things for them is particularly important at this time.

Applications for approval are still being considered as museums look to increase their capacity to host international exhibitions. For example, the Wallace Collection was approved for immunity from seizure in May this year, in advance of its Frans Hals exhibition, which features the artist’s widely recognised painting, the Laughing Cavalier. Since it entered the Wallace Collection in 1865, that iconic image has never been seen together with other works by the artist. Immunity from seizure has enabled many works by Frans Hals to come together for that exhibition and to be enjoyed alongside that wonderful work, with their owners knowing that their artworks will be protected from seizure.

As I set out on Second Reading, despite the careful planning of exhibition schedules, unforeseen delays do occur, including to transport. I gave the example of the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010. More recently, of course, the covid-19 pandemic closed museums and cancelled flights. That meant that even where exhibitions had concluded, it was not always possible to return loaned items within the 12-month limit.

The Bill will allow the period of protection to be extended beyond 12 months at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for institutions in England, or the relevant authority in the devolved nations. The circumstances under which an extension may be considered will be set out in guidance to be developed in discussion with the devolved nations. The guidance will assist museums in applying for an extension, which would be for a further three months initially, with a possibility of a further extension if considered necessary. The measure is strongly supported by the museums sector and by Arts Council England, the Government’s development agency for museums.

This is a short and simple Bill. Clause 1, which deals with the protection of cultural objects on loan, amends section 134 in part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. New subsection (4A) provides that the relevant authority has the power to extend the existing maximum period of protection for a further period of three months. New subsection (4B) clarifies that the Secretary of State will have the power to extend the period of protection where the object is in the UK for the purpose of public display in England. Whichever relevant authority uses its power, the protection of the Bill will continue to apply UK-wide. New subsection (4C) clarifies that the power can be exercised more than once in relation to the same object. New subsection (4D) clarifies that an extension granted is in addition to the maximum protection period. Clause 2 sets out the territorial extent and commencement arrangements and provides the short title of the Bill.

I hope the Committee agrees that the Bill will provide our museums and galleries with a greater degree of certainty in planning international exhibitions, which are crucial and a major part of their income, and give the UK public the opportunity to enjoy cultural treasures from other countries. The Bill will also build the confidence of international lenders, who will understand that where difficulties arise, immunity from seizure can continue to be in place until the loans can be safely returned to them. I commend the Bill to the Committee.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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It is, as others have said, a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie. I commend the right hon. Member for Central Devon for bringing the Bill forward. It is limited in scope and effect. It extends existing powers, and we had a good discussion on Second Reading about the principles that sit behind it. As such, at this point, we have nothing further to add.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon for bringing forward this private Member’s Bill, which has strong Government support. I also thank the outstanding former Minister for Digital and Culture, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport, for eloquently setting out that Government support on Second Reading and for being a much-valued Committee member.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon mentioned that the Bill passed Second Reading with supportive remarks from hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is testament to the positive impact that the Bill will have on museums right across the UK. Last month, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed Government funding of £850 million for cultural and heritage infrastructure, which will help to safeguard national treasures and boost culture in local communities and on high streets. An additional £150 million investment was also announced for national museums and other Department for Culture, Media and Sport public bodies to help them recover from covid-19.

That funding recognises the important role that culture and heritage sectors play in our society. Our museums and galleries must be able to operate as effectively as possible in order to continue to carry out the enriching and educational work that they do for the public. The Bill seeks to make a practical, sensible change to existing legislation that will make the exhibition planning of our museums and galleries easier, and reinforce good relationships with international lenders and overseas partners. It is therefore a timely proposal that reflects the Government’s continued support for cultural sectors.

It has been emphasised that the risk of seizure of cultural objects while they are on loan in the UK is small, but the contribution immunity from seizure makes to the core activity of museums is evidently great. This weekend, the V&A will open its latest exhibition, “Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution”, showcasing a host of fascinating artefacts, many of which are on loan from Russian institutions. Without immunity from seizure, those loans would not have gone ahead, nor would National Museums Scotland have been able to borrow some of the objects featured in last year’s exhibition, “Tyrannosaurs”, and China’s terracotta warriors would not have made it to National Museums Liverpool the year before that.

Museums are critical to the UK’s £75-billion tourism industry and the 4 million jobs that the sector supports, and the ability to put on international blockbuster exhibitions is a huge selling point of many of them. Borrowing objects allows museums to stage exhibitions and displays that would not otherwise be possible, and enables them to further contextualise their own collections. These loans create opportunities for museums to attract new audiences, but also to re-engage their existing visitor base.

We must not forget that underpinning many of these successful exhibitions is an understanding with international partners that, subject to conditions being met, the objects will be fully protected from seizure during their stay in the UK. Opportunities for immunity from seizure protection to be extended, where justified, will alleviate potential unforeseen obstacles. The proposed opportunity for a three-month extension is more than a useful contingency for when things do not go to plan; it is a recognition that the partnerships our museums build with international institutions are very much worth maintaining. The extension of that protection will come as a welcome measure to the many foreign lenders who insist on immunity from seizure protections when they loan their precious objects. By reinforcing their confidence, the Bill will help to ensure that the UK continues to host some of the finest cultural objects from across the globe. I urge the Committee to support the Bill.

Oral Answers to Questions

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As I mentioned, there have been intensive negotiations at a ministerial level with our EU counterparts and a lot of progress has been made. As I mentioned in my opening reply, we now have agreements with 19 of the 27 members states that allow visa and permit-free touring, but we want to make more progress because we know this is a very important issue for musicians and artists across the country.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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We welcome all the new Ministers, but I want to be clear on this issue: the Minister said in response to those questions that extensive efforts are being made, yet on 4 August when the Department published a statement describing the situation, the industry was clear that nothing has changed. Will she refer to that 4 August statement on touring and tell me, since the original Brexit deal was signed, exactly what has changed?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank the hon. Lady for her passion, and we share that intensity of desire to get this issue sorted for UK musicians. The challenge is our desire to secure the same freedoms for our musicians in the EU that EU musicians are allowed when they come over to the UK. It is a shame, because the quality of musicianship in our country is second to none, so in a sense EU member states are missing out if they continue not to provide the freedoms that we provide to their artists. We will continue our intensive negotiations, but we have to accept that this is not in our control. We put forward a very fair and sensible deal to our EU counterparts and it is for them to agree the same freedoms that we grant them.

Draft Introduction and the Import of Cultural Goods (Revocation) Regulations 2021

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Tuesday 14th September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

General Committees
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Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie.

I thank the Minister for her opening remarks, which explained the delegated legislation’s context. To many, it may seem that this is a niche subject, but the Minister and I believe that despite that, it is very, very important. We have a global role to play in the protection of our culture and history. As the Minister said, the diligent work of police forces and border authorities makes sure that the illicit trade in cultural artefacts can be stopped, and that is crucial. At the end of day, a visit to a museum tells our story and its artefacts are part of our culture and heritage that we wish to hand on to generations to come. The instrument before us is part of a legal structure that protects those artefacts.

It has been a very challenging year for everyone in the world of culture, so tidying some of the legal loose ends as a means to bring greater clarity is a good thing. Museums, art institutions and those in the art world badly need that clarity and stability. I hope that the instrument will play its part in delivering that.

We should be proactively trying to do better, however, and I wonder whether the Minister and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have considered a Law Commission review, given the complexity of all the different regulations and the shift post-Brexit. Its purpose would be to bring together the myriad complex bits of relevant legislation. We ought to consider future legislation to provide a more simple and straightforward system of enforcement.

As I said, some people may consider that this instrument relates to a minor matter, but there is nothing more important than our history and heritage.

Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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I commend the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) for bringing this Bill to the House. It might be easy to think of it as somewhat narrow and potentially even niche, but we often underestimate the role that public collections in this country play in communicating our history, our story and our identity to the world, and, similarly, the great role that is played, as the right hon. Member well described just a moment ago, by those same institutions receiving works from abroad so that interchange of histories and stories can occur and they can be told to the British public. What might seem a slightly technical point about protecting those institutions’ ability to do that actually underpins a huge and important role that we as a nation play in the world. I can see the Minister nodding, and I hope that that view is shared broadly across the House.

I have experienced several of the shows and exhibitions that the right hon. Member for Central Devon just spoke of; one in particular was part of a very important year in the life of the city of Liverpool. Being able to receive important, globally relevant works of art from around the world allows cities and institutions in our country to do their job. That has a huge impact not just on tourism and the visitor economy, but on the learning that younger generations are able to participate in. Frankly, what might appear to be a narrow and niche interest is actually profoundly important, not just for institutions such as the British Museum but for galleries and art institutions up and down the country.

With that said, I have just a couple of points to make about the Bill, and some questions that I hope the Minister or the right hon. Member for Central Devon may be able to cover. The Bill takes particular account of what has been a very bumpy year for cultural institutions. The Minister and I have exchanged remarks on many occasions across the Dispatch Boxes about the position that cultural institutions have been in. With some reservations about the scope and the manner in which the Government’s programmes of support through the pandemic have reached cultural institutions, the Opposition share the Government’s view that the Government ought to respond to what has been a very difficult year with support and help to facilitate the things that institutions need to get them through this difficult time. The Bill is one of those things.

The covid pandemic has demonstrated to me how important arts and culture are in this country. It used to be an interesting thought experiment to imagine what would happen if we shut every museum and gallery up and down the land. We did not have a thought experiment in the past 18 months; we had it in reality, and it was horrendous. The Bill shows that if we can make some small changes and facilitations to make things easier, we can see better continuity of our culture, and I think that is a good thing. As I said, it is important, yes for tourism and the visitor economy, but almost more important for learning. Our young people deserve access to the best museums and galleries that our country has to offer, and brilliant works of art from all around the world. People of all ages deserve the comfort and calming influence in their life of cultural institutions. We know about the positive impact that they have on mental health. In order to do that, we have to ensure that the UK protects its leading role. It has an incredible place in the world in demonstrating the very best of global culture. We need to make sure that, despite any turbulence now or in the future, those institutions will still be able to do that.

We have highly experienced and expert curators in the UK. Perhaps in this place we do not recognise enough the diplomatic role that those curators play. As a former chair of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, I have seen at first hand the work that the UK’s brilliant curators do. They reach out to their equivalent institutions around the world and facilitate the exchange of knowledge, works and expertise. Often, it is those informal connections—institution to institution—that, when the world is a turbulent and difficult place, can really make a difference.

I remind Members of our recent debates on Afghanistan. Hon. Members from all parties mentioned the work of the British Council. I think of the terrible events in Syria and other parts of the middle east and the work that the British artistic and cultural institutions did to try to protect cultural assets and the important heritage of the world. Whichever country you are from, that interchange is extraordinarily important. I hope that, if that is sometimes an issue that does not get the political attention that it deserves, we are going some small way to rectify that this afternoon.

I have a few quick questions for the Minister and the Member promoting the Bill. The Bill provides some powers for the devolved institutions. It is important that in this place we have cognisance of liaison with the devolved institutions. I would be grateful if the Minister said on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Transport how she believes that that will happen now and in the future.

Clearly, covid is not the only global event that could cause interruption to the transport of cultural objects. We know that previous incidents have caused international transport to grind to a halt, which is not much fun for anybody. How does DCMS plan to liaise with the Department for Transport and other relevant Departments, including the Home Office, to make sure we have a smooth transition? Finally, what steps do the Government see themselves taking to prevent future disruption and to make sure that any disruption is handled as smoothly as possible?

I would be grateful to the Minister for those answers. I thank the right hon. Member for Central Devon for introducing this Bill, which hopefully will go some small way towards making sure we keep our place as one of the most important nations in the world for preserving our culture, history and heritage.

Legacy of Jo Cox

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Thursday 9th September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). It is also very appropriate, as will become clear when I continue with my speech, but before I get to those points, let me thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has just popped out from her place, for securing this debate. It is important that we put on the record the positive legacy of Jo. It gives me great heart to listen to speeches from both sides of the House about just what has been achieved in Jo’s name.

I thank the right hon. Member for the royal town—I think I have got that right—of Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), not just for the excellent speech that he gave just now, but for five years of friendship, for which I am very grateful. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who has also been dedicated in the work that he has done.

Today’s debate marks five years since the murder of Jo Cox MP, then the Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen. She was a Member of Parliament for a short time, but her life had already shown, even before she came to this place, just how much good could be done by a person with a simple determination to serve those in the world who needed her. In the five years that have passed, many people in our country have begun their own journey into public service, inspired and comforted by Jo’s words and spurred on by her example. That is the legacy that we record today.

Above all else, I must congratulate the new Member for Batley and Spen, my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), on her brilliant by-election victory and her maiden speech. Sometimes a win really helps—and what a win that was. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, I really cannot explain how happy I am to describe her as the new Member for Batley and Spen. I came to know her in the worst possible circumstances, but having made friends with her has been nothing but a gift, even when she made me do 1980s aerobics—and also the women’s parliamentary football team. As my hon. Friend said, she is her own person and will represent her hometown in her own way, but she has shown a courage over the past five years that is worthy of a sister’s love.

To Brendan, Cuillin, Lejla, Jean, Gordon and all Jo’s friends and family, I say thank you for all you have done: you have been a light in the dark. To Jo’s friends Kirsty McNeill, Eloise Todd, Iona Lawrence, Nicola Reindorp, Ruth Price and so many others, I say thank you. I thank Jo’s friends here in this place—those who have already spoken and those who will speak, but especially those on the other side of the House—for showing that the words on Jo’s plaque count just as much on the Government side of the House as they do on the Opposition side. Finally, I thank everyone in Batley and Spen for putting up with us during the by-election. The towns of Batley and Spen are rightly known across the country for the kindness and care they have demonstrated.

Today’s debate is a chance for us all to reflect. We reflect on Jo’s life; the contribution that she made to her own community and our whole country; and the efforts of Jo’s family and friends on tackling loneliness, on the role of women in society and in politics, and on the humanitarian imperative.

Others will rightly talk about Jo’s legacy in our country. I have seen at first hand in Batley and beyond what an impact she has had. Her words have gone on to have very real meaning in every connection made and every friendship built. But Jo’s activism echoed not just in this country but around the world, and her loss was felt not just in the UK but in every place in the world where Jo had worked. Her belief in the humanitarian principle that everyone in the world is entitled to the basic protection of their life and liberty led her to meet people from the four corners of the earth, and when she died, they grieved just as we did here.

That was why, in 2018, the then Department for International Development established a development grant programme in Jo’s honour. It funds women’s empowerment organisations and the prevention of identity-based violence. The Jo Cox memorial grants get UK aid money exactly where it needs to be: backing women’s leadership and using protection approaches to stop violence before it escalates. That humanitarian principle that Jo fought for is made real by this work, and I thank all the civil servants in DFID, as was, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office now for working so hard to make it happen. She is not present, but I also thank the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who played a leading role.

In other aspects, however, we all must go further. I have met many Syrians in the UK who spoke with Jo in the year that she served in this place, when she gave voice to the horrors taking place in their country. They miss her now just as I do. In truth, life for Syrian civilians has worsened year after year. From Aleppo to Idlib and all over the country, civilians are displaced and forced to live in deep fear for their families. It goes on and on.

Jo advocated for a strategy to protect civilian life in Syria, and five years later that is exactly what we are still crying out for from the international community. Jo spent a decade campaigning for global acceptance of the responsibility to protect doctrine and, looking at events in Syria since she was killed, it is clear that she was right to do so. On Syria, Jo said that we must

“put the protection of civilians at the centre of our foreign policy, not…sit on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands more are killed and millions flee for their lives.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 136.]

She was right to say that.

That which Jo feared has happened since, and it is happening right now. The International Crisis Group reported that in Daraa province in the south-west, the regime had renewed attacks throughout August on Daraa city’s besieged al-Balad neighbourhood, where fighting killed at least 32, including 12 civilians, and displaced 38,000 people by 24 August. That is not five years ago, or 10 years ago: it is two weeks ago. On 12 August, the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, warned that civilians face shortages of basic goods and said that the

“near siege-like situation must end”.

Ignoring starvation and terror in our world will not make it go away.

As the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling and I said in the pamphlet that he should have published with Jo, knee-jerk isolationism is not in Britain’s interest any more than it is in the interests of those in the world who need our leadership. All it does is make us look powerless in the world and careless about the international norms that we helped to create. The argument that Jo made in this place—that we have a responsibility to use the tools at our disposal, be they diplomatic, development or defence capabilities—to protect, where and when we can, was the right argument, and it has rung ever more true over the past five years than it was on the day Jo made it.

However, I believe that in the current public response to the Afghanistan crisis we are seeing Jo’s legacy. As Jo said, she had met battle-weary elders of Afghanistan and understood the impact of conflict. When she was killed, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, credited her with changing both attitudes and policy when it came to refugees. He said that she would never know how many people’s lives she had changed, and he was right.

Finally, let me say this. In Jo’s honour now, we all have a duty to see the common humanity we share with those who are the victims of conflict not of their making. Whether in Afghanistan or Syria or elsewhere in the world, there will be circumstances that cause humans to flee. Our country should be proud of every person who finds safe refuge here, as Jo’s friends and family should be proud that her defence of refugees made people think again and, crucially, changed the minds of those in power. That is Jo Cox’s legacy. Our responsibility is to live up to her principles.

Football Governance

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Monday 14th June 2021

(3 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliot, particularly in the light of your expertise in this subject. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) on securing the debate and on leading it ably. We have had many such debates in my time as a Member of Parliament, and yet again, the subscription to the debate shows what an important issue this is to us all.

I congratulate in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on her excellent contribution—her dad would be so proud—even though she reminded me of the 1988 FA cup final, which sends a shiver down my spine even to this day.

I do not know what is going on in Kent, but we had brilliant contributions from the hon. Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), and everybody wishes the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) the very best in her endeavours, so thanks to Kent for sending us MPs who are doing such great work on football reform. I think it is fair to say that many of the points they made are supported not just by those Members who have spoken but by others right across the House.

We want to see change happen. I will make three very brief points on what I think that change should look like. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) pointed out, previous Labour party manifestos—in 2019, 2017, 2015 and 2010 —called for reform of football governance, so this will come as a surprise to nobody. Indeed, I apologise to the Minister because he will have heard me say much of this before, but my hope is that the repetition affirms our cross-party position that we want to see that change and we will make it happen. If anybody in the world of football is in doubt about that, they should read the contributions made to this debate, because we have made our intentions clear.

First, on football finances, I support the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, as well as all the contributions that she and her expert group have made about the need for an independent regulator. If we are to have an independent regulator, many people will rightly ask, “To what end?” The answer has to be finances. As the ESL debacle made abundantly clear, if we believe in competition, we cannot let the finances of football undermine that principle. We need competition not in name only, but in reality. At the moment, what we call the football pyramid has very significant financial cliff edges—to get into the Championship and to get out of League Two. Those are significant problems in our football pyramid. We need an independent regulator to change how the football finance system works, so that we have a real pyramid and real competition again.

To anybody who thinks that that is too hard, I say that, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North pointed out, we did it in banking even though people said that that was too complicated and difficult. We in this country are good at creating regulators, and we need to do that for football so that there is an independent voice to speak up for the fans, not least to protect the existence of clubs. We heard from the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) just how horrendous it is for people when the existence of their club is threatened. They must have protection so that their clubs cannot be ripped away from them because of someone else’s poor financial management. It is not just league clubs that need genuine redistribution; it is the grassroots as well.

My second point is about fans. We as football supporters need to ask ourselves what we want our role in this to be. That is why I am pleased that the review is fan-led, and I know that the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford is talking to lots of fans. Do we want this veto that many have talked about, and if so, how do we get it? I ask the Minister what legislation is being prepared to look at that. What constraints do want on the behaviour of owners? We know that the test for owners and directors is good for nothing, so what kind of test do we really want? We need not a snapshot but an ongoing check on behaviour. As many Members have said, the development of different ownership models requires support, similar to that provided in the past by Supporters Direct, so what preparation work is the Department doing?

My third and final point is about inclusion. Let us be honest with ourselves: we are not in a good moment when it comes to the fight against racism in the beautiful game. We have to be really frank and honest about this. Proper football fans do not boo their team. One of the things that I remember most about first going to Anfield is being told, “We never boo our players. If they are wearing our shirt, those are our people and we do not boo them.” That, for me, is the end of it, so I suggest we all get behind our team, not least because there are significant challenges that we need to fight together, including racism and misogyny.

The fact is that in UK sport, approximately 96% of broadcast time is for men playing football, which leads to a 99% pay gap between women and men. We now have the example of Lauren James and Reece James, who are equal in talent but, because of their gender, face widely disparate prospects for income from football. I ask the Minister: how can we make progress on that and—I know that this will receive support from across this House—on disability football, which is also very important? We need to get it on the agenda.

We have a lot to do. I hope that we will do it together and make progress quickly, because we have had many debates of this type, and now is the time for action.

--- Later in debate ---
Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I am confident that we will be able to do that, in electronic form, through surveys and through other mechanisms, for the very reasons he expressed. I had the pleasure of visiting Wrexham last year, and it has interesting new owners; that shows commitment and shows that it is possible to invest appropriately if international owners have the right attitude. That is important, because we should not taint all potential investors, including overseas investors, with the same brush.

The first petition calls for the enforcement of the 50+1 rule for professional football club ownership, in reaction to the—thankfully unsuccessful—move to create a European super league. The House’s opposition to that showed that football can unite us in opposition to certain things, as well for things that we want. On that point, the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) mentioned the incident that occurred this weekend, which we were all very alarmed by. I wish Christian Eriksen a speedy and full recovery.

As Members will be aware, the 50+1 rule has been used in German football, during which time English football has pursued a very different model. There are clearly pros and cons to both approaches, and the terms of reference of our fan-led review include the consideration of models from other countries, so we are looking at that model. Members will be aware of the complexities of retrofitting the German model into the English system and of the benefits that some—though by no means all—wealthy individual owners have brought to our clubs. The review will consider whether any aspects of these alternative ownership models could be beneficially translated into the English league system. At this stage, it is for the chair and panel to consider all the options available. I would not want to prejudge their recommendations, but work is under way and the review’s interim report is due next month.

The review is also looking at other options that fans are keen to explore, such as voting rights, with fans having a greater say in how their clubs are run, and whether that would mean direct engagement and involvement with the club’s board and executives. The review will also consider giving fans some form of voting rights or golden share on key issues affecting the club. The Football Supporters’ Association supports that option, and it was supported by hon. Members today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) and others.

What the panel, the Government and, most importantly, fans seek from the final recommendations is a stable and sustainable framework for our national game for the future and beyond. Key to that sustainability is responsible club ownership; integrity in club governance; recognition of the proud footballing history and heritage of our national game, as mentioned by many hon. Members; recognition of and understanding the value that football clubs bring to their local communities; and most importantly, recognition of the value and expertise that fans can contribute to their clubs.

We do not want to see again the destruction of clubs like Bury. Neither do we want to see clubs seeking to break the framework of English football simply to become wealthier at the expense of other clubs. We do not want our cherished and historic football grounds to be taken away from their communities. We do want stable and responsible ownership of our football clubs. We want fans to be involved in the crucial decisions affecting their clubs, and we want to maintain the thrill, excitement, uncertainty and competitiveness that give English leagues their status and make them the envy of the world.

I turn to the second petition, which calls for the introduction of an independent regulator for football in England by December this year. The strength of feeling on this issue among hon. Members was fairly clear. Again, I cannot pre-empt or prejudge the chair’s recommendations or the Government’s response, but there has been a clear message in this debate and many others that I have attended with the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). I fully understand the weight of feeling behind the huge amount of support for the petition, which has had more than 140,500 signatures. It clearly demonstrates fans’ appetite for better regulation of the structures in football.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern
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Has the Minister seen the open letter on the issue of regulation, whose lead signatories are Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand and Jamie Carragher? We are all aware of their work in this area. The letter suggests that regulation should not be diluted by Premier League representatives or anyone else employed by, taking fees from or on the board of professional football clubs or football authorities. Will the Minister confirm that he has seen that letter, it is being taken account of and it will be covered by the review?

Oral Answers to Questions

Alison McGovern Excerpts
Thursday 20th May 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I have discussed with him. As ever, he is absolutely right. Clubs clearly owe an obligation and a duty of care particularly to the young people they work with, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford will consider those points. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Football Association has recently received a report on safeguarding and has committed to implementing all its recommendations. We will certainly be holding the FA to account for doing that.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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Given that there was a Select Committee report and a Government response saying that they would legislate 10 years ago, it is a bit rich for the Secretary of State to claim that he is acting swiftly—but anyway, that aside, given the announcement only last week that the Government are prepared to set aside competition objections to preserve the status quo for three years, he will understand the healthy scepticism at the idea that the Government genuinely want change. So to answer that scepticism, will he confirm that, by the end of this Parliament, we will see a better model of redistribution in football that will see more money shift down the pyramid—yes or no?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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The hon. Lady is conflating two issues about competition law and the Premier League. The Sports Minister has set out the Government’s position in a written ministerial statement. This is about securing football finances during a period of crisis, and it is essential that we do that. Clearly we will all have an open mind as we get the response, but the reason for considering this is that we want to ensure that money keeps going into the game.

On the point about change, of course that is precisely why I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, who I know the hon. Lady has worked closely with in the past, and I think we can trust her to come up with serious recommendations to address precisely the issues that the hon. Lady raises. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of that review, but I can give an assurance that I will deliver on the outcome of the review as much as we possibly can. I am not pre-empting it, but we will find legislative time for doing so.