Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Havard, and to have the opportunity to discuss the Select Committee’s report on football governance. This was a substantial inquiry by the Committee. It is worth remembering why the Committee decided that this was an important issue that deserved examination. There were two reasons, the first of which was the clear commitment given by both the parties that now form the coalition Government. It was clear that action needed to be taken, particularly to assist and encourage supporters to have greater involvement in the ownership and running of football clubs. That commitment appears plainly in the coalition agreement, although it was perhaps slightly less clear on precisely how it should be delivered. The Committee thought that it might be in a position to help the Government by taking evidence, examining that question and making recommendations.
However, this was not just about supporter involvement, although that is a very important element. It rapidly became apparent to us that there was quite significant concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the general state of our national game. A debate in this Chamber was extremely well attended by hon. Members, many of whom spoke up about the difficulties facing their local football clubs. There was widespread concern that something was wrong with the game. Perhaps that was best summed up by my hon. Friend the Minister, who famously described football as the “worst-governed sport” in England. I have to say that in the course of the Committee’s inquiry, we did not find much evidence to contradict what he said. However, we also found much to admire and praise about English football. There is no question but that it arouses huge passions up and down the country.
As I said, this was a substantial inquiry. We received more than 100 submissions of evidence. We held eight oral evidence sessions, to hear from every component part of the game. The Committee went on a number of visits. We went to Manchester City football club to see the huge investment that has taken place under its new owners. They have taken the club from the bottom levels to the top levels of the premier league. We went to Arsenal to see the Emirates stadium and to meet the management there. We held oral evidence sessions at Wembley stadium and Burnley football club. We also went to Germany. Looking at Germany’s model of licensing football clubs was a particularly influential part of our inquiry. It made quite an impact on the Committee.
I will not go through the whole report in detail, because many hon. Members are present and want to contribute and I hope that most of them have already read the report and are familiar with our findings.