§ The Minister of State, Department of National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat)
A final decision on the Bosman case has not yet been made by the European Court of Justice. I am monitoring the situation closely.
§ Mr. Betts
Does the Minister not recognise that the possibility of transfer fees and the transfer system ending in this country as a result of the Bosman judgment poses a real threat to many smaller league and non-league clubs that, without transfer fees, could go out of existence? I understand that, for some time, the Minister has been under pressure to take action from the Football Association. Will he set out precisely the Government's position, and say whether he is prepared to take the initiative on a Europewide basis, to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected and that transfer fees— without which they would go out of existence and the whole nature of the game in this country would be changed—continue to flow to smaller league and non-league clubs?
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is a serious matter. However, so far we have heard only an opinion from the Advocate-General, not from the European Court of Justice—which is likely to reach its verdict next January or February. We shall see what that says. As to extending the European Union's competence to matters of sport in this country, that would not be a good idea.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs
While acknowledging that only an opinion, not a judgment, has been given, I wish to add to the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts). Many smaller league clubs, especially Vauxhall Conference clubs, would not be viable were it not from the transfer fees that they can obtain by acting as a nursery for players. Transfer fees are immensely important for league and non-league football. If the Government would take cognisance of that fact, I am sure that those clubs would be most grateful.
§ Mr. Sproat
I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in the Vauxhall Conference. I saw Mr. Garth 318 Crooks and Mr. Gordon Taylor last week, and on 29 November my right hon. Friend and I will be seeing representatives of the Football Association, the Football League and the Premier League. I am sure that the matter will be taken carefully into account at that meeting and at others.
§ Mr. Pendry
In view of the serious implications for British soccer were Bosman to be enacted, why did not the Government join the German, Italian, French, Danish and other Governments in making representations to the European Court in defence of our transfer system? To make amends, when the Minister next meets representatives of the Football Association, will he agree to join other European Union countries in pressing for football to be included as an activity of cultural importance under article 128, so that football-related matters are taken into account within that article?
§ Mr. Sproat
We did not go to the European Court of Justice because we think that it would be wrong to badger the court when it has not delivered its decision. When it has done so, we shall continue to monitor the matter closely. We are opposed to extending competence—and when the football authorities look closely at the possible consequences of extending EU competence to British sport, we think that they will agree.