SAFETY OF SPORTS GROUNDS BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th June 1975.

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Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath 12:00 am, 19th June 1975

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) sounded so churlish when people who, as far as I know, are conducting a lawful enterprise make an offer of this sort. It is quite true that there has been some doubt about the legality of the "Spotting the Ball" competitions, and that one of them, some time ago, was declared to be illegal. However, we are dealing here with a competition that has gone on for a long time since then, and which took account, I understand, of the High Court judgment. I assume that this competition is continuing lawfully. If anybody thinks that it is not he will no doubt take the appropriate action in the courts. However, for the moment the assumption must be that the organisers are carrying out, like every other business, a satisfactory enterprise.

Law, or the enforcement of law, is nothing to do with me. I am grateful that the offer has been forthcoming and that it has been accepted. It should be sufficient guarantee to the House that Sir Stanley Raymond, who was appointed Chairman of the Gaming Board by the Secretary of State, has spent several weeks—this is one of the many reasons for the delay in introducing the Bill—investigating the pools promoters' "Spotting the Ball" competition. He has given the competition a clean bill of health and said that it is scrupulously conducted and that what the pools promoters take out is reasonable. He is satisfied on all these counts, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be.

I turn to one or two matters to which I attach importance in the Guide to Safety in Sports Grounds. I shall refer to two in particular, because they are matters which have given me concern. I know that other hon. Members have referred to other aspects of the guide, but one major aspect is the pitch perimeter fence and wall. One of the problems—which I saw at the match in Paris—is that on the Continent neither clubs nor police will allow anybody to go on to the pitch. In this country there has been an increasing tendency for people to go on to it. The time has come when we must stop that practice. If our habits differ from those in Europe, there is likely to be the sort of confrontation which we have recently experienced. There have now been five incidents when five different clubs have gone into Europe. It is a disgrace, which must be brought to an end. All of us are ashamed that these difficulties continue. No one was more humiliated than I was at having to apologise to the French Prime Minister for the behaviour of so-called football supporters. They were behaving like louts. This is what we have been concentrating upon in recent months. We must stop people misbehaving inside the grounds and getting on to the pitches.

In paragraph 7 of the guide we have made very clear the nature of the arrangements we wish to have. I invented the phrase "security walkways", but that became known as "dry moats". I do not object to that. Where the clubs have put the dry moats in with two walls, one bounding the pitch and the other a yard or two further back, separating the spectators and allowing the police and other people to walk in between, they have been universally successful. We attach great importance to having gaps or manned gates in the walls, because access into and exit from the ground is of tremendous importance.

One of the main troubles at the Leeds United match in Paris was that the police could not get into the crowd, because in Europe they do not want to. They have a different approach from ours. They put all the spectators together, pen them up and say, in effect, "It is up to you. We are not coming in." That is not our approach. We attach great importance to the ability of the police to get in and out of the terraces when they want to. I should like to emphasise that point.

The second thing that I should like to emphasise comes under the headine of paragraph 17—Communications. Many of our sports clubs, particularly football clubs, have much to learn about means of communications at grounds. When some of our largest grounds are full it is almost impossible to hear a simple loudspeaker announcement. We shall expect clubs to have regular consultations with the police and, secondly, to install metering systems to control the numbers of people going into any one part of a ground. Most important, we shall expect an adequate public address system to be installed—one which is effective against the loud noise on sporting occasions.

There has been a suggestion from EUFA that we should have sliding gates at pitches. EUFA also wants fences round the pitches. We are not very attracted by fences. We much prefer the dry moat system, but if we are to have fences, because EUFA insists, we must insist that any fences should at least have sliding gates or, preferably gaps, manned by the police, and that at all times the right of access into and exit from the crowd be maintained for the police and security services.

The hon. Member for Dumfries wanted to know whether these powers would still be exercised by the top-tier authorities in Scotland. The answer is "Yes". He also wanted to know when the Bill would be implemented. The answer is "As soon as it is on the statute book". We first have to consult and then to make an order. Wise clubs will immediately proceed to get on with the work, because we do not intend to have any delay.

I was asked whether there would be flexibility in the arrangements. We want the maximum flexibility, subject always to the over-riding consideration of public safety, which must come first.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the proposed identity card issued by the National Association of Supporters' Clubs. I got my colleagues on the working party to consider the matter. The clubs do not like it, because of delay in examining the cards at the turnstiles. They feel that it would be impracticable. Nevertheless, we are considering, particularly for away matches, how travel tickets, grounds tickets, and such matters can be limited to genuine supporters—shareholders, season ticket holders or members of supporters' clubs. That sort of development would be a great help.

I should like to say a word about Hampden Park. The hon. Gentleman will know, because my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave him an answer yesterday, that we have had the report on Hampden Park for only four weeks. There is a grave financial crisis facing the country, as the hon. Gentleman recognised. When the hon. Gentleman demands immediate implementation of the report at a cost of £15 million, he must be consistent, in terms of the restrictions on public expenditure that he and his right hon. Friends are urging on the Government from time to time.