Sports Grounds (Safety)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th October 1976.

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9.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Safety of Sports Grounds (Designation) (Scotland) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1285), dated 5th August 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th August, be annulled.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I think that it will be for the convenience of the House to take the following three motions, which also stand in the name of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and the names of some of his hon. Friends: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Safety of Sports Grounds (Scotland) Regulations 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1300), dated 5th August 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th August, be annulled.That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Safety of Sports Grounds (Designation) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1264), dated 31st July 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th August, be annulled.That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Safety of Sports Grounds Regulations 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1263), dated 3rd August 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th August, be annulled.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

We all know the history of the regulations we are discussing, which stem from the Wheatley Report following the Ibrox Park disaster. Subsequently, three Bills came before the House. The final one become the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, which had all-party support. I am glad to see such a sound Government team here, including the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. This motion is intended as a probe to give the opportunity to the Government to explain progress and to give some publicity to safety aspects.

My first question is why the designation order has been delayed so long and does not come into effect until 1st January 1977. Throughout the passage of the Act, and in subsequent Press releases, Ministers were talking in terms of "as soon as possible", but they hung tire for over a year, during which time the clubs have not really known what to do and have been awaiting events and guidance. In view of the good summer we have just had, it is a pity that so much time has been wasted for new construction work, because next summer such work will certainly be more expensive.

I hope, too, that the authorities will bear in mind that, however much the Home Office order indicates that these improvements should be carried out next summer, some grounds such as Wembley will have extreme difficulty. Soccer internationals will be played into June next year, and the stadium will be wanted again in August, and therefore some latitude will be needed, despite the great wish to get on as quickly as we can,

Constantly throughout the passage of the legislation the Government and all others concerned said that the clubs to be designated would include the English First and Second Divisions. That was made quite clear, with no ifs or buts about it. This can be confirmed from the Second Reading debate, and particularly the Committee proceedings. In Committee the Minister made quite clear on 1st July 1975—col. 11 of Hansard— that First and Second Division football clubs would be the first to be included.

There may be a very good reason why this has not been done, and the House is entitled to know the reason for the change. Is it solely on account of finance, or is it because the gates have been lower than expected? Last Saturday, in the English Second Division, the maximum gate was 18,000 and the average gate was 14,000. The falling gates of one Saturday do not make a season, but this may be the reason for the exclusion of the Second Division.

If it were to be said that it is entirely on account of the gates, we might well ask why the Scottish Premier Division is included when last Saturday the average gate in Scotland was only 11,000—but we have to bear in mind, of course, the occasions when Glasgow Rangers or Celtic are playing one of the other better known clubs.

It is very important to consider how regulations are to be carried out in relation to cost. The two systems advocated by the Government were the Lotteries Act and the Football Grounds Improvement Trust. The hon. Lady the Undersecretary of State for the Home Department, on Report stage of the Lotteries Bill on 30th April 1975—col. 666 of Hansard—anticipated that about an additional £2 million for football would come from lotteries. This sum was expanded by the Minister of State on the Second Reading of the Bill in June 1975 when he said that he thought it might be £2 million to £3 million a year more. I shall be interested to know whether this is happening and whether the clubs are better placed to implement these regulations.

The regulations would be helped in financial terms by the offer—for which we were all very grateful when it was announced—of the Pools Promoters Association in setting up the Football Grounds Improvement Trust. The Secretary of State then mentioned a figure of £650,000 a year. I hope that it is now nearing £1 million. If the hon. Lady can tell us anything about how this sum will be disbursed towards improvements, we shall be grateful. If we take the figure at £1 million, an average of £25,000 per designated club under this regulation would not go desperately far.

We should also like to know whether all grounds are included in this figure. I understand that Wembley, for one, is excluded. This would presumably apply also to grounds such as Twickenham and Murrayfield, which are not soccer grounds.

The regulations indicate that the local authorities can charge an economic fee for the issue of a certificate. Paragraph 7 of Home Office Circular No. 130/76, which is equivalent to Section 14 of the Act, indicates that 17 man-days' work would be a fair fee. This is all very complicated, and it may be that the hon. Lady will think it much better to have a fixed sum—£100 or £150—paid to one authority. I think that that would be very much more satisfactory than this open-ended opportunity at a time when we are trying to keep down costs as much as possible.

Then we all want to hear the hon. Lady's views about a matter about which all the grounds involved in designation schemes are concerned. They hope that flexibility will be the watchword of the local authorities. Throughout our constructive debates during the passage of the Bill we all warned that the green code must not become a Bible and that there must be a great deal of flexibility in the implementation of the regulations.

During her speech on Third Reading the hon. Lady was good enough to say that she would see that the Home Office circular brought home to local authorities that the green code did not have the force of law. I am pleased to see that she has done this and gone even further. I hope that all local authorities read very carefully what the annex says about the maintenance of the maximum of flexibility. It says in this regard that it should also be noted that the Act provides that the terms and conditions should be as necessary or expedient to secure reasonable safety and that it would be unreasonable, even if it were practicable, to seek the absolute safety of everyone attending the sports stadium. That is very fair, and I am grateful to the Home Office, provided that that theme is carried on by the local authorities implementing the regulations.

If the green code were implemented too strictly, clubs might be let in for excessive expenditure. I have in mind, for example, terrace gradients, which have to be 1 in 6. A little leeway one way or the other would not seem to me of the greatest importance. In the same way, we must have flexibility in the division of spectator accommodation.

I want to press the hon. Lady about the safety certificates which have to be issued under the regulations. It is clear that every stadium in this order has to have a safety certificate and that the local authority, which cannot refuse a certificate, can lay down the conditions.

I know that there are certain clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool which have very near to maximum gates every other week. They are concerned that suddenly the local authority may cut their maximum gates by, say, 10,000. We want careful consideration here and not too strict an interpretation in the early days.

I hope that we can also have some clarification on the special certificate. This is rather important. In the annex to the Home Office circular, it is made clear that only those grounds which have a safety certificate can obtain a special certificate. That does not exactly tally with what the right hon. Gentleman said on 1st July 1975 when we were discussing the position of a major club like Manchester United meeting a non-League or Fourth Division club in a cup tie. Will the special certificate procedure apply in such cases? I should like the Minister to spell out where we stand with the special certificate, because if it is to apply only to designated grounds, it cannot apply to smaller grounds where cup ties might have to be replayed at short notice. We want the procedure under the regulations to be as simple as possible for clubs and local authorities.

What would happen if important grounds like Hillsborough and Stamford Bridge, which are used in cup replays or semi-finals and which are not designated, were required and had not got safety certificates? We want to see great flexibility in the implementation of the regulations. I should like confirmation, as I have had from the Scottish Office, that it is a top-tier responsibility involving regions in Scotland and counties in England. There is anxiety in Scotland that the district authorities are involved when the matter should be a top-tier responsibility. However, it is accepted that the building authority has also to be consulted, along with the police.

Strathclyde has issued a new application form subsequent to the original form recommended by the Scottish Office which appeared to be perfectly adequate. The Home Office circular explains the failure, somewhere in the drafting of the Bill, in relation to Regulation 7 and interested parties. We must live with the Act as it is. It will cost more money for the local authorities and the football clubs if changes in certificates have to be advertised so that any interested party has an opportunity to object. That may happen infrequently, but one would hate to think that it would open the door to all sorts of objections from people who have their knives into a particular football club.

By and large, I welcome the regulations, provided that the clubs are given fair opportunity in the next year to implement them as soon as they can. I hope that the Minister will give help and guidance on how the available money will be disbursed. If she does that, she will help to allay the fears of the clubs.

You might become concerned, Mr. Speaker, if I delved into the reasons behind the Act and the regulations—

It being Ten o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER interrupted the Business.