Sports Grounds (Safety)

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

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 12:00 am, 25th October 1976

The Opposition will give the Government the fullest support in stamping out football hooliganism, a matter which is very much allied to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act and the regulations. If the hon. Lady feels that she does not have the powers to enforce sufficient discipline within the grounds or outside them, she can count on our support, as we believe that strong, stiff custodial sentences are probably among the quickest ways to bring the hooligans to their senses.

If the hon. Lady can at an appropriate time answer some of my questions, that will help the clubs to prepare the way for this important step forward and make football grounds safer for all those who attend matches in them.

10.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Under two of the motions there appears on the Order Paper the rubric: The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have not yet completed their consideration of the Instrument. As Chairman of the Committee, perhaps I may explain that it is a very simple point that it has put to the Home Office. In the case of the Scottish designation order, the grounds are set out in the schedule merely by a description. In the England and Wales order the schedule sets out the name of the ground and alongside it the occupier—"Arsenal Football Club" or whatever it may be. If the occupier changes, perhaps even by a change of name—becoming the Arsenal Football and Athletic Club or something of that sort—does that take the ground out of the order? Why put the occupier in the schedule? It seems to cause some confusion rather than elucidation of the order.

I want to refer to something far more fundamental. To carry out the orders, the designated clubs will require to carry out expenditure. The whole Act under which the orders are made requires the clubs to spend money, and quite properly so. The clubs, the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation hope that the clubs may obtain some of the money from lotteries. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) mentioned two ways in which the money could be raised—lotteries or a certain fund.

The hope that the clubs might raise money from lotteries has fallen to the ground. Therefore, I cannot see how they will carry out the provisions of the order unless further finance is assured to them. We have waited for the Lotteries Act to come into operation. It was passed at the same time as the Act under which the orders are being made, yet, because the regulations under that Act have not been made, nobody can earn any money to pay for the sort of expenditure required under the orders. Indeed, one expected that the regulations would come in before this season started so that the clubs designated under the orders could have had the benefit of raising money by the larger lotteries to be allowed under the Lotteries Act.

The regulations have not come in, and the clubs are now faced with a reduction of income as a result of the statutory instruments now before us. As far as I can understand, clubs will be prevented in future from running the most profitable lottery which they have run in the past, that is, instant bingo, the lottery whereby the little sealed bingo card, fruit card or "golden goal" card is opened and at once the person who has bought it knows whether he or she has won a prize.

The objection to that is that the winning numbers may not all have been sold and the lottery promoters may retain some of the prize money. A solution to that has been put to the Home Office, and I believe that it is acceptable. But now the Gaming Board has scraped the barrel on the interpretation of the Lotteries Act in order to say that it will not register instant bingo as a lottery.

If it is the Government's intention to kill instant bingo for football clubs, let it be remembered that the clubs are not gaining some £2 million or £3 million under the Lotteries Act but they are losing about £5 million, because their instant bingo will be killed and they will not be allowed to use it in future with an increase from the £5,000 per lottery, which can be used now, to £10,000 under the Lotteries Act. There will thus be a loss to the clubs of at least £5 million a year.

I ask the hon. Lady to consider this carefully. She brings these orders and regulations before the House to carry out an important and commendable Act, the Safety of Sports Grounds Act, but the clubs whose grounds are designated will need a far greater income than they have at present to meet the terms of the Act. They hoped for that greater income out of the Lotteries Act. They are being denied that now, 14 months after the Act was passed, and, as one can see from the letter from the Gaming Board to the clubs saying that it will not register instant bingo when the regulations come out, the clubs will not only not make money under the Lotteries Act but will lose millions of pounds if the regulations are brought in.

If the hon. Lady wants her regulations to succeed and she wants the clubs to make their grounds safe, she has to ensure not only that their existing lotteries may continue but that they will have the benefit—it was intended to be a benefit—of the Lotteries Act and have more finance available to them in that way.

Photo of Mr Neil Macfarlane Mr Neil Macfarlane , Sutton and Cheam

I give an initial welcome to the regulations and orders and assure the Under-Secretary of State that brevity will prevail. I am concerned, however, about one omission, and this relates to the categories to which reference was made on Second Reading of the Safety of Sports Grounds Bill, which were, of course, the pillars of what Lord Wheatley presented in his report which formed the platform for the legislation which the House then passed.

I remind the House that on page 14 of his Report of the Inquiry into Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds, Lord Wheatley recommended as follows: I would accordingly recommend that the introduction of the licensing system for grounds where money is charged for admission should be restricted and phased as follows"— and he then gave various categories. Category 1 had two subheads:

  1. "(a) all International Grounds i.e. Hampden Park, Ninian Park, Wembley Stadium, Cardiff Arms Park, Murrayfield and Twickenham.
  2. "(b) all English 1st and 2nd Division Football League grounds and all Scottish 1st Division Football League grounds"—
though we know that the latter are now the Premier Division. This was endorsed by the then Minister of State at the Home Office who said on Second Reading: It is intended, accordingly, that only those grounds in Lord Wheatley's category 1, which are mentioned on page 14 of the report, should be dealt with first, that is to say, the international grounds, the English First and Second Divisions".—[Official Report, 19th June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 1745.] The regulations make no reference to provision at Second Division grounds. It is against the backcloth of a desire for safety that I introduce this aspect. It is essential that these grounds are prepared for the regulations for which they were intended. Many clubs in the Second Division will have been relegated from the First Division or will be expecting promotion.

Yesterday's papers carried statistics of attendances at Second Division matches. There were 18,000 people at Fulham, more than 10,000 at Bristol and 15,000 at Blackburn, Nottingham, Oldham and Wolverhampton. All these attendances were in excess of the figure of 10,000 referred to so frequently in the Act.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will make specific recommendations and refer to the timetable for introducing Second Division grounds into the category proposed by the former Minister of State at the Home Office and included in the Wheatley Report. Many of these grounds will be staging cup ties in the next few months and their omission could be serious.

There are many other grounds not necessarily required to be graded as category 1, including multi-purpose stadia. One example near my constituency is Wimbledon, which would not qualify for categorisation but which has crowds of well over 10,000 and is used for a wide range of sporting activities including greyhound racing, speedway and stock-car racing. White City may be in the same category.

It would make many families much happier if the hon. Lady indicated that these stadia were to be included in the categorization.

10.12 p.m.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

I thank the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) for his general welcome for the Act, the orders and the regulations.

The Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 was brought into force with effect from 1st September 1975. From that date county councils and the regional authorities have been empowered by Section 11 to enter and inspect sports grounds and to apply to a magistrates' court for an order under Section 10 prohibiting or restricting the admission of spectators to a ground when they consider the risk to be so great as to justify such action.

The main instrument of control under the Act, however, is the safety certificate which will enable the local authority to impose such terms and conditions as are necessary to ensure a reasonable standard of safety at the ground in question.

Lord Wheatley in his report recommended that a system for licensing grounds should be introduced in phases and that the first phase should cover the international grounds, the English First and Second Division Football League grounds and the Scottish First Division grounds. There has been a significant fall in attendance figures at football matehes since Lord Wheatley reported. Risks are at their greatest when large crowds are present and densities are high. In these circumstances, it was thought right to restrict the first designation order, in the case of England and Wales, to the international grounds and the grounds of the clubs in the First Division of the League.

However, the designation of Second Division grounds has been deferred until we have reviewed the effects of the first order. They will be designated in due course.

Photo of Mr Neil Macfarlane Mr Neil Macfarlane , Sutton and Cheam

Is there any possible timetable that the hon. Lady could include? Presumably everybody must be hoping for a resurgence of attendance at football grounds in the Second Division.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

That aspect will be taken into account if and when there is a resurgence. The hon. Gentleman hopes that there will be a resurgence. At the moment, the risks have gone down because attendance figures have dropped. This matter is in abeyance. Certainly Second Division grounds will be designated, but the matter will be reviewed when the first order has been implemented for some time so that we can see its effect.

Photo of Mr Neil Macfarlane Mr Neil Macfarlane , Sutton and Cheam

Is it not mandatory as the Act specifically refers to those grounds capable of holding in excess of 10,000 spectators?

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

The expectation was that Second Division grounds would be designated. That expectation was based on high attendance figures, which have now fallen. When circumstances change, Second Division grounds will be subject to an order.

Regarding the timing of the order, there is a requirement under Section 18(4) of the Act that the various interested bodies must be consulted before any order is made. We consulted the football and local authorities concerned over applications and appeals procedures and the fees to be charged to the clubs. That took time. We decided that it would be for the benefit of the clubs generally to time the designation order so as to enable them to carry out the more major works in the close season. Therefore, the order was made in July to come into operation in January next.

It has been suggested that local authorities should defer making safety certificates until August—that is, after the next close season. By 1st January 1977 designated clubs must have applied for safety certificates if they wish to continue to admit spectators to their grounds and conform with the requirements of the Act. As I have said, the issue of safety certificates will be deferred until August 1977. That will not only give clubs the opportunity to carry out ground improvements up till then, but enable more funds to accrue to the Football Grounds Improvement Trust and be available to clubs to meet the cost of the safety measures which may be required of them.

By far the greatest help to clubs in meeting the requirements of the Act will come from the Football Grounds Improvement Trust. I understand that £1½ million may be available by the time clubs carry out the necessary work. The trust is independent, so it will decide how the money should be disbursed. I understand that trust funds will be available to meet the cost of safety measures car-tied out before the grounds concerned were designated. Therefore, clubs will not be penalised for having made an early start on ground improvements.

The hon. Member for Dumfries specifically asked about Wembley Stadium. Wembley Stadium Limited has written to the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation indicating that it will not have time to carry out major ground improvements during the close season of 1977—namely, May until the end of July—as the stadium's sporting activities do not cease until mid-June. It will be unfortunate if Wembley Stadium has a shorter close season than do the League football clubs in which to carry out ground improvements, if that should happen, Wembley Stadium may have to have the necessary ground improvements carried out in stages and to limit the number of spectators admitted to the ground until the work is completed.

I understand that the stadium authorities also said that the Greater London Council is not being flexible in its approach and is applying the "Guide to the Safety of Sports Grounds" as statutory regulations to be adhered to in every respect. The Government have taken every opportunity provided by seminars and circulars to impress on local authorities the need to be flexible in their approach, as was urged by the hon. Gentleman, and to treat the advice in the "Guide to the Safety of Sports Grounds" for what it is—guidelines only. If any club or stadium authority considers that its local authority is requiring unreasonable safety measures to be carried out, it may appeal to the Secretary of State against any requirement which is made a condition of a safety certificate. The terms and conditions in question are suspended until the appeal is determined.

I was asked about the difference between the Scottish designation orders and the others before us tonight. Both the Safety of Sports Grounds (Designation) Order 1976 and its Scottish counterpart designate football grounds which require safety certifications under the Act. However, the schedules to the designation orders differ and their dissimilarity is marked. That covering England and Wales names the occupiers of the stadia, while that for Scotland does not. The reason for including the occupiers' names in the schedule covering ground south of the border is that Old Trafford, Manchester, is the address of both the Manchester United Football Club and the test match cricket ground. To ensure that there can be no confusion as to the ground designated, it was decided to name the occupiers of the ground. No similar confusion can arise when only the addresses of the Scottish grounds are given.

I was asked what happens when a ground which is not designated attracts a team with a large following—for example, Manchester United for the FA Cup—and therefore expects a maximum crowd. If the local authority felt that there was an extreme risk to the safety of spectators attending the game, it could apply to the magistrates' court for an order under Section 10 prohibiting or restricting the admission of spectators to the ground.

Only clubs which have been designated can obtain a special certificate following the issue of a general safety certificate. The strict timetable provided in the regulations for a local authority to consider each stage of an application for a special certificate and for the Secretary of State to consider appeals is necessary because a special safety certificate is required for a specific occasion and any appeals must, therefore, be completed in advance of the date on which that event is due to take place. However, we have tried to ease the burden by advising local authorities and football clubs that every effort should be made to ensure that all activities are included in the general safety certificate, the aim being to eliminate the need for special safety certificates.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I thank the hon. Lady for the trouble she is taking. When a small ground is visited by a major club, conditions are laid down as a result of consultation between the club, the police and the local authority, and a special certificate does not apply.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

The purpose of a special certificate is to deal with a specific occasion such as a pop festival or religious gathering. The general certificate deals with ordinary football matches.

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) referred to the lottery regulations. I am aware of the point that the right hon. Member raised about the letter from the Gaming Board. I am writing to him on this matter, which came to my attention recently. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the legality of instant bingo is very much in doubt. I have a copy of the letter from the Gaming Board and I shall certainly write to the right hon. Gentleman and enlarge on what I have just said.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Can the hon. Lady give any hope to the House that it will be possible for clubs to raise finance from lotteries? She has just mentioned that they can raise £1½ million from the fund, but they could raise much more from lotteries if she brings them into operation and allows clubs to continue with instant bingo.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

Certainly the Lotteries Act will be of great help to the clubs, but the subject of instant bingo is another matter about which I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman.

With reference to the Strathclyde application form, the regulations specify that the application should take the form contained in the schedule to the regulations or a form to the like effect. I am satisfied that the Strathclyde form is to the like effect. It asks for certain additional information, such as plans to a specific scale, which it is open to the local authority to require under Section 3(4) of the Act.

There has been great concern about the cost to clubs of these measures and we are very aware of the financial difficulties facing the football world at the moment. But hon. Members will be aware of the established policy that occupiers of premises should take whatever measures are necessary for the safety of their customers while they are on the premises and should finance such measures themselves. However, we have restricted the first designation order to 27 grounds in England and Wales—in order to do everything we can to help in the financing—and to 12 grounds in Scotland. We have limited to the minimum the number of clubs to which the fund of the Football Grounds Improvement Trust will be available in the first instance. We have arranged the timing of the designation order and its operational date.

With the suggestion to local authorities that the issue of safety certificates might be deferred until the 1977–78 season, the need for clubs to incur expenditure on safety measures will be delayed as long as reasonably possible so that as much funds as possible will have accrued to the Football Grounds Improvement Trust. Furthermore, we have emphasised to local authorities that there must be flexibility in their approach and that only reasonable safety measures should be required.

Taxation relief should also be of help to the clubs. The total expenditure on fixed plant and machinery may be offset against taxable income in the first order. This will cover such items as sprinklers, fire alarm systems, floodlighting, remove-able seating and so on. Moreover, taxation relief is available in respect of expenditure on structural works required under the Safety of Sports Grounds Acts and there is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against any requirements of the local authority thought to be unreasonable.

I think I have covered all the points that were raised. On the general very serious topic of the incidence of football hooliganism, I can assure the hon. Member for Dumfries that the Secretary of State is extremely concerned about the matter. He is working with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Snort and Recreation, with chief constables and with the Scottish Football Association.

There is to be a working party under the chairmanship of the Minister for Sport and Recreation to look into this whole matter and the Lord Advocate is to consider whether it might be arranged for higher penalties to be attracted, for example, by instructing that charges of hooliganism are taken before the sheriff court rather than the district court and by ensuring that breaches are taken on the most serious charges that may be justified. For example, some cases now taken as breaches of the peace might be taken as rioting.

Question put and negatived.