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Orders of the Day — Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 30th March 1987.

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Order for Second Reading read

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 6:32 pm, 30th March 1987

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Despite the complexity of the Bill—a fact for which I apologise — its purpose is simple: to provide more effective protection from the dangers caused by fire and to ensure a higher standard of public safety at those sporting fixtures where a serious risk to public safety may exist. I shall come to the detailed provisions in a moment, but before doing so I want to give the House some idea of the general form of the Bill.

Part I of the Bill amends the Fire Precautions Act 1971. The Bill has six main purposes. They are as follows: first, to provide for exemption of certain low risk premises from the need to have fire certificates; secondly, to provide for limited charges for the issue or amendment of fire certificates; thirdly, to impose a duty on the occupiers of exempt and non-certificated premises to provide reasonable standards of fire precautions; fourthly, to impose upon the owners or occupiers of premises who have applied for certification a statutory duty to maintain a certain level of fire safety whilst their application is pending. Fifthly, the Bill enables fire authorities to issue prohibition notices in respect of premises where there is a serious risk to persons. Lastly, the Bill imposes on fire authorities a duty to inspect premises at intervals to be specified in guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State.

I shall now summarise parts II. III and IV of the Bill. They implement many of the recommendations of the Popplewell report and are designed to achieve greater safety at sports grounds and indoor sports premises. This purpose is achieved by amending the provisions of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and by the introduction of new provisions.

This part of the Bill has five major objectives, as follows. The first objective is to give to local authorities the power to prohibit or restrict the admission of spectators to grounds where there are serious risks. Secondly, stands which hold 500 or more spectators under cover at all undesignated sports grounds will require a safety certificate. Thirdly, local authorities will be required to carry out inspections of designated sports grounds and grounds containing regulated stands in accordance with guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

Fourthly, all appeals under the Act, including appeals against terms and conditions contained in safety certificates, will be directed to the court and not to the Secretary of State. Lastly, for indoor sports premises, licensing legislation will be extended so that licences will generally be required for indoor sports events to which the public are invited as spectators. In summary, those are the provisions contained in the Bill.

I now want to revert to part I of the Bill, which amends the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and seeks to express in statutory form lessons which have been learnt as a result of a thorough review of the working of that Act. These proposals reflect the outcome of consultative documents published in 1985 and 1986.

Under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 fire authorities are required to certificate all premises that are put to a use designated under the Act and not otherwise exempted. Generally speaking, they include most hotels and boarding houses and those offices, shops, factories and railway premises where more than 20 people are employed to work at any one time, or more than 10 are employed on any floor other than the ground floor. In the case of offices, shops, factories and railway premises, it is known that many of these premises present little risk to persons in case of fire. To certificate them is not the most effective use of fire brigade resources.

Clause 1 of the Bill enables the Secretary of State to specify in a designation order descriptions of premises which may be exempted. That general provision is of course subject to a number of qualifications of which I mention three. It is not intended that any hotels or boarding houses which are currently subject to certification should be capable of exemption. That is because they are not regarded as being low risk. Secondly, whilse the order will describe the classes of premises which may be considered for exemption, the decision to exempt will be made by the fire authority. Lastly, exemption will not relieve the owner or occupier from a duty to maintain standards of fire safety. Clause 5 will require exempted premises to comply with a duty to make provision for adequate means of escape and fire-fighting equipment.

There are three other aspects of part I of the Bill which require rather more detailed mention.

The Bill imposes a duty on the fire authority to reinspect premises already inspected and to inspect other premises as may be directed. Under the 1971 Act there is no duty on fire authorities to reinspect premises which have been certificated, although as a matter of practice most brigades do so. The Bill requires fire authorities to inspect premises in accordance with such guidance as the Secretary of State may give. Secondly, the Bill makes provision for a fire authority to issue a prohibition notice. Under the 1971 Act the fire authority may apply to a court for an order restricting or prohibiting the use of premises where there is a serious risk to persons in the event of fire. The Bill gives the fire authority the right to serve a prohibition notice which can come into effect immediately on issue.

Thirdly, as I have said, the Bill makes provision for financial charges. It is the Government's policy that, wherever possible, the cost of local authority services should be borne by those who use them. Clause 3 enables fire authorities to charge fees to recover the costs of certification other than the cost of inspection. In substance, the fees will reflect the cost of administrative work such as obtaining further information from applicants, drawing up plans and preparing certificates. The charges to be recovered must not exceed the actual costs incurred, and I emphasise that the charges will not extend to the inspection of the premises.

Parts II, III and IV of the Bill concern the implementation of the Popplewell report. As I have already given a broad outline of the provisions, I shall concentrate on four aspects. A major feature is the power to issue prohibition notices under clauses 23 and 24. Under the 1975 Act, the local authority must apply to a court for an order to restrict or prohibit the admission of spectators to a ground where there is a serious risk to spectators. The Bill provides that the local authority itself may serve a notice on the ground management where there is a serious risk to spectators. The notice may apply to the whole ground or to part of the ground. The Bill provides for a right of appeal to the courts.

The second aspect to which I wish to make specific reference is the duty of inspection provided by clauses 25 and 34. The Bill places a duty on the authority to arrange for periodic follow-up inspections of designated sports grounds and grounds which contain regulated stands. Most local authorities already carry out such inspections at designated grounds and the Popplewell report recommended that the practice should be made mandatory. The Government have accepted an amendment passed in another place requiring inspections of designated grounds to be made annually. Otherwise, the frequency and extent of the inspections will be as directed by the Secretary of State.

I should like to mention those provisions in the Bill which provide for safety certificates for regulated stands. Perhaps the major innovation in this part of the Bill is that a permanent stand which provides covered accommodation for 500 or more spectators at an undesignated sports ground will require a safety certificate. Such a stand will be referred to as a regulated stand. The provisions of part III of the Bill apply to all undesignated sports grounds, regardless of the sport involved. The certification of regulated stands will be similar to that for designated sports grounds under the 1975 Act and may contain terms and conditions relating to such matters as exit routes, fire precautions and spectator capacity. As a consequence of these measures, and provided that the stands are used properly, the public may be confident that reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that they are accommodated in safety.

Lastly, I wish to deal with the provisions relating to safety at indoor sports premises. Part IV of the Bill extends the system of public entertainment licensing to cover spectator sports activities conducted indoors. Subject to minor qualifications, the result will be that premises used for entertainments consisting of any sporting event to which the public are invited as spectators will require a licence. This will allow the licensing authority to consider all aspects of safety, including fire precautions and structural matters.

Since the Bradford fire, we have all become more conscious of the danger that may arise when large crowds congregate at sports events. The main purpose of the Bill is to reduce that risk and to take practical measures to ensure greater safety for spectators at sporting fixtures. The other purpose of the Bill is to incorporate in statutory form the conclusions that have emerged from a comprehensive review of the 1971 Act.

I am pleased to say that the Bill received all-party support in another place. I commend it to this House and hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Battersea 6:45 pm, 30th March 1987

I, too, welcome the Bill. It represents a worthwhile advance in fire safety and the Opposition will ensure that there are no unnecessary delays in getting it through the House provided that we can subject it to proper scrutiny. We certainly want the Bill to become law. I do not think that it is immodest to point out that the important improvements made in another place were largely at the instigation of Labour Members, and we shall seek to improve the Bill still further in Committee.

An important aspect of the background to this legislation was the tragic fire at Bradford City football ground which led to understandable concern about the safety of sports grounds. The Bradford fire gave rise to the Popplewell inquiry and I welcome the findings of that inquiry, many of which are incorporated in the Bill.

With regard to fire safety generally, the latest available statistics show that in 1984 there were just under 450,000 fires in the United Kingdom, of which just over 100,000 were in occupied buildings; there were 887 fatal casualties, and more than 11,000 non-fatal casualties, and many thousands of people were rescued by fire brigades.

I wish to consider in a little more detail the more than 100,000 fires which occurred in occupied buildings as they are relevant to some of the provisions of the Bill. Most of those fires—nearly 59,000—occurred in dwellings, but there were about 7,500 in private garages and sheds and about 8,000 in industrial premises other than construction industry or agricultural premises. There were also about 1,700 fires in hotels, hostels and boarding houses and about 1,500 in places of public entertainment. Those categories do not exactly match those covered by the Bill, but they are relevant to them, as I shall make clear later.

First, however, I wish to deal with the question of charges. I believe that this is the first time that any charge has been contemplated in this country for any matter to do with fire safety and I believe that it is a retrograde step. I fully appreciate that the charges provided for in the Bill relate to administrative matters and not to the cost of inspecting premises. Ministers have assured us in another place and in this House today that the charges will be kept as low as possible, but to me it is a matter of principle that there should be no charge for any aspect of fire safety because such a charge may act as a deterrent to people in ensuring that premises are properly inspected and certificated. If a charge attaches to any element in that work, the deterrent effect may lead to lower standards of fire safety. That represents the thin end of the wedge.

Once we have embarked upon the path of charging people or firms for matters to do with fire safety, there is no end to it and step by step the Government could say, "Let us recoup more of the cost of the fire services by increasing the charges." I urge the Minister to think again. In Committee we shall seriously challenge that principle. No adequate justification for it has been put forward so far, whether in this House or in the other place. I should be surprised if the Minister could produce in Committee any argument to defend that proposal.

My second concern relates to an aspect of clause 1 which, I believe, was the subject of considerable argument in another place. It concerns the exemption from the requirement for a fire certificate. I notice that instead of making mandatory some aspects of inspections and the collection of information, those matters are optional. When making a decision on whether to grant an exemption, a fire authority may require the applicant or, as the case may be, the occupier of the premises to give such information as the fire authority requires about the premises and any matter connected with them; and (b) cause to be carried out an inspection of the relevant building.

It is provided that the fire authority may make that decision without requiring any such information to be given or causing any such inspection to be carried out.

I am not satisfied that there is a sound basis for making that entirely discretionary. It would be better if people were obliged to provide that information and if there were an obligatory inspection of the relevant building.

I appreciate that the thrust of the Government's argument is that we should use fire service resources to the best advantage, and that there is a fear that the fire services may be obliged to spend too much of their time on small buildings or on buildings which are identical to other types of buildings and which, therefore, do not all need to be inspected. However, there is a simple answer to that. If the buildings are all of a type, and if the Minister says that the fire authority need not inspect all the buildings because of that, it follows that the inspection would be quick and need not take up too much of the fire authority's resources. The same would apply if the premises were small.

I have had discussions with and representations from the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers. Bluntly, it is concerned about safety standards in what would normally be called sweat shops, and in small premises relating to the clothing industry. Many hon. Members will know that there was a tragic fire in one of those premises in the Mile End road in October 1983 in which five women died. That gave rise to a further wave of concern about safety standards, especially fire safety standards, in such premises.

The Minister said that small premises were not covered and gave some figures. He talked about factories and other types of premises being covered in which there are more than 20 people, or more than 10 elsewhere than on the ground floor. Therefore, smaller premises would not be covered. Although there may be many types of small premises in which fire risks are slight, I am concerned that in the clothing trade all the evidence suggests that the fire risks are not small. It is not right that those buildings should be exempt from general provisions that apply to other premises.

Another type of premises is the one that is normally called "houses in multiple occupation". Having studied the Hansard of the other place, I am aware that when this matter was raised there the Minister in charge of the Bill stated that the inspection of houses in multiple occupation came under housing legislation and was the responsibility of local authorities. However, we know that local authorities do not adequately inspect houses in multiple occupation, and that a person living in such a dwelling has nine times the chance of suffering death through fire than a person living in any other type of residential dwelling. We also know that, of the 350,000 or so houses in multiple occupation, about 127,000 do not have an effective means of escape from fire. The Minister may argue that that is more properly a matter for housing legislation, but I would say no.

This is a worthwhile Bill dealing with fire safety, and I cannot for the life of me see why it should not also cover matters relating to the safety from fire in houses of multiple occupation. The Minister will be aware that there has been an enormous campaign for many years to try to improve the safety standards in such residential accommodation. It would be sensible to say that now that legislation is before us, which, in the main is not controversial but is widely accepted on both sides of House, we want it to go further and to apply to houses in multiple occupation.

I turn to the second area covered by the Bill, safety at places of sport. I recently visited Chelsea football club. I appreciate that that club is already covered by other measures and that, therefore, its premises would not be changed by this legislation. Nevertheless, I went to look at the safety measures there, at the police control of the crowds and at the other measures. I was impressed by the safety measures that I saw. I was also impressed by the way in which the police controlled the crowds. On that occasion Chelsea was playing Manchester United and a big crowd was expected. I was impressed at the way in which, through television or video screens, the police monitored the crowd within the ground and in the adjoining streets. It was an impressive operation and I began better to understand the enormous efforts that are made to try to ensure the safety of crowds at football clubs.

Prior to this Bill similar provisions have not been quite so readily applicable to other types of sports grounds. Therefore, I welcome this measure. I am not referring now to police control and am not suggesting that the Bill should cover that. However, it contains other measures relating to safety and I welcome those. I notice, for example, that in grounds for 10,000 or more spectators—I believe that that covers 163 grounds in this country—there will be further provisions for safety as described in the Bill.

I am not completely certain about one measure. According to the Popplewell recommendations, there are 300 stadiums which house 500 or more people. They will be covered by the scope of the Bill. I wonder whether 500 is too large a cut-off point. There must be quite a number of sports stadiums and sports grounds which accommodate fewer than 500 people but in which safety measures are still important. If, for example, 300 or 400 people were in a stadium, there might be a significant risk if there were not adequate fire safety measures. Although I appreciate that one cannot cover such matters all in one go because that would put too big a burden on the fire services, I should have thought it worthwhile to consider lowering the cut-off point from 500 people.

Finally, one point which concerns me was not mentioned in the other place, has not yet been mentioned here, and, so far as I can tell, is not referred to in the Bill. It relates to emergency lighting in sports grounds. Increasingly sports grounds have floodlighting so that spectators may attend events in the evening. That seems worthwhile and sensible. However, there are serious risks even in a relatively small ground if the main lighting fails and there is inadequate emergency lighting. I wonder whether the Minister would comment on that. If there is no provision in other legislation, and as far as I know there is none, there are serious dangers if the main lighting fails and there is no emergency lighting. There would be chaos at a sports ground if several thousand people were suddenly pitched into utter darkness through the failure of the floodlighting and other lighting.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that sports grounds should have three circuits? Floodlighting is on a different circuit from normal lighting, so is he suggesting that there should be a third circuit? That seems extravagant.

Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Battersea

Floodlighting mainly covers the pitch. I am talking about the lighting that enables spectators to move in and out of the ground and the stands. I was not aware that floodlighting lit the stands. If the lighting in the stands fails, the floodlighting would not enable spectators to see their way in and out of the ground.

This is a welcome measure. We should like to take it a little further in Committee and to ensure that it reaches the statute book. It has the support of many organisations, including the Fire Brigades Union and the fire service, both of which are keen that it should reach the statute book quickly. I should be reluctant to see it die halfway through because of a general election. [Interruption.] I shall be happy to see a general election called, but I should like the Bill to be passed first. We shall do our best to ensure that the Bill is given proper scrutiny and a quick passage in Committee. It will add significantly to safety at places of work and sports grounds.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North 7:02 pm, 30th March 1987

It is a pleasure to take part in a debate in which there will obviously be all-party accord. I certainly concur with the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) that we should like the Bill to pass through the House as quickly as possible, albeit with certain alterations in Committee. I agree that some aspects have been omitted.

The Bill has come about because of various tragic events, including the fire at Bradford, the problems at the Heysel stadium, and the preceding crowd control problems at Birmingham and Luton Town football clubs. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) in his usual place behind the Front Bench because he will know that I was at Luton on that sad March evening. That experience made me give evidence to the Popplewell committee and perhaps spurred us all into action.

We must remember that this excellent Bill covers all sports, and not merely soccer stadiums. As the hon. Gentleman said, soccer stadiums must already comply with legislative requirements. It is a little disappointing to see the sparse attendance on both Benches, especially considering the number of stadiums that will be affected, and it would have been nice to see some representatives from sports other than soccer because this far-reaching Bill will affect more clubs than hon. Members perhaps at present imagine. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) present.

The proposals of the hon. Member for Battersea to reduce the numbers in the stands and to erect other stands may result in village stadiums which do not have as many barriers and fences as major stadiums. I hope that this Bill will give us an opportunity to make grounds more open. I shall restrict my remarks to parts II and III, particularly to the provisions that deal with crowd control.

Hon. Members do not need to be reminded that football hooliganism has played a large part in forming and necessitating the Bill. It is not a modern problem and it is not restricted to the United Kingdom, although the media sometimes give that impression. Many of us who have experienced hooliganism understand the problems of crowd control, particularly in and around football grounds. The Bill addresses football hooliganism and crowd control. We must remember that many problems and fatalities in stadiums have occurred, not necessarily because of bad behaviour, but because many people are crammed into a small area. Their ability to leave the ground has been restricted in various ways, as was tragically seen at Bradford, and the Bill must address that.

Because of football hooliganism and the troubles that it has brought to various clubs we have almost inevitably begun to pen fans in, which has caused additional problems of crowd control. We have erected fences not so much around pitches as around stands to prevent spectators from running on to the pitch and from throwing missiles on to it. We have had to erect safety barriers to control crowds and prevent them crushing people and, perhaps more sadly, to segregate opposing fans from each other.

The enormous amount of work done in that area since the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 has been funded largely by the Football Trust. Last week a tribute was paid in the House to its work and I endorse that this evening. Where large numbers of people congregate, particularly in football stadiums, we tend to put them into cages and pens. Some would say that, because of the way they behave, that is the only place for them. But that has resulted in additional problems of getting them out.

I vividly remember the sad night in March at the Luton-Millwall game. Part of the problem was that the overcapacity crowd had to spill on to the pitch; the stadium was not big enough to hold them. That is when our problems of hooliganism got worse. I am not ashamed to promote the lessons we learned from the experience. We in Luton have taken measures, some of which were recommended by Popplewell, to counteract that. After the Luton-Milwall game the Football League proposed that the club should be fined £5,000 and should erect a fence all the way around the ground to prevent spectators from running on to the pitch. Two months later we had the tragedy at the Bradford stadium and immediately that restriction was withdrawn. The tragedy is that the Football League in its wisdom thought it fit to keep the crowd off the pitch in that way.

Popplewell addressed the problem and perhaps it is a pity that nothing in the Bill deals with access to the pitch. Recommendation 35 on page 81 states: The Group further recommends that the importance of allowing full access to the pitch where this is likely to be used as a place of safety in emergency should be made plain. On that evening that access was extremely important. Indeed, if the fence had been erected, a fire would have resulted in tragedy. It was pleasing to note that the Football League immediately withdrew its recommendation. We in football should remove fences, barriers and segregated areas rather than put them up if we are to introduce the family atmosphere that we enjoy at Luton. Recommendation 57 on page 83 of the report states: In particular, at the present time segregation should not be advocated for sports other than soccer.

In other words, Mr. Justice Popplewell was against segregation. The Bill might have addressed that problem. The experience in Luton since we banned away fans has been quite remarkable. The atmosphere on the terraces is friendly. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South will support me because he has, perhaps, had more experience with the town than I have. Luton is a pleasant place. We have tried to bring back the family atmosphere, and that is difficult to engender if opposing fans are determined to wreck not only the ground but the town. We at Luton have certainly found one of the answers to segregation. One of the other answers that Mr. Justice Popplewell put forward—it is not in the Bill but might be introduced in Committee—is membership. I refer the House to page 46, paragraph 4.128 of the Popplewell report, which states: I recommend that consideration should continue to be given to some form of membership scheme for Football League clubs in England and Wales.

If we had a full membership scheme, there would be no need for fences, barriers or any type of restrictions at any of our grounds. That is certainly the experience that we have had at Luton. I am amazed that those who oppose all-membership schemes are happy to accept all-ticket matches for big games but do not want all-ticket matches for the rest of the season.

This is a good Bill and one that is needed. It could be improved in Committee by amendments and new clauses that will open sports grounds further. That is what we should do. The Bill, perhaps, slightly misses its purpose, but nonetheless it will have the support of all hon. Members. It is a worthwhile measure which certainly deserves support both inside and outside the House.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire 7:12 pm, 30th March 1987

I also welcome the Bill. On Second Reading, I wish it well, though there will be points that we shall wish to put forward in Committee.

When children from my constituency come to the House of Commons, they tend to say, after a tour and after a talk, "Do we not have too much legislation?" Whereas on the whole one tends to consider that they are right, a Bill such as this is necessary because of the events that preceded it. This Bill will improve standards, and one only regrets the fact that it must follow the tragic events of 11 May 1985 at Valley Parade in Bradford.

We welcome the fact that the recommendations of the Popplewell committee have been taken into account—which is greatly to the credit both of the Government and of Mr. Justice Popplewell, whose wise words have been heeded, including the words about annual inspections, which are applauded by both sides of the House.

Clause 22 now allows local authorities to issue a notice on those responsible for administering a ground, restricting or prohibiting the admission of spectators until a risk is reduced. Before the introduction of clause 22, local authorities had to apply to a magistrates' court for an order to restrict entry. Does that mean that local authorities can take action without reference to a fire authority? I shall be happy to have an answer now, but I am content to wait until the Minister has examined the matter.

In another place, Lord Taylor of Gryfe mentioned the Consumers Association and its criticism of the Bill for not adequately addressing the issue of informing the public about hazards.

The House will know that I have spent much of my time over the years in this place pursuing issues connected with access to and freedom of information. In Committee, I shall seek to table an amendment in which the Consumers Association's philosophy is enshrined, whereby there will be a duty on the part of sports facilities to inform the public of the fire regulations and the situation in respect of facilitating exist in case of disaster.

Some may ask, "What is the point of this sort of amendment? Nobody reads the small print; notices get stuck on walls but nobody reads them." That may be right for 96 out of 100 people, but the other four are those on whom the public depend. They tend to be local journalists, consumer associations or simply spectators who are more concerned with safety than are others. An amendment such as that, to which I hope the Government will consent, would have substantial appeal.

I hope that the Minister will keep his eye most specifically on the charges that are to be made, one accepts not for the inspection, but for administration. I am concerned that there will be no equality in the charges and that different parts of the country will impose different fees. That will not necessarily have anything to do with the identity of those who seek a fire certificate. The point made by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) about extending the Bill, which is something that, in opposition, the Government sought to do to every Bill that came before the House, is realistically argued in respect of houses in multiple occupation. More and more local authorities arc forced by the shortage in council houses to put people into such accommodation; they deserve sympathy and must have the same safety regulations as those that apply to people who are more conveniently housed. I support the Bill and am grateful to the Government for bringing it in.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lawler Mr Geoffrey Lawler , Bradford North 7:17 pm, 30th March 1987

I shall long remember the atmosphere at Valley Parade on the December day when the new ground was opened. There was a capacity crowd with a number of people who, in many respects, had every right to be the most nervous about returning to a packed football stand, and yet at the same time were the most eager to go back to the ground that had experienced such a tragic event. They did so because they had faith that lessons had been learnt from the tragedy and that the club, on the advice of the architect and of Mr. Justice Popplewell, had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that they should feel safe and secure and that their confidence should be restored. Fencing had certainly been installed on one stand, yet it did not seem to deter those who might have imagined only too vividly how much more tragic it would have been if fencing had been installed on the stand that burnt down. They returned because they had confidence. The Bill gives that same confidence to many millions of people who regularly attend sporting events.

Unfortunately, it seems that all too often a disaster of that magnitude must occur before lessons are learnt and actions are taken. Despite the Bill and any other measures that the House may pass, all possible events can never be foreseen. Unfortunately, disasters will always happen.

The public have a right to expect the Government and Parliament to learn from disasters and to take appropriate action. We would be highly irresponsible if we failed in that duty. As far as possible, people expect us to minimise the danger of that sort of event recurring. The public do not expect measures or us to be perfect; they accept that there will always be the unforeseen. However, they will accept that only if the Government and Parliament have taken all possible steps to ensure their safety, whether on cross-Channel ferries or in sporting stadiums.

Part of the reason for this debate is the work of Mr. Justice Popplewell. We all pay tribute to him for the work that he put into his report. It is fitting that he was invited to Valley Parade to reopen the new ground, because his efforts and interest went beyond the call of duty and earned him great respect in the city of Bradford. I know that he has earned great respect in this House.

In the aftermath of a tragedy, one way of measuring how effective a piece of legislation will be is to determine whether the disaster would have happened if the legislation had been on the statute book at the time. I am convinced that if this legislation had been in place the tragedy of May 1985 would not have taken place. The local authority would have inspected the ground annually and the great fire risk of the accumulated rubbish and lack of sufficient egress from the ground would have been discovered. Instead of hesitating about taking the club to court, as the local authority had to do under previous legislation, it would have been able to close the ground straightaway and prevent access by spectators. In any case, after August 1985 the ground would have been designated, as were the grounds of all third and fourth division clubs.

Like the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), I welcome the amendment in the other place which requires annual inspections. I understand that that will not be too much of a burden for the fire service and it will give spectators extra peace of mind. I welcome the fact that the Government have incorporated that amendment in the Bill.

In matters like this, a balance must always be struck between what is a practicable and reasonable burden and what is necessary to ensure people's safety. This Bill comes down on the right side of that balance. There are one or two points of concern which I hope will be looked at in Committee. One of them has been mentioned and it is the figure of 500 for the number of people that a stand may accommodate before it requires a safety certificate.

There must always be an arbitrarily chosen figure, but one can picture the horror if a stand accommodating 450 people, and which, therefore, is not required to have a safety certificate, collapsed or burnt down in the same tragic way as the stand at Valley Parade did. I hope that that does not have to happen before the Government consider whether the figure of 500 is right. I hope that the Committee will look long and hard at whether 500 is the right level at which to pitch the threshold.

The alternatives are stronger legislation or self-compliance. In terms of self-compliance, no one doubts that in most cases management is highly responsible. Equally, no one doubts that management is only human and can be fallible and that, despite the best intentions, the management of a stand that accommodates fewer than 500 people could find itself with a structure that did not meet the requirements necessary for a safety certificate. I hope that we will consider putting in a proviso to enable the Secretary of State to alter the figure by order or in the legislation itself. Of course, there is the ultimate sanction that a ground can be closed if it is considered unsafe. However, an extra guarantee of safety would be welcome.

There is no provision in the Bill to govern the materials used in the construction of stands. Part of the problem at Bradford was that the timber and the tar roof enabled the fire to spread very rapidly. Even though timber providers and roofing contractors maintain that there is sufficient egress, it is still a source of worry if combustible materials are used in the construction of a stand.

In the building regulations issued in November 1985 I was most disturbed to discover that it is still possible for a stand to be built of exactly the same materials as those which were used in the construction of the Bradford City stand. I hope that the matter will be tackled in the legislation or that the Department of the Environment will look again at the building regulations and alter the guidance to ensure that stands similar to the one that burnt down at Bradford City can never again be built to accommodate large numbers of spectators.

One further matter of concern that Mr. Justice Popplewell mentioned in his report is guidance about fire and safety standards generally for temporary stands and marquees. As we approach the summer, increasingly we see such structures springing up on village greens and in fields. They are a source of worry. I hope that that factor will be taken into account.

In the last few years there has been little encouragement to people to return to football matches. On top of the prevalent violence at football grounds, the Bradford City football disaster was an extra deterrent to people to go to places where there is a large number of spectators, and especially to football matches. Unfortunately, we can never legislate to remove hooliganism, although one hopes that the steps currently being taken to reduce violence at our football grounds will be effective.

The Bill goes a long way towards helping to reduce the chances of our football grounds continuing to be unsafe. Consequently, I hope that one of the effects of the Bill will be to make the elderly and the young feel safe and secure enough to attend football matches, knowing that they will be safe from disaster, even if not from violence. This Bill is the last chapter in the aftermath of the Bradford City tragedy. I hope that we will never require another such Bill. This Bill minimises the chance of a similar occurrence, and that is why I wish it well.

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde 7:27 pm, 30th March 1987

The Bill is in five parts, but it seems when reading through it that it is in 55 parts. Some of the clauses are clumsy in parts and wrong in others. I cannot believe that the Bill is the Minister's property. He must have inherited it, because I am sure that his clarity of mind has not been brought to bear in this otherwise worthwhile Bill. I join those hon. Members who welcome it.

I shall confine my remarks to the safety at sports grounds section covered by the Popplewell inquiry. I add my congratulations to Mr. Justice Popplewell for all that he has done in this area. As we know, he highlighted the potential dangers at our sports grounds and made a number of important recommendations, many of which the Bill has taken on board. Many of the timely interventions in the other place also helped the Bill and tidied it up. Without those interventions, it would not be such a good Bill.

I wonder why the Government have not consulted some of the obvious people before introducing the Bill. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) spoke about the Football Trust. It has already helped 54 non-league clubs. Why was the trust not approached before the Bill was drafted? I shall develop that point later. Without active help from the trust, many clubs would go to the wall.

What about sports other than football which do not have the Football Trust to which to turn? Last week, we had an interesting debate on a range of sporting matters. It was good to hear contributions about sporting organisations. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlon) referred to greyhound racing. What do race courses, greyhound racing and rugby league and rugby union clubs do without a Football Trust to come to their aid? Have the Government consulted them?

The Government always seem to rush into legislation on sports matters. Of course, there was an urgent need for this legislation and something had to be done in the short term, but it was important to get the legislation right. There does not seem to be adequate consultation by the Government on sporting matters, as shown in this case.

I do not want to be churlish. I want to be more constructive than hon. Members may think I have been so far, but those comments had to be made. I welcome the tightening of the regulations on spectator accommodation and support the idea of annual inspections. Only through constant and consistent monitoring can we stop tragedies of the Bradford type recurring.

There are other clauses, specially clauses 26 and 31, where the Government could have got it wrong. Safety certificates will need to he issued for any stand with a capacity of 500 or more spectators. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) believe that that figure is too high, but I am not sure that it is. To reduce immediately the level from 10,000 for a ground to 500 for a stand is an enormous leap for local authorities and fire authorities to cope with. I believe that there will be a constructive debate on the figure in Committee to ascertain whether it should he amended. I do not say that the present figure is right, but I do not know whether it has been considered adequately.

The Bill's implication is that clubs with stands that are dangerous will, rightly, be prevented from using them until they are improved and made safe. But from where will the money come? That question has not been addressed so far. The Government are imposing strict conditions on small clubs, but giving them no help with improvements. No doubt, the costs will be shuffled on to the Football Trust and the Football Ground Improvement Trust. Both bodies do good work for the game, but the cost implications of the Bill, which are as yet unknown, will all fall on to the Football Ground Improvement Trust, which may not be able to afford them. By reducing the designated level to 500 overnight—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea that it should be reduced even further—the cost will he pushed on to the smallest clubs.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Luton, North will be interested in a letter which I received last week from a representative of the Vauxhall-Opel league which said: I am very concerned at the implications of this Bill for clubs outside the Today league particularly as this league has been conducting a long campaign to improve the gradings at our club grounds. Were that league and other leagues consulted before the Bill was introduced? On top of this, the recent Football Association ruling which has banned plastic pitches for those clubs entering the FA cup competition will mean that small clubs will not invest in pitches that can mean a financial saving for them. I know that this point is close to the heart of the hon. Member for Luton, North. My own Hyde United, following much prompting from me and assistance from the Football Association and Football Trust, aquired an artificial pitch, but because of the ruling will no longer be able to use it.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North

While the hon. Gentleman is talking about artificial surfaces, would he like to reinforce the point that there was a rumour that artificial surfaces might be inflammable and that, if there were a disaster or tragedy such as that which occurred at Bradford, a fire could spread on to the pitch? Would the hon. Gentleman like to confirm that tests so far have shown that those surfaces would in no way constitute a greater danger than grass?

Photo of Mr Tom Pendry Mr Tom Pendry , Stalybridge and Hyde

I am happy to give a plug for the hon. Gentleman, so long as it does not give him too many votes. I am sure that what he says makes sense. It is nonsense that the clubs in the lower levels of the league, which are trying to bring about a community spirit and use their facilities all week, should be penalised as they have been.

The problems of finance continue with clause 31. Fees will be charged for issuing safety certificates, but their level is unknown. It is not clear whether the costs will be uniform across the country. Perhaps the Minister will clear up that point. Clubs already face high rates bills and will have to fund improvements. The recent test case by Sheffield United confirms that clubs must continue to pay for policing at grounds. That cost is on top of all the other burdens which they face. Furthermore, the Bill estimates that £1 million may be raised from these charges for its fire safety aspects, but no estimate is given for the sports grounds aspects. Why not?

Local authorities should be inspecting grounds. It is thought that 4,000 man days will be needed for that job to be done properly. Some of the local authorities have already been rate-capped by the Government and will need additional income to afford those inspections. Our smallest sports clubs should not be forced to pay. I hope that there will be a great deal of rethinking of this aspect in Committee.

The Bill's overall aim is admirable. It is time that we took safety at our sports grounds seriously. I wonder whether the legislation will make our football grounds safer or will just close them. I welcome the broad thrust of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will undertake to be his usual flexible self in Committee and will listen to the reasoned arguments for amending and improving the Bill.

Photo of Dr Ian Twinn Dr Ian Twinn , Edmonton 7:37 pm, 30th March 1987

I am happy to join the general welcome given to the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on introducing it. There is no doubt that the dangers of fire are real where the public come together.

I should like to draw to the attention of the House one specific aspect where more preventive work can be done—emergency lighting. If the lights go out in any place—whether at a sports ground, at work or in a hotel, boarding house, factory or shop — and no other lighting is available, there is likely to be panic when people do not know their way to the exits. The tragedy at Bradford demonstrated the panic that can occur where there is no lighting problem. But in the recent Townsend Thoresen disaster the emergency lighting failed because it was on a central circuit rather than battery-power emergency lighting units. The case for emergency lighting is very strong.

This matter was raised in the other place by Lord Graham of Edmonton, who was my predecessor in the constituency of Enfield, Edmonton. That demonstrates that this is not a party political matter but is of all-party concern. I am concerned about it as a Member representing a constituency on the borders of Spurs and as a patron of Enfield Town football club — another great football institution.

In Edmonton, we produce lighting. I am concerned about the sort of provision that the lighting industry can give a place of sport, or other places, but which is not being taken up at the moment. There is no statutory obligation to provide emergency lighting in many places in which the public congregate. The legislation is couched in terms of "should" rather than "shall". That has resulted in a lack of uniformity of provision. Fire prevention officers visit to check whether to give a certificate, and they may themselves be uncertain whether the owners of the premises in question should be compelled to put in emergency lighting. There is a real danger that, in some parts of the country, the law may be interpreted in such a way as not to force football clubs or offices to put in emergency lighting. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider that point.

As regards the inspection of premises to check on the provision of emergency lighting and perhaps other features, there is no uniformity among inspectors and no requirement to have regular inspections. I welcome the Government's acceptance of the amendment from the other place that requires annual inspections of places of sport, but that does not apply to the inspection of other places.

I urge my hon. Friend to consider whether places that already have emergency lighting — those without it should have it—should be required to demonstrate that it works properly.

At present, emergency lighting is usually supplied with a three-year warranty, so we may assume that there are three years of good life in an installation. After that, there is no way of enforcing an inspection. Perhaps it would be a good idea if the British standard for the installation were enforced and we had a regular three-yearly inspection that made it incumbent on the owner of the property to demonstrate to the fire brigade that the system worked. That would be a great help in preventing the types of tragedy that have taken place elsewhere.

I do not wish to detain the House further, but I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would give the matter of emergency lighting his consideration in Committee.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. Does the Minister have the leave of the House to speak again?

Hon. Members:

Yes.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I wish to begin by thanking hon. Members on both sides of the House for the warm welcome that they have given to the Bill. That augurs well for a speedy passage; none the less, the Bill will go into Committee where hon. Members will subject it to the scrutiny that I would expect from them.

I shall begin by dealing with the points that were so helpfully raised by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs). He and the hon. Members for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) were concerned with the issue of charges, which the hon. Member for Battersea opposes on principle. I am afraid that he must accept that we have a difference of opinion about that: the Government think it right that when benefit falls to business proprietors, they should make a contribution to the costs. I emphasise that the costs will be modest. One brigade has estimated that the cost for a factory of 20,000 sq ft would be £30, for an office block, £60, and for a hotel with 30 bedrooms, £100. That shows how modest the charges are.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East raised the subject of equality, as did the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. It is perfectly true that the Home Office will not set the level of fees. That is a matter for the fire authority, but the Home Office will be giving guidance. As both hon. Members will know, the fire inspectorate is able to nudge and guide to obtain uniformity of approach. It is the Government's intention to achieve such uniformity of approach to charging. That is not to say that the fees will be exactly the same, but it does mean that we hope that there will not be any great variation.

On clause 1, the hon. Member for Battersea suggested that the obligation on the fire authority should be mandatory—in other words, it should require the owner to furnish information, and should inspect the premises. As the hon. Member rightly said, the applicant is under a duty to furnish information and permit inspection if required, but there is no reverse obligation on the fire authority. The reason for giving the discretion to the fire authority is that it is often already aware of the state of the premises; for example, it may have been involved in the planning stage, and it is therefore thought right that the authority should have the discretion. If that still worries the hon. Member for Battersea, we can discuss it again in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman went on to comment on the clothing trade. He suggested that small premises below the present threshold should be subject to the certification process. In clauses 4 to 6 the Bill introduces a new general duty, to be observed by non-certificated premises, to provide reasonable means of escape, and fire equipment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, those clauses enable the fire authority to impose an improvement notice on such businesses, and if they fail to comply with the terms of such a notice they may well be committing an offence. Moreover, there is the general last resort power of the prohibition notice. In any event, the law is being strengthened by the procedure. That can also be discussed in Committee if the hon. Gentleman thinks that we have not gone into the matter far enough.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of houses in multiple occupation. Local authorities have the power, under the Housing Act 1985, to require satisfactory means of escape from fire, and they must consult the fire authorities. As another instrument of last resort, the fire authorities have power under clause 9 to impose a prohibition notice on houses in multiple occupation.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of regulated stands and suggested that a threshold of 500 was too high. He was supported in that by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler). I do not want to die in the last ditch on that matter. We are adopting the figure that was recommended in the Popplewell report. Hon. Members have suggested—or implied—that we could take a power by secondary legislation to lower the threshold. Again, that is a matter for discussion in Committee. I see no objection to it in principle, but I prefer not to give a commitment now.

The subject of lighting was raised by the hon. Member for Battersea and by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn). For sports grounds, the lighting requirement can be made in safety certificates that deal with a designated ground, and could also apply in the terms and conditions of the certificate that is issued in respect of a regulated stand. The provision of adequate emergency lighting is one of the requirements that are set out in the Home Office publication, "Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds". I appreciate that my hon. Friend's remarks go further than sports grounds, in that he was discussing lighting in non-sporting areas, in respect of, for example, certificated or exempt premises. As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill contains a right of reinspection. I can see no reason why reinspection should not extend to emergency lighting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) mentioned fencing and rightly said that in certain circumstances the pitch could he the emergency escape route. That point is made in the Government's publication and I would expect an appropriate requirement to appear in the terms and conditions annexed to certificates issued for designated grounds.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) has been present throughout the debate and is very interested in safety at sports grounds. He has played a prominent part in getting the Bill through and I am grateful to him for his assistance. He is a Parliamentary Private Secretary and, therefore, is precluded from speaking in the debate, but he has been here throughout and I am extremely grateful for his advice.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East asked about clause 22. The answer to his question is that a prohibition notice is issued by the local authority rather than the fire authority, because a notice can extend beyond fire risks to other sorts of risk. However, a copy of the notice will have to be sent to the fire and police authorities which will be kept aware of what the local authority has in mind. There is a right of appeal.

I have referred to the valuable comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North. I am grateful for his support. He says that the Bill will go a long way to prevent a repetition of the Bradford disaster and no one speaks with greater authority on such matters than my hon. Friend, whose interest is well known.

My hon. Friend asked about combustible materials used in regulated stands. The building regulations prescribe what sort of material should be used, but if existing or new buildings contain combustible materials, the terms and conditions attached to the safety certificate will have to make special provision for that fact. In that way, the Bill carries the matter further forward.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North also made the sensible comment that temporary stands are sometimes erected at sports grounds. That issue is not covered by the Bill, but it includes a power to impose a prohibition notice in a limited number of cases.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde asked who was consulted. The answer is that we consulted a number of people, including the Football Trust and the Rugby Football Union. The hon. Gentleman made a number of remarks about funding and I understand that his general position is that, although he welcomes the thrust of the Bill he feels that it is likely to impose substantial financial burdens. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I am fairly robust in saying that we have to decide where our primary duty rests. I suggest that the primary duty of the House is to ensure public safety and I do not think that it is asking too much of the sporting community for it to make a substantial financial commitment to that objective, which the hon. Gentleman and I share.

I have endeavoured to answer the important points raised by hon. Members. I am extremely grateful for the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and I hope that they will all serve on the Standing Committee. [Interruption.] I knew that that would be a popular suggestion. I hope that the Bill will pass speedily through Committee and become law.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order .No. 61 (Committal of Bills).