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Sporting Events (Safety)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:45 am on 24th July 1987.

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Photo of Mr Neil Thorne Mr Neil Thorne , Ilford South 11:45 am, 24th July 1987

Madam Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friends are already aware of my interest in the subject of safety at sporting events because of my contributions on Third Reading of the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987. We all know that the Government have generated a considerable effort in encouraging independence of mind. The population should be encouraged to stand on their own feet and think for themselves. The Government have spent much effort on encouraging those attributes in recent years, and the benefits of that encouragement are to be found through the considerable improvements in the economy.

At the same time, the Government have been conscious of the need to protect the weak, and in that regard to ensure that people who venture into areas that are not always familiar to them are adequately provided for. We have noticed that while removing the population from the nanny society — catering for the individual from the cradle to the grave—the Government have nevertheless ensured that the population are not preyed upon by people who would take advantage of them. In that regard I refer to those who, in the past, have taken advantage of people on the doorstep. For example, doorstep salesmen have been curbed and the Government have ensured that in future people will have plenty of opportunity to ensure that they are not subject to onerous conditions that have been hastily entered into.

In looking after vulnerable sections of the community it is clear that central Government and local government will be called upon to provide protection in areas which the population visit on rare occasions. For example, regulations have been laid down that set out what is required of a cinema exhibitor. Requirements of this sort have been set out in a number of Acts. Legislation has improved the design and construction of buildings, and fire and planning requirements are improved every year. The disabled are protected in a major way, and the provisions that attach to new building require consultation with fire departments to ensure that use is made of the latest knowledge and experience. If there have been any recent catastrophes, care is taken to incorporate in new buildings the lessons that have been learnt. This means that any commercial building must meet certain provisions and requirements.

Licences are required for the exhibition of films under the Cinemas Act 1985. Section 1 states: no premises shall be used for a film exhibition unless they are licensed for the purpose under this section. Subsection (2) provides: A licensing authority may grant a licence under this section to such a person as they think fit to use any premises specified in the licence for the purpose of film exhibitions on such terms and conditions and subject to such restrictions as, subject to regulations under section 4 below, they may determine. It is clear that that lays the onus upon the local authority, which is subject to the provisions that are set out in section 3. Subsection (1) states: An applicant for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence shall give to—

  1. (a) the licensing authority,
  2. (b) the fire authority, and
  3. (c) the chief officer of police,
not less than 28 days' notice of his intention to make the application. Subsection (2) states: The licensing authority may in such cases as they think fit, after consulting with the fire authority and the chief officer of police, grant an application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence notwithstanding the fact that the applicant has failed to give notice in accordance with subsection (1) above. Subsection (3) adds: In considering any application for the grant, renewal or transfer of a licence, the licensing authority shall have regard to any observations submitted to them by the fire authority or by the chief officer of police. That is the important provision. The licensing authority is required to listen to what a fire officer and a police officer have to say. It cannot issue a licence without having taken into account the observations of those officers. Whether it listens to what it is told remains to be seen, but it is required to take their observations into account.

There are certain provisions that allow for exemptions. If a film is exhibited in a club that requires membership before members of the public are allowed to attend, the provisions to which I have referred do not apply unless the club forms part of a building that is licensed for use by the general public. If, for example, on the ground floor of the premises there is a public cinema that is in use and in the basement a private cinema club is opened, the club would be bound by the provisions of the 1985 Act. If the club were in separate premises and entirely private, the provisions would not apply.

The law is different for discos. If a disco on a ground floor, for example, is licensed and there is a basement operation, the advantages of the regulations do not apply.

There is a need for a greater measure of safety at sporting events. I think that that is accepted generally by all responsible bodies. For example, the Jockey Club has laid down rules carefully and it does not allow racing to commence unless there is adequate provision for the safety of the participants and the general public. However, that is not the case everywhere. It came as something of a surprise to me to learn that the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive for first-aid applies only to employees and does not extend to facilities for the general public. The employer in a place of sport must comply with the regulations when making provision for his employees, but, where other persons are regularly on the premises, the employer may extend the facilities to them, provided that the employees are not adversely affected. The employer must therefore examine carefully the element of risk in the provision of both equipment and personnel.

We all appreciate that safety is of paramount importance, and the announcement today of the report on the Zeebrugge disaster highlights the issue. Many people lost their lives in a very short time in that disaster, which has concentrated our minds upon it. I am sure that the regulations will be tightened to make such catastrophes less likely in the future. However, I believe that we have many other opportunities to improve safety arrangements, and that we should introduce them without waiting for major disasters.

Several fires have taken place at football stadia, and that, too, has concentrated the minds of the authorities on using fully the facilities which have been made available under various Acts of Parliament, but which have not previously been used to the full. The Popplewell report is an important contribution: it makes absolutely clear the need to improve existing conditions in first-aid rooms, including equipment, number of personnel and the provision of in situ ambulances when they are required, to make adequate provision for those likely to be affected in both indoor and outdoor activities.

The Home Office in the past has not been as demanding as it might have been. As recently as March this year, it was saying: Thus, the local 'certificating' authority determines the terms and conditions of the safety certificate including whether or not it should include a condition relating to first-aid facilities. In our experience safety certificates do contain such conditions. Even so, in July 1985 we drew … attention … to Recommendation 8 of the Popplewell Inquiry Interim Report, specifically asking them to consider inclusion of a condition within safety certificates for adequate first-aid facilities. In its "Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds", the Home Office reminded ground management of its responsibilities to provide such facilities for visitors and staff. However, it was not considered necessary to impose such a requirement on the licensing authority as a duty, and that is where the matter seems to go wrong. Although the Home Office has offered to suggest to the local authorities that they should consider that point in granting licences for indoor sporting entertainments in general, it does not appear to consider it a high enough priority to put further pressure on the authorities to take it into account. If it is not taken into account, the attitude of the officials is likely to be more low-key.

I am not saying that that is the case throughout local government. In many cases officials take such matters very seriously and try to require a very high standard. However, the public should not he exposed to hit-and-miss arrangements. They should be able to expect a uniform standard of safety. It is not for the man in the street to find out whether the fire and first-aid precautions are to his liking at sporting events or in clubs. I am thinking in particular of the Queensway ice rink, a private club that does not have to comply with any licensing regulations. Furthermore, it does not come under the Health and Safety Executive. Adequate provision is made for the members of the staff, but club members are not covered by those provisions. I seriously question whether they understand that fact.

The 1966 Act states that the various venues for exhibition purposes — for example, the Wembley conference centre and the Kensington design centre — are not necessarily covered by the licensing authorities. However, those venues should be carefully monitored. We must ensure that the necessary standards are applied.

Paragraph 3.99 of the Popplewell report says: The value of the presence of the St. John's Ambulance at a sports ground cannot be over-estimated. If it be the case that a first-aid room is either not provided or inadequately provided then that should be remedied, and I recommend that, where practicable, that should be done. I recommend that on grounds which are designated it should be a term of the safety certificate. That is a significant contribution to the debate.

Adequate first-aid provision is needed. My hon. Friend the Minister will remember that there has been more than one accident in the House when first-aid has been of great importance. I remember being in the Chamber when one of my hon. Friend's Welsh ministerial colleagues collapsed at the place where my hon. Friend is now sitting. First-aid was of the greatest importance. We are lucky to have first-aiders as members of the staff, and we have revised our arrangements to ensure that the necessary equipment and facilities can easily be reached. We have learnt the lessons of that occasion.

Provision must be made for the public. St. John Ambulance is not the only organisation that provides such cover. The Red Cross also provides it. That cover is provided on a voluntary basis. The Government are anxious that the voluntary sector should play its full part. Therefore, we must ensure that adequate facilities are made available so that sufficient volunteers are encouraged to come forward. If such provision is not made, the voluntary system will collapse. That is why the existing law and regulations should be used to the utmost benefit to guarantee volunteers the facilities that they need to continue to participate. If there are no adequate rooms for equipment to be kept in, and if refreshment allowances are not forthcomong, one can hardly expect organisations such as St. John Ambulance to subsidise sporting events. If my hon. Friend's Department were to be more insistent in its demands that local authorities incorporate such provision in their licensing considerations — before anyone embarks upon an event he or she will wish to inquire what the likely cost will be — that would be taken into account in planning.

As far as I can make out at the moment, a sporting event is planned, and if there is no specific reference to the necessity to provide for safety, it is slipped in at the last moment. I understand that cricket authorities have no provision within their funds for first-aid payments. A football trust fund helps with expenses, but I understand that no fewer than five members of St. John Ambulance must be on duty at any one time to qualify for the provision. The amount that they are paid to defray expenses, which of course must cover their travelling expenses and refreshment allowances, is often completely and utterly inadequate. In the circumstances, often as little as £100 is allocated for a five-day cricket test match, which is as little as £20 a day to finance the travelling expenses and refreshment allowances of five people. That is totally and utterly inadequate. If the Home Office were to insist that adequate provision be made during the licensing, it would properly be provided for.

Section 42 of the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987 amended schedule 12 to the London Government Act 1963, paragraph 3A(1) of which reads: no premises in a London borough or the City of London shall be used for any entertainment … to which the public are invited as spectators … except under … the terms of a licence granted … by the Council. A council should specify the terms and conditions under which a licence is issued. By section 31 the Secretary of State may make regulations for the issue of safety certificates for sports grounds and, has a duty to consult such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him to be requisite. The legislation should specify that such bodies should be qualified. It is the duty of the local authority to enforce and inspect. The local authority must act in accordance with such guidance as the Secretary of State may give. That is the foundation on which it should be done.

I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that, prior to the Bradford football club fire, the provision of suitable accommodation by professional football clubs was totally inadequate. The Bradford football club fire caused a complete rethinking of the subject. The initiative to improve facilities in London has been taken by St. John Ambulance. We must thank the people concerned, particularly Commander Derek Fenton, who has been an important influence in drawing our attention to the need for adequate provision.

We must accept and acknowledge that a little pre-planning could save a vast amount of trouble at a later date. We should give great care and consideration to what the St. John Ambulance and other interested bodies advise on this, and we should urge the Secretary of State to use the full powers at his command to implement the type of safety standards that the public has the right to expect.