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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
As there have been no amendments and as the Bill received good and quite thorough debate in Committee, I do not intend to speak for long.
The Bill is an important measure that allows the Football Licensing Authority to provide advice about sports ground safety to other sports and organisations. The authority was set up in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster and over subsequent years the FLA and its key personnel have gained an extremely high reputation for their expertise and experience in football ground safety. They are the authors of the “Green Guide”, which has rightly been described as the leading publication in the world on sports ground safety. Indeed, there is no other organisation quite like the FLA in the world; yet despite building a world-class reputation, and with expertise that is relevant to all sports grounds, the authority remains restricted by statute to offering specific advice and guidance for domestic football stadiums only. Over the years, several sports bodies, organisations and clubs, and other countries, have approached the FLA to get the benefit of specific safety advice, but have had to be turned away.
It will indeed; it will become the Sports Grounds Safety Authority. I will mention that later.
Most important at present, the organisers of our 2012 Olympics would like to benefit from the full range of expertise and advice that the FLA has to offer.
The Bill will not change the safety regime that relates to football or, indeed, other sports grounds, and the authority’s licensing functions will continue to relate only to football grounds. It will simply allow other sports and organisations to seek advice should they wish to do so, and to reflect that wider remit the Football Licensing Authority will be renamed the Sports Grounds Safety Authority.
I know of the excellent work done by the authority and its expertise, because there is an excellent football ground in my constituency at Gillingham, whose team will be promoted this year. Have the other bodies to which my hon. Friend refers been consulted to ensure that they want to continue such work?
Yes, there has been a lot of consultation, and that was covered thoroughly in Committee. Indeed, I should like to thank colleagues for the cross-party support that the Bill has received so far.
I am particularly grateful to Steve Rotheram and other hon. Members from Merseyside and Sheffield for their support, given that the FLA was originally set up to try to ensure that a Hillsborough-type tragedy could never happen again at one of our football grounds. The grief that resulted from that terrible day can never be fully assuaged, and even now, after more than 21 years, we continue to salute the fortitude of those who survived and those who lost loved ones.
It is entirely fitting that other sports should henceforth be able to access the good practice and improved safety that the authority has helped to ensure for football over the past two decades.
As we prepare to welcome the nations of the world to London and our other venues for the Olympics and to host the most prestigious sporting event in the world it is surely only right that we take every measure possible to ensure the safety of our guests and spectators. This Bill will help in that endeavour, and I commend it to the House.
I congratulate Jonathan Lord on his Bill. To legislate so early in his parliamentary career is indeed a step that he has undertaken effectively, well and eloquently. I am pleased to say that, bearing in mind of course the emphasis that he gave to safety, which must override all our approaches to such matters, the Opposition are very happy to support the Bill.
I have discussed the Bill with my hon. Friend Ian Austin, and I believe that he has discussed it with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, all such legislation is coloured by the dreadful events at Hillsborough. I should like to align myself with his comments about the Hillsborough families, their continued fortitude and their importance in all considerations that relate to sports grounds, as we must now say—not just football grounds—and, of course, it makes good sense to use the expertise and experience that we have acquired over the years to the benefit of sports grounds not just in the UK but anywhere.
It is important that the sporting lead that this country will show in the next year and, we hope, beyond will bring experience to bear for all those countries across the world that can learn from our strong sporting tradition. So I say well done to the hon. Gentleman for proposing the Bill and for speaking this morning. The Bill has our full support.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Jonathan Lord on promoting the Bill. He has made a terrific effort in coming to Parliament with the idea to improve safety and taking it forward. I have played a lot of sport, including cricket for Kent schools and in football trials for Chatham Town and Sittingbourne amateur teams.
Sport plays a key part in our history and culture, and it absolutely right that the safety of those who go to watch it is of paramount importance. In my constituency, there is a fantastic football club, which is in division two, and about 5,000 people attend every match. The authority’s first-rate safety work is of the utmost importance.
It is only right and proper that other organisations and sporting groups can share its skills and expertise, especially, as my hon. Friend said, given the upcoming sporting events such as the Olympics, cricket test matches year on year and a host of others.
The key thing is people’s safety. Ensuring that people can attend such events safely is of the utmost importance. This is about making sport a family event—and it is becoming that. It is a key part of our culture that families go to watch sporting events, and people want to know that, when they do so, their loved ones will be safe. Therefore, when an organisation has a proven track record of providing such safety expertise, it is completely illogical to have a statute that stops it sharing that expertise. It is right and proper to deal with the issue with the utmost importance and swiftness. On that basis, I fully support my hon. Friend and will do everything that I can to support the Bill, because it provides a good way to move forward.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend Jonathan Lord for his leadership and hard work in progressing the Bill. As other hon. Members have said, it is quite an achievement to get legislation on to the statute book inside one’s first year in Parliament. Most of us fail to do that in any way, shape or form over a considerably longer period. It is a remarkable achievement, and I say well done to him.
May I put on record our thanks to the Opposition? The Bill has its genesis in the previous Government, who tried with private Members’ Bills and a Home Office Bill to get such legislation on to the statute book. I am grateful to the Opposition for their help and support in achieving that for this Bill.
Unsurprisingly, the Government strongly support the Bill, as we want to allow the FLA to build on its important role in football ground safety, without compromising the safety function in any way.
I want to make a few quick comments about the FLA. It has played a crucial role in transforming spectator safetyat football grounds over the past 20 years. It receives grant-in-aid funding of just under £1.2 million a year—a relatively small sum for such an important task—to carry out its statutory functions, including advising on spectator and venue safety issues at football grounds in England. It is a pretty lean and efficient organisation, and it offers excellent value for money. It has nine inspectors, who are based in the regions and who work tirelessly with football clubs and local authorities. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House will have come across them in some way, shape or form. It is a world leader in sports ground safety. Indeed, it is the author of the world’s leading sports safety publication, which I imagine you regularly take to bed with you,Mr Speaker, called the “Green Guide”. In short, its expertise is valued and respected nationally and internationally.
Governments of all colours have accepted, however, that it is important to recognise and, vitally, to build on that success. The Bill gives us an opportunity to raise the profile of the FLA’s work. Crucially, it is also gives us the opportunity to share that knowledge and experience with other sports and other nations. We are absolutely committed to maintaining the services and standards provided to football, but there is a unique opportunity to extend the FLA’s reach and remit for wider benefit. Of course, the London Olympics will be upon us in 18 months’ time, so it is important and timely to do this today.
I am glad that the Bill has enjoyed wide cross-party support. It has been about 10 years in the making. It is greatly to my hon. Friend’s credit that he has brought it to fruition, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.