My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as vice-president of the charity, Level Playing Field.
My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that all spectators have enhanced and appropriate access to sporting venues and services, and that professional sports clubs are aware of their responsibilities towards disabled spectators. The Department for Culture, Media and
Sport is working with the Department for Work and Pensions on a range of measures to ensure that the rights of disabled spectators are met by professional sports clubs.
Does the Minister agree that, although some sports are making a real effort, the situation with professional football is, as the Minister for Disabled People said when he wrote to all professional clubs in April, “woefully inadequate”, when it was revealed that only three clubs in the Premier League, the richest league in the world, comply with the requirements for the number of spaces for supporters in wheelchairs? Does he not think that the time has now come for equality law to be properly enforced and the guidelines, which have been in place since 2004, properly implemented and clear new instructions issued to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority?
My Lords, first, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s tireless work on ensuring that there is greater access for disabled people. Importantly, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority is currently in discussion with Level Playing Field on a revision of the guidance to ensure that it takes account of legislative, technical and other advances that have occurred over the past 11 years. Premier football clubs have considerable means and I think that they should be looking to do very much better.
My Lords, I draw my noble friend’s attention to the work which will be undertaken by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in which my interest is declared in the register, to address this specific point: to ensure that when a disabled spectator goes to football, rugby, cricket or whatever sport in this country, we guarantee that they have an inclusive spectator experience. I am sure that my noble friend will agree.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend is leading on that initiative of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to deliver the sports equality standard programme. Across all sports, we need to ensure that there is an improvement in physical and cultural accessibility. It seems to me that it is a basic right of disabled people to have as much enjoyment from sport as those who are not disabled.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that certain Premiership football clubs such as Manchester United refuse to sell season tickets to wheelchair users and that it has only 42% of the accessible seating that it should? At other clubs, it is impossible to buy one because of the lack of accessible seating. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure a fair ticketing policy for all spectators and fans?
My Lords, first, the Equality Act prohibits discrimination against disabled people in the provision of goods, facilities and services. That is precisely why my right honourable friend Mike Penning, the Minister for Disabled People, and the Minister for Sport are so keen to ensure that, in their discussions with all sporting bodies, it is absolutely a fixture on the agenda of those meetings that this greater access is addressed and that clubs which ought to know better do better.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Is the Minister aware that there is a country which is better than we are at access for disabled people, better at training young people in football, cheaper as far as access to the stadia is concerned and better in terms of all the facilities in the stadium, and whose example we could well follow? That country is the Federal Republic of Germany.
My Lords, it was quite an extraordinary match last night and, clearly, there are lessons to be learnt for many countries from the ability of those German players. However, it is very important that this country picks up on what we were so successful at in 2012 with the Olympics and Paralympics, as that legacy needs to transcend all sporting stadia.
My Lords, I speak as a season-ticket holder at Southampton Football Club, which is one of the four that meet the requirements. Should training for staff also be ensured? As an away supporter, I often have to sit with home fans, which can be quite difficult, but you can always tell when you are with someone who understands the issue of someone who is in a wheelchair or has other disability problems.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point: that disabled people—their rights being the same as those who are not disabled—should be sitting among the supporters of whichever side they wish. That is a perfectly sensible and correct thing to do. Clearly, training people is also an important part in providing the facility, as is providing carers to attend with disabled people, which many clubs are undertaking. That is the way forward.
My Lords, do the Government consider the existing equality legislation sufficient to bring about real change in accessibility and the provision of facilities for disabled supporters, particularly at our larger football stadia and arenas? If the Government do so consider, why is that legislation not being used? If they do not consider existing legislation sufficient to bring about real change, how much longer do they intend to wait before passing further legislation that will achieve the desired objective for disabled supporters? I declare an interest as a vice-president of Level Playing Field.
My Lords, obviously, no one would rule out further legislation if it becomes necessary. I know from looking at the exchanges of correspondence that this is something which the previous Government thought through. Clearly, it is the responsibility of each club to look at how it is dealing with access for disabled people. We think that is the best way to go because legislation can very often be a blunt instrument. We know that the Premier clubs are particularly well able to ensure that they have the necessary adaption, whereas perhaps some other clubs would find difficulties. That is exactly why the Equalities Act 2010 was couched in the way that it was.