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Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 3rd February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Party Chair, Liberal Democrats, Acting Leader, Liberal Democrats 4:15 pm, 3rd February 2020

My Lords, I declare a recently expired interest as a trustee of UNICEF for six years until July 2019. I want to incorporate in my comments some comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who is unable to be in her place today.

I think it is worthy of note that yesterday was Groundhog Day, because the Bill has become extremely familiar to this House. I thank the Minister for the progress that has been made since we last considered the Bill. I will of course challenge that on behalf of those of us in the disabled community—the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, very much representing para-sportspeople and myself representing spectators—but I hope that the groundwork we will cover, following Groundhog Day, will take us a long way. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, I echo concerns about the briefing we had from the News Media Association. I will not repeat those points, but I hope that its very specific concerns are addressed speedily.

I think it is worth rehearsing two or three of the issues on disability that are not reflected in the Bill, but first I thank the Government for including a report back to the Secretary of State on access for disabled people, helpfully stated as loosely as that to cover the experience both of athletes and of those participating in other ways, whether as champions or as spectators. In my role at UNICEF I went to the launch of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and had one of the more unfortunate experiences I have had in a wheelchair in a sports stadium. Despite the fact that we were main sponsors of the Commonwealth Games, I could not sit with my director and trustee colleagues and VIP sportspeople from around the world because there was no wheelchair access to the VIP area. My daughter and I had to go and sit in the designated wheelchair space, completely away from any other spectators, in the gap between the front row and the boundary, and my daughter, “as your carer”, had to sit behind me, as if she were not entitled to sit beside me as family.

One of the problems that that raises may be something that Birmingham needs to be aware of: when stadia are reused, particularly football stadia that have existing rules, they use those rules rather than rethinking them. The point about families wanting to go and see sports together is a real one. I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, raising the issue of a certain Premier League football club—I will not name it since it has now remedied its behaviour—that wrote to a young father who had one disabled child and one non-disabled child, and could not get tickets to take both to see the same football match together because he was not permitted to have two people sitting beside his son in a wheelchair. At the time I found that disappointing. Such issues are important to the legacy of encouraging participation by families in activities including sport.

I want to pick up on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, about Birmingham New Street. I echo his concerns—as a disabled person I found the signage totally and utterly appalling. The access to taxis for disabled people is dreadful. It is bad enough for wheelchairs, but if you are ambulant disabled and using sticks, it is even worse: you have to go a very long way to get access. I am reminded that, for the Olympics, you could book a minibus from Stratford station to take you to whichever location you needed to get to, thereby guaranteeing you could have access and not causing problems with taxis. This was the other problem in Glasgow: they met the quota for having taxis that could take disabled people, but those were the same ones that could take able-bodied people so, when there was a rush, disabled people were completely stuck. I really hope that Birmingham will take those lessons on board.

I will make one more comment about Birmingham New Street, because it is easy to find things that are wrong. I use it quite a lot and the attitude of the staff on the station to helping assist disabled passengers is excellent. In my entire experience there I have found staff helpful, particularly when things have gone wrong. Unfortunately, you have to leave them at the barrier and, frankly, once you are out into the new shopping centre problems may begin.

Briefly on accommodation, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, asks whether there will be a sufficient number of accessible rooms in Birmingham. There were certainly not enough accessible rooms for spectators in Glasgow—we booked three months ahead but still could not get a fully accessible hotel room. It has certainly been an unaddressed problem in the planning for Tokyo. Also, is the lifetime homes standard being used in the athletes’ village? It may not mean that every unit is fully wheelchair accessible, but there are other forms of accessibility which it can address. That will make that whole unit of 1,400 homes outstanding and unparalleled in this country. Lifetime standards are incredibly important, not just for people who are disabled and participating in sport but to make places that people can live in until the end of their days and do not need to make expensive changes to—the doors are slightly wider and kitchens and bathrooms are designed to make things very easy for someone with a disability. It is a standard that has been approved at lots of levels. It would be good to know whether it is being used in the athletes’ village.

On legacy, we always focus on sport—it is interesting to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, has joined a gym. My favourite story from the Olympics was from a young friend in a wheelchair who decided that he wanted to start wheelchair dancing. He got in touch with Cecil Sharp House—the English Folk Dance and Song Society—and asked whether it was doing anything. You can do wheelchair country dancing, and he did that for some years. That is the sort of legacy that we do not think about because we are very blinkered in our view; you can have legacy in lots of different forms. The absolute strength of 2012 was that many organisations thought outside the box to provide access for not just the local community but disabled people in the surrounding area, who are inevitably part of that community. I do not know whether the Minister can answer this, but I hope that there will be champions for the Birmingham Games who are themselves disabled. It is extremely important that they have that chance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, wanted to raise Games lanes. I know that the Bill makes provision for transport in that way. She reminded us that athletes missed events in Atlanta 1996 because the drivers did not know where the venues were and there was no separate provision. It is extremely important in the very narrow timeframe and heavy programme of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games that there is speedy access.

I end by going back to Groundhog Day, but not in the way one might think, even though the Canadians would certainly understand it. We are now in the United Kingdom getting enough experience with major sporting events to become exemplars, but there are small things that we need to make sure do not just relate to these big sporting events. I still go to football matches and I had problems last week when my son was trying to book tickets for him and me. What is the legacy in our current stadia and sporting grounds to make sure that disabled access for spectators improves and is consistent?