First Division Champions (Promotion)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 12:18 pm on 26 March 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 12:18, 26 March 2003

The final item of business this morning is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3999, in the name of Dennis Canavan, on promotion for the first division champions.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament believes that promotion to the Scottish Premier League should be based on footballing merit rather than arbitrarily set criteria that discriminate against clubs of modest means and therefore believes that the Scottish Premier League should ensure that the champions of the First Division of the Scottish Football League are given the opportunity of promotion to the Scottish Premier League provided they have guaranteed use of a suitable stadium, whether through ownership or lease or a ground-sharing arrangement.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 12:30, 26 March 2003

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Bureau for providing time for the debate, and to the 73 members who signed my motion, which made it one of the best-supported motions ever in the Parliament. The fact that the motion is supported by a majority of members of the Parliament—members of all parties and none and members from virtually every part of Scotland—is an indication of the strength and breadth of feeling on the issue of promotion to the Scottish Premier League. It would, of course, be inappropriate for the Scottish Parliament to try to dictate to the SPL on that matter, but I hope that the SPL will listen to the views of the Scottish Parliament, which has responsibility for sports policy as well as other matters.

I do not want to be purely parochial. As the member for the constituency in which Falkirk Football Club is based, it is my intention to present the case for Falkirk FC. However, if Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Club, for example, were to win the first division of the Scottish Football League, I think that it should also have the opportunity to put its case for promotion. I have no doubt that other members, particularly Fergus Ewing, might want to do that.

At present, Falkirk is top of the first division and Falkirk fans feel, understandably, that it would be a travesty of justice if their club were to win the first division championship but be denied promotion to the SPL. The club's recent success has been due to the efforts of the players, the fans, the management and the board, who have achieved a remarkable turnaround in the club's performance. Five years ago, Falkirk FC was on the verge of extinction when it went into receivership. I do not want to dwell on the activities of previous boards, but any mismanagement was certainly not due to the current board, which came to the rescue and set about rebuilding the club to ensure its re-entry into the top flight of Scottish football.

Everybody accepts that Falkirk's present home of Brockville is completely unsuitable for the SPL. However, Brockville has been sold to Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc and the proceeds from the sale are to be invested in a new stadium. In partnership with Falkirk Council, Falkirk FC is in the process of building a community stadium, which will be not only a home for Falkirk FC, but an asset for the entire community; the stadium will provide a variety of facilities for sports and business, including a technicians training facility that will be a centre of excellence.

The stadium will be owned and managed by a joint venture company and Mr Colin Maclean, director of BP Grangemouth, has agreed to chair the board. The stadium will have a 10,000, all-seated capacity and will meet the SPL criteria. Members will have received a letter from Lex Gold, chairman of the SPL, outlining the history of and reasons for the SPL's decision to insist that all its member clubs must have a stadium with a minimum capacity of 10,000 seats. However, that decision has been questioned recently in view of the fact that few SPL matches—except those that involve the old firm—attract crowds of 10,000. However, as Lex Gold points out in his letter, the 10,000, all-seated capacity is also a licensing requirement of the Union of European Football Associations.

In the case of Falkirk FC, the new stadium will satisfy SPL and UEFA criteria, but unfortunately it will not be ready until this time next year. In the meantime, Falkirk FC has signed a contract with the owners of the Excelsior stadium in Airdrie for the use of that stadium until the new Falkirk stadium is ready. The Excelsior stadium also meets SPL and UEFA criteria and that is why Falkirk FC is asking the SPL to respond positively to its application.

Of course, that arrangement would involve a temporary ground-sharing agreement with Airdrie United, but I fail to see why that should present any great difficulty. Some of the biggest and most successful clubs in the world share football stadia. For example, AC Milan and Inter Milan share the San Siro stadium, and Lazio and Roma share the Olympic stadium in Rome.

It is also worth recalling that, a few years ago, Celtic was allowed to share Hampden with Queen's Park for a season while Celtic Park was being redeveloped. All that Falkirk asks for is the approval of a similar temporary arrangement to allow the club to be promoted to the SPL if it wins the first division championship this season.

The main criterion for promotion should be footballing merit. I accept Lex Gold's point that other criteria such as safety, public order and spectator comfort are essential, but Falkirk's proposals do not reduce safety, public order or spectator comfort. The interim proposal for ground sharing and the long-term proposal for the new stadium meet those criteria. I therefore believe that the SPL should accept Falkirk's application.

Falkirk Football Club has a long and honourable history, having won the Scottish cup twice. For many years, the club was in the top league of Scottish football. Like most football clubs, we have had our ups and downs. The club is now at the top of the first division and is one of only six clubs left in the Scottish cup. Everybody at the club has worked hard to secure a better future for it. It would be a fair reward for that hard work and success on the field if Falkirk won promotion as first division champions. I therefore urge the SPL to approve Falkirk's application.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Nine members would like to take part in the debate, so the time for each speech will have to be three minutes.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 12:37, 26 March 2003

I support Dennis Canavan's motion for several reasons. The first is that the state of Scottish football means that we must continue to encourage clubs that are not in the SPL to achieve. If a glass ceiling prevents those clubs from moving beyond the first division into the SPL and the glories of European competition, they are not encouraged to achieve and to invest in their clubs.

The issues that promotion to the SPL raises are numerous, but I will focus on two, the first of which is supporter safety. No members want anything to compromise supporter safety. On Sunday, we saw a game in Inverness at which Inverness Caledonian Thistle was easily able to cope with the visit of a member of the old firm for a result that went a particular way. Public and supporter safety was not threatened.

Promotion to the SPL requires a club to have a stadium with a capacity of 10,000. I understand why that requirement was set but, more and more, fans can watch live broadcasts on television and are less willing for various reasons—including the costs of transport and tickets—to travel to as many away games as they used to. Therefore, a capacity of 10,000 is not as necessary as it was when the requirement was set. We must consider capacities of 7,000 to 8,000 for stadiums.

Falkirk's situation is clear. The stadium that is on offer through Airdrie United is of the highest quality and can cope easily with the demands of the SPL.

If Falkirk make a ground-sharing arrangement with Airdrie United, Scottish football is not too big or too complex an organisation to work with the demands that would be placed on the SPL, the first division and the second division to allow such a relationship to be developed.

I appreciate the business reasons for the top 12 wanting to remain the top 12, but I hope that, for the good of Scottish football, a glass ceiling will not be placed on clubs that are at the top and which win promotion as a result of footballing ability. Automatic promotion and relegation should be part of our system and ways should be found of allowing them to happen. I urge the Parliament to support the motion.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 12:40, 26 March 2003

Presiding Officer, his royal Wyness, grieving Celtic fans, ladies and gentlemen, I have no intention of gloating over certain recent events, although it is tempting. However, I am pleased to support the motion in Dennis Canavan's name and that the motion has attracted such a lot of support.

The rule that would prevent Inverness Caley Thistle or Falkirk from achieving promotion to the SPL is based entirely on decisions that were taken in the 1990s, particularly 1994, when numbers were set in respect of membership of the various divisions. Those decisions, which require that SPL clubs have all-covered and all-seated stadia that hold 10,000 people, were made nearly a decade ago when attendances at matches were much higher than they are now.

I will give some information about the first division, in which Inverness Caley Thistle currently plays. The club's current stadium has a seated stand that accommodates 2,290 people, 730 of whom can be accommodated under cover. The stadium has a total capacity of nearly 6,500. The balance of spectators are accommodated on terracing, most of which is not covered. The average attendances at first-division matches have been substantially lower than the 5,000 that was stipulated in the 1994 settlement agreement. It seems that clubs in the first division can get away with breaking the settlement agreement, but that that law must somehow be rigorously enforced in respect of the SPL. Surely that shows that the justification for the perpetuation of the system is unfounded. The rules are selectively enforced in the SPL but not enforced in the lower leagues.

Karen Gillon mentioned safety. We all remember the Ibrox disaster of 1971 and the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. We all recognise that the rules were created to deal with safety and security at grounds and that it was decided that all-seated grounds were the safest. We all agree with that, but there must be balance and there must be a limit. We must consider in that light the figures that were set at a different time. As Dennis Canavan said, there is an overwhelming case for considering the rules.

In taking up the case with the minister and the SPL on behalf of a leading Inverness Caley Thistle supporter, I had a meeting with Lex Gold and Ian Blair, whom I thank for affording me the courtesy of a lengthy and full meeting. I believe that they would like clubs to be promoted on merit, but they are tied by the settlement agreement. The Parliament has a legislative role to play and it can take action.

Elaine Murray is the last minister in the Scottish Executive whom I would accuse of committing a professional foul, but I believe that such a foul was committed in the reply that I received from her in which she indicated that the criteria for promotion to the SPL are not an Executive responsibility. That is true, but those criteria are not the impediment. The impediment is the statutory provision and the interpretation of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the national planning policy guideline 11. The Executive can change those; if it does so, the numbers can change.

At a time when Inverness Caley Thistle is looking forward to the possibility of competing in Europe next year, it would be a bitter and unacceptable irony if the club could not even compete in the Scottish Premier League. I hope that the Executive will take appropriate action to ensure that that becomes a possibility.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 12:44, 26 March 2003

I apologise to members for the fact that I will have to leave more or less immediately after I have finished my speech. I have apologised to you, Presiding Officer, and to Dennis Canavan.

When it comes to football, I have always said that cash, cash, cash can do anything well. However, we are debating a motion that raises an issue of injustice that shows that, for once in football, more cash is not the solution.

I am indebted to my old adversary Lex Gold for providing a paper explaining the Scottish Premier League's position, which has been commented on by other members. It is a very helpful paper, which explains how the SPL came to produce the settlement agreement whereby, in order to meet the requirements needed to play in the Premier League, clubs must have a stadium with 10,000 covered seats.

The good reasons for that, which relate to safety and public order as well as to comfort, have been explained. One of the purposes of the Scottish Premier League was to raise standards. That has largely been achieved, and much of that is down to the improvements that have been made to the grounds. I support the settlement agreement. It was worthy and it should be maintained. I recognise that many football clubs have invested in their stadia in order to achieve the required standards. In so doing, and in accruing debt but without spending on players, they have become less able to compete with one another or with the old firm in particular.

I do not accept that the settlement agreement is the problem. On many occasions, Falkirk Football Club sought to redevelop its stadium but met with opposition, due in particular to planning problems with Falkirk Council. When other clubs are developed, the size and location of their existing grounds are often relevant issues.

Consider the clubs that have been promoted to the SPL since it started: Partick Thistle, Livingston, St Mirren, Dunfermline Athletic, Hibernian and Dundee. With the exception of Livingston, which started at a new stadium, all those clubs had large enough grounds to accommodate the necessary change, or they at least had enough space around their grounds to do so. That is not in prospect at Falkirk, but Falkirk FC can now achieve its aim with its new plans. The question is whether the ground-sharing proposal with Airdrie United can be accepted. The settlement agreement does not cover ground sharing. If Falkirk produces a plan that allows it to meet the settlement agreement, it can proceed. It has produced such a plan.

My appeal to the member clubs of the SPL is to keep the settlement agreement, but to accept the good faith of Falkirk in proceeding with the Excelsior stadium proposal. If required, a bond could be requested, but the clubs should accept the good faith of Falkirk in providing a stadium that meets the settlement agreement. That would allow the club, if it wins the first division, to be promoted as worthy champions.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 12:47, 26 March 2003

Previous speakers have covered many of the points that I planned to make very well. I endorse the view that we do not wish to inflict a lack of safety on any football supporters. However, the arrangements made by Falkirk seem to meet the relevant requirements.

The argument that Falkirk has not invested in a stadium, whereas other clubs have but without investing in their teams, seems false. Falkirk has invested, and is to have a new stadium. Even during my four years' representation of Central Scotland, Falkirk tried for a long time to get a new stadium. There is therefore no suggestion of a lack of effort on Falkirk's part.

Being competitive animals, we in politics are aghast at the idea that a winner does not win. It seems most extraordinary to have a glass ceiling. Rules can be changed. Our predecessors fought elections under very different systems. At one time, there was no secret ballot and only a few men and no women had the vote. In changing circumstances, rules change. The football authorities should recognise that things have changed and, if necessary, they should change the rules.

Our successors in the next session will have to address the fact that Scottish football is a disaster. As Dennis Canavan said on a previous occasion, Scotland used to export footballers but now imports them. Our whole system is hopeless, and does not deliver. The people who are nationally responsible—as opposed to the people who are struggling in various clubs—must look to themselves to build up a system that will work properly, and we have to help them.

A number of members have voiced interest in helping develop a system in which the supporters of a club, through a co-operative or some other arrangement, have more of a stake and a say in their club. That is one way in which we can encourage them.

I strongly support Dennis Canavan's motion. It is fine if it also affects Inverness Caley Thistle. We should reward merit where it occurs, and as recent events have shown, the big battalions do not always win the football matches, regardless of what they do in battles.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 12:50, 26 March 2003

I should like to congratulate Dennis Canavan on securing the debate. Like him, I draw attention to the large number of members who signed up to speak to the motion, particularly as I know that some on this side of the house would not know the offside rule or whether there is any difference between a shy and a throw-in. However, they signed up to the motion because fairness is the sentiment behind it. That is why we are debating the matter.

I also congratulate Dennis Canavan on managing somehow to equate Airdrie United and Falkirk with AC Milan and Inter Milan, or Lazio and AS Roma. That takes a bit of flight of fancy. He is quite right in saying that there are examples of successful ground-share arrangements in other leagues. We could argue that if we had more ground sharing in Scotland we would have better grounds in the first place. Historically, that would have led to a better standard of football in Scotland rather than to our clubs outside the old firm having to scrape the cash together to improve their grounds. However, that is our system.

It is no secret that my own team is Dunfermline Athletic which, 20 years ago, was playing in the bottom division of the Scottish league. However, by the late 1980s we had managed to get ourselves promoted to the old premier division. Although the next decade saw Dunfermline yo-yo between the premier division and the first division, we were able to improve the team and the ground at the same time, and we have now managed to establish ourselves in the top six in the Premier League. That shows that the argument that is sometimes made—that clubs can do only one thing or the other—is fallacious. In fact, clubs can do both. The fact that all the teams in the Premier League have managed that so far should be taken as a benchmark.

I confess that I am something of a Luddite and preferred standing on terracing to sitting in a football ground. However, I acknowledge that development is required—not just to meet UEFA criteria, but because of the Taylor report. Who would ever have thought that I would end up speaking on behalf of Falkirk, of all clubs? However, if Falkirk or Inverness Caledonian Thistle finish top of the first division, they deserve to be promoted to the Premier League. To fail to promote them would be to condone failure. It would mean abandoning an age-old principle and would allow the bottom club or clubs in one league to be insulated and to become a self-serving group that was not exposed to innovation or competition. As other members have said, that would be to the detriment of Scottish football as a whole.

This debate is not just about whether we want Dundee United or Motherwell to be relegated and Inverness Caledonian Thistle or Falkirk to be promoted: it is about having the best teams playing in our top division. We hope that that will drive up the standard of Scottish football in its entirety and will be in the best interests of the Scottish game.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 12:53, 26 March 2003

I congratulate Dennis Canavan on securing time for this important debate.

Sadly, our national game is not in a healthy state. First, I believe that the current structure of the SPL is wrong. We should have a 16-team premier division, as that would be more competitive and interesting, and would allow more provincial clubs in Scotland to be involved in it. Secondly, it is now self-evident that the so-called split in the Premier League has become something of a joke and should be ended.

The extent of the problems that we face in Scottish football is demonstrated starkly by the fact that the first division champions may not be allowed to be promoted to the Premier League. Lex Gold has provided a helpful background briefing on the position of the SPL. We all recognise that safety must be at the top of the agenda, to ensure that people do not come into harm's way when attending a football match.

However, I believe that the SPL has to address two points. First, with Falkirk having a ground-sharing arrangement in place with the Airdrie United ground owners, I see no reason why the SPL will not accept the idea. As several speakers have pointed out, that has occurred in the past with Celtic sharing with Queen's Park at Hampden and it has occurred with some of Europe's major clubs.

Falkirk should be allowed to be promoted and have a ground-sharing arrangement in place, not just for the sake of the club but for the sake of the fans who have supported the club throughout the season and who follow it match after match to ensure that it can obtain victory. I am confident that Falkirk will secure the first division championship.

People in other clubs question the commitment of Falkirk to investing in its own ground. There should be no doubt that the new stadium—Falkirk's field of dreams—will happen. The first sod was cut on Sunday. Both Falkirk Council and the club have worked hard over the past two years to ensure that the new ground became a reality.

The second point that the SPL must address is the 10,000-seat criterion for entry to the Premier League. It is evident that clubs such as Partick Thistle, which was promoted last season, and St Mirren, which was promoted the season before, do not fill the 10,000-seat capacity even for old firm matches; at best they get 8,000 to 8,500 fans for old firm matches. It is clear that the minimum capacity does not have to be so high. I believe that the SPL must address that issue.

What is the point in making clubs invest in seats when they could be investing in players, as they know that the seats will not be used? I would have hoped that the SPL would recognise that by allowing clubs to invest in players and player development, rather than making them buy seats that will remain empty, we would get better football and improve our national game.

I believe that Falkirk Football Club will go on to win the first division this year. I hope that the SPL will allow common sense to prevail and that Falkirk will be promoted with the ground-sharing arrangement in place.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour 12:57, 26 March 2003

I congratulate Dennis Canavan on securing the debate and take the opportunity to wish Falkirk well in its campaign to have its ground-sharing agreement accepted by the SPL.

The debate is important for all football teams that aspire to promotion. The SPL insists on teams having a covered 10,000-seat stadium for entry to the Premier League. That has no connection to teams' playing ability, only to the size of their bank balance.

For clubs to improve their standing, they need to invest in their teams. However, such investment is useless if they are then required to build a new stadium to reap the rewards of that success. The investment is not needed to seat larger crowds. Seven out of 10 SPL clubs have an average attendance of 7,500.

The 10,000-seat requirement therefore looks like restrictive practice to me. It also appears to discriminate against teams from rural and remote areas, which already face the high costs of increased travel times. Those rural areas are also unable to support their teams in the numbers that the SPL advances. There is a requirement that teams must invest money to improve their stadium with no practical purpose other than to gain access to the SPL.

That investment means that clubs are no longer able to invest in their teams and their time in the SPL is therefore short. The requirement appears to be designed to protect those already in the SPL from demotion. If teams that could be promoted are not promoted because of the restrictions, those facing demotion are safe.

The requirement not only discriminates against rural areas but has a knock-on effect on our home-grown talent. We spend a lot of time complaining about our national team and its lack of success. However, such restrictive practice leads to lack of success. The larger teams in the SPL buy players from abroad to ensure their own success, leaving the smaller teams to bring forward our home-grown talent. If such talent is barred from the SPL, what chance do we have of developing our national team?

We also need to bear it in mind that fans do not travel to support their teams in the same way that they used to. My home teams are Caley Thistle and Ross County, both of which are situated a long distance from the central belt. They are unlikely to require a capacity of 10,000.

There is another anomaly. The capacity restriction is not required in the Scottish cup. Celtic came to Inverness to play Caley Thistle at the weekend and there was no restriction. I will not dwell on the fact that Caley Thistle beat Celtic—I do not want to intrude on private grief—but it shows that our remote teams can succeed in making an impact if restrictive practices are not in place. Therefore, I urge the minister to do everything that she can to persuade the SPL to change its restrictive practices.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 1:00, 26 March 2003

I support Dennis Canavan's motion and I recognise his constituency interest in the case, which he has made no bones about. The issue is spread right across Scotland. This year, Falkirk and Inverness Caledonian Thistle are the teams that have the main interest. St Johnstone might have an interest too, although it has the experience and the stadium. Whichever club hits the top spot deserves to have the option of promotion to the Premier League.

Football is about achievement, commitment, enthusiasm and winning a cup or a championship; it is also about receiving due reward for that. Promotion is all important for the players, for the directors, for those who have committed to the club and, above all, for the fans. That is the aim that Falkirk supporters have had in recent years. Like the supporters of Ayr United, they have been thwarted on the basis that they did not have the stadium to meet the grade.

This year, Falkirk has shown the commitment and has made the arrangements. Just as Celtic went to Hampden, Falkirk could go to Airdrie to live there for a year and to gain the rewards that the new stadium would bring. I put it to the SPL that there should be no doubts. If Falkirk can make that temporary arrangement and it tops the league, it should go up.

If Inverness Caledonian Thistle were to be top dogs, the problems would be slightly different. I acknowledge the arguments on numbers that Karen Gillon and others have made. The 10,000-seat criterion is just a step over the top. As I understand it, the average attendance for Inverness Caley has been about 2,500 this year. I have some affection for Scott Barrie's Dunfermline. Its average attendance is just over the 6,000 mark. On that basis, we must query whether the figure of 10,000 is correct.

In his letter, which was well received, Lex Gold states that there is a requirement for European competition. I must query whether some of the stadiums of the lesser clubs whose games I watch on television meet those criteria. That goes for the international teams as well. I see Scotland playing in stadiums that do not meet Premier League standards. Some of Lex Gold's arguments disappear at that point.

We are debating football and teams' rewards and achievements. Under no circumstances should we ever depress the aspirations of those who put so much into the game by cheating them of their rewards. I ask the Scottish Premier League to bear that in mind.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 1:03, 26 March 2003

I congratulate Dennis Canavan on having his motion selected for the penultimate members' business debate of the Parliament's four-year session. I am replying on behalf of the Scottish Executive, not on behalf of the Scottish Premier League.

I can well understand the frustration and uncertainty that Dennis Canavan and his fellow Falkirk supporters feel about the situation that they would face if their team won the first division. It is clear that the club has made great progress over the past five years. I have considerable sympathy for Falkirk's position, as I am hopeful that Queen of the South might be in a similar position in a year or two. We are lying fifth in the first division, but we were promoted only at the end of last season. The Queens are definitely on their way.

As members are probably aware, the Minister for Finance and Public Services announced that an additional £2 million of capital consent money would be available to Falkirk Council to go towards the building of the new community stadium at Westfield. I am aware that Falkirk remains in discussion with the SPL as to whether its plans to release the Excelsior stadium from Airdrie United would enable it to operate within the Scottish Premier League's criteria.

I am also aware that Inverness Caledonian Thistle, which is currently in third place in the first division, has asked me to meet the SPL. Last month, the local MP, David Stewart, announced that he had asked the Office of Fair Trading to examine whether the criteria for entry into the SPL are consistent with UK competition law.

However, as Brian Monteith indicated, there are a number of clubs on the other side of the argument. Those include St Johnstone, which is currently in second place in the first division, and Partick Thistle, St Mirren and Airdrie. Those clubs invested significantly in their stadia in the hope of promotion to the SPL, so they might well feel aggrieved if the criteria were now changed in retrospect.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The minister makes the valid point that, if the rules are changed, those who abided by the former rules may feel aggrieved. However, does she recognise that many clubs that developed their stadiums received substantial grants towards their costs from the Football Trust?

As that source of finance is simply no longer available, there is no level playing field.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

The member is right in saying that assistance was made available to some clubs. I know that clubs have a difficult choice when deciding whether to invest in players or in stadia. Some years ago, Queen of the South was criticised for selling players in order to invest in the football ground. That is a difficult argument for football clubs to win.

However, the rules that we are debating were agreed upon by the membership of the Scottish Football League when the SPL was established. As other members have mentioned, the rules arose from the report of Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry into the Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 people were killed. That report recommended that all grounds of premier league clubs should be all-seated and the recommendation was enforced voluntarily by the football authorities in Scotland. As Fergus Ewing said, the recommendation was incorporated into national planning policy guideline 11 by the Scottish Office in 1996, although that guideline is simply a statement of policy and does not have a statutory basis.

Under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, every designated sports ground with a spectator capacity of more than 10,000 must obtain a safety certificate from the relevant local authority. That requirement applies to all stadia, not just those of the SPL clubs. The 10,000 capacity to which I referred can be seated or standing or a combination of both. Like Scott Barrie, I have some affection for standing on the terraces, as I always feel that the atmosphere is better on the terraces than in the seated area. Personally, I would find it a matter for regret if Queen of the South had to give up its terraces.

In 1994, the football authorities determined that the stadia of premier league clubs should be all-seated and should have a minimum capacity of 10,000. Clubs that were promoted during the 1993-94 season were allowed a period of five years in which to become all-seated. That condition was confirmed when the SPL was established. As Dennis Canavan mentioned, UEFA is looking to introduce a requirement that the stadia of all clubs in an affiliated association's top division must have a minimum capacity of 10,000.

I am aware that legal action has been proposed and, although I do not advocate such a course of action, that may be the only way to determine whether the rules governing membership of the SPL are legal. The SPL has stated that it is confident that its rules will stand up to legal challenge.

One thing of which I am certain is that there needs to be constructive discussion among all parties. The Executive would be happy to participate in any such dialogue and we would be prepared to consult on the reduction of the 10,000 limit for the issuing of a safety certificate. However, of itself, such a move would not affect the SPL's criteria. We would also need to be careful to ensure that there were no repercussions for the smaller clubs in the lower divisions. That would need to be taken into account if we entered into those debates.

In conclusion, it is clear that the first division has some exciting football. I hope that a resolution can be found that allows the best clubs to gain the promotion that they deserve.

Meeting suspended until 14:30.

On resuming—