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UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the bill. As has been mentioned a few times, Scotland has been fortunate enough to host a number of major sporting events in recent years. Glasgow, in particular, has a strong international reputation for delivering on these international occasions.

The 2014 Commonwealth games brought athletes and sports fans to Scotland from all around the world, and they showed Glasgow and Scotland at their very best. The investment for that event and its infrastructure is still paying dividends today, opening up more opportunities to attract other major events and giving local residents access to world-class facilities—which I utilise myself for the athletes that I coach.

Since the Commonwealth games, Glasgow has played host to several major sporting events, including the 2018 European championships, along with the host city Berlin, and the 2019 European athletics indoor championships. Later this year, the European short course swimming championships will be coming to the Tollcross international swimming centre.

There is no question but that those major events come with real prestige and bring economic benefit for Glasgow and Scotland more widely, and I am delighted that Scotland will play a role in Euro 2020. It is not always acknowledged that hosting events such as the Olympics, the Commonwealth games or Euro 2020 will almost always require action in a country’s Parliament. There will always be some people who question the appropriateness of passing legislation that is primarily intended to secure mainly large commercial interests.

Our consideration of the bill and the wider issues around hosting such an event is a game of two halves. Apologies for that, Presiding Officer—I could not resist it. There is a clear need to ensure that ticket touts do not rip off football fans—and I was interested to hear Mike Rumbles raise with the minister the matter of how the eventual legislation might frame a more permanent solution to ticket touting further down the line.

We need to ensure that UEFA’s brand is protected and undamaged by vendors selling inferior-quality or counterfeit goods and that event sponsors have confidence that paying for advertising space is worth it—thereby reducing the need for the public to subsidise such events. Against that, we have to balance the legitimate rights of street traders and others who are simply going about their normal business, and the potential impact on the local communities surrounding the event zones.

As other members have mentioned, there are concerns about whether the event zone restrictions could have European convention on human rights implications, particularly relating to the right to the enjoyment of property and the significant powers being handed to enforcement officers for the duration of the event. Some effort appears to be being made to address those issues in the bill, such as through the requirement that entering and searching private property needs owner consent, police attendance or a sheriff’s warrant. I hope that there will be greater clarity on those issues as the bill progresses. Similarly, until Parliament and those affected by the event zone legislation know the precise extent of event zones, and their timings of operation, it will be difficult to judge their potential impact.

As an aside, I noticed that Joe FitzPatrick was in the chamber for the earlier speeches. I would say to him that although the Scottish Government has shown a willingness in this case to create zones restricting trading, it has failed to support my proposal to create similar restriction zones for junk food sales around schools. That issue will be discussed another time.

Many members have mentioned the fact that the relatively short timescale for the passage of the bill has raised its own issues, particularly in relation to ensuring public awareness and thorough engagement with traders and local residents who could potentially be affected. That is a particularly crucial issue, as it speaks to one of the most important aspects of holding an event such as the UEFA Euro championships, which is public engagement. As someone who has been fortunate enough to experience a number of major international sports events up close, I recognise the huge amount of work that goes into making them happen. With that work can often come temporary disruption for people living near the event sites. Euro 2020 is a global event, but I believe that it also has to be a local event for Scotland, for Glasgow and for those communities in or near the event zones. We are asking those communities to put up with a reasonable amount of disruption, and it is important that UEFA, the Scottish FA and Glasgow City Council all work to give local residents an experience that they will remember and not one that they will want to forget. I hope that the minister will be able to provide some details of what work is being done to engage with all those affected by the proposed measures and the wider event.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, Scotland has an impressive history and reputation when it comes to hosting international sporting events. The events themselves are often a source of inspiration to the next generation of young sportspeople, many of whom go on to train in the place where they saw their heroes win. Although many of Glasgow’s most impressive sports facilities were created in the run-up to the Commonwealth games, Hampden park is a notable exception. It is the oldest international football stadium in the world, and although, admittedly, there are times when we go there and can tell that it has been around for a while, it has not lost its power to put on a show.

Next year’s Euro 2020 matches in Glasgow are a welcome sign of Scotland’s continuing popularity as a venue for international sport. It is a real honour and a privilege to be selected to host events such as this, and it is something that we should all take great pride in.

As a Parliament, it is now our responsibility to deliver a bill that ensures that the event takes place successfully. However, we also have a responsibility to ensure that we make the most of the event to the benefit of the communities and businesses that will be impacted by it.