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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 Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I am sorry; I have a bad cold. I hope that members will be able to hear what I say.

I am pleased to open this afternoon’s debate for the Labour Party and I am happy to confirm that we will support the UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

Next year is the 60th anniversary of the European championship, and to mark that landmark, the championship will take part across 12 countries. It is a testament to Glasgow that it has been chosen as one of the host cities, with four fixtures due to take place at the national team’s park at Hampden. This is one of the largest sporting events in the world, and the announcement that Glasgow had been selected to be part of this special year for the tournament was very positive.

The city’s selection was also well deserved. Scotland showed itself to be a perfect venue for major sporting events during the 2014 Commonwealth games. Our infrastructure was good, our welcome was warm and even the weather co-operated. The previous Scottish Executive and the Scottish Government, along with their partner, Glasgow City Council, demonstrated vision and ambition for Scotland’s role on the world’s sporting stage, and the games’ success helped to secure our position as a competitive location.

The UEFA Euro 2020 championship will provide an economic boost to Glasgow and to Scotland. Accommodation and hospitality sectors will benefit and there will be opportunities to persuade people to stay longer in Scotland and take advantage of all that we have to offer. We can anticipate cultural and social benefits.

The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee welcomed assurances that busking will be admissible in the event zones. There will be an opportunity to share all the cultural activities and night-time economy that Glasgow offers.

I have had a look at the UEFA website, on which there are promotional videos for each city. I note that it mentions that Edinburgh is only 70km—the distance is given in kilometres, because the site is aimed at a European market—from Glasgow. The benefits will extend across Scotland.

It seems that no debate can avoid Brexit. International events such as the championship, which bring together people through social interaction, are important for fostering co-operation and understanding. They enable us to recognise our place in Europe, whatever the future holds.

Games will take place in Glasgow and London, with the semi-finals and the final taking place at Wembley. We must show ourselves to be a welcoming and inclusive country, here in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, so that we can all enjoy this celebration of world-class football. There have been ugly scenes in European football in recent months and we must make clear—as must UEFA—that racism and antisocial behaviour have no place in the game or the festivities that surround it.

As a member of the committee, I understand and share some of the concerns that the convener expressed. I will focus on a few of the issues that she raised and on the responses that we have received from the Government.

As the minister acknowledged, the timescale for consultation and scrutiny has been challenging. I thank the people who submitted written evidence and who were able to attend committee meetings at short notice. It is disappointing that there is not more time to consider the bill. Every piece of legislation should have adequate time for consideration. Although there are occasions on which it is necessary to fast track a bill—it is argued that this is one such occasion—such an approach should be avoided. The current state of affairs is unfortunate, albeit that the minister has provided an explanation for it, and the committee is not convinced that it was unavoidable.

Although the legislation is similar to the bill that was introduced for similar reasons in relation to the Commonwealth games, it is unfortunate that the Government was unable to provide much analysis of how the legislation operated during the Commonwealth games. That might be because there appear to have been no significant issues. However, only in recent months has there been any attempt to review the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Act 2008 and the letter from the Crown Office that said that there were four reported cases of ticket touting during the games. If there had been an evaluation of the 2008 act, it might have been easier to make the argument to the committee that this bill is a fairly straightforward piece of legislation that provides for an approach that has been tested and was effective. I welcome the Government’s stated intention to learn from this experience.

It could be that the lack of time has caused some of those issues of concern. The Law Society of Scotland highlighted that it would have been helpful to include in the initial bill documentation comparative details of similar measures that are being taken in England or other European countries. Scotland is not unique in having to introduce primary legislation, but it suggests a weakness in our legislation on ticket touting that needs to be addressed. Ticket touting has had a high profile in recent years, particularly with regard to music events and the growth of online sales.

I welcome the Government’s response to the committee’s questions about online ticket touting, which sets out that someone could be refused entry unless their ticket has been purchased through a UEFA resale platform. Awareness of that will need to be raised, so that fans will be aware of the risks if they purchase a ticket in that way. It may be an effective way to deter online ticket touting, which is difficult to police, but I recognise that the enforcement of existing consumer rights has seen an improvement in recent months. That approach should be applied to all ticket touting, which is simply exploitation of fans.

The area that generated the most discussion is the roles and responsibilities of enforcement officers and the enforcement powers, on which the committee suggested a number of amendments. Although the need for enforcement officers during the tournament is recognised, concerns have been expressed about whether the powers are appropriate and the measures proportionate to the potential issues that may arise during the tournament, particularly with regard to entering domestic and non-domestic properties. Policing the event and ensuring the safety of those who attend will be the role of Police Scotland, and the tournament will require intensive policing resource. The role of enforcement officers should complement that of police officers, so the legislation must be clear on the division of responsibilities.

There are several areas on which the committee sought assurances from the minister, and the amendments that he has proposed are welcome. I am keen for the legislation to have the confidence of Parliament, so that we can focus on the positive opportunities that the tournament will bring. There are lots of positive opportunities for the city, for tourism and, I hope, for Scotland’s national team, but we should recognise that, for people who live within the event zones or their close vicinity, assurances will need to be provided and appreciation given for any concerns that they raise. It is welcome that an engagement session with residents around Hampden park will be held next week, and efforts must be made to keep those residents and other interested parties informed of the impacts of everything that will be in place during the tournament.

The Law Society of Scotland’s briefing for today’s debate raised questions about the seemingly piecemeal approach to hosting individual major events. That issue was also raised by the committee, which questioned whether a more strategic approach could be adopted that would cover any future events. It is anticipated and hoped that Scotland will be in a good position to attract more international events—I understand that there have been positive announcements on that subject this afternoon—and the same issues will need to be addressed in a temporary manner unless legislation could be introduced to apply in all circumstances.

The minister said at a committee meeting that he would consider the need for an events framework bill; I would be interested in more detail on that. When I have asked the cabinet secretary previously whether we could have a Scottish solution to ticket touting, it has been clear that there are issues with reserved powers, including consumer protection, and that is reflected in the Government’s response to the stage 1 report. However, if there is a way to avoid introducing legislation for individual events, it would be worth exploring whether the powers that we are using could be made permanent or, at the least, whether there could be a system by which they could be triggered when necessary.

I look forward to this afternoon’s debate, and I welcome the Government’s response so far to the issues that the committee raised.