Access to Sport: People with Colour Blindness — [Derek Twigg in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:54 am on 15th March 2023.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw 9:54 am, 15th March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Twigg. It is also a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon, as I do on many occasions.

I congratulate Liz Twist. She is committed to rare diseases, syndromes and conditions that affect the daily life of so many people and their families, and she works continuously in this area. I am happy to put on record my thanks to her for all the outstanding work that she does to make others aware of many conditions. I also thank the charity Colour Blindness Awareness for its briefing and for raising awareness of these issues, which many of us have never actually thought about. We have already heard about the amazing numbers of people who are either carriers or affected by colour blindness, yet the issue is not taken as seriously as it should be in sport.

I also make a plea. This issue does not just affect rugby and football. My granddaughter plays netball, which is, I think, the biggest sport played by women and girls—certainly in my area in Scotland and, I think, across the UK. Although fewer women are affected by this condition, they have mums and dads who watch avidly. We have to think about all sports here.

The briefing from Colour Blindness Awareness made me aware that in England children are no longer screened for colour blindness as part of the healthy child screening programme. Screening has been stopped on the basis of evidence that has perhaps been discredited. Teachers are not trained how to identify and support colour-blind children. In Scotland and Wales, however, there is colour vision screening for under-16s. Studies show that despite 75% of children having had an NHS eye test by year 7 in England, 80% have never had a colour vision test, so they and their families will not know what is wrong. It is a huge thing for parents not to be aware of. I ask that the Minister looks at that and refers to it in his summing up.

The hon. Member for Blaydon and the Colour Blind Awareness briefing mention the Equality Act 2010. Almost incredibly, the guidance notes on that Act are erroneous. They state that people

“unable to distinguish between red and green” should not be considered to have a disability. There is no such medical condition. People with colour vision deficiencies have a lifelong, debilitating medical condition that cannot be rectified, which excludes them from much information provided in colour. Many colour combinations can cause challenges, not just reds and greens. Consequently, the business, education and sporting sectors mistakenly believe that they do not have to take into account the needs of colour-blind people. That error discourages colour-blind people from bringing a legal challenge when discriminated against. That is important, because the Equality Act is about equality, so they should be able to bring forward these discrimination challenges. We all know from our experience in this place that those challenges often affect the decisions made by Government. Reviews are carried out and mistakes are rectified.

Colour vision deficiency, or CVD, affects about one in 12 men and one in 200 women, and there are approximately 3 million colour-blind people in Britain—approximately 4.5% of our population. That could be a significant number of people who play sport. As we have already heard graphically from the hon. Member for Blaydon, who spoke about her young footballer constituent, sport is losing out on people who could achieve elite status, simply because needs related to their CVD are not met.

The hon. Member for Strangford talked about signage in football stadia and other places, although we are talking specifically about sport in this debate. I thank him and the hon. Member for Blaydon for raising that point. I will write to sportscotland to find out its take on this important issue. We are aware that there are differences across the four nations in how things are done, but I do not ever want to say, and I hope I never have, that everything in Scotland is perfect—it almost is, but not always.

I am aware that a lot of what I am saying is repetitive, but I make no apology for it. My first ever Chief Whip would say, “Marion, repetition is good. It gets your point out to your constituents and to people across the Chamber,” so I will carry on repeating stuff that has already been said. In Scotland, the Government are keen on sport for all. They have taken a number of actions and follow a number of guidelines. For example, sportscotland, which gets its money from the Scottish Government, follows the SCULPT framework for digital accessibility. Importantly, under that framework, one of the basic principles that should be considered when digital material is produced is its colour and contrast. That comes back to the point about people finding things difficult in football or sports stadiums when things are colour-coded. I will also write to the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Professional Football League and the premiership clubs on this issue.

Until the debate was announced, I had not considered this issue at all in my role as SNP disability spokesperson, so I have got more work out of this debate, which I am actually quite happy about. We cannot always make effective change here and now as a result of these debates, but we can speak to the relevant bodies and raise their awareness of issues. The hon. Member for Blaydon is good at pointing people in the right direction on various issues, so again I commend her for her work.

The Active Scotland outcomes framework describes the Scottish Government’s ambitions for sport and physical activity and commits to ensuring that everyone has opportunities to achieve, irrespective of disability. I will be speaking soon to Scottish Government Ministers, and will flag this issue. I cannot guarantee that I will be completely successful on it immediately, but I will keep plugging away. I understand the Minister is keen on responding to this sort of thing. Does he know which two stadia the previous speakers were talking about? If someone could let me know, I would be grateful. I will visit my local football club, Motherwell, and will be particularly interested in its signage. I do not know if the claret and amber cause difficulties for people with colour blindness, but I will find out as soon as I can.