HC Deb 13 January 1971 vol 809 cc72-6
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the tragic accident which occurred at Ibrox Football Ground, Glasgow, on 2nd January which all Members of the House will have heard of with deep shock. Sixty six people lost their lives and a further 145 required hospital treatment for their injuries. At present five people are still in hospital. Most of the other injured made a quick recovery after treatment.

I saw the site of the disaster on the following day when I also visited some of the injured in hospital. The accident occurred towards the end of the traditional New Year match between Rangers and Celtic, when spectators, who had been very well behaved, were leaving the ground. It took place on a stairway leading down from the terracing at the east end of the ground and there a considerable number of spectators fell.

The exact cause or causes of the accident have not yet been established, but the Lord Advocate has already set in motion the procedure for a fatal accident inquiry into the circumstances surrounding it. The inquiry will begin its hearings as soon as possible and they will be held in public before a sheriff and a jury; it is intended that the Sheriff of Lanarkshire should preside.

In the meantime, Ministers have had discussions with representatives of the football authorities on both sides of the Border and have asked that clubs should make an urgent review of safety arrangements at their grounds, The public attending many matches in Scotland last week were asked to exercise care and patience when leaving grounds, as this is a simple way of helping to reduce crowd pressure, whatever kind of situation may develop. This advice is being conveyed to all football clubs and is to be repeated regularly through suitable media. Together with the Home Secretary and the Minister responsible for sport, I shall be giving consideration to measures which in the longer term may be necessary to improve safety arrangements at sports grounds generally. We shall take into account the information obtained from football clubs in England, Wales and Scotland. This was asked for by the Home Secretary and myself in November 1970, as we wished to take practical steps to implement the recommendations of the Lang Report; and we shall of course also take into consideration the results of this fatal accident inquiry when they become available.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the life-saving work done by the various services involved and by members of the public. Despite difficulties of access due to the very large crowds leaving the area of the ground at the time, the emergency services acted with commendable promptness. Some doctors were in attendance almost at once; and the fire brigade turned out with resuscitation equipment. Ambulances carried out a constant shuttle service to the hospitals, whose staff were able to treat most of the patients by the early evening. The police rendered all possible assistance and organised a central information bureau to deal with the many enquiries received. I should like to thank also Glasgow Corporation Social Work Department, the mortuary staff and the Salvation Army who did so much to comfort and care for relatives of those who died.

I am sure that the House would wish to join me in conveying our deepest sympathy to the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives in this disaster.

Mr. Ross

This was indeed Scotland's blackest New Year holiday ever. Is the Secretary of State aware that we all wish to join him in his expressions of sympathy for the families who were so tragically bereaved and in his tribute to the police, doctors, nurses, fire services and other public services, as well as footballers, officials and members of the public, who worked so untiringly to minimise the disaster and to bring aid to the innocent victims?

May I express my thanks also to the Lord Advocate for so speedily invoking the procedures of the Fatal Accidents Inquiry Act? Is there any possibility of the right hon. Gentleman telling us now when the inquiry will open and how long it might last? The sad thing is that the disaster could probably have happened anywhere else in the country. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that all proposals to safeguard life where there are such crowds, whether at Ibrox or elsewhere, even proposals that might require legislation, will be competent at the inquiry and can be fully considered? Will the right hon. Gentleman take note and pass on to the relevant Minister that we shall want a debate on the whole question after we have the result of the inquiry?

Mr. Campbell

As soon as the Procurator Fiscal can complete the preliminary arrangements the hearing should start. In view of the public interest and the large numbers of witnesses likely to come forward, the preparations may require about a month. The hearing is expected to extend over several days, but the findings and the recommendations of the jury will be made available immediately the inquiry finishes. It is for the Procurator Fiscal to marshal the evidence and to consider its competence. As for a debate, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will no doubt have heard what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Rankin

As the Member for the Glasgow, Govan Division, I support what the Secretary of State has said and what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has said. I was able to visit the ground almost immediately after the disaster, and one or two matters have worried me ever since that visit. I hope that the inquiry will be very searching indeed, because the disaster on 2nd January raises one or two issues to which we must give our immediate and serious attention. The first is the presence of juveniles at football matches where the crowd is as big as 80,000. We must look at that problem, because if juveniles—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to put a question.

Mr. Rankin

I am putting a question, Mr. Speaker—with a little preface, I agree, but I must put it. If juveniles or young people are to be at such games, should not they be segregated from the general crowd for their own protection, and have their own entry and exit? There are many associated problems, and I am not exploring them or even raising them today, but they must be faced. We must remember that this was not the first such disaster.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I really must ask the hon. Gentleman to keep in order. These are all matters for a debate if one takes place.

Mr. Campbell

The point about juveniles is one which will have to be considered and recommendations made when the inquiry is undertaken. The Government are considering, in the light of the information given by the football clubs on the action they have taken to improve their safety arrangements, the question of a further investigation into the problems of crowd safety at football matches and other sporting events. Any such investigation would take into account the findings and recommendations of the fatal accident inquiry.

Mr. Money

As the risk of a potential tragedy of this sort is, unhappily, so very widespread, and there is a general need to improve spectator accommodation at grounds through the country, will my right hon. Friend make recommendations to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make more funds available to clubs, either in the form of tax relief on improvements of a capital kind or by dealing with the anomaly that has arisen in the case of Singette v. Martin by legislation as quickly as possible?

Mr. Campbell

These are not questions for me, but my right hon. Friend will no doubt take note of what has been said. Clearly the inquiries must be held first, and while those inquiries are going on the immediate action which I announced, which the Government thought necessary in order to reduce risks, is that advice should be given to crowds to leave slowly. If the individual wishes to make his contribution to safety, this is the one thing which can help to reduce crowd pressure, whatever kind of situation or obstruction may occur ahead. Beyond that, we must await the recommendations of the inquiries.

Dr. Miller

Having in mind the fact that a tragedy like this could happen in any ground where there is pressure of thousands of people leaving the area, does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind any proposals for the complete redesigning of football stadiums in order to obviate tragedies of this kind in future?

Mr. Campbell

Certain recommendations were contained in the Lang Report, upon which I and my right hon. Friends have been in discussion and in correspondence with the football authorities. Clearly, the results of the Fatal Accident Act inquiry must be awaited before actions as far-reaching as the hon. Gentleman suggests are taken.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on. No doubt the Leader of the House will take account of the fact that so many hon. Members wanted to ask questions.