HC Deb 27 June 1989 vol 155 cc937-42 10.27 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Football Spectators Bill [Lords] that it have power to make provision in the Bill relating to any aspect of the safety of spectators at designated football matches. This motion was tabled at the suggestion of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I have already explained its meaning and purpose and the use to which the Government might seek to put it by moving an amendment in Committee. I do not think that I need to add anything to what I said earlier.

10.28 pm
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

I do not wish to detain the House, but I think that the Secretary of State should give us a little more explanation of his motion because it might cause considerable problems to the Committee. I have already referred to all-seater stadiums, which is a desirable aim towards which we hope to move.

The purpose of the Government's proposal is to allow us to amend the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, although that is not the legislation that we will be discussing. It raises questions about the powers of local authorities, the rights of football grounds and the cost of implementing any of the schemes. Can the Secretary of State assure us that all those matters can be debated in Committee under his proposal? If so, we shall be satisfied.

We do not wish to resist anything that will improve the safety of grounds and, wherever possible, we shall support the Government. Nevertheless, there are questions of cost and convenience for the football authorities and the local authorities, and we need to be satisfied on those matters before approving the motion.

10.29 pm
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

I am pleased that at least the Government have decided that it will be possible to introduce measures through the Bill which will enable the whole question of safety at football grounds to be properly considered. This precipitate legislation still needs major amendment if there is a real desire to do something about safety at football grounds.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) referred to what had happened in relation to violence at football grounds in Holland. They set up an advisory board to consider not just hooliganism but safety and crowd control. I hope that the Government will listen to what other people have to say. It is a forlorn hope because, as we know, the Government never make mistakes. So they will decide what to do and they will not listen to anybody else.

I appeal to reasonable hon. Members on the Government Benches to support any move for which we press to try to ensure that the Government consult the people who know about football stadiums. I mean the football authorities, the police and, most of all, the people who tend to be ignored time and again by Government Members—the football supporters' associations. We want real safety. We want conditions in which Hillsboroughs do not occur again. The people of Liverpool are extremely concerned that all that we will get is sympathy but no real action.

We should consider the experience of other countries. In Germany after the second world war, when they had the advantage of being able to build from scratch, the great stadiums were not built in urban areas, where so many of our grounds are. That is why we have problems on the streets outside grounds, why there is annoyance to people in their residences and why, incidentally, if the scheme is forced on us, we may have Luton copied everywhere else.

At one time the Anglican Church was regarded as the Tory party at prayer, but now Luton Town football club is taking on the pose of the Tory party at play. When I attended that ground on 21 January, in the directors' room there were no fewer than four Tory Members, including two members of the Cabinet, the right hon. Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson). Obviously they are impressed with the position at Luton.

Of course, safety does not extend outside the ground. During the 1987–88 football season there were no fewer than 262 cases of criminal damage in Luton town centre and 13 assaults on the police. Luton is not a Tory paradise; it is not a place of peace and tranquillity, no matter what people say.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

As the hon. Gentleman has spoken of my constituency as a place of peace and tranquillity, which it is, will he give the House the figures of arrests in the town for the previous year and the figures for the year before the membership scheme was introduced?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) will not be tempted to do that. He must confine his remarks to the instruction on the Order Paper.

Mr. Wareing

I will not be dragged along that road, Mr. Speaker.

If we are serious about safety in our football grounds, the Committee will have to consider the provision of more football grounds. When cup semi-finals and other large matches are being played, it should be possible for the Football Association and the Football League to use stadiums such as Wembley. We need four or five more such stadiums, but that requires public finance. It cannot be done by private finance. Football grounds in West Germany and Holland are provided by municipalities.

The Secretary of State should think about getting the people who know to advise him and about setting up an advisory body upon which football organisations, football supporters and the police will be represented. There should be an attempt to examine the structure of existing football grounds.

If identity cards are to be shown at every match in the country—each year, hundreds of matches are played at the 92 Football League grounds, at Wembley and at other stadiums—it will be necessary to examine turnstiles and access to grounds. Many football stands are built on main roads. For example, the Kop end of Liverpool football ground abuts the main road. Liverpool football club has solved most of the problem by ensuring that only season ticket holders and people with special discretionary match-day tickets go through the turnstiles. If identity cards are introduced, there will have to be structural changes at Liverpool football ground to accommodate people going through the turnstiles. The Government must be able to give financial assistance to football clubs.

We must also consider Tottenham Hotspur football club. A high street is adjacent to that ground. There must be major structural changes to ensure safety in that ground, and even to deal with the problem of showing identity cards.

The Committee will examine not only overall safety, the problems that we have had in the past and the problem at Hillsborough and other grounds, but the increased danger as a result of large crowds, very often on Wednesday or Tuesday nights, queueing in our main streets to get into football grounds. Safety will be imperilled by the Bill, and that is yet another reason it should be the priority in Committee.

10.38 pm
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

One thing that unites hon. Members is that none of us wishes to see a repeat of the Hillsborough, Bradford or Heysel tragedies. We should do everything possible to secure safety in our football grounds. Whatever our views may have been in the previous debate, we all welcome the safety instruction that was given to the Committee.

Having due regard to the Secretary of State's record in ensuring that certain matters are fulfilled, I hope that he will assure hon. Members that we are to have a proper opportunity to discuss important safety aspects when the proposals come forward. I hope that he will assure us that there will be full consultation with football clubs, spectators, local authorities and the police who have to implement the proposals. The Government have set themselves a tight timetable. If they want to deal properly with the problem, it is important that they do not push legislation through hastily. Legislation in haste can be bad legislation. The Government should ensure that they get things right.

To some extent, the Taylor inquiry was predetermined because it had to issue an interim report. Many people are afraid that inquiries have to rush their investigations to meet the Government's requirement that they publish an interim report. As was said in the previous debate, the Popplewell final report differed considerably from the interim report.

All of us—Government, Opposition, police, local authorities, football club management and spectators—have a responsibility to ensure that our football grounds are safe. I hope that the Secretary of State will give an assurance that he will take account of the fears of many people that a membership scheme will cause safety problems at gates—but we cannot go into that debate now.

I hope that the Secretary of State will not push us towards having all-seating stadiums. We should not necessarily accept that that is the only way to solve the problem. I do not accept that standing stadiums cannot be made safe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said on a similar point, there are often safety problems outside the grounds—at Underground stations and on the roads. I hope that the Secretary of State will make a commitment to provide from public funds the resources necessary to ensure that spectators outside grounds are safe, just as we are trying to ensure that spectators inside grounds are safe.

10.42 pm
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

A number of aspects of the motion worry me greatly. It is outrageous that the Secretary of State has moved such a motion at this time. We have just spent hours talking about the fact that we will have two more opportunities to debate the safety issue. Why, therefore, is the right hon. Gentleman trying to impose this on the Committee? Even on the Government's tight time scale, it will take until 1991, or thereabouts, before the requirements are made law.

Who will pay for the extra safety requirements that will be imposed? We have heard that computerisation of membership details will cost individual clubs £50,000-plus. The Minister outlined ways in which some of that money could be raised, but what happens if it is not raised? Imposition of £50,000 in the first year on a club such as Mansfield, which I represent, would have disastrous effects. It cannot afford to lose that amount. As it is, it is struggling to get by week by week through the season.

Will the Government give a commitment to put extra resources into the clubs? I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on that matter. In fact, there will be greater financial imposition on the clubs on top of that £50,000. In my area a local newspaper and British Coal have sponsored our local club, Mansfield Town. They, with the help of the Football Ground Improvements Trust, have enabled us to open one side of the ground. That has made the ground safe, and will encourage families to attend and greater support for the club. Such clubs cannot afford to spend more money.

I do not know how far the Secretary of State will take note, but I want to mention to him the police charges for extra security, which must go with safety at football grounds. Already many third and fourth division clubs have faced severe problems because of the extra police charges imposed in recent years.

We want some answers before the motion is approved. It is no good the House willy-nilly approving such a clause, sending it to Committee, the Committee endorsing it, and it then becoming part of the Bill without a proper debate. We need to be told that more money will be guaranteed for the clubs in the lower divisions to ensure that they can comply with the security and safety requirements that will be imposed by this measure.

10.47 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Now we have passed the Second Reading of the Football Spectators Bill, we are in something of a mess, and we should not be tacking on to the end of it considerations about safety. The Bill itself has strong safety implications. We are also awaiting the report of the Taylor inquiry. The Committee, therefore, will be placed in an awkward position when it considers the Bill. We will be facing great difficulties unless the Bill is considered at great length in Committee, so that the Taylor report can be taken into account and its recommendations used to shape the amendments, which could provide for identification cards in special areas or membership schemes in connection with safety provisions.

We have put the cart before the horse with a vengeance. It is horrific that safety matters should be considered as a secondary item and that in some way they must find their way into the identity card proposals that we have just been discussing. It is too big an issue to be dealt with as an afterthought. What may be needed in Committee is a fundamental rethink, to which the Taylor report would be relevant. It would help to put some shape into the Bill. Perhaps, as was said on Second Reading, part II will emerge as the part of the Bill that controls the entire operation of the provisions for football clubs.

10.48 pm
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

I want to make one substantive point relating to safety. The bottom line of the legislation is what happens on a wet Wednesday night in the middle of December outside a football ground, when 50,000 people are trying to gain entry, perhaps in the space of little more than one hour. If the Government cannot answer that question, they should abandon the legislation. I believe that such legislation can be put forward only by people who are profoundly ignorant of the real circumstances outside football grounds in such conditions.

Just before Christmas I met a woman at a lunch, who was the No. 10 representative of the working party which came up with these proposals. She had never been to a football match in her life and was proud to admit it. That is the basis of knowledge represented in the entire measure.

I see the same mentality, from largely the same Conservative Members, as that which rammed the poll tax through Parliament. They knew very little of what they were doing, but they were prepared to nod through legislation on the basis of an ideological obsession. The same mentality has been displayed tonight.

In all earnestness, the Secretary of State is playing with human life tonight. If 50,000 people are trying to get into a football ground in the conditions that I have described and the apparatus breaks down, there will be major problems. We have been told that, in such circumstances, the gates would probably be opened. That might suffice, although the example of Hillsborough is not encouraging. What is even more dangerous than such a breakdown is the rumour that that apparatus has broken down. Imagine that tens of thousands of people are trying to get into the ground and are pressing forward to do so when the word goes round, as rumours always spreads in crowds, that the apparatus has broken down. The ensuing pressures could create mayhem at the football ground. The Secretary of State is taking the responsibility for such action by pushing through this nonsense tonight.

To put this instruction before the House at this stage adds insult to injury to Lord Justice Taylor and his investigation. By pushing it through the House, the Secretary of State recognises that safety considerations must be taken into account. If that is so, safety considerations should be incorporated in legislation, but what possible sense or consistency is there in pressing ahead with that legislation while Lord Justice Taylor is still taking evidence? It would be better to wait until he has taken evidence and reported before introducing legislation that reflects his recommendations and takes into account ground safety. Such legislation would be based on public need and good rather than on the ridiculous obsession with an ID card scheme. That scheme will not solve any of the problems, but it will add to the problems experienced in the cities outside the football grounds as well as, arguably, those inside them.

The instruction adds insult to injury and it cures nothing. The Bill is a disaster and the human life put at risk by its implications will be the personal responsibility of the Secretary of State.

10.51 pm
Mr. Ridley

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) was discussing the contents of the Bill, but I must confine myself to the instruction to the Committee. However, he made one relevant point. We are expressly moving this instruction to the Committee so that any recommendations that Lord Justice Taylor may eventually make can be taken on board and implemented quickly as a result of the Bill. That is the main point of asking the Committee to consider safety.

Under the Safety of Sports Ground Act 1975, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has the power to make directives that apply to local authorities, as the licensing authorities for football grounds, concerning changes that might have to be made because of new safety requirements, possibly to do with turnstiles, perimeter fences or, certainly, all-seater stadiums. I was glad to hear what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) had to say about such stadiums and we hope to make some progress on that subject. That could be the subject of a directive.

All those powers are already in place under statute and all that we seek to do is to move an amendment in Committee that will give us the power to ensure that we can monitor the performance of local authorities in insisting on common standards in all football grounds. At the same time it will ensure that my right hon. Friend has the power, although I am sure that it will not be necessary, to enforce any decision that he makes about something that is currently absent.

Mr. Meale


Mr. Ridley

I shall give way in a moment.

Apart from the existing powers, all that we seek to do is to ensure that these powers are sufficient to enforce anything that Lord Justice Taylor may require through the present system. There is nothing draconian about them.

The hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), for Burnley (Mr. Pike), for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) seemed to believe that we were talking about the money resolution and were concerned that this resolution made it possible to pay money towards improvements on grounds for safety reasons. We are debating not the money resolution, but the instruction. Neither the money resolution nor the Bill contains powers for the Government to make any financial provision towards the cost of improvements to safety on grounds. This debate cannot cover the points which they made.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Football Spectators Bill [Lords] that it have power to make provision in the Bill relating to any aspect of the safety of spectators at designated football matches.