HC Deb 04 November 1993 vol 231 cc554-76 5.50 pm
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I beg to move, That the Football Spectators Act 1989 (Commencement No. 4) Order 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 1690), dated 8th July 1993, be revoked.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following motions: That the Football Spectators (Designation of Football Matches in England and Wales) Order 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 1691), dated 8th July 1993, be revoked.

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Safety of Sports Grounds (Designation) Order 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 2090), dated 18th August 1993, a copy of whch was laid before this House on 24th August, be annulled.

Mr. Pendry

I notice that we have a new Minister for Sport today in the form of the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). It is not surprising—particularly to my hon. Friends—that we have a new Minister, as there have been so many during the past few years.

In view of my desire during the past few years to hurry the Government into bringing into force various sections of the Football Spectators Act 1989, it might be thought by hon. Members that I should be the last person to be moving motions today. However, life is seldom that simple and my right hon. and hon. Friends and I tabled the motions to have an opportunity to debate the effectiveness of the Act in the light of recent developments.

I vividly recall saying when the Taylor report was debated in the House on 30 January 1990: The report should be seen primarily as a catalyst for debate, not a tablet of stone."—[Official Report, 30 January 1990; Vol. 166, c. 237.] I am only too happy to find that I have been proved right by the passing of time.

Since the recommendations of the Taylor report were accepted, there have been numerous advances that deserve our careful consideration. Many, though not all, supporters have reacted adversely to the proposed changes in the way they watch and enjoy their team perform. They raise many points through their respective organisations, notably the Football Supporters Association and the National Federation of Supporters Clubs, which we should take care to address on this occasion.

Encouragingly for the organisations, there have been scientific developments in the area of crowd safety since the awful tragedy at Hillsborough.

It is good to see that the Minister has now arrived. I am sure that he will be made aware of the gems which I have made known to the House during his brief absence. I realise that we all have difficulties with transport, and I am sure that the Minister has a good excuse.

It is encouraging for those supporters who have not been happy with all-seated stadiums to see that there have been scientific developments in crowd safety since the Hillsborough tragedy. The innovations were not available to Lord Justice Taylor for his consideration, so they have not been incorporated into his findings.

Opposition Members recognise that the Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough tragedies demonstrated a problem in need of immediate attention. A sense of urgency prevailed as Lord Justice Taylor took a sensible look at the difficulties of ensuring crowd safety at football matches, much as Lord Justice Popplewell had done before him. The tragedies at Bradford and Hillsborough and also at the grounds of Bolton and Glasgow Rangers some time before almost certainly stemmed from the 19th-century structure of football in this country and the grounds that were built then have remained with us. Hardly any of our grounds had been improved in any significant way since the last century.

It may interest the House—especially my hon. Friends —to know that the problem of safety at football grounds was first recognised and addressed by the Labour Government of 1924, who realised that significant changes needed to be made to safeguard supporters. It was clear to the Government at that time that the existing terraces needed substantial modification in terms of segregation crush barriers and the like. They went so far as to suggest that grounds should need a licence before clubs were allowed to admit spectators.

It is a great shame that 50 years, and two major accidents at Burnden park and Ibrox park, were allowed to pass before the findings of the 1924 report were fully implemented, alongside other recommendations, in the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975—again, I must say, under a Labour Government. Even had those tragedies not occurred, it would be right and proper for clubs to start looking at the safety problems of their antiquated terraces and to work on bringing them into the 20th and 21st centuries.

I know that the all-party football committee of which I was the Chairman took a responsible approach to the challenges of ensuring safety at football grounds. Both Lord Justice Popplewell and Lord Justice Taylor addressed the issues, and we gave evidence to both. Our submissions were largely accepted in their reports.

The Home Affairs Select Committee submitted its report on football hooliganism in February 1991, and the Committee also did sterling work by contributing positively to the debate. Hon. Members who served on the Committee deserve due recognition for their recommendations.

However, even at that time we were concerned that all-seater stadiums might not be the single and complete answer to the problems of safety, hooliganism or even comfort. As early as 1984, a study carried out by the sociology department of Leicester university revealed serious deficiencies in the theory of all-seated stadiums. The clubs themselves have experienced many practical difficulties when trying to change to all-seater stadiums. The House may remember that Coventry City was one of the first clubs to convert to all-seated as early as 1981, but quickly reconverted when fans started to stand on the seats and even tear them up.

Last season, Manchester City built a new all-seater stand at the ground's Platt lane end. The club then found that pitch invasions were being lead by fans from the new stand on the day of its opening.

I know that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) had been here—I know that he had to go to his constituency—he would have intervened at this point to make a point about rugby. My hon. Friend acquired a copy of a disorder report following the Great Britain v. New Zealand rugby league match on 16 October. I believe that the Minister was there. The attendance was 36,131. There were no arrests inside the ground, and no ejections from the ground. There were 70 police on duty, and the report states that outside the ground one person was arrested and was cautioned. The police inspector in charge at the ground commented that the fans had been absolutely marvellous, and he wished that all fans could be like that. He added that he could see the day when it would not be necessary to police rugby league events inside the ground.

Some soccer fans could learn from the behaviour of their counterparts who go to rugby matches. I am sure that my hon. Friend would have wanted to make that point. I may not have made it as eloquently as he would have, but I am pleased to put the point on record.

For an explanation of the changes to all-seater stadiums have failed to eradicate the unruly elements within a football crowd, we need look no further than the words of Sir Bert Millichip, the chairman of the Football Association who gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee: experience has taught us that a person can be just as big a hooligan when he is sitting down as when he is standing up. Many clubs have found that their plans to convert to all-seated stadiums have not found favour with many of their fans. I want to illustrate the supporters' view and to do so I would like to quote from a letter by David Woolf, a Liverpool supporter. His was only one of the many letters which I have received on the subject. He said: The Government has accepted the fact that standing can be safe, but why for only lower league clubs and not the higher? That is a point of view which I do not necessarily share.

It is to the eternal credit of the right hon. Member for Putney that, when he was Secretary of State for National Heritage, accepted and acted upon submissions that were given to him verbally and in written form on 11 May 1992 by the all-party football committee delegation. We were able to convince him of the wisdom of exempting third and fourth division clubs from the all-seater requirements of Lord Justice Taylor's report. I hope that the Minister has brought an open mind to the debate and is prepared to consider sensible suggestions on their own merit in the light of changing circumstances.

Finally in this context, I should like to recall a remark made by Lord Justice Taylor: There is no panacea which will achieve total safety and cure all the problems of behaviour and crowd control. No one could disagree with that. I believe that the football culture of standing should not be dismissed outright. On the other hand, more and more soccer fans are getting used to sitting and would not want to revert to watching games from standing areas. We would therefore expect a small proportion only of any ground to comprise standing areas.

Recent developments in crowd safety technology, however, mean that we should reconsider our earlier decision to encourage leading clubs to change over entirely to all-seater stadiums. I firmly believe that, in the light of new developments, supporters should be given the opportunity to stand in new, safer areas. They could be given the choice between standing and sitting without detriment to their safety.

Those of us who understand football acknowledge that UEFA and FIFA currently oppose standing areas for much the same reasons as those expressed in the Taylor report; and that that might mean closing certain parts of grounds that are involved in a few international matches, until those bodies are convinced of the safety of standing areas.

The UEFA and FIFA rulings, like the Taylor report, were a direct result of the events of the 1980s. After the crowd tragedy at Hillsborough, scientists at the National Nuclear Corporation Ltd. research establishment at Risley set about creating a system for monitoring crowd pressure. The system that they developed comprises a network of pressure monitors strategically placed in tunnels, barriers and fences. The sensors are linked to a central bank of monitor screens, and changing colours on the screens will warn the attendants, police and stewards of any change in crowd pressures. They will then be able to take the necessary action.

I have been to see the system and I was impressed with it. The effective use of such a system, combined with intelligent design and rigorous stewarding, should enable clubs to ensure the safety of supporters in a terraced stand. These developments aroused a great deal of interest from the delegates at the international conference on engineering for crowd safety", according to Professor Smith, head of Sheffield university's engineering department. Paul Wertheimer of a company called Crowd Management Strategies in the United States, recognised as one of the world's experts in crowd safety matters, has also approved the system, and he has said: The British are world leaders in the field of crowd safety. The Metropolitan police used the system at last year's new year's eve festivities, when it helped to save a number of people from serious crush-related injuries. The police were able to detect a build-up of pressure against certain crash barriers and took immediate action, possibly averting the tragic loss of life that has happened before. I hope that the system will begin to prove its worth, as the Metropolitan police will be using it again this year to protect revellers from the danger of injury.

Perhaps more importantly still, the Football Licensing Authority has also visited the NNC and agrees that the system would almost certainly have prevented the Hillsborough disaster. My own club, Derby County, and Blackpool football club have expressed an interest in the system, and executives from the two clubs are due to attend a demonstration of the system soon.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I am interested in the line that the hon. Gentleman is pursuing. What would such a system cost? Would it cost so much that the clubs could not generate the money themselves? Or would they perhaps have to look to outside agencies for assistance?

Mr. Pendry

I do not have the exact figures to hand, but I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is less costly to include the system in a new stand than to convert a stand that already has seated accommodation. I hope that funds will be available to help clubs that have already put in seats and which would naturally be upset if they had to change again. Perhaps such funds could come from the Football Trust or the national lottery when it comes on stream—but I will send the details to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

When he was Secretary of State for National Heritage, the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) accepted an invitation to attend a demonstration at the NNC, as did the former Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). Unfortunately, neither of them managed to attend the demonstration, largely owing to the brevity of their stays at the Department. Now that the Under-Secretary of State has his feet firmly under the table —I am sure that he hopes to keep them there for some time —I trust that he will pick up where his predecessors left off and accept an invitation to visit the NNC facilities at Risley. On behalf of those at Risley, I gladly extend to him an invitation to do that.

Out of the Hillsborough disaster there has emerged a new industry building good modern stadiums that are designed for comfort and safety, with refreshment areas, creches and the capacity to hold community activities all year round, not just for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. I have spoken to a number of such firms, including Superstadia Ltd., a stadium designer and builder. It assured me that it was capable of incorporating systems like the one developed by the NNC in such a way as to create a new generation of safe standing areas.

We are all nevertheless aware that good stadium design alone is not enough to ensure the safety of crowds at large sporting events. Both the Taylor and the Popplewell reports highlighted the fact that effective stewarding and policing play a vital part in safety procedures at matches. The Taylor report states that a chain of command must be clearly defined for each ground. At the "Safety In Numbers" conference in August 1992, the chain of command was still not made clear; safety officers were assured that they would be in charge on match day, and police commanders received the same sort of assurances.

The Under-Secretary will be aware that I was engaged in correspondence with the right hon. and learned Member for Putney on this subject and that I sought clarification on it several times. In my letter to him of 16 September 1992 I pointed out the importance of intelligent action by the Government, to allow clubs to use stewards and police in the most effective way to ensure the safety and well-being of supporters.

Following my letter, the assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester, Mr. Malcolm George, undertook an examination of the respective roles of stewards and the police. I hope that the Minister is in a position to tell us the outcome of that review and what guidance the Government have given to all involved in the chain of command.

Time spent debating sporting matters in this place is a valuable commodity. Following yesterday's events in Turkey, it would be easy to be sidetracked by them, to the detriment of other issues to do with our great national game. It must always be remembered that the majority of football supporters in this country are law-abiding citizens whose only wish is to follow their club or national team. They dissociate themselves from the mindless idiots who do so much damage to our reputation abroad.

I should like the genuine fan to be recognised as capable of responsibility, yet he seems to be given no place in real decision making. In the Committee that scrutinised what became the Football Spectators Act 1989, the then Under-Secretary with responsibility for sport made it clear, on 11 July, that he felt that supporters should be involved in the decision-making process—following pressure from Committee members. But little has been done since those fine words were uttered. I have consistently campaigned for supporters to be represented when changes that affect them are made. Norman Jacobs, chairman of the Footall Licensing Authority, has told me of the authority's willingness to give supporters a seat on it.

There is a problem, however, in that supporters have two official voices: the Football Supporters Association and the National Federation of Supporters Clubs. I urge those two groups to speak with one voice so that it might be heard more clearly at the highest level.

Should the statutory instrument be passed, the timetable for the implementation of the Taylor report will be firmly fixed. However, flexibility is called for with regard to the 1994 and 1997 deadlines for the completion of all-seated stadiums. I urge the Under-Secretary of State to have a thorough review of the new developments on crowd safety with a view to possibly creating safe-standing areas.

To be fair, I agree that a certain element of flexibility has already been established with the Football Licensing Authority's recognition that Birmingham City and Peterborough may have until August 1995 to complete their ground improvements, Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion may have until August 1996 to comply with the full demands of the safety legislation and the three clubs promoted to the first division at the end of the season may have until August 1997 to upgrade their stadiums. Derby County, Oxford, Portsmouth and Sunderland are committed to relocate their stadiums, and the Football Licensing Authority has said that it is prepared to allow them flexibility.

As a result, next season's first division could feature up to 12 clubs that will not have complied with the August 1994 deadline. The Government should show those clubs understanding on the imposition of deadlines. After all, the FLA should have come into being on 1 June 1990, but in reality was able to begin inspecting grounds only at the beginning of the 1991–92 season, after appointing safety officers in the spring of 1991.

Many of the difficulties that clubs are experiencing relate to problems with financing, as the Under-Secretary of State knows, with planning departments and even with the Department of the Environment, to say nothing of the Home Office. It is only right that clubs are afforded a degree of flexibility commensurate with planning and financial problems and I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

The clubs' commitment to improving their stadiums is on-going, but there is a financial limit to what some clubs can achieve. First division clubs do not generally have the same level of income as those in the FA premier league. The valuable contributions that are made by the Football Trust, helped by the Government's decision to extend the reduction in pool betting duty, are greatly appreciated by the clubs, but each club still has to find a substantial amount of money to finance its ground improvements programme. The same flexibility should also be extended to address the problems of clubs wishing to develop safe-standing areas, once it is established that is precisely what they will be.

I hope that the Minister will recognise that in bringing the motions before the House my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have done a service to football. As long as the Minister is equally constructive in his reply, I shall not proceed to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide the House.

6.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Ian Sproat)

May I begin by apologising to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House for being two minutes late for the debate. At least two hon. Members present—the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)—will welcome my reason. I was downstairs in the small ministerial conference room with a group of students who had come to speak about keeping Wednesday afternoons free for sport.

I saw the name of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde appear on the monitor—I had not been expecting the debate to begin until considerably later—and I ran out of that room telling the students that I was 100 per cent. behind their determination to keep Wednesday afternoons free for sport and to ensure that any change in examination times as a result of semesterisation, or whatever the word may be—that Wednesday afternoon problem writ large —does not detract from the essential nature of having a regular, known, fixed, free time for playing competitive games at universities and to retain the tradition of free Wednesday afternoons.

I have had one helpful meeting on that subject with the Minister at the Department of Education and as the Minister for Sport I am determined to do everything to ensure that Wednesday afternoons remain free.

I hope that with those few words of apology hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel that those two minutes were not wholly wasted. I thank the Opposition for tabling the prayer. Perhaps it is slightly unusual gratitude as it is contrary to the Government's statutory instrument, but the purpose of the prayer, as I take it, is to give us a chance to discuss the extremely important subject of safety at football grounds.

I also thank the usual channels, so well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood) in allowing the debate today as I was disappointed that the turmoil yesterday prevented the debate occurring.

I am sure that the House will agree that our discussions today are timely, given the proximity of the August 1994 deadline for all seating at football grounds in the Premier League and first division, and the strenuous efforts that have been made to improve safety over the past two or three years by clubs, local authorities, the police and the Football Licensing Authority since the Taylor report.

I begin by emphasising that the primary objective underlying all the Government's policies has been to ensure that we never again see the appalling scenes witnessed at Ibrox in 1971, where 66 people tragically died; at Bradford in 1985, where 56 people tragically died; and at Hillsborough in 1989, where 96 people tragically died. The Government and those who run football have a moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure that such disasters are never repeated. I am grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate the Government's continuing commitment to that task.

This important subject has a complex history, so it may be useful if I remind the House of the framework for sports ground safety policy, which provides a balanced and appropriate response to the problems associated with ensuring reasonable safety of the public at sports events.

After the Ibrox disaster of 1971 and the subsequent inquiry by Lord Wheatley, the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 was passed that introduced safety certification by local authorities for grounds with accommodation for 10,000 or more spectators at which football, rugby or cricket is played. The specific technical requirements relating to safety standards at sports grounds were first published in 1972, in the Government's guide to safety at sports grounds.

That "green guide", as it is known, was and still is the chief source of information available for use by local authorities in drawing up the conditions of safety certificates. It plays a central role in ensuring sports ground safety. Revised editions of the guide were published following the Bradford and Hillsborough disasters, in consultation with local authorities associations and others.

Some have suggested that the advice contained in the guide should be mandatory. We considered that argument carefully, but on balance disagreed. The guide should provide guidance and should act as an aid to rather than substitute for professional judgment and commonsense. There must be discretion to allow for the variations that exist across the 90 or so Football League grounds, not to mention in other leagues and in Scotland.

Of course, the green guide applies not only to football grounds but to all sports grounds, regardless of their size and the sport played. I shall come to the important point that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde made about Wakefield Rugby League.

The task of the certifying authority, acting on the advice of the police, fire and ambulance services and other relevant bodies gathered together in a safety advisory group, is to determine how many spectators may safely be admitted to a ground, taking into account not merely its physical structure, but the club's systems and procedures. Its mechanism for doing that is the safety certificate.

The emphasis is very much on the safety advisory group working as a team to determine what constitutes reasonable safety. However, the ultimate responsibility for safety rests not with the local authority or the police but with the club itself. Later, I shall deal with some of the issues that have been raised in the debate.

Following the fire at Bradford in 1985 and the subsequent inquiry by Lord Justice Popplewell, the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987 modified the 1975 Act and established a parallel system of safety certification for any stand at any sports ground with accommodation for 500 or more spectators.

The Football Spectators Act 1989, which followed the Heysel tragedy, created the Football Licensing Authority. The authority is charged with operating a licensing scheme for grounds at which designated matches are played, and also with keeping under review the discharge by local authorities of their functions under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 that I have already mentioned.

After the publication of Lord Justice Taylor's report into the Hillsborough disaster, the Football Licensing Authority was also charged with advising the Government on the introduction of all-seater accommodation at Football League grounds and the national stadiums. Following the Government's review last year of the all-seater policy, the authority was also charged with ensuring that any terracing retained by second and third division clubs of the Football League meets the necessary safety standards.

Together, these measures are intended to ensure that spectators at sports events, and in particular those attending football matches, receive the highest standards of safety to which they are surely entitled. They ensure that the needs of safety and security do not get out of balance, as they did at Hillsborough, and that there is no confusion about who is responsible for safety. They also ensure that football clubs themselves accept their responsibility for safety within their grounds and develop a safety culture that permeates their entire thinking right up to boardroom level.

The three statutory instruments form an integral part of this comprehensive legislative programme. Therefore, I shall make clear the purpose of the three orders that have been brought into force. As the House is aware, one was brought into force under the Safety of Sports Ground Act 1975, and the other two under the Football Spectators Act 1989. All three are essentially tidying-up measures.

Under section 1(1) of the Safety of Sports Grounds 1975 Act, the Secretary of State may designate as requiring a safety certificate issued by the local authority any sports ground with accommodation for more than 10,000 spectators at which football, rugby or cricket is played. Statutory instrument No. 2090 simply designates for that purpose the grounds of three Football League clubs—Millwall, Walsall and Wickham—which have recently relocated. It also removes from the list of designated grounds their former venues, which have been demolished.

Statutory instrument No. 1690 brought into force on 1 August this year section 9 of the Football Spectators Act 1989. This makes it an offence to admit spectators to watch a football match designated under the Act unless the premises where the match is played are licensed by the Football Licensing Authority. The aim of the licensing system is to ensure that clubs meet the Government's August 1994 deadline for all-seater accommodation at Premier League and first division football grounds.

Although the all-seater deadline is August 1994, the Government and the licensing authority shared the view that the introduction of licensing without conditions in 1993 would allow any problems with the process to be ironed out prior to the deadline, and would provide a signal of the Government's resolve on this issue.

Statutory instrument No. 1691 is also made under the 1989 Act with the purpose of amending the definition of a designated football match. Under section 10 of the Football Spectators Act 1989, the Football Licensing Authority is charged with issuing licences to admit spectators to any premises for the purpose of watching any designated football match that is played there. The authority is also charged under section 13 of the 1989 Act with keeping under review the discharge by local authorities of their safety certification functions under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 in relation to a sports ground at which designated football matches are played.

The order revokes the original definition of a designated football match contained in statutory instrument No. 731, 1990, and substitutes a simpler one. As the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) knows, the new definition excludes, for example, the more than 30 non-league grounds which, although designated as grounds requiring safety certificates under the 1975 Act, do not require the involvement of the Football Licensing Authority.

Therefore, the new definition is to be drawn tighter to catch only those football matches played at Premier League and Football League grounds. Consequently, the Football Licensing Authority is able to concentrate on those grounds to which the Government's post-Taylor safety policies apply.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde opened the debate rightly and understandably focused on the Government's requirement that football clubs in the Premier League and the first division should have all-seater stadiums by August 1994, or by three years after they are promoted to the first division, whichever is later.

As the House knows, the all-seater policy underwent comprehensive review in 1992. Interested organisations, including the football authorities, the police and supporters' groups, were consulted on a number of issues, one of which was the possibility of applying the all-seater policy according to average attendances or ground capacities. As the House will recall, following the review, the Government decided that, to focus resources more effectively on the area of greatest need, clubs in what are now the second and third divisions would be permitted to retain some terracing, provided it was safe.

Throughout Europe and much of the world, the benefits of all-seater stadiums are widely accepted. European football's ruling body, UEFA, has recently decided that grounds staging matches in the European championships and the three European club competitions must be all-seater by 1998. Already, all high-risk matches in continental Europe can be played only in front of all-seater crowds. Italy already has an all-seater legacy from the 1990 World cup, France is working towards UEFA's deadline as host for the 1998 World cup, and in Holland, premier division grounds must be all-seater by 1997.

The world football body, FIFA, banned terracing for the World cup finals in 1980 and for all qualifying rounds from 1992. Outside soccer, the Rugby Union grounds at Twickenham and Murray field will shortly be all-seater too.

I shall now deal with the issue of enforcing through the FLA all-seater stadiums. The mechanism for achieving that will be the licence granted by the Football Licensing Authority. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde properly spoke about clubs that may seek an extension to the deadline. The majority of clubs required to meet the deadline have either done so already or will do so very soon. However, I recognise that a minority of clubs face problems in meeting the deadline. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) is dutifully in his place. No doubt he will wish to speak about these matters.

I assure the House that, in the course of the present season, the FLA will consult those clubs and their local authorities. On the basis of those consultations, it will recommend to the Government on a case-by-case basis whether an extension should be granted. It is possible that some strong arguments for extra time could be put by one or two clubs that are engaged in relocating to new sites, but the FLA has made it clear that it cannot consider requests for relaxation of the all-seater requirement unless it has clear evidence that the exemption will be for a strictly limited period, and that the club can realistically complete its relocation within a reasonable and definite time scale.

I recognise that some clubs may have encountered difficulties in obtaining planning permission, either for relocation or for the redevelopment of their existing grounds. In anticipation of that, the Department: of the Environment issued advice to local planning authorities in the form of planning policy guidance note No. 17 in 1991. However, the onus must be on the clubs themselves to develop realistic proposals in consultation with their local authorities. When the club and the local authority are in harness, the results can be spectacular. For example, the new stadium at Millwall went from concept to reality in less than two years.

I know that many hon. Members are concerned about the cost, to which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde referred, of implementing the all-seater policy. I remind the House of the considerable assistance provided by the Government through the Football Trust and arising from the Chancellor's decision in 1990 to reduce the pools betting duty from 42.5 to 40 per cent. for a period of five years.

Around £20 million each year has been provided for soccer as a result of that concession. In March 1992, the Government announced that they would consider favourably the case for extending the concession for a further five years, provided that the football authorities and the clubs demonstrated that they would find a substantial share of the full costs. As hon. Members will recall, following a careful assessment of progress made to date and the nature of the work still required to be completed, the Government announced on 4 August this year that the concessions will be extended for a further five years—that is, until the year 2000.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde raised extremely important detailed points about Risley and the report from the Association of Chief Police Officers. If it is for the convenience of the House, I will answer those points when other hon. Members have had a chance to speak, and then I can draw all the matters of detail together. I hope that, in my opening remarks, I have made clear the complexity of the history of this important subject, the purpose of the statutory instruments and the seriousness with which the Government take the matter.

6.30 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

As the Minister said, he missed the kick-off, but only by a moment or two and he has a perfectly sound excuse for doing so. He told the House that he had been engaged in discussion as to how the traditional Wednesday afternoons in universities and institutions of higher learning can be preserved for sporting purposes. With the hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe), I visited the Minister earlier this year and took part in an extremely constructive discussion. He encouraged me and, I am sure, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde by the positive response that he gave then and has done so again by his positive response this afternoon.

It is a long way from the days of the Football Spectators Bill. If my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you had the honour and privilege of chairing the Committee that considered that Bill. I well remember the intemperate language in which some of the exchanges in that Committee were couched. I see that the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who is also a survivor of that Committee, is here. It is a measure of how far we have come since then that we can exchange observations on those matters in such a sober and civilised way. There was something of a frantic atmosphere at that stage, some of it engendered by anxiety over Hillsborough.

I also recall that Lord Justice Taylor's report arrived as a breath of sound common sense. Some hon. Members may remember that it was his response to the idea of identity cards for football supporters that was probably the most persuasive factor in convincing the Government that they should abandon that proposal. That showed a measure of sound common sense, to which I hope that they will continue to adhere.

In the matter of all-seater stadiums, I support the view expressed by the Minister rather than that expressed by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. However, if, as he tells us, the technology has advanced, it would be only right and proper to consider the extent to which that has occurred. My only difficulty is that, as the Minister said, many clubs have already gone down that road and there might be problems if that process were put into reverse. Therefore, I suspect that, even if the technology is available in the terms being discussed, it might be something of an obstruction if we were to give too much credence to it. I have an open mind on the matter—I would not want the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde to think that my mind was closed. However, I am a supporter of all-seater stadiums.

The Government were right, and sensible, to take the view that they did on what used to be called the third and fourth divisions of the football league. The Minister spoke of clubs in the Premiership and first division which may not yet have achieved the necessary standards. I hope that he will encourage the Football Licensing Authority to be realistic in its approach. It would be easy for it to be unnecessarily rigid and draconian. Such an approach is bound to appeal to the mind of a licensing authority because the purpose of all this is to provide for safety. We should never forget that the safety of spectators is fundamental. If achieving safety means changing the culture of the game slightly, that is a price that I would be willing to pay.

Lord Justice Taylor's report provided a substantial blueprint for the way in which the game might develop. In particular, it is a pity that his trenchant observations about the attitude of the football authorities towards the fans have not been taken up rather more forcefully. As the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde pointed out, there are two national bodies and it might be for the benefit of football supporters and spectators if they came together and created one national federation, speaking with one voice.

The role of the spectator and the supporter is not yet one to which the football authorities give sufficient regard. If one is anxious to change the culture so that, for example, reports such as that about the rugby league match—to which reference has been made—could be made about football, that would best be done through the football supporters association. It is a matter of culture. Rugby league remains a sport firmly rooted in the culture of those who support it and are interested in it, in just the way that football is. The fans still sing "Abide with me" at rugby league finals, but one would not dare to sing it at the football cup final when, 40 or 50 years ago, it was as much a part of the proceedings as anything else.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

It still is.

Mr. Campbell

I am delighted to hear that. I had understood that it had to be dropped because, on occasion, the nature of the participation in it was not particularly religious. If I am wrong, I am delighted to hear that.

Mr. Pendry

Do they not sing it in Scotland?

Mr. Campbell

No. They have not started to sing it at the Scottish cup final and it may be some time before they begin to do so. They are more interested in singing "Flower of Scotland".

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

It might be better if they did.

Mr. Campbell

If the right hon. Gentleman is making a comment about Scottish fans, he should realise that it has become a matter of pride among Scottish fans going abroad that they behave themselves. Andy Roxburgh, the recently retired manager of the Scottish team, had a lot to do with that. He created a relationship between the team and the supporters who went abroad. The supporters were proud of going abroad and anxious to show that they could behave themselves when they did.

There has been a substantial improvement in football. It has become more of a family activity, more women go to matches and family enclosures have become part and parcel of the facilities at many grounds. In that sense, there has been a substantial improvement in the past five or 10 years, but there is more to be done. In a week when people have been arrested when allegedly supporting Manchester United abroad, we must realise that more needs to be done about that problem. I doubt whether it makes much difference to the reputation of the United Kingdom abroad, but such activity upsets the attitude of the ordinary law-abiding supporter who is unhappy about being described as a hooligan and being tarred with the same brush.

The honest, law-abiding supporter is therefore as much the victim of the activity of a few hooligans as is the game. We should do everything in our power to ensure that those whose interest is not in the game but in the amount of trouble and mayhem that they can create off the back of the game are dissuaded from supporting it.

This is a substantial issue of culture. I was thinking, as the debate unfolded, that there was terracing at Murrayfield for a long time and it was somewhere that one could go quite reasonably and in a relaxed fashion. However, a stage arose at which, as a result of the amount of drink that was being consumed outside and brought into the stadium, it became extremely uncomfortable to stand on the terracing at Murrayfield. The legislation that had the effect of banning the taking of alcohol into the ground had a remarkable impact upon behaviour. The difference was extraordinary.

Murrayfield has moved on to be an all-seater stadium. It has not been completed in time for the visit of the All Blacks in a fortnight or so, but in due course it will be an all-seater stadium. That seems to be an ideal towards which we should persuade football clubs to aim. Therefore, although I understand that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is anxious to allow for the possibility of standing, using new technology, I feel that the game will best be secured, and especially will more easily become a focus for families, if we continue to move as firmly as we have in the past to all-seater stadiums.

More has to be done in the interests of the ordinary football supporter. The Government can encourage that, but only the football authorities and the clubs can bring it about. If we give that encouragement here in the House by our support for measures which have the effect of giving a better deal to the supporter, I suspect that we shall do as much for the game as any piece of legislation can.

6.41 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I must first apologise to the House for having missed the kick-off of the debate. It has been rather difficult in the past 24 hours to form a judgment as to precisely when this match would take place. While the attendance is rather thin, and perhaps more in keeping with what we might regard as a reserve fixture, the quality of what I have heard—and I hope the quality of the rest of the debate—will make up for the thin attendance.

I thank the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for giving the House the opportunity to discuss these matters, albeit in trying to negative what the Government have decided. Nevertheless, we do not get the chance to discuss football in the House as often as perhaps we should.

I must remind the House of my interest as the president of York City football club. Had the debate been timed four or five weeks ago, I might have been tempted to suggest that York City would be one of those clubs that might be facing the difficulty of moving from the second division to the first division at the end of the season because at that time we were about fourth equal in the second division, since when we have lost about four times on the trot and I do not think that we even scored a goal. Who knows; we might still be faced with the embarrassment of needing to consider how we should move to an all-seater stadium.

It would be difficult for us to achieve that, and it would be extremely expensive. None the less I think that, on balance, after the two or three years that we have spent arguing and discussing the issue, we have probably got it about right in saying that the Premier League and the first division clubs should have all-seater grounds, but that, in the second and third divisions, it makes sense to have standing available, certainly for the foreseeable future of the next five to 10 years. A great deal of money is needed to improve grounds throughout the country in all four divisions.

The one thing that appeals to me about all-seater grounds, especially for the bigger clubs where vie have bigger crowds, is the resulting improvement in crowd control. When the Home Affairs Select Committee considered the policing of football hooliganism, it came across strongly that troublemakers, standing in mass terracing, can easily move around and incite others to commit offences and cause trouble. It is much more difficult to achieve that if everyone has to sit down.

If any of us took the trouble to sit in the police control room at some of our big grounds we would notice the difference now. I think especially of Arsenal. I remember taking my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) to Arsenal when there were a lot of fans standing on the terraces behind the goals at both ends of the pitch. I think that it was a game against Sunderland. There was not a huge number of arrests; there was not a lot of trouble, but the pre-emptive policing enabled the police to stop the trouble.

The fact that these lads were able to move around was the real difficulty. Now that they have to pay £12 to £15 for a seat, they sit down and behave themselves. Although it is regrettable that some youngsters find it difficult to afford to get to matches quite as often—we are certainly noticing that in the gates at soccer grounds—we have successfully policed some of the trouble out by price and by making the fans feel much more part of the club, as the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said.

I make one other point regarding Arsenal football club. The difficulty with all-seater stadiums is how we segregate crowds when on match days people turn up at a big ground without a ticket and buy one off a tout. We have to tackle that problem. At Arsenal, because they could see that difficulty, they devised a scheme with the police at Highbury so that the tickets said that they may not be resold without the express permission of Arsenal football club and that the football club had the right to refuse admission or to eject someone from the ground if the condition was breached.

On the first day, the police observed what was going on, they stopped some touts and told them that they believed that in selling the tickets without the permission of Arsenal football club the touts were committing the offence of deception under the Theft Act 1968. They have subsequently, on successive Saturdays, made arrests and that matter now rests with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman may know that ticket touting is a subject about which I have been concerned for some time. Does he recall that the Taylor report expressly recommended that a criminal offence of ticket touting, I think within the environs of a ground within 12 hours before the kick-off, should be made a specific criminal offence?

Mr. Greenway

That is exactly right. I was coming to that in a second. I just want to finish off the point about Arsenal. I do not believe that it is for the House and for hon. Members, with the benefit of the privilege that we have on the Floor of the House, to put unnecessary pressure on the Crown Prosecution Service. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is sitting on the Front Bench, which is extremely convenient. Were the arrangement that Arsenal and the police in north London have devised found to be satisfactory, it might avoid the need to have the type of ticket tout legislation which I know some hon. Members on both sides of the House think would create more difficulties than it would solve. I encourage the Minister to take an interest in the point and to see whether we cannot ensure that there is a prosecution.

It must be in the public interest to find out whether what Arsenal devised would actually work. It is extremely straightforward. If someone buys a ticket which states that it cannot be sold to anyone else without the express permission of the football club, and if the ticket is then sold on, it is quite clear that whoever buys it is not guaranteed entry to the ground. It is a deception and that principle should be tried and heard in a court of law.

Mr. Pendry

I have been following the hon. Gentleman. It was not just Lord Justice Taylor, but the Home Affairs Select Committee of which the hon. Gentleman was a member, made four recommendations in relation to legislation, three of which were accepted by the Government—racist or obscene shouting, throwing missiles and invasion of pitch.

The one recommendation that the Government have not enacted applies to ticket touting. I have asked the Prime Minister on a number of occasions when he planned to do something about it and he said that he would when parliamentary time allowed.

I hope that the Minister will take on board what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Whether it takes the form of the Arsenal scheme or some other, the Government should address such an important problem.

Mr. Greenway

Both Opposition Members have made the point that there have been numerous recommendations that ticket touting should be abolished. I would simply say to my hon. Friend that a reasonable quid pro quo for the Premier League and first division clubs taking the initiative and grasping the nettle and making the grounds all-seater, should be the recognition that this creates a problem with segregation.

The ticket touts are an absolute menace. They are telling people outside Finsbury Park tube station, "This game is sold out and you cannot get a ticket," yet there will be 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 tickets on sale at the football ground on the day of the match. It has to be stopped. It certainly will not help to ensure the safety, comfort and peaceable enjoyment of a football match by other spectators if, because of the lack of segregation caused by this problem, we see violence erupting in our stands. That is not what we want.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Given the agreement across the Floor of the House, even if the Government take no action, we are coming up to the stage when new private Member's legislation will be introduced, and such a measure would fit very well into a private Member's Bill.

Mr. Greenway

Perhaps one or two of us who have an interest in these matters might be fortunate enough to come high enough in the private Members' ballot.

If the arrangement which Arsenal has made with the police were properly tested in a court of law and found to be satisfactory, we might find a way of dealing with touts without having to create more public order offences, as a complete ban on ticket touts might envisage.

I shall not take up too much time, but it is important that we keep faith with clubs which have taken the initiative on the all-seater issue and responded to the Government's decision.

I have been to two or three all-seater grounds this season. They are absolutely marvellous and the fans appreciate that they can enjoy the game in much greater comfort than in the past. In time, supporters will get used to the fact that they have to sit down and not stand up.

Finally, let me move on to the second and third division clubs. There is a danger that, in concentrating on making the Premier League and first division club grounds all-seater in such a relatively short time, we could be lulled into thinking that the need for significant resources to improve soccer grounds is at an end. That is not the case. My regular Saturday afternoon with York City involves going to the poorer places. We need to spend many hundreds of millions of pounds improving those grounds. The clubs already find it extremely difficult to make ends meet even without incurring capital expenditure on building new stands.

I shall make two final points. My hon. Friend may not like this, but we have to be aware of the potential effects of the lottery on pools income. Without the Football Trust, we could not have paid for all the improvements to the smaller grounds.

Let me talk for a moment about York City. One of our players, David Longhurst, died on the pitch. We launched an appeal for a new stand in his name. Basically, it is a roof over the popular end of the ground, which has made a huge difference to supporters. We could not have done that without a significant contribution from the Football Trust. We have just built a new family stand in front of half the main stand and we would like to build in front of the other half. York City football club cannot do it without the help of the trust. There are many more clubs in a similar position, so I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that resources will continue to be available to make improvements.

As I go round the country watching football, I detect a new spirit within the game. It is sad that our national English side has not performed as well as we would have liked and, barring a miracle, is unlikely to play in the World cup. That is one headline which makes the future of football look less certain. Let me assure my hon. Friend that there is a good spirit throughout the game and improvements are being made. We need to continue to be flexible and ensure that the Football Licensing Authority responds to the individual needs of clubs.

I am quite convinced that with the good will and the continuing support of the Government and both sides of the House we shall see our national game move into a bright future through the rest of this century and into the next one.

6.56 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Before we go ahead with the orders and consider all the bright plans for new subsidies—like the ones to the farmers—for the clubs, registers of ticket touts and identity cards for everyone, we should ensure that the regulations take account of the real problems of real clubs.

At a rather bleak time for English football, I want to mention Southend United football club. It is a rather remarkable club. When I became the Member of Parliament for Southend some 13 years ago, the club was at the bottom of the fourth division. Now it is near the top of the first division and likely to be in the Premier League next year. It is a remarkable success story. I am not claiming personal credit for it in any way, although I attend games regularly.

It is run not by a crowd of rascals, but by super people. Vic Jobson, the chairman, not only runs a good football club in a businesslike way; he also ensures that the club pays huge attention to its social obligations. A social club for young people in Southend has been established off Eastern avenue to give them the advantage of playing football and other sports.

Only last week, we heard of the club's plan to take over the Kursaal in Southend, which used to be a great social centre. They are going to make it a drug-free area. It is a good club run by exciting people. It has had fantastic success.

However, Southend United football club has had plans for many years to build a super new stadium instead of the present Roots Hall stadium in the centre of the town. The club has been desperately anxious to do it, but has not been able to go ahead.

First, it sought permission for a new ground at Southend airport where there is plenty of land, but, as the Minister is well aware, since, like me, he has moved to the south of England, unfortunately everybody objects to everything. If there is the possibility of a car or anything that might take an extra pound off the value of a house or the slightest possibility of any inconvenience, people want to oppose it.

There was massive opposition to the airport development, so Southend United suggested Eastern avenue, a nice open place not far from my own home. It would be an ideal place for a new stadium and linked sports facilities for the whole community. That attracted objections from some people.

Southend borough council had an exciting new plan from developers to build a supermarket. We have many other supermarkets in Southend, but the council offered a planning gain of some exciting facilities nearby. Unfortunately, that did not happen. In desperation, the club then asked the local community, the Football League and everybody else, including the Minister, "We want to build a new stadium, but is there anywhere in the world that we can build it?"

Happily, after a great deal of discussion it was put to the club that there was a lovely site in Sutton road, next to the cemetery and an industrial site. Rather reluctantly, the club agreed to spend a great deal of money building what it wanted to be an exciting new ground. Unfortunately, as the Minister is well aware, the site is also next to a place called Rochford—another delightful residential area near Southend. Yet again, everyone objected for all sorts of reasons—including a local farmer who thought that there might be a possibility of making more money from having a new road constructed through the area. One of the most interesting aspects of life in Southend is how the farmers —a group whom my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) represents so enthusiastically—appear to be so interested in new road developments.

That plan for the club went down the chute and, again in desperation—and despite its deep commitment to Southend and its huge support there—the club thought about going to a place called Basildon, which is not far from Southend. As we know, Basildon is a rather unusual place in many respects—but a rather lovely place, too. It is represented by a Conservative Member of Parliament. The club entered into long discussions, but, sad to say, it appeared that Basildon did not want it.

Southend's present ground is rather unusual—it is built on an old rubbish dump, which makes matters rather difficult. The stand in which I sit tends to sink about 3 in every year. While we are waiting to proceed with a new ground, bright ideas keep coming from the Minister, who says that the club has to do lots of things. We already have the stand where I tend to sit and also a new stand—built at huge expense—for families so that wives and children can happily attend matches. There are also a large number of new facilities. Each new entrance that has to be built because of the Taylor report causes great anxiety. There is also a small area where people can stand.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister that, in introducing all the bright new regulations saying that clubs have to do such and such by a certain time, he should remember that some clubs that are successful, vigorous, enthusiastic and have the support of the local community find doing those things impossible. What do they do if they cannot do those things? What do we do with a club that says, "We have tried everything. We are even prepared to go to Basildon, which is quite something, but we cannot get permission to go. What are we meant to do?" The Government are telling it to spend more and more money on its present site, which is on top of a rubbish dump. That is very sad.

My second point, which is very important, is to question why my hon. Friend the Minister says that we cannot provide a space for people to stand. I do not understand it. We hear about alleged safety considerations, but. having studied reports of the great disasters, I very much doubt whether standing facilities would create a special problem. The facility could be provided within the safety considerations. Safety men are posted at almost every part of the ground.

Because of the Taylor report, there is also a huge police force at the ground. They are delightful people, but we can scarcely move for policemen and horses. It really does not promote law and order when policemen are standing all around the ground looking into the crowd and policemen and horses are outside the ground where people park their cars. Sometimes, that is not conducive to creating what might be called the "appropriate situation". Of course, the club also has its own security staff.

Why on earth do the Government want to do away with standing room? Southend has a small area put aside for that. My boys like to go there because there is a different atmosphere and it is cheaper. Are we to make football matches a middle-class pastime for those who can afford to pay £12 or £15 a ticket? A large number of people cannot afford that much these days, so they will not go to matches.

Finally, I want to talk about the possibility of further legislation and appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister not to introduce any. We do not need new laws and new restrictions. Almost everywhere I look, new quangos, new boards, new councils and new commissions are being established. It must stop. It is the sort of action that we used to expect Labour Governments to take.

If there is to be a register of ticket touts, no doubt that will require a huge office. Officials will want to hold consultations, to fly to Europe, to employ consultants and to have photopasses for everyone. What is the point of establishing a register to stop ticket touts operating outside a football ground when they will simply go down the road and operate in the pub? New legislation would be mad.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister not to introduce any new laws or to set up any new committees. I want him to think about the effect on some clubs that are success stories. Southend is having to spend a fortune on an old ground because it cannot move to the exciting new ground that it wants.

I know the new Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat)—because he comes from Scotland. He is a vigorous, enthusiastic and committed politician. He likes to get things done and he has a superb reputation for integrity, vision and all the other attributes that make a good Minister. I make one minor plea to him—will he come to Southend, visit Roots Hall and meet Vic Jobson and the board? He could then also meet the wonderful players, who are some of the nicest people in the world.

There is a danger—you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, must be aware of it, because you have to listen to so many debates—that everything now involves new rules, new regulations, new boards, new commissions and people running here and there. I ask my hon. Friend to remember that football is a spectator game, which the players enjoy playing. Introducing so many new rules and regulations creates the danger that something very important could be destroyed.

I hope that my hon. Friend can give me one simple assurance. I appreciate that he has a busy timetable with a great many important meetings to attend and consultants to see. No doubt a great many civil servants want to put new ideas to him. I ask him to come to Roots Hall. I promise him that he will see a great game. He will also see some of the very serious problems that decent, respectable, successful clubs are having to face because of the crazy insistence on rushing everything through by a certain date. There can be special problems. With such an excellent Minister, I hope that the Government will concentrate on having rather less regulation, fewer committees, fewer controls and more common sense.

7.6 pm

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I agree with the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) in one proposition, but disagree with him in another. On the question of ticket touting, there would be little disagreement throughout the country that it is infuriating when people who do not have tickets for a match are exploited by touts and often sent to the wrong part of the ground. We should not have to rely on a private Member's Bill to deal with the problem. There will be a criminal justice Bill in the next Session and it would be relatively easy to include a couple of clauses to outlaw ticket touting, in line with the recommendations that have been made.

We need to speak up for those who believe that standing at football matches is enjoyable. It is probably a losing battle, but if we can preserve a degree of standing I should welcome that, for two reasons. First, we are losing the choral capacity of the crowd. When we attend a performance of the Messiah, people do not sit down to sing the big choruses; they stand up. Without standing room at football matches, we will lose the choral capacity—the group wit—that is one of the redeeming and enjoyable parts of attending a football match.

Secondly, there is a family issue. We cannot any longer, at short notice—as I have done at Crystal Palace—get together one's sons, daughters, boyfriends and so on to attend a match when there is no standing room. With seats, one would be in one part, one in another and the two with season tickets would be together. The family atmosphere —the bringing together of people in response to a run of popularity or a highlight match—is no longer possible. I might be in the minority, but, subject to safety standards, it is my view that many people believe that standing at matches can be enjoyable, safe, worth while and family based.

7.8 pm

Mr. Sproat

A number of extremely important points have been raised in the debate, and I will do my best to cover as many as I can in the short time remaining.

First—very appropriately with you in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is the question of rugby league, which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) mentioned on behalf of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). I know that the hon. Member for Wakefield wished to speak yesterday, but I understand that he is in his constituency today. Rugby league could not have a more persistent or persuasive champion than the hon. Member for Wakefield.

I am acutely conscious of the problem of rugby league grounds. Simply stated, all problems of crowd control arose from soccer. Soccer is getting a great deal of financial help to pay for its crowd control problems, but there are no problems of crowd control in rugby league, and rugby league is getting very little financial assistance to help make its stadiums comply with the standards of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975.

I am aware of the problem and I will do everything that I can to help. I have agreed to meet the chairman of the Rugby League, Mr. Walker, and the chief executive, Mr. Maurice Lindsay, to see whether more money can be made available. Wakefield rugby club received £100,000 from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, but that club alone needs something like half a million pounds to meet safety standards. It is a very serious financial problem, but I will do everything I can to help. I ask the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, to pass on my comments to the hon. Member for Wakefield.

I attended the first international between Great Britain and the Kiwis. It was a terrific occasion, attended by 36,000 people, and there was no sign of trouble anywhere. If we can raise the behaviour of association football supporters to half that level, we will have done a good job. I pay great tribute to the way in which rugby league supporters follow their marvellous sport.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde asked whether I would consider any new suggestions with an open mind. I certainly will. The particular suggestion that he was considering was the NNC system of crush barriers. I should be interested to see how the Risley system works. Perhaps he could arrange for me to see it, and accompany me on my visit. The Risley system, or any system like it, has potential applications outside football and maybe for football as well, so I shall certainly want to look at it.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde raised the subject of communications between stewards and the police, and referred to Mr. Malcolm George and the 1992 report of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The report gives good, detailed guidance and goes into detail about such matters as who should tell a referee to stop a match in cases of riot. It is an excellent report and it may assist the House if I arrange for a copy of it to be laid in the Library, where anyone who is interested in this subject can read it.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde raised san extremely important point about increasing the involvement of supporters in soccer clubs. That has many ramifications. It is difficult when there are two groups representing supporters—I think that the House is agreed on that—and I should welcome new ideas about how we can involve supporters more.

There is a lot of feeling in the country at large that supporters of soccer clubs often find themselves treated not too well, and big money counts for more than they do. I am thinking, for example, of clubs changing kits every season and supporters having to buy new kits which cost as much as £50. Supporters ought to be consulted more and if any hon. Member has any ideas as to how that can be done, I should be interested to hear them.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) was concerned about Wednesday afternoons at universities, and I am 100 per cent. behind what he proposes. I am determined to see that university sport does not die out because it is played at different times at different universities and no proper fixture list can be drawn up. I also agree with his remarks about how the law-abiding soccer supporter is tarnished, most unfairly, with the reputation that the hooligans have given to the game.

I do not have a great deal of time left; if I had, I would agree with other hon. Members about the pleasures of standing. I also stood at Murrayfield, and have stood at various football grounds around the country. I agree with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) about the pleasures of standing, but, unfortunately, safety has to come first—hence the emphasis that we have put on the provision of all-seater stadiums in the premier league and the first division.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) gave an interesting example of how Arsenal is dealing with ticket touts. I agree that the Government should look at that idea carefully and I undertake to do so. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to have some further discussions with me to make sure that I have not missed some of the important details of this interesting scheme.

As for legislation, that is a matter for the Home Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) will not like this part of my remarks, but I understand that the Home Office is keen to bring in a law as soon as a suitable opportunity arises.

The other important point of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale was about the effect on the pools industry of the national lottery. The pools industry finances the Football Trust, which enables so many grounds to make the improvements necessary for all-seaterisation, if I can use a ghastly word. The judgment of the House is that the pools will not be badly affected. We should not guess at that, but monitor the situation carefully, see what happens and, if necessary, return to the subject. That is the straightforward way to deal with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East is extremely knowledgeable about these matters, and I have discussed with him many of the problems facing Southend United recently, particularly the problem with the planning authorities. My hon. Friend invited me to take account of the real problems of real clubs. He made an important point which went to the heart of the matter. The real problem for successive Governments arose from tragedies such as Ibrox, Bradford and Hillsborough. It was Lord Justice Taylor's conclusion that all-seater stadiums were the best single way of dealing with hooliganism, although not a panacea. I should be very interested to visit Southend and to see its splendid pier and splendid football club, but I can discuss that with my hon. Friend outside the Chamber.

I have dealt with the point about touts that was raised by the hon. Member for Norwood. On his point about standing, I share his nostalgic but practical view about families, but the Government's policy is as stated and, as he said, standing is a romantic notion which we may have to turn our backs on.

I invite the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde to say a few closing words.

7.17 pm
Mr. Pendry

With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly.

This has been all too short a debate, as sports debates usually are, but it has been constructive. I thank the Minister for dealing positively with some of the points that have been put to him.

I should like to go to Risley with the Minister. The supporters association will hear what he has said; that is good news, and many of us can add to that particular input into the Minister's thinking. I am pleased that Malcolm George's report will be in the Library for all to see.

The world has moved on since the Taylor report. British technology is recognised as the best in the world for crowd safety. Lord Justice Taylor said in his report that complacency is the enemy of safety, and that must be remembered. I hope that the Minister will have an open mind about many of these issues.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.