HL Deb 13 January 1971 vol 314 cc123-8

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat, in his own words, a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about the Ibrox disaster. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission I should like to make a statement about the tragic accident which occurred at Ibrox Football Ground, Glasgow, on January 2 which all Members of the House will have heard of with deep shock. Sixty-six people lost their lives and a further 145 required hospital treatment for their injuries. At present 5 people are still in hospital. Most of the other injured made a quick recovery after treatment.

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

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

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

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

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

My Lords, that concludes the Statement made by my right honourable friend.


My Lords, may I begin by thanking the noble Baroness for repeating to your Lordships the Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I should like to associate myself with the thanks expressed by the Secretary of State to all those who took part in the rescue work which followed this terrible disaster. The impression I get is that what took place showed the City of Glasgow at its very best, and Glasgow at its best takes a good deal of beating. I am sure that all your Lordships would wish to be associated with the Members of another place in expressing our sympathy to the relatives and friends of those who died or were injured in the disaster.

The Statement refers to the inquiry being held by the Sheriff of Lanarkshire. I have no doubt that the Lord Advocate will ensure that this inquiry has the widest possible scope. I think that what was done immediately by Ministers in asking that advice be given to the public at football matches to exercise care in leaving grounds was right and probably the first thing that could be done, but obviously some time will elapse before decisions are taken, following the inquiries already conducted by the Ministers and the inquiry to be held by the Sheriff of Lanarkshire. Advice of this kind when repeated match after match, begins to lose its effect as time goes by, because people forget the tragedy and are more concerned with immediate events. It is important, therefore, that the long-term solution of the safety problems should be tackled as speedily as possible.

I want to avoid any reference to what might be considered by the sheriff's inquiry, because they will have much greater opportunity of looking at the problem than I have and it would be wrong to anticipate what they might do. But should like to suggest to the noble Baroness, for the consideration of her right honourable friends, that when the football clubs are asked to review their safety arrangements, it is important—because many of these clubs are not as well off financially as they would like to be—that they should not be limited by what they think they can afford. Their view should be along the lines of what is necessary and it should be for the Government, the Football Association and the clubs to consider, if major works are necessary, where the money is to come from. The noble Baroness may wish to comment on that point. Finally, may I say—and I am quite certain that the Ministers accept this—that it is important that there should be the earliest possible implementation of any recommendations which may prove to be desirable as a result of the inquiries which are going on.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches certainly wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the bereaved and injured and also with the tributes paid to the emergency services. One is entitled to ask why we in this country never seem to learn the lessons of these tragedies. The report on the tragic disaster in 1946 at the Bolton Wanderers' football ground referred to inadequate means of ingress and egress to the ground and suggested licensing and expert inspection. The Lang Report published in November, 1969, repeated these recommendations and added a number of others. It called for periodical inspection of ground structures, for certification by a qualified person, for the need for police to be on the terraces, for better communication systems throughout the grounds and a number of other things.

I should like to ask the Minister whether it is right to ask the clubs and the football authorities to inspect the safety arrangements. In all these reports it has been stressed time and time again that it is a matter for experts, for qualified people, perhaps for local authority technical services. I really do not think it is a matter of a certificate from the club, unless they have somebody highly qualified in ground structures and who can carry out a really expert inspection. The blueprint for action is the Lang Report, and so long as that is not implemented, every week-end hundreds of thousands of people are at risk. I would ask the Government, in the light of what has happened, whether they could take some action now, even before the result of the inquiry is announced.


My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for the way in which he associated himself with the sympathy extended to all the relatives and all those concerned, and I would certainly agree with him that the City of Glasgow was seen at its best on this occasion. He also asked whether the terms of reference of the fatal accident inquiry were as wide as possible. They are very wide. As I have already described, the inquiry will be held before a sheriff and a jury, and it will be charged not only to establish the facts, but also to consider the evidence to find whether negligence is attributable to any person or persons, and whether the accident might have been avoided.

On the more long term question to which both noble Lords drew my attention, while the Report in 1948 following upon the Bolton football disaster recommended the licensing of football clubs, the Lang Report did not. The two main recommendations of the Lang Report have been accepted by football clubs throughout the country. They were, first, that the memoranda which were sent out originally in 1948 regarding security and crowd control on football grounds should be brought up to date and reissued; and secondly that periodic inspection of ground structures should be carried out by a qualified person and the appropriate certificate sent by the club. with its annual return, to the association concerned.

So far as the larger question of structural alterations and the finances involved is concerned, this will certainly be considered when we have analysed all the replies to the questionnaires which my right honourable friend sent out in November to all football clubs, and which have only just been received.


My Lords, would the Minister take note that it is important in this immediate review to ask clubs to use qualified people to carry out the inspection?


My Lords, that is already done.