HL Deb 24 January 1973 vol 338 cc205-31

5.4 p.m.

THE EARL OF KINNOULL rose to call attention to the Report of the Inquiry into Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the House will recall that on January 2, 1971, at about 4.45 p.m., during the final moments of a cup tie between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, a section of the 70,000 crowd present began to leave the terraces and surge towards the access stairway at the North-East corner of the ground. It was then, in a matter of moments, that a disaster struck—a disaster of such appalling magnitude, which happened with such apparent, almost senseless, ease, that the sheer horror of it shook and stunned the country, and, I am sure, chilled the hearts of all soccer administrators everywhere. No fewer than 66 people lost their lives in this tragedy, and many more were injured. This was the second major accident that had occurred at football grounds in Britain, the first being at Bolton in 1946, when 33 people lost their lives. Both disasters had a unique and disturbing common denominator. The casualties were not caused by any structural failure on the ground but were inflicted by the crowd upon itself.

I mention this at the start of my introduction of the Wheatley Report on Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds, as this was the direct background to the appointment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, and his Committee, which was set up jointly by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The terms of reference for the Committee were drawn very wide, and were to examine existing arrangements for crowd safety at all types of sports grounds, and to make recommendations. The first decision the Wheatley Committee took—and I am sure it was a wise one—was to limit their inquiries to soccer and rugby grounds only, as this was a matter of immediate public concern. Clearly, the problems of other sports grounds were so vastly different, and in many cases could offer little to no fruitful comparison.

There are two general aspects of the problem of crowd safety which strike one when reading the Wheatley Report. The first is that the problem of crowd safety in soccer grounds is no new issue. It was examined in a Departmental Committee Report as long ago as 1923. Recommendations were made in the Bolton disaster Report of 1946, in the Chester Committee's Report on Football in 1968, and in the Lang Committee's Report in 1969. In other words, in the past 50 years the problem has been under review, and it is largely the theme of these reviews, together with a critical analysis of the nature of the problem, and a firm recommendation to overhaul the present system of safety regulations, that form the first part of the Wheatley Report.

The second aspect which is emphasised, both in the Wheatley Report and in the Bolton disaster Report, is that, however good is the standard of safety precautions in any ground, however careful have been the safety designs at all the danger points—the entrances and exits to and from the grounds, the gangways, the crash barriers, the penning and so on—no amount of planning can cope all the time with the unpredictable form which human conduct may take in the pressure of large crowds. Indeed, no total guarantee can ever be given against accidents occurring in the best planned grounds, particularly with a densely packed and excited crowd. The best that can be achieved by good planning is to minimise this risk.

Having said that, I feel it would be fair to say that there are two main conclusions at which the Wheatley Committee arrived, after sifting thoroughly through all the evidence they had heard and collected over 12 months. The first was a firm recommendation that the present voluntary system of control of safety precautions at soccer grounds—a system which has operated for the past 50 years, initially by the clubs themselves and more latterly under a certification system operated by the Football Association—is no longer adequate and must now be replaced by some form of statutory licence parallel to that required at the present time for most other premises of public entertainment. One may add here that of course this does not cover Wimbledon, greyhound or horseracing grounds.

The second conclusion which the Committee clearly felt was equally vital to the licensing recommendation, and in a way was very much complementary to it, was that it was now quite essential for a central technical code of standards to be drawn up as a flexible guideline for use by the licensing boards and clubs throughout the country, so that a minimum standard of safety at all grounds would be eventually reached. Not only was this felt to be in the best interests of public safety generally, but it was also felt that it would be helpful for clubs themselves when contemplating any alterations or improvements to their grounds.

The Committee set up a technical support group of six wise men to carry out this task, a task which included not only the study of all the technical evidence submitted to the Committee but also an examination of what technical guide lines could be drafted in a general specification on the construction and layout of grounds. Their findings form a most valuable second part of the Wheatley Committee's Report, for it is the first time in fifty years that any attempt has been made to have uniform safety standards.

What response has there been to these two recommendations since the Wheatley Committee's Report was published nine months ago? The first, and perhaps natural reaction from the Football Associations as the governing bodies of football, was that they did not accept that their voluntary system of certification, over which they could of course, impose disciplinary powers, had proved defective as the Wheatley Report suggested. Indeed, the English Football Association has shown a commendable action in recent weeks by providing a fund of £50,000 to provide a free survey of crash barriers at any member club's ground. They were concerned that if a technical code was accepted they should be allowed to take part in the drafting of it. They were also concerned on the appeal procedure at the likelihood of licences being withdrawn, but above all they were, and I believe are, worried—and that worry is being shared by clubs—that should the technical code be adopted by licensing boards too rigidly and not introduced over a phased period many of the clubs, already hard pressed financially, would be unable to meet the costs of the capital improvements required and would be faced with the closing down of their grounds. In short, the Football Associations are saying to the Government: "If the new licensing authorities were introduced and the technical guidelines in the Wheatley Report were adopted where would the money come from to carry out the improvements to the grounds?"

This leads one to ask just how bad are the present safety standards of football clubs up and down the country. Why do the Football Associations see the need for such heavy expenditure on grounds and how big is the risk that over 1 million people take every week for eight months of the year when attending soccer matches? We read from time to time of walls collapsing, as recently happened at Oxford and Millwall. We also read of crash barriers giving way, recently again at Crystal Palace and the Arsenal ground, all mercifully without any serious injuries. Are these situations that would have been avoided had a licensing board been in operation? Has anyone a detailed survey report of the grounds that the public pay admission to every week?

The Wheatley Committee sought advice on the state of grounds from a small committee set up under the chairmanship of Mr. Walter Winterbottom. This committee, one understands, visited over 60 grounds, but their findings were a matter only for the eyes of the Wheatley Committee. This, I believe, is a pity, for we are left very much in the dark as to what evidence they found. We are left to draw our own conclusions from the Wheatley Report. Clearly that Committee was influenced by the Winterbottom findings, and indeed one suspects was disturbed by them. One notices, for instance, that at column 70 criticism is levelled fairly sharply at the lack of proper facilities for the police, first-aid and ambulance services and the co-ordination of all personnel involved in crowd control at certain grounds. Indeed at column 72 one is left with the disturbing comment that the evidence certainly supports the view that something must be done.

I hope my noble friend will have something to say later on the general state of the grounds at the present time as the Government see it. I believe the answer to where the greatest danger lies in crowd safety in soccer grounds at the moment (and this seemed apparent from my brief discussions with associations, clubs and the police) is with the small clubs, and then only on special occasions such as cup ties, when exceptional crowds are attending. Here the skill of the police in advising on crowd limitation and their subsequent handling of the crowd plays such a vital part. In saying that, one is well aware of the dangers at the larger clubs—of hooliganism, of the swaying of the crowds and of the natural danger points of the crash barriers and exits.

Returning for a moment to the question of where the money will come from, the Wheatley Committee's summary of the present financial state of football was, I believe, accepted as being very fair, and the careful avoidance on reaching a solution shows a marked degree of tact. It is widely accepted to-day that, despite the great popularity of football as a national sport, where at least 1 million people play every week and a further million people go to watch and 7 to 10 million people watch on television, the game faces the severest financial crisis in its history. Falling gates, coupled with rising costs, amount to an annual loss calculated at over £1 million to football generally. Only a few clubs are profitable; most are in financial straits, supported by income from sweepstakes and transfers and living on huge overdrafts secured by the one great asset—their ground. Calculations have been made that if clubs try to absorb V.A.T. next season many of the few who at present make a profit will go into the red. In this climate it is not therefore surprising to find a distinct lack of enthusiasm towards the implementation of a new safety code without Government assistance.

When discussing the present financial crisis in football, the football authorities claim that the Government earn something between £30 million and £50 million a year from football pools tax, and with the introduction of V.A.T. they will earn a further £1 million a year. At the same time, the Government put next to nothing back into the game, unlike other European Governments. The same authorities argue that the practical effect of the proposed licensing boards could well mean the closure of a number of clubs unless some Government support is forthcoming.

Undoubtedly football is the most popular national sport of the country to-day, and indeed is part and parcel of our national way of life. It offers a valuable contribution to recreational activities and leisure time interests; it is enjoyed by millions both playing and watching, and when achievements are reached, such as winning the World Cup, it undoubtedly does something for our morale. Many in football realise that the financial crisis cannot be solved alone by the Government. Football itself must put its house in order. Clubs must live within their means. The vicious circle of paying more and more for the transfer of players and paying more and more to the players themselves, at the expense of facilities for the spectators is not a healthy one. Perhaps there are too many small professional clubs seeking too few spectators and the authorities of football clearly have a considerable responsibility in the years ahead to guide football back into a financially healthy situation.

But in the short term, my Lords, if clubs really do face the possibility of closing down because they are unable to satisfy licensing boards in the future, and if the closing down of their ground would be against the interest of the community it served, as in many cases it undoubtedly would, then there seems to be some justification for the Government to be looking now into the need for a levy board funded out of part of the annual revenue derived from football pools tax and similar to the Racing Levy Board. This board would clearly have a duty to assist in capital improvement to those clubs which were serving a need of the community but at the same time did not have sufficient funds to meet their requirements. Perhaps again my noble friend can say later whether the Government are actively examining this proposal, which of course has been voiced for many years and recently has been put forward again by the English Football League.

Turning to the technical guidelines, I hope that my noble friend will be able to say, if the general framework of this is to be accepted, that a committee representing men with practical experience in football drawn from clubs as well as the associations will be invited to the Home Office and the Scottish Office to thrash out the technical specifications to be adopted. I am sure my noble friend will agree that practical experience in this subject is as valuable as all the scientific and theoretical experience put together.

I have a specific question to ask my noble friend concerning the Fire Precautions Act 1971. The Wheatley Report draws attention to the fact that its provisions applying to football grounds have not been implemented. Perhaps my noble friend will explain whether these are now to be adopted. The Wheatley Report paid some well-earned tributes to the ceaseless work of the police and the unselfish voluntary work of the St. John Ambulance Service. I wish to pay my tribute to them as well. Having been lucky enough to attend the World Cup Final in 1966 I shall never forget the skill and patience of the police and the calming effect one policeman can have on an over-excited crowd. Equally, I shall never forget the sight of St. John Ambulance men and women helping those who had fainted or who had been overcome by the general excitement of the occasion.

It is gratifying to find in the Report confirmation of the excellent working relationships between the clubs and the police, particularly on decisions of crowd limitation, and also to learn from clubs how effective recent steps have been to reduce that ugly element of football, hooliganism. The Wheatley Report states in the summary of its conclusions that all clubs have a clear duty, where the public pay admission, to provide grounds that are reasonably safe for spectators. Nobody will challenge that. As I have said, the Report examines closely and argues cogently why it considers the present voluntary system of certification on safety regulations is defective and must be changed. In its place it recommends a two-pronged system—a statutory licensing procedure, with an appropriate appeal structure, and a voluntary technical code of safety regulations, to be used as a guideline for the licensing boards. The Report particularly stresses that this guideline must be flexible, with grounds being categorised and improvements phased.

The Wheatley Committee have produced what in my view is a most thorough, comprehensive and well-argued Report which I trust will achieve a service both to football and crowd safety. I am only sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, has been prevented by his judicial responsibilities from being present to-day to take part in this short debate. He and his Committee deserve our thanks. I commend the Report to the House and hope that my noble friend will be able to say in reply what views the Government have formed and what action they intend to take. My Lords, I beg, to move for Papers.


My Lords, before the noble Earl resumes his seat, may I ask him a question, his answer to which may help me to understand the arguments which he has advanced? He made crystal clear the need for some improvement to the standards of safety and the need for licensing. Towards the end of his remarks he seemed to place great emphasis on the need for Government support. Do I understand that his major point is that football as a whole, and the Football Associations in particular, are in need of State support to do the job they should have done years ago?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I was trying to explain that from the Report one could not quite judge what standards of safety applied to all grounds throughout Britain and that the Football Associations' argument was that if a code of safety conduct was to be introduced, many clubs would require financial support.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I take part in this debate as one who is president of my local soccer club and who spends as many Saturday afternoons as a busy programme permits watching the noble game of football in the First Division. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that it is sad that it takes a tragedy to bring to the attention of the nation the unsatisfactory condition of crowd safety, but has that not been true throughout history—that it is alas! tragedies that call certain serious needs to the attention of the great masses of the people?

This is not to say that local clubs have not done a very great deal on the whole to ensure that safety precautions are good. Nevertheless, the Wheatley Report rightly makes it clear that some general overall standards should be imposed and observed, and I agree wholeheartedly with Lord Wheatley's recommendation that local authority control should be imposed because, of course, it must be admitted that certain clubs whose finances are limited have possibly not done all they might have done to ensure that safety precautions are as good as they might be.

Speaking for my own club—and, I am sure, for a vast number of others—there has been for some time a yearly examination by the police, fire authorities and the club's own architect. Walls, exits, entrances and staircases have all been for many years carefully examined. Furthermore, I believe it is true to say that when new stands are erected they are built so that each stand is a separate entity with the people in them, as it were, in a pen. So far as possible, crash barriers have been erected to stagger the number of people coming down steps or slopes, and the Football Association has offered free of charge expert advice in the erection and use of crash barriers.

Nevertheless, while it is true that many clubs have in recent years been very conscious indeed of the dangers and have taken many precautions to prevent accidents, there has hitherto, until the Wheatley Report, been no compulsion in this matter. The Wheatley Report has brought a certain amount of compulsion. While nobody likes compulsion, when lives are in danger it becomes necessary. It is because of the high cost necessitated by the high standards of control that will be forced on football management by local authorities that Lord Wheatley has recommended that licensing should be introduced in stages, starting with the large international grounds and First Division clubs, so giving time for the smaller and therefore poorer clubs to set their houses in order. I cannot find myself in total agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in suggesting that clubs will need State aid. Where a club is able to produce football that is positive and attacking, and where the management of that club is imaginative and provides adequately for those who attend, in the form of seats that are comfortable and facilities that are inviting, I should have felt that it would have enough financial support to guarantee that the high standards imposed by local authorities can be carried out, and I should be a little hesitant in urging that Government aid should come to the support of clubs.

Obviously there must be a certain connection between emotionalism and crowd safety. Whatever stringent precautions are taken, a sudden excess of emotion can imperil those safety precautions. Emotion takes many forms. One of them that has been much in the public eye recently, and to which the noble Earl drew attention, is hooliganism, and this can undoubtedly enhance the danger of crowd emotion and thus heighten the dangers. In my own local club, as in many others, steps are being taken, in close conjunction with the police, to prevent hooliganism. Where possible, trains bringing large crowds of visitors from another club should be brought as close as possible to the football ground. Buses also should deposit people as close as possible to the ground entrances. Furthermore, it could well be that punishments should be enhanced and detention centres (open on Saturday afternoons, to which culprits are forced to go so that they miss their Saturday afternoon football) could well be developed.

But none of these steps touches the real heart of this particular problem which very definitely affects crowd safety. The real problem is that youngsters should be given creative opportunities for self-development through sport—such as swimming, boxing and table tennis. Hooliganism is too often the result of inner frustration and boredom. There should be a greatly increased use of school grounds for boys and girls who cannot otherwise receive opportunities for training—bearing in mind that perhaps the biggest problem in this respect is the bringing in on a Saturday of a caretaker. But I believe that difficulty can be overcome. There should be the development of all-weather floodlit pitches, and well-known instructors should be urged in their spare time to train young people. Every football club should be urged to develop these facilities for the training of young football fans.

Having said this, it must be fully recognised that it is only a very small minority indeed which has expressed its emotion in this form of hooliganism. Nevertheless, if it were to increase—and there are signs that it is increasing—it would go far towards ruining the sport of the vast majority who only want to watch good football. There is a very narrow knife edge between the enjoyment of a manly sport and violence. The police are becoming increasingly expert in controlling violence on the football ground itself. Steps now have to be taken to ensure that that violence is prevented from breaking out around the football ground. One step, among many, which can prevent this is the development of everything that will ensure the orderly, controlled and unemotional departure of large numbers of people from the stands.

As has been rightly pointed out, up until now football grounds have been private property, unlicensed, and not subject to any special laws, regulations or by-laws. Lord Wheatley's Committee has recognised that this is dangerous, and quite rightly has taken steps to prevent it. The Wheatley Committee has drawn attention to the fact that although numbers attending football matches may have gone down, the game is still the focus of the largest social gatherings in Great Britain and, therefore, safety precautions must be imposed by competent experts who must have frequent access to the grounds and whose decisions and suggestions can be authoritatively imposed. For all these reasons, therefore, I welcome this Wheatley Report.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, first, I must add my congratulations and my thanks to the noble Earl for providing us with an opportunity of discussing Lord Wheatley's invaluable and lucid Report on the dangers of and the remedies for large crowds at sports grounds. In paragraph 72 of his Report he refers exclusively to football grounds and it is to this aspect that I and probably other speakers are turning.

For the major part of the season professional association football in both England and Scotland is organised and administered by the Football League, consisting of four divisions of between 22 and 24 clubs in each division; and the Scottish League of two divisions, of 18 and 19 clubs respectively. The Report raises a number of very relevant and useful points concerning the safety of the spectators. Paragraph 67 states that the clubs have a paramount duty "to see that their grounds are reasonably safe for spectators". But neither of the speakers so far has pointed out that most grounds in England and Scotland are no more than half full throughout the season, and perhaps only three or four times in any one year is there any question regarding the safety of spectators because of overcrowding. Such occasions could be a league match against local rivals, or a cup match against one of the more successful teams in the land. There are, I understand, about six grounds in England and two in Scotland which are regularly filled to within 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of their capacity. Only these eight clubs and a handful more both in Scotland and England are able to meet their expenses from their receipts at the turnstiles—the deficit is made up from selling players to more successful clubs, from development funds, from mini-lotteries, social clubs and, mainly, from the private means of directors who will either pay in large amounts of cash or will guarantee bank overdrafts and loans.

Thus, the question of finance can be seen in a new and somewhat more tricky light. The clubs that are financially healthy are those to which, in the main, the Report applies. These clubs—about 12 in England and 4 in Scotland—play at grounds of varying capacities, but mostly the stadia have grown up in the midst of factories, houses and wasteland. Various stands are improved and modernised each year as finances and physical limitations permit. Nevertheless, there are physical and financial limits to what can be done to modernise and to make safe grounds which regularly hold 40,000 to 50,000 spectators at each league or cup match. Of course, in Scotland where we take our football seriously, club grounds will accommodate 70,000 to 80,000 spectators.

It was at one of these grounds, Ibrox, that in January, 1971, as we have heard from the noble Earl, a huge section of the crowd on leaving the terracing at Ibrox, fell, tumbled and slithered down a staircase towards the exit, and we had this terrible toll of 66 fatalities and over 100 people injured. But nobody has yet been able to define any particular cause for that tragedy. However, it is fairly certain that very little blame could be attached to the Rangers Football Club who own the ground, or to the stadium itself. This tragedy, which united the City of Glasgow in grief, gave rise to the Report which we are discussing to-day, and it is ironical that the Rangers Football Club to whom Ibrox belongs had done everything possible to make the ground safer and more attractive to its supporters. Indeed, since 1971 large additional amounts of seating accommodation have been added and the club has now done more than it could reasonably be asked to do to make safety of prime importance in the stadium.

The Lang Report, which examined crowd behaviour, laid stress on the importance of increased seating accommodation. We have yet to see in England the first football stadium with seating accommodation only. This is due mainly to the advancing age of many British stadia together with the physical constrictions that I have mentioned. It is believed that potential violence is reduced when spectators are unable to move forward. There is certainly less danger from crowd surge; but from personal experience the offer of violence can still be present and, much worse, escape from this violence is far more difficult. The main advantage of seating accommodation is to minimise the risk of turmoil and pushng when the game is over, and it is this point which should be stressed when forestalling the chance of a similar incident to that which occurred at Ibrox. When seating of the spectators is not immediately possible, there will be large banked and stepped terraces where crush barriers will minimise the surging of crowds. These terracings are not perfect, but much is being done to make them more reasonable. However, a vast amount of freedom of movement is possible and, thankfully, numbers are rarely as great as those at Ibrox, so that the problems and risks are considerably diminished.

The Report sets out some excellent constructive points for reducing the risks when such large numbers of people are gathered in one place. Paragraph 43 suggests that grounds should be licensed just as are other places of public entertainment. The local authority should be able to determine the capacity that can be seen to be safe, on arrival at, during the match, and on leaving any particular ground. I entirely endorse this suggestion. But already the police can advise on a tolerable capacity, and I believe this should be made statutory at all sports grounds, both large and small.

I come to behaviour of the crowds at football matches. This is, I regret to say, of very great relevance. Spectators go to football, I believe, particularly in the case of the major league grounds, to be entertained, but also to express their anger, joy or rage at what goes on in front of them. I think it is unreasonable to expect 50,000 people necessarily to behave like an audience at a symphony concert. There is a great danger in believing that any measures we are discussing will correct crowd behaviour or crowd emotions. We have heard of the Ibrox disaster. But within very recent memory in Lima over 300 people were killed on May 24, 1964, when police had to fire tear gas into a section of the crowd at a match in an attempt to separate rioting spectators. Many of the fatalities occurred outside the stadium, but nevertheless this incident started and grew in one of the most modern stadia in South America. To go further back, I understand that in about 140 A.D. over 1,100 spectators died when wooden tiers collapsed at the Circus Maximus in Rome during a gladiatorial contest. We are not told how many Christians were eaten by the lions in the supporting contests.

Crowd behaviour, I think, is the main factor in any safety measures, and if violence does break out these same safety measures could easily imperil innocent bystanders who cannot escape over some of the suggested high fences, over moats or ditches, or indeed round or through barriers. Nevertheless, I consider the main points of the Report are more valid than ever to-day, two years after the disaster occurred at Ibrox. The safety of spectators is still a matter of paramount importance, and I should like to add my support to the noble Earl in asking the Government to work out any means possible for allowing those clubs which are profitable and which regularly attract large numbers of spectators to keep as much of their profit as possible for the purpose of implementing the recommendations of the Report. If further help can be obtained from the Government, then it will be seized as a valuable bonus. My Lords, I support the Motion.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I range myself with the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Coventry, as being one who enjoys an afternoon at a football match, and, with him and the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, I thank the noble Earl for raising this matter this afternoon. As I understand it, there is no argument against the proposition that we need to have the maximum possible safety arrangements at all football grounds or all grounds where large sporting crowds gather, and I do not detect any heavy attack against the recommendations of Lord Wheatley that licensing and consequent inspection responsibilities should be placed upon the local authority. Certainly the Football Association feel that their own capacity to inspect and certify was adequate, and certainly I would accept from the right reverend Prelate that if, as he modestly states, his local football team is Coventry City, then from all that I read they have done a lot with their ground; I hope one day I might even be allowed to go and see exactly how luxurious are the facilities they provide. Many clubs have done a good deal, but I do not think we can argue against the proposition that there is still more to be done; and I cannot myself see that there is any better arrangement than that proposed by Lord Wheatley that the inspection and the licensing should be in the hands of the local authorities.

But the question is one of money. Although my heart warmed when the Bishop of Coventry was talking about the merits of positive and attacking football, I doubt very much whether that alone will provide sufficient crowds to provide enough money to achieve the right sort of standards throughout the football playing world. The noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, says that this is a matter for the organisation who wish to be licensed; and so it is, of course. But there is nevertheless a public interest, a spectator interest, in this, and I do not think we can wash our hands of it. What seems to me to be wrong—and it seems so wrong that I may be mistaken as to the facts—is that expenditure on fixed capital costs, on stands, for example, and the fittings, do not qualify for any tax rebate. If again, as I am given to understand, a club can spend £200,000 on a player and that sum is allowable as an expense in their accounting for inland revenue purposes, this is an absurd state of affairs. Not only do these large expenditures do much to give a wrong image to modern football; I think they have done as much as anything to make some people think that it is all a bit of a racket and turn aside to something else. I think it is wrong and against the best interests of soccer that there should be these large sums of money spent on some young man. But it is equally wrong that if a club tries to have proper standards of accommodation, proper safety arrangements, the money which they spend on this fixed capital equipment is not allowable for taxation purposes. I hope we may be assured by the noble Viscount who is to reply that this point is seriously being considered.

I accept what was said behind me by one of my noble friends about the Government coming to the aid of those clubs that have not faced up to their responsibilities in the past. I accept that. But we are moving into a situation where, unless the Chancellor says something very unexpected next month, a further financial impost will be placed upon those clubs in the shape of value added tax. This seems a quite retrograde step. After all the argument we had about the entertainment tax, after all the agreement that was reached that exceptions should be made in the case of football, we are apparently going backwards and placing this impost upon a sport which will not in the main be able to afford it. In these circumstances there is a very special need for the Government to see whether something can be done to help those clubs which need to bring up their standards of accommodation to a proper level but just do not have the money.

One other thing I would mention. The Report refers very briefly—and the right reverend Prelate referred to it, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lyell—to the question of human behaviour. Of course this is relevant to the question of safety. Some of the factors which have a bearing on the control of crowds are within the responsibility of clubs; for example, they can control admissions, they can control the sale of drink, and in other ways they can have some control over behaviour, proper provision of police and so on. But it still remains the case that the psychology of some of these crowds is created by factors outside of the football ground. In this context, although I am not one automatically to criticise the media, I think it is possible that television has not helped in this regard. There was a time when "Match of the Day" was an enjoyable thing to watch, but now it seems to be an opportunity to try and stir up some feverish excitement about the whole thing. There is very little connection sometimes between the match one sees and the selected incidents shown upon the television screen; and that prelude, that preview, before the match of the day, showing a frantic, indeed frenetic, dashing about the field by some of these characters is calculated, I think, to give an entirely wrong atmosphere to the football crowds, and to encourage the wrong kind of behaviour among spectators. I recall when it was a happy presentation. I remember my family used to cheer when Danny Blanchflower was shown holding up the cup in that happy picture of him, but that is completely different from what the television authority seems to think we want now.

I very much hope that they will look at this, and wonder and cogitate whether jazzing up their soccer presentation is in the best interests of all concerned. It is not a major factor, but it could be a contributory one, and I think that we have to consider this aspect of crowd behaviour when we are considering safety. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to tell us that the Government accept some responsibility for making available directly—or, if not directly, indirectly—the finance that will be needed by some of the clubs to bring their grounds up to the proper state.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, as is almost always the case in your Lordships' House, those who have spoken in this debate have turned out to be not only devotees of football but singularly well-informed ones at that. Somehow I do not think that my noble friend is going to persevere with his request for Papers, since it is plain that he has read all that are available, and I do not suppose that he is alone in that among those who have taken part in this debate. He pointed out that the Wheatley Report is the latest in a long series arising from sad disasters where people were injured or crushed to death in large crowds, mainly at football matches. I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate that these have highlighted the problem. I do not think that my noble friend Lord Lyell was really saying that we ought to underestimate these disasters when they occur, or the need to secure that a ground, when it is full, is safe, just because that ground may on other occasions be less than wholly filled.

I wondered at one stage in the speech of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull whether he was taking sides with those who, he said, had been showing a certain lack of enthusiasm for the implementation of the Wheatley proposals. If one looks at the history of this subject one realises, I think, that we have now reached the stage where something has to be done. I will not go through all the details of past inquiries, because my noble friend has really done this. The Wembley incident in 1923 to which he referred was in fact a football incident. Fortunately, nobody was killed. The Crowd Safety Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Shortt recommended measures for safety on sports grounds on a voluntary basis, but even at that time they thought that if that method failed we should fall back on full licensing controls. The matter was looked at again, though in a slightly different context, by Mr. Dunne, after a terrible disaster in 1943 at the air raid shelter at Bethnal Green Underground station, when an incident on a staircase occurred very similar to that which took place at Ibrox Park recently.

My noble friend mentioned the Bolton Wanderers inquiry under the chairmanship of Mr. Moelwyn Hughes. I am afraid that in that incident 33 people died. The Committee recommended— and this was in 1946—statutory licensing for safety, but after the Report had been considered it was eventually decided to rely on voluntary arrangements. That was the beginning of the process that has led up to certification, particularly on matters like safety limits, communications, and local authority inspection. Again my noble friend was quite right to refer to the Lang Committee Report in 1969, because that suggested that the memoranda on the voluntary basis issued by the Football Associations after the Bolton Wanderers report should be brought up to date and reissued. That was probably in the process of being done when the matter was overtaken by the Ibrox Park accident That particular occurrence was described in brief by my noble friend, and I am sure that I do not have to go into the details of it again. The jury, I recall, were specifically advised by the sheriff who dealt with the inquiry not to go into the question of fault for the club, and I do not believe that that matter has ever been gone into at all. Certainly I can confirm my noble friend's speech that the staircase concerned has since been improved.

Here we have the Report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, and although he had some assistance I think that this Report was something that he largely produced on his own. I am not sure that anybody in a speech from the Government side has ever thanked him for the energy and wisdom he put into this matter. It involved a good deal of travelling between Edinburgh and London in addition to his judicial duties. It did not take him very long, and I think that we should be grateful to him for the thoroughness which he put into this job. As various noble Lords have said, we have reached a stage where he recommends in paragraph 17 that the voluntary certification procedure should be considered inadequate. I think I should be offering myself as a hostage to fortune if I were to fall in with the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull that I should say what the Government think about the general state of soccer grounds at this moment. If one looks at paragraph 17 one finds that Lord Wheatley says this: There are no standards to act as guidelines, so one cannot know what standards the 'qualified personnel' apply. And there is apparently no requirement for anyone with the requisite qualifications to look at the inter-relation of the various features of the ground to see whether the ground, viewed as a whole, is safe for the public. The Football Associations accept the certificates without question, and there is no machinery to test their validity, accuracy or reliability. It is precisely in order to cure that that we are getting down to work on codes of practice, and I shall come on to that subject in a moment.

I have no doubt that Coventry City is one of the shining exceptions to any criticism on this score. I would just make a comment on the right reverend Prelate's point about new buildings. I do not think that there is any difficulty about seeing that the standards of safety in new buildings are all that they should be, because the buildings are subject to planning and building regulation control when they are put up. The trouble arises about the old ones and about sonic method of imposing statutory requirements, or some sort of requirements, on their safety.

Very soon after the Wheatley Report was published—it is dated May, 1972—my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary accepted it. Indeed, in a Written Answer on May 3, at column 161, he said: The Government accept the Report in principle, and, in particular, the recommendation that certain football grounds should be subject to a statutory licensing control administered by local authorities. So that the necessary legislation may be prepared, there will now be consultations with those concerned, particularly with local authority and football interests, on the proposals in the Report. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that certainly nothing in the debate to-day, perhaps with the possible exception of a slight innuendo in the speech of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, has shown that anybody wants to depart from that acceptance by the Government. That was our response. My noble friend asked what response there was, and he described what the Football Associations thought, but the Government's response was instant and took the form that I have described.

I will not spend very long on this nasty, tiresome legal stuff, but it has to be looked at. One might ask, why is legislation needed? One has only to look at paragraph 13 of the Wheatley Report, where it goes through the existing legal powers, to find that nothing is really quite tailored to the sort of matter that we need to deal with. There are two further powers which he did not mention. There is a section in the old 1890 Public Health Act which, at any rate in the case of one football ground—actually it is in Portsmouth—has been used by the council, which so far as can be done under that Act, annually inspects and certifies the ground. So we have here the patchy picture of the law being interpreted sometimes in one way and sometimes in another, with nothing clearly biting on the sort of problems which most people would agree should be dealt with by way of law. The other power which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, did not mention is the byelaw making power which local authorities sometimes have in local Acts. These relate to unruly crowd behaviour, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, may have thought that that aspect was slightly outside his terms of reference.

I agree with those who have spoken, that crowd behaviour is very much an inherent part of the problem that we are looking at. It may have to be controlled partly by the influence of the police and partly by the influence of the clubs, and I think I read this morning that British Rail have now provided a special train which has all sorts of amusements on board, which may be hired for supporters. But crowd behaviour can also be controlled by physical means, and such things as gangways to let the police get to the seat of the trouble quickly are a very important structural feature which should be borne in mind. However, I agree with the right reverend Prelate that hooliganism has recently been tackled from many aspects, and nobody is more glad than I am to know that that is so.

My noble friend Lord Lyell mentioned the sad affair at Lima, which was indeed a tragic disaster. The players started fighting each other, whereupon the crowd threw objects at them and the police fired tear gas bombs at the crowd, at which many of the crowd rushed for the exits only to find the doors shut, because there was a rule that the doors could not be opened till five minutes before the end of the match. I am afraid that as a result 300 people died. I suspect that the main difference is that the police in this country would be unlikely to fire tear gas bombs at the crowd and, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said, it may be that we are a tiny bit less excitable than those in Peru who were present on that occasion.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has said that the police are unlikely to fire tear gas among the spectators, but I think he fails to understand that the spectators are quite likely to have such implements in their own hands and to use them in inter-team fighting in the stands. This is a crucial aspect. The noble Viscount believes that many of the spectators have wings of angels, but I think the right reverend Prelate would indicate otherwise.


No, my Lords, I do not think I suggested that they have wings of angels. But what I believe is happening—and my study of the papers has indicated this—is that the police are getting more and more expert at spotting people who have offensive weapons. Incidentally, I can think of no more terrible offence under the Firearms Act than, as a member of the public, to have a tear gas bomb, and I hope that those to which my noble friend has referred are of slightly lesser lethality. The police know very well what may happen and they are getting increasingly good at removing offensive weapons from members of the public. But of course one must not be complacent. I was merely drawing attention to a certain difference between what happens here and what goes on in Peru. However, I think I shall meet with no opposition when I inform the House that what went on in Roman circuses has nothing to do with the Home Office. My noble friend made a comment in that respect, and I think I can duck that one without much difficulty.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, recommended the special statutory scheme, and I am so glad—as I expected to be the case—that noble Lords realise that he set out the framework, including appeals, on which the Football Associations place so much emphasis, as well as the phasing which the right reverend Prelate described, which, again, is of the greatest importance on the financial side. What have the Government done about this, after accepting the matter in principle? My right honourable friend said that consultations were needed and the vital feature here is Appendix A, which is the technical report at the end of the Wheatley document. This is an area where you have expertise from architects, from surveyors, from policemen, from firemen and, I am told, from people called operational research scientists. When I asked what they did, I was told that they are people who are able to tell you about the pressure of the crowd and the respective strength of barriers and the human body; and, of course, it is most important that we should have that sort of expertise. Strangely enough, this is the first time that we have had any technical guidance on the matter. It is true that it was contained in the Winterbottom Report, but I do not think my noble friend need feel worried that that Report was not published, because it was almost wholly absorbed in the technical Appendix to the Wheatley Report. Subject to what I am going to say now, I think we have all the material that we could possibly use in that Appendix.

That Appendix A was not a desk exercise only. It was tested at one football ground, at any rate, and it was modified. But I entirely agree with my noble friend, that it needed to go further than the team who prepared it, and needed the advice from, and the consultation with, practical men in the football world, which was advocated by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. That is why an informal Working Party was set up by the Government with people of exactly that sort involved, and they finished their work on the first stage last week. What we have to do next is to look at the initial reactions to this Working Party's Report. Second—and this is another answer to my noble friend—we have to incorporate points about fire precautions which were specifically left out of Appendix A; that will be done as well. Next, bearing in mind what my noble friend has said, we think it would be very wise to go back again to the practical men and ask them to look at the results of those two stages. That is what we shall do, because I have no doubt that this is a vital area and it is essential that we should get this code of practice right. But I must also emphasise, if we are to have statutory licensing, that the Wheatley Report did not suggest that the technical code should form a statutory part of it, because it is quite obvious that the guidelines which are so much needed must be flexible to allow for the endless local variations between one club or one ground and another. To get these guidelines right is, I believe, an essential prerequisite to any legislative process.


My Lords, before my noble friend moves on, may I ask whether these consultations cover Scotland as well as England and Wales?


I think so, my Lords and I very much hope that they do. If I am wrong about that, I shall inform my noble friend. But I should have thought it would be extraordinarily unwise of us to leave Scotland out of this. I think both Home Departments have been involved, both North and South of the Border. I must comment a little wryly on one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. I take what he said about the capital expenditure on improving stands, but this point was drawn to the attention of his Government by the Chester Report in 1968, specifically and ill terms, and I rather suspect that the reason why they did nothing about it may he the same as the reason why we have done nothing about it. All I can do in matters of taxation is to pass on to my right honourable friend in another place what he has said, and that I shall certainly do. But there is that historical background to the matter.


I accept that, my Lords, but it will not have escaped the notice of the noble Viscount that there are a number of things which this Government have said, and past Governments have said, were impossible but which, on reflection, they have found they could do quite easily.


My Lords, all I am pointing out is that both Governments seem to have said that it was impossible, and perhaps this adds strength to my case; but I do not know.

Now it will no doubt be something that involves finance, and I must confess that, as is the case in the rest of his Report, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, got the Government's position very accurately stated in paragraph 60 of his Report. He said: The Government's general policy as brought to my notice by the Treasury is that in the private sector occupiers of premises should take whatever measures are necessary for the safety of their customers while they are on the premises and should finance such measures themselves. On the other hand, we had the other day—and this has been referred to by some noble Lords—a plaint from the Football League, who pointed out what they considered to be the need for an extra £5 million and brought up again the Chester Committee's recommendation of a Football Levy Board. This is a very recent matter, and the Government have not made their mind up on this particular statement; but I am bound to say that my personal reaction to it—and it is purely a personal one—is to look with a certain interest at the sums of money which are stated as passing from one organisation to another, because it does not seem to me that it is clear beyond a peradventure that the £5 million can he found only from one source—but perhaps that is as may be.

But, naturally, the point of finance is one of very great importance. I should have thought that a promising approach was the suggestion of phasing the coming into effect of these controls, so that they first applied to the grounds with the greatest pressures of crowd and perhaps also the best finances, while gradually and over quite a long period working through to give time for clubs to save up, and so on. I believe that we would have to co-ordinate this question of finance indeed, we have got to co-ordinate it as Her Majesty's Government—over a number of Departments, and, as with the technical code, we have got to do this before legislation is introduced. But, on the other side, I would again draw attention to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, said in paragraph 71: On the financial side, clubs"— and this is the football world— may have to re-appraise their priorities. It may be that some of the money spent at present in other directions will have to be spent on necessary ground improvements. So I believe there is room for consideration of this financal aspect on both sides. It is not just a matter for the Government to look at again: it should be looked at by everybody.


My Lords, the last thing I want to do is to inject a Party view into this matter, but would not the noble Viscount accept that the potential imposition of a value added tax on football grounds makes a very big difference between what happened under the previous Administration and what is to happen under the present one?


My Lords, if the noble Lord were to study the Football League's statement and see where all the money goes and the amounts involved, I do not know whether he would pursue that particular point. But, as I said, the matter of value added tax is not something I can deal with, but is something I can only pass on to my right honourable friend.

My Lords, I hope that this has been a useful debate. It has certainly been useful to me to hear the endorsement that has come all round for the Wheatley recommendations. We still think that legislation is necessary. As I have explained, we are engaged in the processes involved, but while this is going on we must not forget the disasters of the past. I do not want anything that I have said about our looking at this or that, or about clubs looking at this or that, to detract in any way from the need for clubs all the time, as I know most of them do, to bear in mind the safety of their spectators and the need to do everything possible for them. Even if the voluntary system has not proved the ultimate, there is a lot of good in it and in the interim, while we are waiting for the final outcome, I would urge all concerned to look again at the voluntary code of practice that the Football Association has prepared to see whether it can be implemented at each ground, or implemented better or more fully, and to take account of the (I think) ready co-operation that will be received from the local authorities, the police and the fire services as well. In that way, both we as Government and the football organisations themselves will endeavour not only to prevent another disaster but, as my noble friend Lord Kinnoull himself said, even minimise the risk of any such disaster.


My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate. I was very glad to learn that among the football enthusiasts in this House there are a number of right reverend Prelates and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. I am also very grateful to my noble friend Lord Lye11 for, among other things, his historical notes on Roman and South American tragedies. I should like to assure my noble friend Lord Colville that I personally fully support Lord Wheatley's recommendations. I am sorry if my noble friend possibly thought otherwise. I believe that speakers have given their unanimous support to the Report, and I am very glad that we have obtained my noble friend's assurance that action is being taken. On that hopeful note, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.