§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on football grounds: fire and disturbances. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement. The entire nation has been horrified and appalled at the terrible tragedy at Bradford City football ground on Saturday. I know that the whole House will wish to join together in expressing our deepest sympathy for the families and friends of the dead and of the many who were injured, some of whom remain critically ill.
"The fire started just before half-time, at about 3.35 p.m., under the floor at one end of the main stand.
"The stand was an old one made of metal and timber with a bitumen and felt roof, and the fire spread extremely rapidly. There were about 3,000 people in the stand. The majority managed to move down onto the pitch; but a number tried to escape through the exits at the rear and found themselves trapped in a narrow alley between the back of the stand and the wall of the ground. In accordance with long established practice at sports grounds, the gates were locked to prevent unauthorised spectators gaining admission. It was here that many people died.
"The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire has informed me this morning that 51 persons died at the ground. Two others have died in hospital. Four more people reported to the police as missing are still unaccounted for. The bodies of most of those who died at the ground have not yet been identified.
919 "In addition, over 200 people were injured, of whom 60 are still in hospital. Twenty-two policemen were injured, of whom two are in hospital; and three firemen were injured, none of whom is still in hospital.
"The cause of the fire has not yet been ascertained, but a team of detectives from the West Yorkshire police, assisted by forensic scientists and members of the West Yorkshire fire brigade, began sifting through the debris as soon as it had been made safe to do so. The police have asked for witnesses to come forward who might be able to give evidence about the possible cause of the fire, and it is essential that members of the public should give every assistance.
"I should like to pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of the police and fire services. No one who has seen the TV film of the events can doubt that as much as could be done was done to get people out of the stand, and then to deal with the aftermath of the fire. I should like also to express the warmest appreciation for the dedication and skill of the medical and pathological teams, the ambulance service and all the hospital and voluntary agencies who have since been working day and night, treating the injured and consoling the bereaved.
"Further, the House will be aware that at Birmingham on the very same day many people were injured and subsequently one spectator died as a result of serious crowd disorder at the match between Birmingham City and Leeds United, arising from violence by groups of fans from both clubs. There were repeated invasions of the pitch, missiles were thrown, and the police were attacked.
"In all, there were 125 arrests, 96 police officers required medical treatment, of whom two are still in hospital, and over 80 spectators were injured. Some of the injuries were caused when a wall collapsed following a surge in the crowd, and it was a boy of 15 who subsequently died of the injuries he received. All 125 persons arrested have been charged by the police with various criminal offences. This was a further example of disgraceful football violence, which illustrates the link between the problem of crowd safety and the problem of crowd control. With regard to this incident, inquiries are of course also being made by the Football Association.
"Investigations at Bradford are continuing and inquests will be conducted both there and at Birmingham. I shall expect to receive further reports in due course giving the conclusions of the police, forensic and fire brigade inquiries in Bradford and of the police inquiries in Birmingham. But over and above these particular investigations and hearings, the magnitude of these events demands that urgent steps should immediately be taken to examine what can be done to prevent such incidents. With my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland I have therefore asked Mr. Justice Popplewell to chair an inquiry with the following terms of reference:'To inquire, with particular reference to the events at Bradford City and Birmingham football grounds on 11th May, into the operation of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975; and to recommend what if any further steps should be taken, including 920 any that may be necessary under additional powers, to improve both crowd safety and crowd control at sports grounds.'"I understand that Mr. Justice Popplewell will visit Bradford tomorrow.
"The inquiry's fundamental task will be to ensure that the demands of safety, on the one hand, and control, on the other, are not only each satisfied in themselves but also satisfied compatibly with each other. A subsidiary but important task will be for the inquiry to review what is known as the Green Code, that is the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds, which provides guidelines for local authorities as to the conditions that they should require of clubs that seek certification under the 1975 Act. I shall ask that the inquiry should proceed with all possible speed, taking account of and supplementing, as necessary, the findings of the current police, forensic service and fire brigade investigations. I shall arrange for the chairman to be assisted by appropriately qualified assessors—for example, from the police and fire services—and to have available such technical advice and support as he requires. He will of course be able to make any further factual inquiries into what happened that he thinks necessary. If the chairman thinks it necessary or desirable, I and my right honourable friend will welcome any interim report or recommendations he wishes to submit.
"In addition, and in parallel with the work of the inquiry, I have decided to designate all grounds in the Third and Fourth Divisions of the Football League so that they become subject to the system of safety certification under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975. The effect will be to require such clubs to apply for certificates from the relevant local authority specifying in considerable detail what physical conditions and management practices—including as to fire precautions—must be followed. The Government announced only on 1st April that we should be extending designation to Third and Fourth Division grounds but starting with those with a record of club violence. It is plain, however, that the time for selective action has passed, and I shall accordingly be discussing with the football authorities immediately how universal designation may be implemented as soon as possible. It will, of course, be for the inquiry to recommend any changes in the present certification procedures or any other steps that should be taken to improve crowd safety and control. But I can see no reason why designating the Third and Fourth Division clubs or any of the other steps announced on 1st April should wait on their conclusions. It is clearly important that the public should be given all the protection that the existing law allows as quickly as possible, and that any measures to enhance safety and security that can be introduced speedily as a result of the work that has currently been proceedings should be implemented at the earliest possible date.
"To ensure that the measures I have announced of a swift inquiry and a new programme of designation do not leave gaps meanwhile in public protection, I am asking chief fire officers immediately to visit uncertificated sports stadia in their areas to advise management on what steps they should take to secure proper standards of crowd 921 safety in their particular circumstances. They will no doubt wish to discuss amongst other matters the opening and locking of gates at sports grounds. Whilst I imagine such visits will be the more comprehensive if chief fire officers are accompanied by other members of the local authority safety teams, this work will brook no delay and, for that reason, I consider the duty to fall best initially on chief fire officers.
"I must stress that the measures announced today are additional to those announced on 1st April after the meeting at 10 Downing Street with the football authorities. That programme of measures agreed to combat football hooliganism goes ahead with renewed urgency.
"The events at Bradford and Birmingham were in their different ways both tragic and sickening. Nothing will wipe away the memory of that terrible afternoon. But our task now must be to take urgent steps to minimise the chances of recurrence. The measures I have announced today are designed to that end. I will report to the House in due course on their progress and outcome."
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, there are but three matters, following upon this tragic event at Bradford, which the House I believe would want to concentrate upon. The first is—certainly speaking on behalf of my noble friends but knowing that I speak on behalf of the whole House—that our hearts go out to the bereaved and the injured. Secondly, together with the noble Lord the Minister, to whom we are most grateful for repeating this Statement, we would want to say that we so much admire the action on this occasion of the police, the fire brigade and all those services who joined in to do what they could in this terrible tragedy. Perhaps I may also be allowed to mention in this context the reports that were definitely conveyed through the media of the nurses, off duty, who speedily rushed to the hospital and also many members of the public who at some danger to themselves immediately threw themselves into the task of a rescue operation, doing all that they could.
The third and last thing that all of us would concentrate upon is to see that such an event never happens again, certainly not from the same causes. Into those causes it is impossible and wrong to try to go today. There is a proper inquiry set up and, as the noble Lord the Minister has repeated, there is to be an inquiry which is headed by a notable High Court judge.
May I be forgiven on this occasion if, because of the seriousness of the event, I ask the Minister's attention to be drawn to the fact that there was a report issued in 1972 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, called for by the then Home Secretary, Mr. Reginald Maudling, and the Secretary of State for Scotland into a somewhat similar incident, though not caused by fire? I should like to remind the House and the Minister, so that we do not ignore the reports that we call for, of some excerpts from that report. Were it not such a tragic national occasion, I should not keep the House, I assure your Lordships, by reading such quotations if I did not think that it was of some use. I 922 say that particularly because of the reference in the Statement to the locked gates at which so much of this tragedy occurred. If I may first of all remind your Lordships, Lord Wheatley, in reporting, said:On 4th February 1971 you asked me to undertake an inquiry with the following terms of reference:"—(not dissimiliar to those which Mr. Justice Popplewell is asked to undertake) —To make an independent appraisal of the effectiveness of existing arrangements for crowd safety at sports grounds in Great Britain, and of the improvements which could be brought about within the present framework of the law: and to consider the nature of any alterations in the law which appear to be needed.While the terms of reference extend to sports grounds generally, the immediate concern relates to soccer grounds".The next quotation that I should like, if I may, to give to your Lordships, because it is so relevant, is this:My task was to consider the problem of crowd safety at the grounds. Clubs which charge the public for admission have a duty to see that their grounds are reasonably safe for spectactors. That is a primary consideration. It is accordingly necessary that some standards should be imposed and observed. This has been recognised by the football authorities themselves. Hence their introduction of the certificate procedure. That, in my view, has been proved to be deficient and requires to be replaced by some other system".There was in fact a technical report, which said this, as an appendix to the recommendations:There should be no obstruction in an exit e.g. no threshold provided at exit doors … All exit doors should be manned at all times while the ground is used by the public … Facilities should be provided to enable people to leave the ground at any time. For this purpose a number of reversible turnstiles or doors so operated as to limit the openings to the passage of individual persons might be considered".Lastly—I need not read the quotation—Lord Wheatley recommended that there should be phasing of a licensing system such as was brought into being by the 1975 Act. His first category in the phasing covered first and second division clubs and national football sports grounds. As a second category came all English third and fourth division football league grounds and all Scottish second division football league grounds. My Lords, I repeat that the report was made in 1972. The Act came in in 1975. Somewhat after that, first and second division grounds were brought in. Ought we not to ask the question: why was it only on 1st April of this year that the third and fourth division grounds were brought into this matter?—only on 1st April, and then they were to be selected.
My only other question, and it is a brief one, is this. I think we all welcome the fact that an interim report would be welcomed if Mr. Justice Popplewell thought that suitable. Ought we to delay any longer in seeing that by some method or other it is not just a question, as the Statement says, of the police indicating to football grounds in their areas which are unlicensed and undesignated that exit doors and exits generally should be open? Should not that be a requirement put into effect immediately? If the only object of closing those doors is to see that people who have not paid shall not get in, is not the lesson we have learnt today that there are greater considerations than that?
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Lord Wigoder
My Lords, of course we, too, would want to associate ourselves with the deep expressions of sympathy and indeed of horror at this appalling and quite unnecessary tragedy. We would want also to join 923 in the expressions of admiration for the work done by the public services in their attempts to limit the scope of the disaster.
May I begin by querying the wisdom of joining the hooliganism at Birmingham with the fire at Bradford as the subject of the one inquiry? I am bound to express some anxiety as to whether that is going to assist in preventing a recurrence of the situation at Bradford. The hooliganism at Birmingham was really an offshoot of the whole vast problem of football violence, which in turn is an offshoot of the whole vast problem of juvenile delinquency. It is certainly not a question on which I would venture to embark in replying to a short Statement in the middle of our afternoon's sitting.
As to the matter at Bradford, perhaps I may first welcome the appointment of Mr. Justice Popplewell, who is not only a judge of distinction but also a sportsman of considerable distinction. At the same time, may I indicate a niggling doubt in my mind? I know that a judicial inquiry is the popular nostrum of politicians if ever a problem of this sort presents itself. However, I cannot help wondering whether a judicial inquiry is, in this case, the most expeditious or efficient method of dealing with the particular problem that has arisen at Bradford. The causes of the fire will be ascertained without a judicial inquiry by the police or the forensic scientists, or they will not be ascertained at all. The cause of the speed with which the fire spread is known: it was because of the structure of the stand. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that in fact the stand was something like 70 years old. The death toll was contributed to very substantially, as we know, by the fact that the exit gates were locked. In addition to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, may I ask whether there is any technical difficulty in having gates or turnstiles which will allow people to leave but will not allow them to enter?
Is not the real problem one that is very simple to express? It is that if the regulations which have been made and which apply to the first and second division clubs had in fact applied to third and fourth division clubs, this tragedy would never have occurred. If that is right, is not the next question: why were the regulations not extended to third and fourth division clubs? And is not the answer to that question quite simply: because of shortage of money?
Mr. Justice Popplewell, I fear, will be unable to assist as to how money might be forthcoming. Can the noble Lord the Minister confirm that something like £2 million would have been required at this one stadium alone in Bradford to ensure proper standards of safety? Is it not totally unrealistic to expect a small club in a low division of the Football League, in the middle of a depressed area with a local authority which itself is short of funds, to find anything like that amount of money in order to make its ground safe? If that is so, is it not for the Government to make some proposals as to how sums of this order can be raised so that grounds can be made safe? In the meantime, and as an urgent interim measure, could the Government make it quite clear that any grounds or any parts of grounds which are not subject at the moment to the highest safety standards will, without fear or favour, be closed down at once?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their comments about the Statement and I, too, would like personally to be associated with the remarks which both noble Lords have made. All our hearts go out to the bereaved. It does not take me to add to anything that has been said about how awful it all has been.
The noble Lords raised a number of points and perhaps I may deal first with those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, about the Wheatley inquiry. That inquiry did lead ultimately in 1975 to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act. As to the particular point about exits, I think the noble Lord will know that paragraph 6 of the Green Guide—that is the colloquial term for the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds—covers safety measures and safety requirements in relation to the flow of crowds out of the ground. Paragraph 6.7 and paragraph 6.14.5 among others specifically refer to the need to keep exits clear of obstruction. But the point I have to make here is that it is for the local authorities when issuing the safety certificates to decide what formal requirements to include in the certificate.
The noble Lord asked whether or not it would now be possible for doors to be kept unlocked to prevent the sort of tragedy that occurred on Saturday. Referring him again to that document, the guide recommends that the exit doors be opened before the end of play; and paragraph 6.14.7 recommends that they be manned all the time in order to cope with emergencies. I repeat that these are matters on which local authorities can insist in the safety certificate. I cannot comment from where I stand now as to whether or not any are likely to change their practices, but I should have thought they would be unwise not to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, did not suggest that I should go into the causes of the fire for very obvious reasons. Police investigations into the cause of the fire are continuing. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, is not under a misapprehension. I read out the terms of the inquiry. If the noble Lord studies them I am sure he will realise that that is one inquiry. The immediate inquiry into the cause of the fire is being dealt with by the police, the forensic scientists and the fire brigade. They of course will come up with a report as soon as they possibly can.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is concerned about the phasing of the implementation of the 1975 Act. The first division football grounds were designated in 1976, and as he indicated the idea was that this would be done in stages. The 1976 designations were followed by a topping-up procedure. Then in 1979 the extension was made to embrace all second division football clubs. The noble Lord has himself described how this was to be followed, as announced in April by designation of the other grounds.
There were difficulties—not just those associated with expense in the way the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, indicated—that made it difficult to do this designation in the way that the noble Lord would have liked. There were decreasing attendance patterns; and a general agreement that it was more sensible to proceed in stages. It is always very easy to be wise after the event, particularly so perhaps when it is a very tragic event. But so far as expense is concerned, and 925 Lord Wigoder's indication that perhaps the Government ought to support clubs who have to meet Safety of Sports Grounds Act requirements, I hope and expect that the Football Grounds Improvement Trust will for one, continue to aid clubs' expenses in this respect.
To turn to direct Government help, we shall be discussing with all concerned the details of proposals to extend designation under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act, but it is clear that clubs, like other entertainment businesses, have a responsibility for the safety of their clients. Of course, if one did this just for football grounds it would be putting them at an advantage over other sorts of sport. But these are all points which will have to be discussed in the light of the inquiry and the proposed extension of the scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, praised, as I do, the nurses, the public who came to help, and others who so willingly rushed to aid at the scene. I can also tell him that I am sure that the hospitals and the health authorities are coping well. We should of course all pay tribute to the dedicated work in the emergency of doctors, nurses, ambulancemen and the ancillary workers. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is in constant touch with the situation and all help necessary is being given. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, asked about the age of the ground. Yes, my Lords, it is about 70 years' old. I described its construction when I repeated the Statement. I think I have answered most of the points that have been raised. If there are any others on which I can usefully supply information, I shall of course do so as time passes and as more facts become known.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
I wonder whether, before the noble Lord sits down—only because it is so important—I might mention this. He said that the guidelines that were affecting football grounds at the moment made it clear that exit doors should be kept open. May I remind him of the disconcerting statement made in the course of what he himself read out, which the Secretary of State has obviously given to another place:In accordance with long established practice at sports grounds, the gates were locked to prevent unauthorised spectators gaining admission. It was here that many people died".Has not that guideline to be fulfilled immediately in order that this long-established practice cease now?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. I imagine that it will. However, the point that I was trying to make was a fair one: that it is for the local authorities to enforce when it comes to the granting of the particular licence—if that is the right word to use—under this legislation. I am well aware of the difficulties and I deplore the fact that the doors were locked; but I can understand why that practice—to which I referred when I repeated the Statement,—has arisen. The noble Lord will be aware that it is because, sadly, people take risks which have been associated with a number of people who have tried to get into the ground. It has been established therefore for right or wrong.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
If the Minister will allow me, he suggested there should be a single general 926 inquiry. The whole nation has been absolutely appalled by what happened at Bradford. People want to know what happened. They want to know about it quickly and what can be done. If this were Scotland there would immediately follow a fatal accident inquiry; and then after that, as happened in 1972, the Wheatley Commission would go into the much more general points in respect of that.
I think it was very unwise of the Government to put the Bradford incident and the Birmingham incident together. One was a story of tragedy and of heroism. Football fans who got out went back in and were hauling other people out. I think some tribute should be paid to them. The other was of a different character altogether.
The Minister suggests that the Football Grounds Improvement Trust could look into this. It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is not here; he is the chairman. The trust has been doing sterling work. But remember my Lords, that that money comes not from the Government but from the "Spot the Ball Competition" and the pools promoters. The people who make most money out of football are the Government themselves, through the football tax. They take millions upon millions, and they leave very little for the football clubs. Will the Government consider their fairness to football in respect of what moneys they take out of it and how little they put back? There are hundreds of such stands up and down the country. They would have been replaced years ago if the Government had left more money with the football clubs.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I note the noble Lord's concern and that, in his view, it was wrong to combine the two inquiries. But although, emotionally, one can separate the two, in fact there are points about them which bear on one another. The fact is that as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, will be aware, there has been some little discussion over the last few weeks about the very problem of crowd control at football grounds and how that could affect the safety of people who are in the grounds as well. In this particular case, if one is able to imagine what it would have been like if the ground had been fenced, I think the noble Lord will see that there is a conflict which is probably best resolved by the terms of the inquiry, which, as I said, will inquire, with particular reference to those events, into the operation of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act and recommend what, if any, further steps should be taken. I think that it covers both sides. That is why my right honourable friend has set it up in the way that it has been set up.
So far as expense is concerned, I note the noble Lord's comments. The fact is that these matters will be looked into in the way that I described just now to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and that we shall be discussing with all concerned the details of the proposal to make this extension. I can only repeat that clubs with sports grounds are in the entertainment business, so, so far as that is concerned, they themselves have a responsibility. It may seem rather an unpalatable thing to say, but it is a fact that they are in that position and I do not think one ought to let one's judgment be coloured in this instance by the tragic memories of 48 hours ago.
§ Lord Ingrow
My Lords, I should merely like to say that the concern and sympathy shown from all sides of your Lordships' House today will be warmly appreciated by all those who have suffered and who have helped, and, indeed, by all the people in the Bradford district at this time.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, in supporting what has been said by other noble Lords may I, as a noble Lord who lives not too great a distance away from the scene of this tragedy, put a couple of points to the Minister before discussion on the Statement is finished? In response to other questions about expense, he referred to the fact that in the final analysis it is the responsibility of the football clubs concerned. He must be aware that if this designation that has now been extended to the third and fourth divisions is carried out on a short-term basis, it will mean the end of most of the third and fourth division clubs.
Despite what the Government and the Minister think, they are not in the business of making money. None of them has made money for years. It takes them all their time to keep their heads above water and, very often, it is only because they find a successful local businessman who decides to plough substantial sums of his own money into the club that keeps them going. Very often, they are not just the local football team; they are the one focal point of social activity in a small town. It think it reasonable to support my colleague and friend who spoke earlier in asking for the Government to give some direct help quickly. If action is to be taken quickly there will have to be Government funding. They draw enough in tax on football and in other ways to be able to respond in a positive manner.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I note the noble Lord's concern and that he feels that without some sort of assistance this could spell the end of third and fourth division clubs. As I said, the further designation of these clubs that is to take place, and the discussion that surrounds it, must take into account the points that he made. I have nothing to add to what I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, on that count. To ensure that this terrible tragedy is not repeated, the important thing is to get the results as quickly as we possibly can from the technical inquiries that are going on. That, I sense, is very much the mood of your Lordships and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ingrow for his helpful comment.
§ Lord Boothby
My Lords, I just want to ask one very short question. I think that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, came as a great shock to the whole House when he reminded us that for the last 10 years successive Governments have been given repeated and authoritative warnings about the dangers which beset football grounds throughout the country and that no Government during those 10 years paid any attention to them. The noble Lord has not sought to excuse nor to apologise. It is a great reflection upon Whitehall!
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, it is simply not the case that attention has not been paid to these reports. As I said a little earlier, the phasing of the designation was 928 commenced in 1976 with the designation of first and then, in 1979, second division grounds and we were on the point, for a number of reasons which cover very many areas and different responsibilities, of extending it to third and fourth division grounds. I cannot accept from the noble Lord, although I share his concern, that no attention has been paid to it. That simply is not the case.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, can my noble friend give an undertaking that these inquiries will not be confined to football clubs? After all, there are old rugby league clubs, old racecourse stands and large numbers of other sports which attract very large numbers of spectators. The inquiries should not be confined to football just because this really ghastly tragedy happened at a football stadium and nowhere else.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I note my noble friend's concern, and the inquiry will refer to the operation of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act. I am quite sure that, in looking into the conduct of the inquiry, Mr. Justice Popplewell will consider the sort of thing that my noble friend is concerned about. There are special aspects of rugby football of which I can certainly let my noble friend have details in due course. Other considerations apply to some other forms of stadia. Racecourses and so on differ quite considerably from football grounds. Dog tracks, for example, are enclosed and would come within the scope of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act, but not everything comes within its scope.
My Lords, does the Minister confirm the statement of certain chairmen of football clubs, that money derived from racing can be ploughed back into racing stands, but that is not the case with football? Is there not a case for an inquiry not just into what occurred at Bradford, but into the whole question of finance? It is no use the inquiry coming out with suggestions about what should be done to increase safety if, as my noble friend behind me has said, there is no possibility of the clubs in their present financial situation being able to implement those recommendations.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, the important thing is for the inquiry to get under way and in the light of that to determine what further steps ought to be taken. As I said when I repeated the Statement, my right honourable friend will report back to the House.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, may I support the point which has just been made by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and ask the Minister to take it rather more seriously than he appeared to do? As, for the past 60 years, as a player, referee, umpire and spectator, I have visited sports grounds of various kinds all over the country, I have been increasingly concerned for the safety of spectators at those grounds. This is not confined to soccer grounds and it is certainly not confined to third and fourth division soccer grounds. There are many soccer clubs in other leagues, in amateur leagues or in no leagues, which have stands which anybody visiting would see were fire hazards.
929 The noble Lord mentions the difference of rugby grounds, but how many noble Lords have been to Twickenham? Could not those two old stands which are built of wood very easily become much greater fire hazards than the Valley Parade ground, which I have known for many years? Is there not a case here for the Government to get in touch with local authorities throughout the country for a thorough examination and inspection of all accommodation, sporting or otherwise, where people gather together? Secondly, because, as has been observed by my noble friend Lord Dean, it costs money for safety, should not the Government look at the revenue which they receive from sport and decide that this is an issue sufficiently serious for Government money to be put into reducing the safety hazards in these arenas?
Thirdly, should not the Government bring to the attention of the inquiry the possibility, as is common in Europe, of municipalities owning the grounds on which these clubs play and leasing them back to them so that it is the municipal authorities which are able to take responsibility for the expenditure of money and for the supervision of safety requirements? I know that the noble Lord the Minister cannot answer directly, but will he bring this to the attention of his department and to the attention of the inquiry which is to take place?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, while noting the points that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has made, I have to say that I rather resent the fact that he suggested that I did not take seriously the comments of my noble friend Lord Onslow. I most certainly do take them seriously, and if the noble Lord had had to deal with this matter in the way I have had to deal with it today he would not feel in the least that it was anything other than an extremely serious matter; and anybody who feels otherwise would be quite wrong to do so.
The noble Lord may not be aware that Twickenham was designated in 1976. I shall study his other remarks. But so far as the term "sports ground" is concerned, I can tell him that the Safety of Sports Grounds Act applies to "sports ground", which means:any place where sports or other competitive activities take place in the open air and where accommodation has been provided for spectators, consisting of artificial structures or of natural structures artificially modified for the purpose".