§ 4.43 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill seeks to implement the Government's proposals for making improvements in two distinct areas of safety legislation, and in order to do so amends the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975. There are also minor amendments to entertainment licensing legislation. Part I in particular relies extensively on textual amendments—in this case to the Fire Precautions Act 1971. As is usual with amending legislation of this kind, Parliamentary Counsel has been in touch with the Statutory Publications Office to see what can be done about producing a revised text of the 1971 Act for the series Statutes in Force. The Statutory Publications Office has said that it will try to give it priority in its programme of revised reissues. In the meantime it is our intention to make available typescript copies of the 1971 Act showing the effect of the textual amendments before your Lordships consider the Bill in Committee.
Part I of the Bill deals with fire safety. The main legislative instrument for controlling fire precautions in occupied buildings in Great Britain is the Fire Precautions Act 1971, and it may be helpful if I say a few words about the way in which that Act operates. The central feature of the 1971 Act is the requirement for those occupiers of premises, put to a use designated by order made by the Secretary of State, to obtain a fire certificate from the local fire authority. The fire authority is required to satisfy itself as to the adequacy of fire safety on the premises, including the means of escape, the means for fighting fire and the means for giving warning to people on the premises. The fire authority can require appropriate improvements and 131 the fire certificate can impose requirements on maintenance conditions, staff training and the keeping of records.
In 1972 the Secretary of State designated hotels and boarding houses as premises requiring a fire certificate. In 1976 the fire certification requirements under the 1971 Act were extended to factories, offices, shops and railway premises which were previously subject to certification under the Factories Act 1961 and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. Under the designation order such premises in which more than 20 persons are employed, or more than 10 persons are employed to work other than on the ground floor, are required to be certificated. Factories in which explosives or highly flammable substances are stored or used also need a certificate regardless of the number of employees. In general terms, fire certificates are thus needed for many places of work and for all but the smallest hotels and boarding houses.
Since the certification provisions of the 1971 Act came into force fire authorities have carried out extensive programmes to certificate premises in the categories which I have described. Surely none of us has any doubt that the provisions of the 1971 Act and the earlier legislation have made an important contribution to fire safety. Our present system of fire precautions has served us well, and compares very favourably with those of other countries, although we must never be complacent. Our requirements for hotels, for example, already satisfy the EC recommendation which was recently approved by the Council of Ministers.
Any substantial piece of legislation is inevitably subject to a continuing process of review by those who are affected by it, and by those whose task it is to enforce it. The Fire Precautions Act has been no exception. A consultative document based on proposals produced within the framework of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils, which includes representatives of fire authorities and the fire service, was published in 1985 and a further consultative document embodying modified proposals was issued earlier this year. It is this consultative process which has resulted in the proposals set out in Part I of the Bill.
Underlying the review of fire precautions legislation has been the desire to improve safety standards. Two aspects of the 1971 Act have been of particular concern to the fire service. First, the existing certification procedure is such that the cost of enforcing the Act in the event of any further designations which the Secretary of State might consider necessary would be so great as to endanger the prospects of such designations. Secondly, the Act provides for inspection on certification but it does not demand further inspections to ensure that adequate standards of fire safety are being maintained. Many fire authorities have sought to carry out programmes of inspections following guidance given by the Fire Service Inspectorates of the home departments. But for some the pressure on resources has meant that little priority has been given to this work. Part I of the Bill is designed chiefly in order to free resources for such improvements and will, in time, also enable us to contemplate further designations where these can be shown to be necessary.
132 I have spoken of the cost of enforcement. We must not forget a cost of compliance falling on those who are responsible for ensuring that adequate fire precautions are maintained in their premises. It remains our firm belief that businesses must be responsible for the safety of their employees and their customers. Members of the public rightly expect that in premises which they visit reasonable measures will have been taken to protect their lives in the event of fire. The Government are also committed to ensuring that the burdens imposed on businesses are kept to a minimum. Standards of safety must not be allowed to fall, but we wish to see that they are kept up in a way which is not unduly inflexible or onerous in the requirements they impose on business.
In the light of comments made on the first consultative document, the Government formulated and circulated modified proposals in which certification would be retained for normal and high risk premises. However, premises in defined categories which were assessed by the fire authority as constituting a low risk could be exempted from the need to have a fire certificate. Occupiers of such premises would, nevertheless, be subject to a statutory duty to have adequate means of escape and fire fighting equipment, for which a code of guidance will be issued by the Secretary of State. These proposals, which met with more general approval, form the basis of the amendments made to the 1971 Act by Part I of the Bill.
Clause 1 provides that a designation order may specify categories of premises which the fire authority may consider suitable for exemption. In the case of shops, for example, the designation order might specify those which consist of a ground floor only or of a ground floor and basement separated by a fire resisting barrier. The fire authority would be able to consider each case on its merits after either an inspection or a scrutiny of plans and other relevant documents and, where they thought fit, grant exemption. In premises where certain quantities of highly flammable substances were stored the fire authority might decide against exemption even though the shop was of a layout and construction that brought it within the range of exemption. The intention is to allow for greater flexibility than is provided for by the present system of certification. In doing so, we must rely on the judgment of the fire authority.
Of course, flexibility must not be an excuse for inconsistency. I can reassure your Lordships that we intend to issue guidance to fire authorities about the way the criteria for exemption are to be applied to ensure fairness and consistency. The Fire Service Inspectorates will monitor the way fire authorities use their powers of exemption, and training will be provided at the Fire Service College.
We expect significant numbers of low risk factories, offices and shops to be exempted from the need to have a fire certificate. This will be of particular benefit to businesses. Premises which are exempted will be relieved of the obligations that certification carries, and this will also reduce the burden on fire authorities of keeping the certificate up to date. But that does not mean that safety will be put in jeopardy. The Government are, however, satisfied that essential fire safety standards will be maintained in these premises 133 by the imposition and enforcement of the statutory duty to which I have already referred as regards means of escape and fire fighting equipment.
Supporting this principle your Lordships will note that Clause 2 requires occupiers to notify the fire authority of any material changes to exempted premises to enable the fire authority to review the exemption. Clauses 5 to 7 provide for the statutory duty on occupiers of exempted premises to have adequate means of escape and fire fighting equipment, and for the provision of codes of practice and their legal effect. Provision is also made for a system of improvement notices which can be served on the occupiers of exempted premises who are not meeting the duty.
Exemption of premises on the scale envisaged should free fire authority resources for carrying out programmes of inspection under a new duty imposed on them by Clause 10 in accordance with guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
Part I of the Bill makes a number of other changes to the 1971 Act which are not directly related to exemption. Clause 3 empowers fire authorities to make reasonable charges to recover the cost of work done in certification, other than the cost of inspection. Your Lordships will be aware of the Government's policy of encouraging local authorities, where appropriate, to finance their services by charging fees. This provision is in line with that policy. It is not intended to seek to recover the full cost of certification, only in effect that of administrative work associated with it. The charges are not expected to be substantial. However, it is not intended to charge for the advice given by fire prevention officers on a goodwill basis, nor to charge for fire fighting or other services.
Clause 13 removes the exemption of places of worship from the requirement to have a certificate if put to a designated use. We wish to make this amendment in view of the fact that an increasing number of premises are now used for worship which were not built for that purpose and which could perhaps be a matter of concern in the future. I can, however, reassure your Lordships that the Government have no plans under present circumstances to designate places of worship. Nor is it likely that purpose-built places of worship, which have a good record of fire safety when in use, will be considered for designation as long as they are used for that purpose. I am sure the House will agree that it is undesirable that the Secretary of State should be left in a position where he would be unable to require places of worhip to be certificated if it was felt that there was pressing need so to do.
I turn now to those parts of the Bill which deal specifically with the safety of spectators at sports events. Your Lordships will recall that the Committee of Inquiry into Crowd Safety and Control at Sports Grounds, chaired by Mr. Justice Popplewell, was set up following the terrible events of 11th May 1985 when 56 people lost their lives in the fire at the Valley Parade Ground, Bradford. At a time when we have all been reminded of that terrible tragedy it is perhaps appropriate that the two main results—the opening of the new stand at Bradford, and the Government legislation to improve matters elsewhere—occur in the same week.
134 The inquiry's final report was published in January 1986, and those of its recommendations dealing with crowd safety were considered in the consultative document, Fire Safety and Safety of Sports Venues. Responses to the consultative document indicated that our proposals were widely supported. Parts II, III and IV of the Bill generally follow the conclusion of that document.
The main mechanism under the 1975 Act for securing safety is the safety certificate. The Act empowers the Secretary of State to designate any sports stadium with spectator accommodation for over 10,000 people as requiring such a certificate. For this purpose a stadium means a sports ground which is wholly or substantially surrounded by spectator accommodation.
The Bradford fire demonstrated that the level of risk to spectators does not necessarily depend upon the type or particular layout of a sports ground. Thus the Government accepted the Popplewell Inquiry's conclusion that the distinction between a sports "ground" and a sports "stadium" should be removed. Clause 19 of the Bill does this, enabling designation to be applied to all classes of sports ground. Clause 20 enables the 10,000 accommodation threshold for designation to be varied. Between them Clauses 19 and 20 provide the means for a wider but more flexible application of designation should the need arise.
Clause 22 amends the procedure under the 1975 Act for local authorities to take action where there is a serious risk to spectators. In such circumstances a local authority has at present to apply to a magistrates' court for an order restricting or prohibiting the use of a ground, or part of it, until the risk is reduced to an acceptable level. Under the new procedure of Clause 22 the local authority would be empowered to issue a notice on those responsible for administering the ground restricting or prohibiting the admission of spectators until that risk is reduced.
The Government recognise that this gives a significant new power to local authorities for improving safety. Clause 23 therefore provides a right of appeal to the courts. However, the lodging of an appeal would not in itself have the effect of suspending the notice. We would not expect these prohibition powers, which are really a last rather than a first resort, to be used lightly or frequently. The safety certificates for grounds already designated under Section 1 of the 1975 Act, together with the certification procedures proposed in Part III, should in themselves go a very long way to improve safety at sporting events likely to attract spectators in any number. Clause 24 also imposes a duty on local authorities to carry out inspections on designated sports grounds in accordance with guidance which will be given by the Secretary of State, and there is similar provision in Part III, Clause 33, for the inspection of certificated stands at sports grounds.
Part III of the Bill introduces a system of certification, similar in outline to that which applies to designated sports grounds, for stands at undesignated sports grounds where there is covered accommodation for 500 or more spectators.
Clause 25 establishes the requirement for a safety certificate for such a stand—which is referred to in the 135 Bill as a "regulated stand". The task of determining whether a stand is a regulated stand falls to the appropriate local authority. The mechanism for doing this is provided for in Clause 27 whereby the local authority makes a preliminary determination that a stand requires a safety certificate. That determination becomes final after no more than two months have elapsed, unless of couse further information is brought to the local authority's attention leading them to conclude that a safety certificate is not required. Once a determination is final those responsible for administering the stand, or stands, at the ground are notified. It then becomes an offence under Clause 35 to admit spectators to that stand if no application for a safety certificate has been made or to contravene a term or condition of such a certificate once issued.
Clause 29 provides a right of appeal against final determination that a stand is required to have a safety certificate. It also provides for appeals against the terms and conditions of the certificate itself.
We are proposing this system of preliminary and final determinations because it is essential that those who are responsible for the administration of the stands are clear as to whether or not theirs is a regulated stand. It may appear to be straightforward enough to calculate the capacity of a given stand but in practice it may not be so easy. Guidance in such matters as capacity calculations for a stand will therefore be given to local authorities to ensure consistency. However, the crucial element here is that, once an authority has determined that a safety certificate is required and given notice in accordance with Clause 27, the management of that stand will be in no doubt as to the duty in law upon them to apply.
I return now to the question of the safety certificates themselves. As in the case of a certificate issued in respect of a designated ground, the terms and conditions of a certificate for a stand will be decided by the local authority, which will consult the building authority or fire authority as appropriate and the police. These conditions will include such matters as fire protection; size, location and number of entrances and exits, including means of escape, and the means for maintaining those entrances or exits. A certificate may also contain terms limiting the number of spectators who may be admitted to a stand or part of a stand. Reasonable safety may often be achieved by a combination of remedial work together with a limitation in the number of spectators allowed to use the stand. If the cost of remedial work was high the person responsible for the stand might wish to phase such work over a period. To preserve flexibility, provision exists for the Secretary of State to stipulate by order under Clause 38 different obligatory terms and conditions to be contained in safety certificates for different classes of sports ground—for example, to deal with particular safety problems which might arise as a result of the crowd patterns at a particular type of event or sports ground. The aim is not that stands should be closed down but rather that they should continue to remain open and to operate within safe limits set by safety certificates.
I turn finally to Part IV. I hope your Lordships will agree that there is no need to go into any detail on Part V, which contains miscellaneous and general 136 provisions at this stage. Part IV provides for the licensing by local authorities of sports events held in indoor premises to which the public are invited as spectators. Mr. Justice Popplewell was struck by the fact that, under existing entertainments licensing legislation, it is quite possible for premises to be subject to safety requirements imposed by licences if used for music and dancing and other entertainments including boxing and wrestling, but the licences' conditions did not apply when the premises were being used for other sports events. Other premises used solely for sports events were not required to be licensed at all.
The Popplewell Report proposed that indoor sports premises should be designated under the Fire Precautions Act 1971. However, subsequent consultation with local authorities showed that the great majority of such premises were already subject to licensing legislation and that it would be simpler and just as effective to extend that legislation. Local authorities and their representative organisations have generally expressed a preference for these proposals, which have been incorporated in the Bill. There is the added benefit that amendment of the licensing legislation will allow local authorities to consider safety in a more general way than is catered for by the 1971 Act. They may, for example, have regard to structural matters as well as to fire safety.
In closing I would simply reiterate that the Bill is two-fold in its purpose, dealing as it does both with fire safety and with safety at sports events. The Bradford fire served all too well in associating the two in all our minds. I hope that the Bill will substantially reduce the risk to spectators at sports events both indoors and out. However, we should remember that fire safety goes much wider than sports events, and that there should be means for securing the required standards in other places to which the public resort. We are confident that the proposals in the first part of the Bill will improve the effectiveness of the 1971 Act and will thereby enable the fire service to secure the necessary standards. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Earl of Caithness.)
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, in expressing the appreciation of the House to the noble Earl the Minister for having so clearly explained the provisions of this important Bill, perhaps I may ask his forgiveness and that of the Members of your Lordships' House if I have to leave before the end of the Second Reading debate. I have a long-standing engagement of some importance. The House will be consoled by the knowledge that my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock will be winding up. His name ought to appear on the list of speakers and it is only by mistake that it has been omitted.
If I may be egotistical for one moment, for seven years I had the privilege of being the chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee of the London County Council—may it rest in its dignified peace. It is therefore of some personal interest to me that I am allowed to participate in this important debate on general fire safety and safety at sports grounds. Your 137 Lordships will not find it surprising that I consulted what is now the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority on its reaction to the Bill.
In regard to the seriousness of fire risk, it is of some significance that in the Greater London area in 1985 there were 175 fatalities as a result of fire. Your Lordships will ponder for a moment that it is over three for every week of that year. Of that number, 144—that is 83 per cent.—occurred in dwellings.
I immediately turn to the first part of the Bill dealing with general fire safety in dwellings and buildings other than sports grounds. I begin with a small point but I am trying to deal with things in the order in which the clauses stand in the Bill. Clause 3 contains provision for charges to be made for certification. The clause provides that the fees charged should cover the cost and there should be no excess charge over and above cost. Fire authorities are a little concerned about that happening before there is clarification. They hope there will be consultation, otherwise the divergence in charges between various authorities may cause some bad feeling. There is nothing yet to guide the authorities on what is administration and what is to be included in the cost. Your Lordships will appreciate that the fees will vary with the size and nature of the building and the work involved.
So far as my query is concerned, can the Minister say whether these fees are intended to cover the cost of collection of fees and of recovery of fees? Can the noble Earl tell us the effect if a fee is not paid? Is the fire authority entitled to withhold a certificate until payment? Indeed, is a certificate invalid if issued but no payment is made? If they are not paid, are fees to be recovered by way of civil or other remedy?
I move at once to a very much more important point, and emphasise that I am dealing with general buildings other than sports grounds. I turn immediately to Section 10 of the Act which the noble Earl described as the original Act with which we are dealing in this connection. Section 10 is headed:Premises involving excessive risk to persons in case of fire".It deals with a situation where things are so serious that,the use of the premises ought to be prohibited or restricted".Your Lordships will realise at once that under Section 10 of the old Act we are dealing with a vital and serious risk to life of which the fire authority is aware. Under that Act the procedure, when the fire authority found that to be the case, was that it had to apply to the magistrates' court. The magistrates' court would then hear the matter and decide whether an appropriate order should be made.
The opportunity was taken when this Bill was under consideration to point out that more and more are the lists of the magistrates' courts replete with all types of case. Indeed there are complaints in many parts of the country that cases do not get heard when they should be heard and when the magistrates would like them to be heard because of the very full lists. Can your Lordships imagine a worse procedure than that, in the conditions that we have today, when the fire authority finds out that there is a severe risk to life and limb because of the condition of premises and it has to apply for an order to a magistrates' court?
138 The opportunity was taken to put forward, when discussion documents were being consulted upon, the suggestion that there ought to be a different procedure; what should happen is that the fire authority ought to have the right to issue an order in that emergency but that there should be a right of appeal to a special tribunal, an ad hoc tribunal, that could meet speedily and deal with the matter. It was hoped by the fire authorities—certainly by the London fire authority—that that procedure was to be adopted in respect of general buildings.
This Bill does not modify in that context Section 10 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 at all. I ask the noble Earl please to consider whether the procedure that I have discussed is not obsolete and clumsy in this day and age, and that we ought to have the procedure that I have advocated. I appreciate that this can be dealt with at Committee stage, but it is sensible to announce a matter of that kind which is of concern so that the Minister can deal with it.
My attention was drawn to a recent case where the magistrates' court in question, on an application for an emergency order of this kind, did not manage to deal with the matter on the day it came before the court and had to adjourn it for 14 days. What sort of scandal would emanate from a situation if a fatality occurred—heaven forbid—or even more than one fatality, as a result of the fact that the court was not able to deal with this emergency?
I turn at once to another matter, which is the third and last item I want to deal with under general safety. Why do we await such a tragedy as Bradford, for example, before we have the useful and eminent Popplewell Inquiry and an Act of Parliament due to pass through to deal with safety at sports grounds? We have done it, and I ought not to complain about that. We are dealing with the matter now. But should not the opportunity be taken to look broadly at the areas of fire danger and not wait for another scandal to occur? I refer to houses in multi-occupancy, and I refer to hostels.
I talked about the Greater London area figures and I mentioned to your Lordships that out of 173 deaths in 1985, 144 were in dwellings. Of the 144 in dwellings, 41—that is 29 per cent.—were in houses in multiple occupation. Your Lordships may want to know from me what the law is at present, as I understand it. It is that there are powers for local authorities under the Housing Act to consult—indeed there are duties on the local authorities under the Housing Act—fire authorities about means of escape in dwellings of this kind. But I am talking not just about means of escape; I am talking about early warning systems, about the supply of fire equipment, and that the opportunity has not been taken in this Bill to deal with that matter, although representations have been made.
I now turn to three points that I wanted to raise in regard to the second part of the Bill, which deals with sports grounds. The noble Earl touched on this in his interesting and lucid exposition of what the Act was to deal with, but I am not sure that I got the clear words that I believe your Lordships may want to hear from him on one matter.
139 In dealing with sports grounds, one is obviously thinking in terms of what I might broadly call spectator sports. One example is greyhound racing and another is Wimbledon tennis. Do the provisions of this Bill in regard to designation, and so on, and which refer to stadia and also to the occupancy of the stadium concerned, cover greyhound tracks and Wimbledon tennis? If they do not, why not?
My second rapid point is that the Popplewell Inquiry dealt with the need for safety teams. One observes in this Bill that the local authority, very properly, is given powers and duties in regard to sports grounds. But there is no mention of the Popplewell recommendation of the safety teams, which ought to be inserted into the statute as a statutory duty. My last point is that there is no specific mention made in the Bill with regard to inspections. It would seem appropriate for the Bill to include a provision requiring an annual inspection and during-performance inspection of the grounds by the local authority and the fire authority.
The fact that I ventured to make various suggestions for the improvement of this Bill does not mean by any means that we on these Benches do not express gratitude to the Government for having brought it forward. It is necessary. As the noble Earl pointed out poignantly in remembering that dreadful Bradford tragedy, only two days ago Bradford built its stadium again and there was an appropriate ceremony to greet it, but the ceremony had a little bit of mourning about it for the many who died in the fatality and those who were severely injured. It is Parliament's duty to do its best to safeguard the public in those circumstances and generally in regard to fire. The Government are doing that, and my only plea is to do it completely now that we have the opportunity of such a Bill before us.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I, too, like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, did not anticipate that there would be a lengthy Statement in part of this afternoon's proceedings in the House. I agreed to speak on behalf of the Alliance and to welcome this Bill, but I apologise to the House and to the Minister for the fact that I, too, have to leave at a fairly early hour. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I am reassured, since my experience of these matters is substantially around sports grounds in Scotland, that the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, as the president of the Scottish Football Association, will make a much more authoritative comment than I can.
From these Benches we welcome the Bill. However, I have received representations from two organisations which I must mention. The first, from the Association of County Councils, states that the lesson of recent years is that the statutory framework must be sufficiently flexible to allow the fire brigade to recover expenditure it incurs on this activity, especially if there are corresponding shortfalls in the level of central government funding. We are imposing on the fire services certain additional new responsibilities. The Minister referred to recovery of costs, but there is also pressure on manpower. We have to be extremely 140 careful that the resources are available which match the responsibilities we are now imposing on the fire services.
The other representation I have received is from the Consumers Association. The association says that one major criticism of the Bill is that it fails adequately to address the issue of informing the public about fire hazards, that it dwells on the responsibilities of the fire service and the business concerned, be it a sports ground, football club or whatever, but that it says little or nothing about making available to the public full information about the dangers and fire hazards involved. Perhaps the Minister will take these two points on board.
Following the Popplewell Report and the legislation we passed in that connection, it is encouraging to see what a useful impact this has had. I am speaking, based on my experience in Scotland. We have ensured a greater degree of safety. I am not talking simply about safety from fire but the general safety in sports grounds. There has been a remarkable increase in attendance at football matches. Rangers football club in Glasgow has had an average attendance this year of 34,000. That includes attendances at small and insignificant games. For a recent game with Heart of Midlothian, 38,000 people were at Ibrox Park. There was a total of four arrests for various misdemeanours. It can be said that football clubs, following the Popplewell Report and the provisions we have made for greater safety in sports grounds, have responded. And the public have responded by making football once more a family game. The secretary of the Rangers football club told me that following one game at Ibrox Park that drew 38,000 people there was not a single beer can to be seen in the whole of the stadium.
The restriction on carrying alcohol into grounds and to and fro on buses and other means of transport to matches has ensured a high degree of safety not simply in relation to fire hazards, but also as regards the general safety and comfort of the people who attend these exciting events.
I should like to make one additional point based on our experience. If we are saying in this Bill that additional burdens will need to be carried by the clubs, we should be very careful. It is all very well for the Rangers football club or for some other clubs with a lot of money. But some of the smaller clubs in Scotland, for example, a little club like St. Mirren in Paisley, pay the same amount in rates as Arsenal at Highbury. For a little village club, this discrepancy in rating burdens is an important burden to be carried. It makes it extremely difficult for clubs to take on additional burdens, even in the interests of safety. The difference to safety provisions of additional policing is rather anomalous, and, certainly, Scottish clubs suffer greatly compared with clubs south of the Border.
While the Bill insists that local authorities must be able to impose on the customer or the business some of the costs of the new responsibilites, we have at the same time to be flexible. Some of the smaller clubs are already carrying substantial burdens, such as the provision of video—a major factor in protection and safety at sports grounds—which is only partly met by the Football Trust. Many clubs are having to pay a substantial contribution themselves.
141 Having said that I want to say from these Benches that we very much welcome the Bill. It is a necessary step. It will improve safety standards, but it will perhaps give the public a greater assurance that when they go to sporting events, the legislation is there to protect them from the kind of disaster that occurred at Bradford. We welcome the legislation.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, to have witnessed the tragic fire at Bradford City football ground in May 1985 must have engraved on the minds of those present an indelible image. The rest of us saw the horrifying pictures of the fire on our television screens and read in our newspapers the heartrending reports of the families destroyed and injured. We have been made aware, if we were not already aware, of the considerable hazards presented by packed stands of spectators and of how a sweeping fire can engulf such a stand within minutes. For those reasons alone we must welcome this Bill and I am sure it will receive a Second Reading today.
Part II of this Bill, which will amend the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, is the Government's response to the Popplewell Inquiry into that tragic fire at Bradford City football club. It extends the provisions of the safety controls of the 1975 Act and removes the distinction between a "sports stadium" and a "sports ground". Whereas previously a stadium holding 10,000 or more spectators in a covered stand needed a safety certificate, now under Part III of this Bill a stand safety certificate for any covered accommodation for 500 or more spectators will be required from the local authority.
I must declare my interest at this point, as I am chairman of Wincanton Races Company, which operates a National Hunt racecourse at Wincanton in Somerset. My interest today is not necessarily on behalf of Wincanton, but for racecourses in general. The racing industry considers itself to be very responsible in its attitude to the safety of the public at its courses. Racecourse executives have always endeavoured to fulfil the fire and safety requirements contained in the Green Guide. When financing new capital works the Horserace Betting Levy Board insists that all plans meet the local authorities' health, safety and fire requirements.
However, I should like to point out three differences between the stands at racecourses and the stadia at football grounds. The first and main difference is that racegoers, as opposed to the public at football matches, enjoy unrestricted access to the stands and the use of the stands is primarily for the short duration of each race. At that stage the racegoers are relatively static, but they move in and out of the stands before and after every race.
Secondly, the stands at racecourses are designed for this movement of spectators. As your Lordships may imagine, that allows for speedy access and egress. The stand itself forms only part of an enclosure on racecourses and many racegoers prefer to watch the race from the lawn in front of the stand or standing beside the rails of the racetrack itself.
In my opinion, the third and last difference is just as important as the first two. Racing, unlike football and 142 other team competitions, is non-adversarial. By that, I mean that the public attending the race meeting are there to watch the spectacle of horses racing against each other and to place bets on the probable result; whereas, as we have seen so often on the terraces, the public attending football matches become very involved with the team that they support and with the outcome of the match. As a result of that, fights and uproar break out between one team's supporters and the supporters of the opposing team.
It should be noted that Mr. Justice Popplewell concluded after visiting a number of racecourses that any changes in future legislation should, because of the mobility and attitude of the spectators, not affect racecourses. I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister to say when he comes to reply to this debate whether Clause 25 (in Part III of the Bill) allows the Secretary of State sufficient power to distinguish between sports stadia where the stands effectively surround sports grounds and the stands at other sports grounds which form only part of the viewing area. Will the local authorities be issued by the Home Office with guidance which will allow them to distinguish between the different aspects of the risks involved, as I have tried to make clear that there are differences? The local authority should be allowed the flexibility that commonsense demands as it carries out its duties under this Bill to inspect and issue safety certificates for the different stands in its area.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I too join with previous speakers in giving a welcome to this Bill in principle since I was one of the members of your Lordships' House who spoke quite extensively on the Bill dealing with sports grounds, mainly football grounds, that went through some 12 months ago. Some of us thought at that time that the Government were going a little too far in some of the measures they were introducing.
I accept and appreciate some of the points that we made during those debates. I may also say that I was one of the Members of your Lordships' House who had the privilege of meeting Mr. Justice Popplewell and his commission and of putting to him some of the points that now feature in his report and recommendations. I would ask the Government to keep under constant review the matter of private boxes. There are still some two and a quarter hours at peak periods when I consider that the clubs could be benefiting from the finance to be obtained from those private boxes which at present they are debarred from using. I do not think that that prohibition of use is necessary and I am not aware that Mr. Justice Popplewell recommended that that particular course should continue.
My noble friend Lord Mishcon from the Opposition Front Bench referred to the appalling number of deaths from fire in London. That is not the first time that those figures and that subject have been referred to here. He referred in the main to houses in multi-occupation. Perhaps I may digress for a moment to tell your Lordships that some years ago I had the pleasure of introducing a Private Member's Bill in the other place, with all party support, to deal with that. Successive Members of another place have also taken up the cudgels on this.
143 The weakness of course is that while the Government have moved some way along the road that we suggested—that is, inspection for fire hazards and prevention measures—unfortunately, most of the legislation that they have introduced is non-mandatory and most of the local authorities are not carrying it out. I cited a particularly horrific incident which took place, I think, about 10 years ago at a women's hostel in London, where 11 women died. One was a young woman who had left home to work in the hostel only 12 hours previously. They were victims of the kind of carnage to which my noble friend Lord Mishcon was referring. I hope that, based on the more recent figures that he has introduced, the Government will see that that situation requires to be kept under review so as to obviate such tragedies.
Although I say that I welcome the Bill, there are two or three points for clarification that I should like to put to the Minister. It is true that the Bill refers to the present procedure, which in the main has worked well. I have to mention that I live not far from the Valley Parade football ground where the horrendous fire took place. In what I say I do not want to appear to cross the sub judice line, because I understand that civil litigation is taking place in connection with the relatives of victims of that fire. Certainly this is the case with one particular police officer who was involved. In general, I may say that charges were made that certain authorities had not carried out the public function that they were supposed to. I am saying merely that charges were made and that matters are before the civil court on the question of damages being awarded. I assume that if people obtain damage awards following that fire, that will indicate that some of the authorities did not carry out the function that they were supposed to carry out.
One of the other matters that I should like to talk about is the fact that the Minister made great play, quite rightly, on the role of the fire authorities in this Bill. I fully support that point of view; but there is a provision that I should like him to look at when winding up the debate. I refer to Clause 22(8), which reads:A copy of any prohibition notice shall be sent by the local authority to each of the following, namely—Does that mean that local authorities can take action without reference to the recommendations of the local fire authority? If it means that, it is going away from what has been the normal practice in connection with the licensing of buildings or establishments in any other way.
- (a) the chief officer of police; and
- (b) where the local authority is in Greater London or a metropolitan county, the fire authority, or, in any other case, the building authority".
I have experience of attending licensing meetings as an applicant. Always the strongest recommendations in your support come from the local police authority and the local fire authority. Very often, if they recommend it the local authority will follow what they recommend. Talking mainly about football grounds, the Bill provides for an appeal in cases where a ground has a prohibition slapped on it. It has right of appeal to the local magistrates' court. But there is nothing in the Bill which indicates a time limit on the period 144 during which a ground will be allowed to lodge such an appeal.
I think I am right in saying—and perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that local authorities very often delegate their licensing functions to a committee of councillors of the authority. A situation may arise—and I am saying that it is possible but not probable—that those who constitute that committee are people who could take a particularly dim view of football taking place in their area. We have a recent example in the case of Leeds United, the club of the city in which I live, which is supposed to visit Yeovil to play in a cup tie but cannot find a venue for the match because nobody wants the visitors there.
As I say, we could be in the situation of a committee of the local authority meeting on, say, a Thursday to decide whether to ban or prohibit a football match on the following Saturday afternoon at which a large crowd of people are expected. In that situation, there is no right of appeal at all. There is no time to have one. All I am asking is that before the Committee stage of the Bill the Minister will look at the possibility of putting into the Bill conditions by which the applicant who wants to make the appeal shall have a reasonable time-span in order to see that the appeal is possible and that it is possible for it to be carried out.
There is no point in saying that local authorities will act in a uniform manner, because they never do. I remember that when the partial ban on the sale of alcohol was lifted and it was restricted to certain places—I believe it was the dining areas from which you could not view the game—quite a number of the larger clubs with those facilities made application and were granted permission in accordance with the spirit of what the Government had suggested. At that time a match was taking place at the most prestigious football ground in Great Britain; that is, Wembley. I believe it was a match in which England was taking part. I do not remember who the opponents were. That application for a licence was refused by the local authority and it would not allow drinking to take place at the Wembley ground even in parts which were in accordance with the Government's suggestions. There is no point in thinking that the local authorities will always universally act in the same way.
There has been a change in the views of how local government operates. I have been involved in it, as have some other Members of your Lordships' House. Councillors, particularly these days, have a tendency to act as administrators instead of letting the administrators administer and to make policy on the advice of their safety officers. I see the danger, in connection with this Bill that you can get different circumstances in different parts of the country. I should like to think that the Government would look at the possibility of writing into this legislation some of the suggestions I have made so that we can have a common approach in football grounds in a general sense, rather than perhaps having just one authority taking a sympathetic view and dealing with the matter by consultation, with a reasonable time factor, so that everything can be properly organised and nobody is particularly hurt.
In this Bill, welcome though it is, I see some possibilities of conflict if some of the points that I have 145 made are not looked at at the very least. I certainly want to emphasise once again that if your Lordships' House and another place are putting into a Bill that the clubs or the establishments have a right of appeal it ought to be written into legislation what those rights of appeal are. Otherwise I believe that in certain circumstances there could be unacceptable indications of rather unfair play and some odd decisions. With those few remarks, as I say, I accept the Bill in principle.
Finally, I turn to the question of enforcement. Once the Bill has become law and the Secretary of State takes certain powers and indicates what the line should be in a particular area relating to certain incidents, there is the question of enforcing the law as enacted in this House and in another place. One of the weaknesses in the system and one of the reasons for the Bradford disaster concerns doors that were bolted when they ought to have been open. However, one can go into many public places in this country where fire exits are indicated by signs but when you get to the door there is no possibility of opening it because it is locked and the key is not available.
I have to say that this was one of the things that happened at Valley Parade. The question of enforcement will have to be looked at during the Committee stage and later stages of the Bill. If we make regulations and expect certain disciplines to be carried out somebody will have to enforce them, and we shall have to think about the question of enforcement during the later stages of the Bill. With those comments, I welcome the Bill in principle with other Members of your Lordships' House.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I think the Government should be reasonably pleased about the welcome that has been given to the Bill. It is certainly timely. Reference has been made more than once to the fact that Bradford Football Club has got a new stand and we have had references to the poignancy of the fact that they are mourning as well as celebrating. But too often we are catching up. If we go back to all the Acts that are mentioned here—the 1975 Act, the 1971 Act and the one which was passed last year—they have always been preceded by something that made us do it. So from that point of view there is a great deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said (and this was repeated by others)—that really we need to take a cool look and see that everything is properly covered in this Bill. There is a lot of fragmentation about it, but certainly a great deal has been cleared up following the 1971 Bill. That Bill did not cover factories or railways and so on. Some of that has been rationalised, but not all of it.
What we did in 1971 was positive. We created categories of those who would require fire certificates. What we are doing here in Part I is negative. We are making categories of exceptions. Let us not misunderstand or misinterpret all that is being done here, because we are providing exemption for categories of premises from the requirement to have a fire certificate: low-risk people.
Is the initiative coming from the fire authority or from the people who are responsible for the premises? That is one thing that we should get clear. What 146 troubles me about this is—I think it comes fairly early on on page 2, in the new Section 5A—that we are told that the fire authority, for the purposes of subsection (2), have to get the information and they also may well have to examine the place. On the other hand, we are told in the new Section 9C that—A failure on the part of a person to observe any provision of a code of practice"—that is going to be produced by the Secretary of State—shall not of itself render him liable to any criminal or civil proceedings.What is the legal standing on this code of practice, of this failure to get information or failure to inspect? I know it refers to a failure to observe a provision of a code of practice, which may be taken as tending to establish liability—or, on the other hand, may be relied upon as tending to negative liability. But it is a very unsatisfactory position where the Secretary of State does not lay down that "you will do this" or "you will not do that." The fact that all premises, whether they are exempt or not, must have adequate means of escape even though they get exemption from the necessity of a fire certificate should be welcomed by everyone else. I think the Act of 1971 was preceded by a series of hotel fires in the Highlands of Scotland. People suddenly realised that we had not properly looked at this aspect. That was a UK Bill.
We remember how the hotel trade was concerned about this because it meant a lot of expense for them. They had to put in fire doors at various points, and sometimes that was very troublesome. There is no doubt that it was well worth while from the point of view of the results. Therefore I am not concerned about that. However, what I am concerned about is page 2 of the Bill. I think I got the last quotation wrong. Section 5A(4) reads:For the purpose of making that decision the fire authority may"—in granting an exemption—give such information as they require about the premises and any matter connected with them; and … cause to be carried out an inspection … but the fire authority may make that decision without requiring any such information to be given".This is a very, very dangerous subsection to put in a statute: "You should do (a), and you should do (b); but if you do not do it, you can carry on and make your decision without it." I think we shall need to look at that point when we come to the Committee stage.
There is also the question of the fees which are to be charged. It was touched on by more than one noble Lord. There are different ideas about this point. I believe that in the Civic Government (Scotland) Act we require certain licences and certificates to be obtained and that the local authority should cover the administrative cost so far as it is reasonable. That is not always so. There have been cases in respect of certain activities by local authorities where I know that some football clubs have been staggered by what they have been charged.
I do not know whether we are going to get any guidance from the Government in respect of that matter. Are we perhaps going to get into the position which my noble friend Lord Mishcon spoke about, where different authorities will charge different fees? It is something which the Government should think about.
147 Perhaps I may turn to the code of practice regarding means of escape. All we are promised in the Bill is that we shall have a code of practice from the Secretary of State. However, Section 6 says that the code of practice, which has to be laid before both Houses (so we shall see it again), has to be drawn up after consultation with the persons appearing to him requisite. My Lords, what does "such persons as appear to him requisite" mean? I know that the consumer councils would like to be consulted. I am sure that the fire authorities want to be consulted. People in a particular trade who require a certificate want to be consulted. There has been consultation. I think the process of education about the hazards of fire was certainly carried on last year. The greatest hazards are in the home. That is certainly something that should be in the mind of the Government. That should be carried out nationally. From a Scottish point of view, it should be dealt with by the Scottish Office rather than by individual authorities. The dangers of fire should be brought home to people. I hope we get an answer on the question of the vulnerability of houses in multi-occupation.
My Lords, turning to the safety of sports grounds, the 1975 Act was introduced after a horrible disaster which took place in Glasgow at the Ibrox stadium. I am surprised that the Government have changed "sports stadia" to "sports grounds". In the 1975 Act (I think in Clause 15), they have the power to make that change by regulation at the present time. They could change "stadia" and extend that to other sports grounds.
My Lords, why have they not done that? If there was an element of obduracy about it, we did not need to wait until Mr. Justice Popplewell reported. We could have taken steps much earlier. However, I am not objecting to what has been done.
May I now deal with sports grounds and the variation in capacity? We are taking the number 10,000 out, and yet at another part of the Bill we are putting the number 500 in. Why did the Government not take the power to vary the figure of 500 in respect of the capacity of regulated stands? There is more conflict about this aspect than others—and certainly to the Appeal Court in Scotland. I think it is the summary court.
Perhaps I may now turn to the safety of stands. I hope the Government appreciate that the Acts passed in relation to this have placed a tremendous burden not only upon local authorities in the matter of certification, but in the matter of checking. I sincerely hope that there will be, as my noble friend said, visits made in order to see not only that stands are safe, but that safety standards are maintained.
I remember a tremendous fire in the South of Glasgow. They had just recently received a fire certificate. The terrible thing was that the fire escape door was actually locked and barred, and there was a tremendous loss of life in that place. People should appreciate the dangers in these places. They should know where the means of escape are, and they should know the fire drill. I do not know that these matters are carried out entirely to everyone's satisfaction, even in large hotels in London.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that even in a place where there are a number of fire exits which are clearly marked if some of those exits are locked there is danger of people being trapped, and without any hope of means of escape?
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, if people go to a fire exit and discover they cannot get out, there will be very considerable difficulties in respect of that. In Part III of the Bill, the topic of regulated stands is raised. I wish to ask why the figure of 500 has been chosen. It may well be we are spreading the net far too wide. I think in the discussions with the Scottish Office involving the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish League it was considered that that figure was far too low. It could have started at a much higher figure, and that could have been gradually reduced. A great deal of work will be involved for fire authorities and local authorities. There will be a great amount of expense laid upon football clubs and perhaps others as well. I shall come to racecourses in a moment. I cannot say much about Wincanton but I can say plenty about Ayr, where there is both national hunt and flat racing. We have to think not just of the stands, but what is behind and under them. That is certainly worth looking at from the point of view of safety as well. It was wrong to put the figure of 500 in the Bill. We could have taken the power which, so far as I see, is not in the Bill—and I referred to this earlier on—to change that figure of 500. The power to vary should have been provided for. Once again there is guidance from the local authority and, indeed, regulation by the local authority. The local authority is taking a great deal on itself.
As to the question of fees, I spoke about the burden that this will be upon the fire authorities. Do they have the manpower? There is an endless amount of work for them in Part I of the Bill. What about those who have to pay the fees? We already know that the Government just shrug their shoulders when it comes to fees to be paid by clubs or businesses, but, if nothing is laid down and people do not know what they will be faced with, considerable difficulties will be experienced.
I think that we have been very hard on football clubs. They can be prohibited from using their stands, and that prohibition remains until such time as they conform with the notices given by the local authority. Where will they get the money from? I saw what I think one would call a first division or fairly high standard game in England the other day—I believe a cup replay—at which 500 people were present. The Government seem to think that endless sums are available to local clubs, large and small, to enable them to make these improvements.
The Government are laying down the law to the clubs, but they are not providing any help. They are shuffling it off on to the Football Improvement Trust. The Government are getting plenty of money out of football from the pools promoters, but very little is going back to the clubs in respect of the improvements that have to be made. Have the Government thought about this? The more they reduce the standard, say to 500-plus, the closer they are getting to clubs—possibly the athletic clubs—that are not up to it and do not have the money.
149 In Scotland certainly the clubs are hard pressed by the level of rates, and we have spoken about this previously in comparison with the situation in England. Celtic probably pay for the police alone—and reference has been made to crowds of 34,000 or 38,000, and a recent game had 42,000—about £30,000. In London, for the same size of game, the police would have cost only £15,000, if that. One finds that clubs not as wealthy as Celtic and Rangers have relatively the same burden of rent and rates costs. The new rates legislation that is on the way does nothing about the rates as promised during the passage of the last Act. All it does is to freeze them, limiting them as regards the increase in charges.
A friend of mine recently went round football clubs in eight cities on the Continent. What did he discover? There were wonderful stadia, owned by each city and rented free to football clubs. They paid no rent because it was regarded as one of the attributes of a city to have a stadium and a football club. There were 500 people at one of the games he went to. What was the cost? Nothing.
The clubs—certainly those in Scotland—are loaded down with rates, the costs of the police and the cost of improvements. The Government shrug and say, "It is up to you, the Football Improvement Trust is there". That is not good enough. We want safety, and we can get it. The clubs are prepared to give it, but they want considerable help from the Government.
Reference was made by Lord Taylor of Gryfe to the considerable improvement that has occurred since we took up the question of drink on the terraces. There is no doubt that the behaviour in Scottish football grounds is laudable in comparison with England.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
Before noble Lords cheer just a wee bit too much, we had better look at hooliganism on the park as well as hooliganism off the park because we still have a problem there, so all is not well.
We are all in favour of the Bill, and should like to see the Government support the clubs, including the National Hunt club at Wincanton and others. I nearly added Bogside, but we do not now have Bogside. This, of couse, shows the difficulties that people are in.
One could mention Perth, for instance. They have premises quite apart from the stands where people are watching the racing and they too, I presume, would come under the Bill from the point of view of safety certificates. As to their being asked to make any improvements there, anybody who knows anything about racing will remember what Lord Kilmany—who, sadly, departed the scene just last year—used to tell us about the trials and tribulations of racecourses today. They too are up against it, so there has to be a balance between what the Government lay down and the ability of clubs to respond.
Lord Mishcon, I think, mentioned greyhound racing and, indeed, Wimbledon. I did not think we were worried about the dangers of fire at Wimbledon, judging by the kind of weather that one always gets there. I hope that the Minister will realise that there is a balance to be struck by the Government in regard to the burdens that they place upon local authorities.
§ 6.7 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It has been an interesting and stimulating, covering a wide range of issues. I am also grateful for the general welcome that your Lordships have given the Bill.
Safety matters are rightly of considerable public concern, particularly in the wake of Bradford and other disasters. It is not surprising to find that there is a broad measure of support in the House and, I am sure, in the country at large, for continued vigilance by the authorities to secure adequate protection for the people of this country through a system of precautionary measures.
I look forward to the Committee stage because, although there is general agreement between us, there are obviously points of detail that we must study in some depth. Your Lordships have raised a number of points, which I shall endeavour to answer, although some, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon said, are perhaps more appropriate for Committee. The noble Lord asked me about the provision to ensure that charges for fire certification are uniform between authorities. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, raised the same point.
Clause 3 provides that in Section 8B(3) fees charged,shall not exceed an amount which represents the cost to the authority of the work reasonably done by themin issuing or amending a certificate other than the cost of inspection. It follows that the benefits derived from more efficient administration will be passed on to the user of this service. This is in accordance with the Government's policy of local authority fees and charges. Of course, we hope that all fire authorities will seek to emulate the most efficient ones so that, in time, there may be a tendency for fees to become more uniform between authorities.
The Government do not expect very wide variation initially. But it would certainly not be desirable for the Government to set fees nationally. If that were the case, there would be no incentive for fire authorities to become more efficient. In addition, it would be difficult for central government to take into account the variations between premises. This means that fees can be accurately assessed only by the fire authority. Nor, indeed, would it be desirable for the home departments to become involved in regular reviews of the level of fees. The efficiency of administration procedures within fire authorities and the means by which fees were calculated would be within the remit of the fire service inspectorate in carrying out their regular inspections of fire authorities. I can confirm to the House that we shall be issuing guidance on this point.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked what would happen if the fee was not paid. Of course, rightly, there is no provision in the Bill for a fire certificate to cease to have effect in these circumstances. The Bill provides for the fee to be paid on issue or amendment of a certificate. In practice, we would expect the fire authority to request payment before issuing a new or amended certificate, taking account of the administrative work undertaken in each case, and unpaid fees would become a debt recoverable in the normal way.
151 The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, also asked about prohibition notices. We reflected on the provisions for dealing with excessive risks in each of the Acts, in the light of the comments made on the consultative documents. We were not persuaded that the powers under Section 10 of the 1971 Act providing for the fire authority to apply to the court for an order prohibiting or restrictng the use of premises which present a serious risk to persons in the event of fire have proved inadequate.
Fire authorities have not found it necessary to apply for many such orders. In 1984, 138 applications were made, of which 42 resulted in orders being issued. The remaining 96 were withdrawn after remedial action had been taken. We suspect that in other cases the threat of an application to the court is sufficient to induce an occupier to take the required remedial action. I look forward to debating that point with the noble Lord at a later stage.
I turn next to houses in multiple occupation—a point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon, Lord Dean of Beswick and Lord Ross of Marnock. The Bill is concerned with establishing a modified statutory framework of fire precaution controls, which will enable more effective use to be made of fire service resources. Any capacity freed by the new exemption procedure will initially be channelled into programmes of inspection, particularly of high risk premises, but in time it should also be possible to contemplate the designation of further classes of use. Priority would be given to classes of use where the fire safety record gave cause for concern and where the premises concerned were not adequately controlled under existing legislation.
It is too early to speculate about what, if any, new designations might be made, but in view of the comments made today we are fully conversant with the concern about fire safety in houses of multiple occupation. Fire safety in such houses is currently controlled under housing legislation, which the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, has already mentioned and in which he played a great part in his time. We hope that he will continue a great part.
This housing legislation is the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Local housing authorities have powers under the Housing Act 1985 to require satisfactory standards of means of escape from fire in houses of multiple occupation. There is a requirement to consult a fire authority before exercising those powers.
I turn next to racetracks, both horse racing and greyhound racing. The noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Ross of Marnock, also mentioned Wimbledon. Although Part II, in abolishing the distinction between sports grounds and stadia, makes it possible for racecourses, or indeed tennis facilities, to be designated as a class of ground, there is no proposal to do so, nor did the Popplewell Report make such a recommendation.
Such racecourses and tennis facilities will be affected by the new system of stand certificates under Part III of the Bill. Local authorities will notify managements of racecourses, on making a preliminary determination that a stand provides covered 152 accommodation for 500 or more spectators, that they should apply for a certificate if they wish to continue using the stand. Where a final determination is made that a stand is indeed of that capacity, a certificate is issued. It will impose conditions, including those which relate to the general condition and fire safety of the stand, the need for adequate entrances and exits, and stewarding.
On racecourses, in particular, a certificate will not seek to impose requirements based on assumptions about crowd movements which are derived from other sports and which may be inappropriate to crowds at race meetings for reasons enunciated by my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I hope that he is reassured on that point.
The non-statutory guide to safety at sports grounds, often known as the green guide, is intended to be flexible in the advice it gives for ensuring the safety of spectators. I understand that the Horserace Betting Levy Board and racecourse executives insist on high standards in safety matters, and we are confident that most racecourses will therefore need to take few remedial measures to achieve the necessary standards.
Having mentioned the green guide, perhaps I may say a further word on it. Much of the material in the guide is relevant to securing safety in stands which will be brought within the scope of legislation by the provisions of Part III of the Bill. There is, for example, guidance on stairways and ramps, exit routes and doors and fire precautions. The guide envisages that the requirements of safety for spectators can vary between different sports. Therefore, it underlines how difficult it is to give guidance from a central point when each stadium might differ.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked whether local authorities should set up safety teams. As he rightly pointed out, local authorities are responsible for administering the 1975 Act and for issuing safety certificates. They are required in Greater London to consult the chief officer of police; in metropolitan counties, the fire authority; and elsewhere, the building authority, about the terms and conditions contained in a safety certificate. It is for the local authority to decide how best to carry out this consultation duty, but clearly it makes sense to form a safety team drawn from the different disciplines involved in securing safety.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, asked whether the Government would take this opportunity to make far wider provision for disclosure of safety information than that contained in the Bill. I am sure that many of your Lordships have received a letter from some consumer associations on the matter. Your Lordships will appreciate that fire authorities depend to a great extent on the goodwill and co-operation of owners and occupiers of premises for the effectiveness of their fire prevention work. They have a right of entry to premises, and this is as it should be. But they rely also on the frankness of owners and occupiers in supplying information about the use of premises, plans for future use and such matters.
Such information may go across the boundary into areas usually covered by commercial confidentiality. While it is essential that fire authorities should be able to inform other health and safety authorities on 153 matters relevant to their tasks, any further extension of the right of disclosure—for example, to employees or even to the public at large—would be undesirable as likely to compromise the working relationship between fire authorities and occupiers of premises. Such wide disclosure is best left to the discretion of the occupiers.
Another point raised by many of your Lordships was the extra work that the Bill will involve for local authorities and fire authorities. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, raised this point. It is hoped that Part I of the Bill will release the full redeployment of resources and quite a number of people for new inspections of properties. Therefore, we do not see much extra work. In this part of the Bill we see a change of role.
In Part III, the initial work of inspecting and certificating stands at undesignated sports grounds is expected to require the equivalent of about 4,000 man days spread over 128 certificating authorities. It is anticipated that this should be achieved by reordering existing priorities. A small increase in staff may thereafter be required for inspections of new grounds and stands and for re-inspection.
Turning to Part IV, most indoor sports premises have already been inspected by local authorities. So this should not involve much extra work. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, raised the question of boxes at football grounds and the sale of alcohol therein. It reminds me of the Public Order Bill—now the Public Order Act—which we discussed earlier. Schedule 1 of that Act comes into force on 1st January next year. I hope that the noble Lord has seen our circular, which was issued on 10th December following the announcement on 3rd December that the implementation will be in the new year.
The noble Lord also asked about Clause 25, how it related to regulated stands and the time allowed for those responsible for managing the stands to appeal against determination. As that is the last resort, we hope that the situation he envisaged, of the authority meeting on the Thursday for a football match on the Saturday, will be avoided because of the prior consultation that will have gone on. I repeat, it is not our intention to close a stand but to make a stand a safe place for the public to go and view whatever sport they may seek to watch.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, went into some detail on Clause 1(4), which will be new Section 5A, and particularly subsection (4). I think that is one of the many points we shall need to look at in detail at Committee stage. Perhaps I may say that exempted premises are required to have adequate means of escape and fire-fighting equipment. That is the statutory requirement. The code of practice will give guidance on how the duty can be achieved. However, the occupier can meet the duty in other ways, provided that the necessary standard is still achieved. The code of practice cannot hope to cover all the circumstances of every case. There does need to be necessary flexibility.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, also asked about consultation regarding codes of practice. These will include fire service interests and representatives of 154 occupiers affected by a particular code. We have noted the interests of the Consumers' Association and shall ensure that they also are consulted.
The figure of 500 was challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. This was the figure that was recommended by the Popplewell Inquiry and that is why it is included in the Bill. The inquiry itself acknowledged that the figure was an arbitrary one. However, it was an attempt to balance the cost of inspection and certification against a reasonable degree of safety. A stand which can accommodate no more than this figure is likely to be small. Given the usual open-fronted nature of such a stand, spectators who occupy it are therefore likely to be within close reach of a place of safety in the event of a fire or other emergency. But I do take the noble Lord's point about premises underneath the stand. That is another point which we shall doubtless discuss at a later date.
If I have failed to respond to any points raised by noble Lords, I apologise. I shall look carefully at the Official Report, and if necessary I shall write to your Lordships. Perhaps I can conclude by saying that it is impossible to foresee all conceivable combinations of circumstances which can lead to the kind of tragic accidents to which our attention has been turned today. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that all too often successive Governments have found themselves legislating in the aftermath of a disaster, as is unfortunately the case with the provisions of this Bill which deals with the safety of spectators at sports events.
The Government's review of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 is designed to improve our arrangements for fire safety with the benefit of experience gained in the enforcement of the Act over the last 15 years. In so doing, it is hoped that resources can be concentrated on those premises presenting the greatest risk and thereby perhaps averting tragedy. Our hope must be that the provisions of the Bill will reduce loss of life from fire and prevent another disaster occurring at a sports ground.
We must all realise that legislation cannot of itself guarantee safety. At least as important is a high level of public awareness of the dangers of fire so that appropriate preventive measures can be taken and so that, in the event of a fire or other emergency, people will know what to do. The onus is upon all of us to make sure that that message is put across clearly and regularly.
In view of the welcome given by your Lordships to this Bill, I am glad to say that it is—
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. Bearing in mind that this Bill stands the normal law procedures on their head, in that when a prohibition is placed and an appeal is lodged the prohibition nevertheless continues to apply, can the Minister look very seriously at the question I put during my speech in this Second Reading debate as regards writing into the Bill the time factors of an appeal? This will ensure that appellants can, in all justice, have time to prepare a case in advance of the event, rather than make an eleventh hour appeal which does not have much chance of succeeding.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I shall of course take very careful note of what the noble Lord has said. It is one of the points I shall look into.
In view of the welcome given to this Bill by your Lordships, it is not just the Government's hope that this Bill will receive a speedy passage through Parliament, but the hope of all of us. We must not forget that we have some details to look into. I therefore hope that these proposals will meet with your Lordships' approval today and I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.