§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As the House will be aware, the Bill implements the main recommendations of the Government's report on the inquiry into crowd safety at sports grounds carried out by Lord Wheatley. It aims to provide a reasonable degree of safety for members of the public attending sports stadia and other sports grounds.
Before I come to the Wheatley recommendations, it might be helpful if I remind the House of the background to the subject until that report was made. The report followed the tragedy at Ibrox in January 1971. However, as Lord Wheatley pointed out, although, happily, disasters of that nature have been few in the recent history of this country, the Ibrox disaster was not the only one involving large crowds, and these have happened mainly at football matches.
For example, as long ago as 1923 there was an occasion when many were crushed at the new Wembley stadium, and an inquiry then recommended a number of safety measures to be introduced on a voluntary basis, although the possibility of statutory controls was not ruled out. There was the occasion, which may be well remembered by many hon. Members, when in 1946 at the Bolton Wanderers football ground 33 people died and more than 500 were injured in an overcrowded enclosure. Following that disaster, Mr. Moelwyn Hughes was asked to hold an inquiry, and he recommended a statutory licensing scheme for football grounds in the interests of the safety of spectators.
For some considerable time, therefore, there has been support for the idea of a statutory scheme to ensure safety measures at sports grounds. But in the end, until now, a reliance has always been placed on voluntary measures. Also in 1969 we had the report by Sir John Lang about crowd behaviour at football matches, and, although this was not directly related to the question of disasters 1077 or anything of that nature, he nevertheless in the course of that report recommended that the memoranda sent out in 1948 by the Football Association with guidance on safety measures for its members should be brought up to date and reissued.
However, before there could be any further developments on that report the Ibrox Park disaster occurred in January 1971, which resulted in the tragic deaths of 66 people. More than 140 people were injured, crushed on a staircase leading from one of the terraces. As a result of that disaster, an inquiry was first held under the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act, which I think is normal in Scotland after a case of this nature. That was followed by a small team led by Mr. Walter Winterbottom visiting football clubs and discussing existing safety precautions. On top of that the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), invited Lord Wheatley to undertake an inquiry into the whole question of crowd safety at sports grounds. Although the terms of reference of the inquiry extended to all kinds of sports grounds, the immediate problem was concerned with football grounds, and it was to this that Lord Wheatley gave most of his attention in the report. When his report was published in May 1972 my right hon. Friend announced immediately that the Government accepted it in principle. I am sure it would be appropriate for me again today to express the Government's gratitude to Lord Wheatley for the manner in which he carried out this inquiry. We are grateful not only for the diligence but for the speed with which the inquiry was conducted. The House might think it right that I should also thank Mr. Winter-bottom for the work he and his team did in looking at existing conditions.
As the House will know, the main basis of Lord Wheatley's report was the recommendation of a code of standard of safety in future. Lord Wheatley looked at the existing arrangements, both voluntary and statutory. As I have said, there was the voluntary system of certification of grounds which had been introduced by the Football Association, but Lord Wheatley found that under this system there were no requirements as to the competence of persons to carry out the annual inspection and there were no 1078 specific standards which such people might use as guidelines. He came to the conclusion that the voluntary system that had been working with the arrangements generally was inadequate.
He then reviewed the statutory provisions which existed and which appeared to be relevant to the safety of spectators at football grounds. Of course, the main regulations in this area are the Building Regulations in England and Wales and the Building Standard Regulations in Scotland. They provide basic statutory safeguards relating to the structural strength and stability of new buildings and structures or any substantial alterations to existing buildings and structures. However, as is pointed out in the report, it is very doubtful whether the regulations apply to open terraces or to any hard standing at sports grounds, although it is possible that the regulations in Scotland do apply.
Secondly, as Lord Wheatley pointed out, the building regulations relate only to the time when the building is originally erected and do not provide any means of continuing control of the standard of safety. In addition to the building regulations there are also, as was pointed out, local Acts in various parts of the country, particularly in London. They provide extensive control over stands and structures at football grounds. Again, these are limited to London and the local Acts are very patchy throughout the country. As Lord Wheatley pointed out it is in the open terraces that the trouble seems chiefly to lie and it is precisely in that area that it was doubtful whether the existing building regulations have any effect.
Section 59 of the Public Health Act 1936 empowers a local authority to require adequate means of entrance and exit from buildings where these are used, amongst other purposes, as places of public resort, and a number of local authorities have used this power in respect of stands at football grounds. Again, however, it is a power which is limited in scope. It does not apply at entrances and exits at the grounds themselves and it does not apply to open terraces.
Finally, there is the Fire Precautions Act 1971. which would be able to deal comprehensively with means of escape 1079 and associated fire precautions but it would be limited to precautions with regard to the threat of fire and nothing else. It has not yet been applied to the buildings and structures within football grounds. Lord Wheatley therefore concluded that the law fell far short of providing what could be regarded as proper and effective control over football grounds as a whole.
Faced with these inadequacies, Lord Wheatley concluded that only a specially devised statutory scheme would be able to ensure the control over safety standards at football grounds which he considered to be necessary. The scheme which he recommended was a statutory licensing control to be exercised by the local authorities coupled with guidelines which were to be laid down as a technical appendix to that report. It is this scheme of statutory licensing control exercised by the local authorities that the Bill now implements.
Lord Wheatley envisaged that the implementation should be phased, the larger grounds, broadly speaking, being dealt with first, and the Government equally accept that recommendation. He also recommended that there should be a right of appeal for the clubs concerned, and again the Government accept that and it is in the Bill. But what was quite clear throughout Lord Wheatley's report was his consciousness of the need to reconcile the paramount aim of ensuring the safety of spectators with what could be considered to be reasonable and practicable for individual clubs.
When the report was published, the Government announced their acceptance and also that there would be consultations with those concerned, particularly local authority and football interests. Those consultations have been largely concerned with the guidance on safety measures at football grounds prepared by the Technical Support Group. It was at once apparent that, whether legislation came sooner or later, all concerned needed to be agreed on the principles to be adopted in future for the safety of spectators at football grounds.
The code was published on 19th November as the "Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds". The football authorities have been of the utmost assistance in drafting the code and deserve our warm 1080 thanks. Apart from the code, there have also more recently been consultations on the principal features of the proposed legislation. The consultations with the football authorities were held informally at ministerial level by my hon. Friends the Minister for Sport and the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office. There have also been consultations with the local authorities and the police at the official level. Except on the question of finance, these consultations raised no difficulties of principle about the Bill, which, in any case, is very close to Lord Wheatley's main proposals.
Lord Wheatley envisaged that the guidelines set out in the appendix would be used on a non-statutory basis by the licensing authorities. The guidelines were subjected to practical tests and have since been made the subject of consultations. They are now the basis of the code.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and I visited the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Home Secretary some months ago to discuss the question of police payments. Has the Minister had any further reflections on the subject?
§ Mr. Carlisle
May I deal with that matter afterwards? I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote to the hon. Gentleman after that meeting and said that he felt that the matter should be taken up at local level with the individual police authorities. As far as I know, that is still the position, but I will look into the question further and, if necessary, write to the hon. Gentleman.
The code reflects the considered views of a wide range of professional and expert advisers. It deals with matters such as the strength and siting of crush barriers, the provision of entrance and exit routes, angles of slope for terracing, the construction of staircases, and measures to ensure the safe movement of spectators, both under normal circumstances and in conditions of emergency. It is something of a milestone, for it is the first document to provide a standard and comprehensive guide to the measures needed for ensuring adequate standards of safety for members of the public at existing sports grounds. Our intention 1081 is that local authorities and other interested parties should be guided by it in deciding what measures are appropriate at any particular sports ground.
It is a non-statutory code, just as the appendix was, because, as Lord Wheatley recognised, it is important to maintain the maximum flexibility to take account of the differing circumstances at individual sports grounds, which depend on factors such as their age, size and mode of construction. I should also emphasise that the code has been designed to apply principally to football grounds, and would need to be modified before it could be applied to other kinds of sports grounds.
Lord Wheatley recommended that the introduction of the licensing system should be phased, so that the larger sports grounds, where the most obvious risks occur, were dealt with first. Paragraph 56 of Lord Wheatley's Report sets out four categories of football ground to which he believes the licensing provisions should apply. When my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport met representatives of the football authorities he made it clear that those grounds in Lord Wheatley's category 1—the international stadia and the First and Second Division grounds—would be dealt with first. The provisions of the Bill differ from the categories in Lord Wheatley's Report in that we have excluded from the designating order procedures grounds within category 4—all grounds having accommodation for fewer than 10,000 members of the public. The grounds in the other categories are within the designating order procedure, but I repeat that we accept the phasing, and that those grounds in Lord Wheatley's category I will be dealt with first. Grounds in his categories 2 and 3 will be dealt with later as, when and if the need arises.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
Can the Minister tell the House a little more about the thinking behind that? As the Government do not propose to give any financial support to the clubs, the question of phasing has nothing to do with financing. Therefore, if these safety measures are required, why have the Government decided to adopt Lord Wheatley's suggestion about phasing?
§ Mr. Carlisle
My understanding of the Wheatley Report is exactly the reverse. Lord Wheatley recommended the phasing 1082 as a means of keeping down the financial burdens on clubs. He accepted that the normal principle applied, that when people are brought to a commercial ground those who run the ground are responsible for their safety. The intention of the phasing was to ensure that those who were required to carry out the provisions first should be the wealthier clubs. I have just confirmed that by saying that the Government, certainly at this stage, do not propose to introduce the provisions for more than those grounds in category 1.
§ Mr. Carlisle
It is the bigger grounds at which the bigger crowds congregate and, therefore, where the risk is greatest.
§ Mr. Carlisle
The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech on that. That was what was behind Lord Wheatley's thinking, as I read his report. The Government accept that it is at the major grounds that the major risk occurs.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Is not the Minister aware that it is those major grounds which have been most recently modernised? For example, Liverpool has just built a brand-new stand which is now out of date. Therefore, the axe will fall heaviest on those clubs which have built new stands in the past five or 10 years.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I think that is unlikely. I shall be dealing with the certification procedure a little later. The responsible local authority is to set standards of safety it considers reasonable. Grounds with the most recent stands are more likely to accord with the reasonable standard. But I shall come to that matter in detail.
We have specifically excluded grounds with a capacity of fewer than 10,000 members of the public, but grounds in that category will be expected to take voluntary measures to ensure a reasonable degree of safety for the public, and will be subject to the emergency procedure in Clause 9.
While we have had the risks at football grounds principally in mind, as did the Wheatley Committee, we have also 1083 thought it prudent that the Bill should apply to stadia used for sports other than football, where similar risks may arise, such as the larger cricket grounds. A sports stadium is defined in Clause 16(1) as a sports ground wholly or substantially surrounded by accomodation consisting of artificial structures. We have used the words "sports stadium" and they do not refer to football in particular but extend to other sports. Although the first two orders of designation will be limited to the grounds in category 1 of the Wheatley Report, equal power has been taken to apply the Bill, with such changes as are necessary, to places at which sporting activities attracting large crowds take place—for example—race tracks and motor racing circuits.
The representatives of the various sports which have been consulted about that proposal have in general accepted that it would be sensible for their sports to be brought within the scope of the Bill if need be. I emphasise that the requirement which may be imposed must be reasonable. That is clear in Clause 2(2). The word "reasonable" appears in the clause relating to the circumstances of each case. That is not merely recognition of the fact that absolute safety can never be guaranteed but is an indication of the Government's concern that, without sacrificing the basic requirements of safety, local authorities should have full regard to individual circumstances in deciding what precautionary measures should be taken.
Further there is to be, as Lord Wheatley recommended, a right of appeal by interested persons against any requirements that a local authority might impose. Lord Wheatley recommended the right of appeal to a separately set up tribunal. The Government have considered that there was no need to set up such an appeal tribunal. Provision is made in the Bill for the right of appeal to the Secretary of State. That is one of the matters which can be discussed further in Committee.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It would be helpful if the Government were to explain why they have adopted that position. There may be good reasons. The fact is that the bulk of sporting opinion, as we understand it, is on the side of Wheatley and not on the side of the Government.
§ Mr. Carlisle
The Government have taken that position because in general they do not consider that there is a need for a tribunal of that nature. They do not envisage the likelihood of a large number of appeals. They feel that with the number of appeals which are likely to occur there is within the Department of the Secretary of State adequate experience in all matters of safety and that there is no necessity to set up a separate tribunal for that purpose.
Having referred to the general principles and scope of the Bill, I quickly take the House through the individual provisions. Clauses 1 to 7 establish the principal system of control—namely, the certificate procedure. The Secretary of State is to be empowered to designate sports stadia with a capacity of more than 10,000. Once a stadium has been designated it will require a safety certificate from the local authority. That requirement is to be found in Clauses 1 and 2. The applications for certificates will have to be made in the prescribed form. The status of the applicant will have to be established. In England the local authority concerned will be the county council and in Scotland it will be the appropriate regional authority when the Local Government (Scotland) Act comes into operation. That is in accordance with the Wheatley recommendation that it should be the county council.
The local authority, on receiving an application, will be required to consult the police, the fire authority and the district council. It will be required to consult the last named because it is responsible for the enforcement of building regulations. After those consultations and any necessary inspection of the stadium, the local authority will be required to issue a general safety certificate. The general safety certificate will be the main continuing form of control. It will specify the activity or activities at the stadium and the number of members of the public who may be admitted. Provision is also made for the issue by the local authority, at its discretion, of a special safety certificate. That was not included in the recommendations of the Wheatley Report. The purpose of that provision is to take account of what may be occasional events which may take place at a stadium—for example, a desire to use a stadium for 1085 an activity not specified in the original certificate or a request for relaxing one of the conditions on a certain occasion. In that event, an application could be made to the local authority for a special certificate. That might be acceptable subject to certain extra requirements being imposed. The safety certificate will contain terms and conditions which will reflect the local authority's view of what will be reasonably safe for the public when it visits a stadium. That is contained in Clause 2 (2).
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
Has my hon. and learned Friend taken into account the possible embarrassment that might arise under Clause 14 when a local authority or a county council may find itself with a sports stadium which is the property of the county council and under its control?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I had not taken account of that point. Clause 14 deals with extending the powers of the Bill beyond sports stadia to such things as motor cycle tracks and race tracks.
§ Mr. Carlisle
What my hon. Friend has said is a matter that should be considered. The relevant local authority for the purpose of granting a certificate will be the county council, whereas I suspect that many of the grounds to which my hon. Friend refers are more likely to be owned by district councils. Nevertheless, the district council must be consulted. The point of principle which my hon. Friend makes still applies. It is one that should be considered.
Safety certificates will contain terms and conditions which might specify, for example, that a stand must not be used by spectators until certain work has been carried out. The management of the ground would have the choice of whether to abandon use of the stand indefinitely or to take action as and when it is able to do so to bring the stand into such a condition as to justify removal of the restriction. The local authority will have 1086 the flexibility to impose any terms and conditions which it considers necessary, bearing in mind the circumstances of the stadium.
Local authorities will be required to deal with certain important matters which are set out in Clause 4, such as the maximum number of people to be admitted to a stadium. They may impose conditions such as the maximum number of people to be admitted to any part of a stadium and the provision of entrances and exits and crush barriers. If any of the conditions which the local authority imposes are thought to be unreasonable, an appeal will come within the system of appeal to the Secretary of State.
It is right that Lord Wheatley recommended a special tribunal for appeals. It was because the Government were anxious to avoid creating more tribunals than necessary, and because it was considered that there would not be sufficient work to justify the appointment of a special tribunal, that such a body was not set up. We would like appeals to be dealt with in a uniform way. We think that that will be achieved by our proposals. Should that procedure prove not to be sufficient in practice, we have made provision for the setting up of a formal inquiry along the lines recommended by Lord Wheatley.
§ Clause 7 requires the holder of a certificate to inform a local authority of any proposal to alter or extend the stadium in a way which would affect the existing arrangements for securing the safety of the public. In principle, that control operates by requiring a stadium to be designated and by requiring application to be made for a certificate. There is no offence of having been refused a certificate. However, a local authority is required to provide a certificate. It can impose conditions as it sees fit to achieve safety. It is an offence to allow people on to a ground in breach of the conditions imposed by the local authority or if the application has not been made, has been withdrawn or is deemed to be withdrawn. That also applies if the people making the application have refused to give the necessary information to the local authority to enable it to decide the conditions in the certificate.1087
§ Mr. Ashton
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman be more specific? If a club applies to a local authority, will that authority have to implement the code in full? In view of previous safety records, has the authority a greater amount of leeway and judgment?
§ Mr. Carlisle
What I said earlier was that the code will act as a guideline on which we shall expect the local authority to act. This does not mean that the local authority will have to implement it in full. It has been left as a non-statutory matter to give a degree of flexibility. It sets up the general basis on which the local authority and the football grounds will know the type of guidelines that are likely to be laid down, but it is not a statutory document.
§ Clause 8 provides powers of entry and inspection to sports grounds irrespective of their size.
§ Clause 9 provides an important power to obtain a court order. If a magistrates' court, on the application of a local authority, apprehends a risk at any sports ground, whether or not it had been granted a certificate, the court may make an order restricting admission of the public. This is something of an emergency power to be used only after local negotiations have failed to produce a satisfactory settlement on a voluntary basis. It will be possible for an order to be cancelled or modified on application to the court making it, and a right of appeal from the order is provided. That is the method of control provided where a club has not been designated by the Secretary of State and, therefore, does not have to receive a certificate. Nevertheless, the local authority can make application under Clause 9 if it apprehends a risk at that sports ground.
§ Clauses 10 and 11 deal with offences and penalties.
§ Clause 12 empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations in respect of the safety of the public at sports stadia. This is in the nature of a reserve power but could be used, for example, to prescribe minimum requirements for grounds not subject to designation or to give backing to requirements which, in the light of experience, had been shown always to be essential. The clause also empowers my right hon. Friend to authorise local authorities 1088 to charge fees to offset their costs in issuing certificates.
§ Clause 14, which I have already mentioned, enables the Secretary of State to extend the Bill by order to classes of sports grounds other than sports stadia.
§ Clause 15 applies the Bill to the Crown, subject to appropriate modifications.
§ The explanatory and financial memorandum sets out the estimated costs of administering the scheme. Local authorities will be able to offset their costs by fees to be charged for certificates. As to the costs of any necessary improvements to the grounds, Lord Wheatley's proposals were based on the assumption that there would be no exception to the general policy that those who, in the course of commercial enterprises, put the public at risk must themselves bear the costs of eliminating or reducing those risks. If we make that assumption it means, as Lord Wheatley pointed out, that the money for ground improvements must be found by the clubs and within football itself.
§ Mr. Carlisle
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Lord Wheatley set out that principle and carefully said that it was a matter for the Government. He refrained from making any comment, but the principle on which these matters have to be decided is based on the assumption that there would be no exception to the general policy. In other words, those who in the course of commercial enterprises put the public at risk must bear the costs of eliminating or reducing those risks.
The Government have decided that it would be invidious to single out professional sport for exemption from the general policy to which I have referred. Clubs will have to pay for any work that is involved. Having accepted that, the Government have tried to bring the maximum flexibility into the Bill, consistent with public safety.
The certificate procedure is to be limited to stadia with a capacity of more than 10,000, and the implementation of the Bill is to be phased, with the larger clubs being designated first. It is the 1089 larger and more successful clubs where the greatest risks are likely to arise but, as Lord Wheatley pointed out, it is these clubs that claim to have spent a good deal of money already on their grounds. Furthermore, requirements imposed in a certificate are to be subject to a test of reasonableness and will be open to appeal. Clubs will be able to decide as a matter of commercial judgment, whether—if at all—to carry out any work that might be necessary if full use is to be made of the ground or to operate the ground under any restriction or condition that may be imposed.
The Government are well aware of the difficulties which face professional sport, such as football, especially in the present fuel emergency. The football community is faced, as is everybody else, with the problem of coping with and adapting to the situation, but where public safety is in question our immediate difficulties should not be allowed to affect the pursuit of longer-term objectives and policies. The safety of sports grounds has been a matter of concern for many years and, with Lord Wheatley's Report to guide us, there can be no excuse for further delay. These matters have been discussed for 50 years or so and if, as we believe, the safety of the public is of paramount importance it would be wrong to delay taking action simply because of temporary problems, however difficult these may be.
These then are the main provisions of the Bill. We are anxious that the scheme of control which is envisaged should operate flexibly and reasonably and should take full account of the circumstances of individual clubs, while at the same time achieving a degree of safety which will considerably reduce the risk of disasters such as the one at Ibrox Park. In these circumstances I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
Perhaps at the outset I may make two personal comments. I am glad to see the Minister of State, Home Office, in his place today and I welcome him to our sporting discussions. I think that in this sense his remarks today amounted to something like a maiden speech. The House was grateful to him for the cogent 1090 way in which he conducted us through the Bill's provisions.
I noted that the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Committee stage of the Bill. If the Bill is to have a Committee stage, it is clear that there is to be no General Election. I wonder whether we should seek to table amendments or whether we should regard this merely as part of the Government's public relations exercise in the run-up to the election. However, I suppose we should treat the matter seriously and assume that possibly we shall have a Committee stage and that the national jamboree to which I have referred will be put off until a later date.
I wish to apologise to the House because as president of a national trade union I have to attend some vital discussions this afternoon relating to the coal issue. Since I shall have to leave the House before the wind-up speeches, I hope that hon. Members will acquit me of any discourtesy.
I begin my remarks on the Bill by saying that the whole House accepts the need to deal with the problem of safety at sports grounds. I shall not catalogue all the incidents which have occurred at football grounds. Many of us read with regret about a further incident this week at Queen's Park Rangers. Those of us who know that club appreciate how assiduous it is in trying to ensure the comfort and safety of spectators. I cite this latest incident—a minor one compared with what happened in the Ibrox and Bolton disasters—to make the point that these incidents are likely to occur at any ground and not necessarily at one which the Minister of State would regard as being among the largest or belonging to the most wealthy clubs. They underline the principle, in which we on this side of the House believe, that considerations of safety are of first importance and that everything else must be related to that principle.
It is not just a question of how we can control large numbers of people gathered together in a sports ground. Considerations of safety for the public have become much wider than that. They involve questions of discipline—perhaps "indiscipline" is the right word—of the followers of sport. We regard the advent of hooliganism—I know that the police 1091 do also—as a serious development. I have a great deal of sympathy with football authorities, which continually point out that hooliganism has little to do with sport, but they must carry their share of responsibility for dealing with it, as they would wish to do.
Therefore, I should have hoped that in Committee we would consider whether we might need some new clauses or a wider appreciation of the problem in order to give every assistance possible to the police and football authorities in dealing with all aspects of crowd safety. Incidentally, the danger to the public from hooliganism is, with the passage of time, likely to be greater than the danger to the public resulting from disasters such as the one which gave rise to the Bill. It will have a much more profound effect on the financing of and attendances at football matches. It is a matter of great concern. We must, therefore, collate our thinking and do the best we can to bring this nonsense to a speedy end in the interests of the sporting public.
The Minister of State was right in saying that there are some background reports as well as Lord Wheatley's report which we should note. Sir John Lang's committee on crowd behaviour and Sir Norman Chester's committee on the state of football were set up when I had responsibility for these matters as a Minister. I am therefore grateful that the Minister paid tribute to the work which both those committees did.
Sir John Lang, in the middle of his consideration of the matter, was faced with a situation at Newcastle in which, at an all-ticket match, large numbers of supporters travelled from Glasgow to see the match knowing that they had no tickets and could not get in. There were serious incidents at the match and Sir John immediately went to Newcastle to consider the situation. That underlines the fact that there is more danger than many people think of a recurrence of incidents of this sort.
Sir Norman Chester was knighted in the New Year Honours List. I should like to express to him my personal pleasure about that and the congratulations of the Opposition. He has made himself something of a football expert. The House and football owe him a 1092 tremendous debt of gratitude for the two or three years he spent in preparing his report, which was on the whole question of football and the financing of it. He deserves a particular word of appreciation because, unlike many chairmen of major committees of inquiry, when the work of his committee was completed he did not give up and depart for fresh fields. He has maintained a continuing interest in the subject and his advice is available to the House and to the football authorities. It is, therefore, appropriate—I am sure that the Ministers will agree—that we should offer him our congratulations.
Lord Wheatley did a magnificent job. He was asked to do it at short notice. He did it almost single-handed, although he had the excellent support of Mr. Walter Winterbottom's technical committee, to which the Minister has properly paid a tribute, in which I join. Lord Wheatley has got the technical aspect of sports grounds almost right, and I have no quarrel with him about any of his major recommendations, which I hope will have the support of the House.
Basically the Bill deals with the question of soccer grounds but to a lesser extent with rugby union grounds and rugby league grounds. The control of a crowd of 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000 people on an occasion of intense partisan emotionalism, which is what exists on many occasions, is a matter of major concern to the police and clubs and calls for the exercise of the greatest possible skill. For example, the question of crowds swaying behind the goals has time and again given me cause for concern. Perhaps a tribute to the St. John Ambulance and Red Cross authorities would not be out of place here.
The pattern of crowd movements at our great sporting occasions varies enormously. The Ibrox disaster was caused largely because—this is a feature of all our main football matches—a large number of people all wished to leave in two or three minutes as soon as the final whistle was blown. That is the essence of the problem. This involves dividing grounds and relating entrances and exits to specific parts of grounds.
§ Mr. Ashton
Does my hon. Friend agree that the circumstances at Ibrox were even more peculiar than he has 1093 described? A goal was scored in the last minute when people were leaving and an equaliser was scored in the same minute which caused the crowd to start running back into the ground. How often will that kind of thing occur again at a major ground of the size of Ibrox Park during a New Year's Day game in Glasgow?
§ Mr. Howell
It happens more often than my hon. Friend thinks. Goals are scored at the end of games when one does not think they will be scored and spectators are going home.
If the House will forgive a personal recollection, I remember refereeing an Arsenal v. Tottenham match which was a sell-out ; there were more people locked outside than were inside. Referees at the Arsenal ground are always embarrassed by a large clock behind one of the goals from which spectators can tell the time. When, according to the clock, 90 minutes had been played, the score was Arsenal 2, Tottenham 4, but when I decided that 90 minutes had been played the score was Arsenal 4, Tottenham 4. Therefore, anybody who left the ground early missed the most exciting part of the match. Four minutes of extra time was played because of injuries to players and time wastage of one kind or another.
However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) that the disaster at Ibrox happened because one set of supporters had given up the ghost and as they were going out they heard a cheer which suggested that their pessimism was unwarranted and they tried to get back again. Those of us who know Ibrox Park realise that there are steep flights of steps, which are most unsual compared with most other grounds, which add to the difficulty. The only conclusion which one can draw is that the cost of dealing with those two factors—the one which my hon. Friend mentioned and the steep steps—would be very considerable.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
On the occasion of the Arsenal match to which my hon. Friend has referred, he was probably accused by a considerable section of the opposing supporters of being responsible for the two late goals.
§ Mr. Howell
I will not say what my hon. Friends who represented the two 1094 constituencies concerned had to say about my refereeing. One was delighted about it ; the other thought that it might affect his majority. However, when I was refereeing similar comments were made to me by some of my colleagues.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
I should like to place on record that no Scotsman gives up the ghost on New Year's Day, whatever the circumstances. I totally repudiate the hon. Gentleman's remark.
§ Mr. Howell
I am sure we all welcome that spiritual advice from an unusual quarter.
I must press on to other difficulties, not only in football but in other sports, of which the Bill does not take sufficient account. For example, from my researches I find that the largest single sporting crowd assembled on any one occasion in this country is on Derby Day. Most people attend without payment, because they can assemble on the downs in very large numbers. They would be totally outside the scope of the Bill. If I am wrong, I shall be happy to be put right. I think we should explore that point later. The conservators of the downs, or whatever the body is that owns them, cannot be held responsible for the fact that the crowd has assembled there because the assembly is entirely due to the promoters of the Derby as a horse race. The size of the assembly is contributed to by the use of motor cars, for example. I think that we shall have to look into that matter.
I recall going to see the Derby on one occasion when I was the Minister responsible for sport. On arrival I was told than an hon. Member of this House, whom I will not name, was busy organising gipsies to impede the race. The gipsies were being assembled at the top of the hill by Tattenham Corner. I was asked whether I would talk to the hon. Member who was organising the gipsies to cause the disruption. I said that I did not think I should be able to find my hon. Friend in such a crowd. In fact, he was not an hon. Friend. I should refer to him as an hon. Member. I said that no doubt the police would deal with the matter, and they did. Nevertheless, that fact that the threat was there was a matter of interest.
1095 Anoher aspect of increasing danger in sport concerns javelin throwing. I saw a man almost decapitated earlier this year. Javelin throwing is a sport that people would tend to think was not dangerous. Javelin throwers are becoming more proficient ; they are throwing their javelins greater distances. Sometimes when the wind catches a javelin, or if it is thrown a degree or so to one side or another, the danger to officials and runners lapping round in a race at the same time can be considerable. We shall have to look into these matters.
I now turn to the code of practice to which the Minister has referred. I hope that it can be made pertinent to the sports and games at which it is primarily aimed. It is no use having a general code of practice which seeks to cover all the different types of sports. The code of practice must be drawn up so that the circumstances in which it is expected to operate are well understood.
As local authorities have been asked to implement the code of practice, I should like to make one or two observations. I hope that the Government will advise local authorities, if not make it a statutory requirement that might be introduced in Committee, that before taking their decisions they should consult the sports bodies concerned, certainly the governing bodies of sport, and the clubs involved. This is a reasonable requirement for Parliament to impose. We all know that local authorities vary in their standards. Some get on well with football clubs while others do not have such happy relationships. Therefore, the more that we can encourage consultation the better.
Incidentally, I hope that the Secretary of State will consult the governing bodies of sport when he has to deal with appeals. I am not particularly worried that the Government have not accepted the Wheatley recommendation on this point. There are arguments both ways. It is a narrow decision to make. There is advantage, if there are to be appeals in saying to the Secretary of State "We want you to build up sensible case law." There is an overriding advantage in having the Secretary of State do that if it means that Members of Parliament can ask him Questions about it. If appeals are to go to a body outside this House, that right will be taken away from hon. Members. 1096 Football authorities on the receiving end of an adverse appeal decision would want their MPs to do something about it. Therefore, although the argument is finely balanced, and I understand what Lord Wheatley was saying, I think that on the whole the Government are right in this respect.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. I took note of what his hon. Friend said about the weight of opinion among sporting authorities, but that is not my impression. Does he agree that if there were to be a whole flood of appeals it would mean that the processes of consultation and reasonableness had not worked? We must look for a situation in which the number of appeals coming forward is very small. Therefore, it is much better dealt with by a Minister who is subject to Questions in Parliament than by the setting up of an elaborate network of tribunals.
§ Mr. Howell
That is the hope on which we must proceed. If a large number of appeals came forward, Lord Wheatley's argument would be overwhelmingly made out. We would then have to go back to his recommendation, and it would be right to do so. We do not know Lord Wheatley's inner thoughts on this matter and why he said what he did. I do not think he would regard it as of major importance. What he would regard as of major importance would be some appeal machinery from the decisions of local authorities. The main thing is for this matter to be in responsible hands. We should not get particularly worked up about this matter. I think that Lord Wheatley probably got it right, but I should prefer the right to ask Questions in the House than to leave it to an outside body, thereby removing that right from hon. Members.
I turn now to the essential question of cost. It is no accident that the Minister spent less time on this matter than on any other part of the Bill. He made a very good speech, which lasted about 45 minutes, but only two sentences referred to the reason why the Government will not help to pay. No thought has been given to how much safety measures will cost. A few weeks ago I asked the Minister whether the Government, before 1097 introducing the Bill, had made any estimate of the costs that would be involved. I wanted to know whether they had made any calculation of the costs to football, rugby league or rugby union. The reply was that they had not. The Government are imposing considerable additional costs on sport without having made any proper financial estimates. This is not the right way for the Government to proceed. Such estimates ought to have been obtained.
These measures will affect grounds with the capacity to take crowds of over 10,000. Before dealing with the costs to these grounds, I come back to this point: why not grounds with less than 10,000 capacity? I do not accept the Government's argument. They should make a contribution. If there were a Government contribution towards costs, a phasing policy might be sensible and it might be a good idea to start with the big grounds first. If the Government and the footballing authorities are not paying anything, and safety is of paramount importance, the Government's policy is a nonsense.
The biggest single risk for sports authorities is when a small club is drawn against a large club in the third or fourth round of the FA Cup and large numbers of people go to a ground which is incapable of holding them. That highlights the big deficiency in the Government's thinking.
I noted what the Minister said about Clause 9 which provides that local authorities can intervene, even though a ground may have a capacity of less than 10,000. May we have an assurance that no local authority will use this power to intervene and close a ground or take other action immediately after it has heard the result of the draw for the cup and thinks to itself "My goodness. Here we have a non-league club, but Tottenham Hotspur"—or it may be Derby County or some other big club—"is coming and we had better activate ourselves and take action under Clause 9". If it were to take such action a serious situation could arise. I hope, therefore, that the Minister can give us the assurance for which I have asked.
§ Mr. Carlisle
As I understand it, if such a situation arises the club concerned consults the police and various 1098 other bodies concerned with safety. It is in those circumstances that, if consultation fails to produce an arrangement which the local authority considers will provide the necessary safety, it can, as a last resort, make an application to the court. It is to meet the possible difficulties of a small club that Clause 9 is in the Bill rather than designating small clubs and make them hold certificates. I think that the provision is reasonably flexible.
§ Mr. Howell
It is the timetable that worries me, because the interval between the cup draw and the playing of the match is so limited—perhaps two or three weeks—that nothing of a major character could possibly be done to the ground. We shall examine this in Committee, because it must be considered further if we are to make sense of this provision.
The Minister thinks that county authorities should have this power. I agree generally, but I do not think that should apply in metropolitan county areas. In such areas the responsibility ought to rest with the district councils. After all, cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are involved.
§ Mr. Howell
I agree that the police and the fire services are involved, but the surveyors will be employed by district councils and not by metropolitan councils. We must consider this further to see whether there should be a joint responsibility in metropolitan areas.
I return to the cost of these proposals. The Government are behaving irresponsibly in imposing these charges upon football clubs. The amount involved is tremendous, yet the Government are seeking to evade any financial responsibility themselves. Not more than six or eight football clubs are making a profit, and even they are faced with considerable difficulties.
Successive Governments, on the other hand, have had rich financial pickings from sport, particularly from football. I am told that out of £215 million a year involved in pools betting—the figure may be higher—the Government will this year get £72 million. That is an enormous return. Incidentally, the Government's share is paid before the 1099 football authorities get their share. In addition, the Government have imposed further financial restrictions in the form of value added tax. How much VAT is now being paid by football clubs? At present, one-eleventh of all the money taken at gates goes direct to the Government in the form of VAT.
§ Mr. Howell
The fact that a Treasury Minister says one thing and the Minister says another is in line with recent practice. On Wednesday the Minister for Energy said that we should clean our teeth in the dark, yet on Thursday the Prime Minister said that things were better. The reason for the confusion is, of course, that the Department of Energy works on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays while the Prime Minister's office works on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The Government ought to put back into sport the money they take out of it. I understand the Government's case. They say that they cannot exempt sport from VAT because of what their partners in Europe are doing. The Government did not want the money, but they had to introduce a coherent scheme and strategy for VAT to keep up with their European partners. The idea might be stomached if the Government were prepared to put the money back to help sport.
In addition to VAT, sport has to pay corporation tax. I am told by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, of which I am chairman, that difficulties are likely to arise because of the money involved. Further, there is now the ban on floodlighting, which has hit sport so hard.
The Bill, with its tremendous financial impositions, is being introduced at a time of a totally unnecessary floodlighting ban. The ban has been imposed only, as has been made clear by Ministers, for reasons of public psychology, whatever 1100 that may mean. The Government's argument is that people do not want to see floodlights blazing away and 30,000 spectators enjoying themselves at a football match. The Government would much prefer them to visit strip clubs and casinos which can continue to use electricity but which make a much smaller contribution to national morale. We are, of course, grateful for the small concession that has been made about the use of generators—no doubt this was the result of the Minister using his influence—but we still think that there is no case for the ban on floodlighting.
The costs which will flow from implementation of the Bill are being imposed upon the football authorities and clubs in addition to the tremendous financial burdens which the Government have decided that sport should carry.
§ Mr. Money
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consider one other matter in connection with football clubs. On 1st January, it being a public holiday, clubs were allowed to use their floodlights, but Ipswich Football Club found that it was charged double because, in the terms of the emergency, that was a working day.
§ Mr. Howell
I should not be in the least surprised to hear of further idiosyncrasies which the hon. Gentleman could bring to the attention of the House as a result of the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Howell
I do not think that the sins of the Government should be shuffled off on to the Eastern Electricity Board. I say that in defence of the board even though I have never met it.
How much will all this cost a football club? I have it on reliable authority that a survey of one reasonably well-known football league club produced a figure exceeding £500,000 as being necessary for it to meet the standards of the report. The Minister is looking a little agitated, but I am sure he will have that figure confirmed if he contacts the football authorities.
Most of our football grounds were bequeathed to us at the time of the Industrial Revolution.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Member has raised a point of some importance. I will inquire at once as to which club he has in mind, unless he is prepared now to name it. But it is a most extraordinary admission on the part of that club that its safety precautions for the public are at present so far below what is a reasonable standard of safety that £500,000 should be required in order to put the public back into a situation of safety. That is an extraordinary admission for any club to make.
§ Mr. Ashton
Is my hon. Friend aware that I have a report here for Sheffield United football club, from an authorised firm of surveyors which indicates that an estimated £510,000 would be necessary to carry out works of this nature?
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's supporting evidence. I am not able to give the name of the club I had in mind, because since I got the information I have not been able to contact the club and it would, therefore, be wrong for me to identify it. I can, however, assure the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that the club I have in mind has in no way admitted that its arrangements are so far below standard that the cost of improvement would be of the order I have suggested. It is a case in which independent surveyors were asked to give a report. The sum which I disclosed was the estimate of a surveyor to whom I have spoken who based his report upon the standards laid down—as we would want him to do—in the Bill.
However, I am interested in the Under-Secretary's intervention. What he has now said is that the Bill was based upon a presumption that no club would have to pay £500,000 to put a ground in order. In view of the information I have given the House and the further evidence of my hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law, if the cost of implementing safety work is of the order I am suggesting will the Government urgently re-examine the question of providing finance?
The Government were asked to do that by the Chester Committee in 1969–70 when it recommended the establishment of a betting levy board which the Government, I regret, turned down. It cannot be right for this House to allow 1102 horse-racing to have a betting levy board and not allow football to have one. The case is on all fours. Horseracing, and the Government, get money out of horse race betting ; the Government get even more money out of football betting. There can be no case for such disparity of treatment between one sport and another, even if all the members of the Jockey Club are paid-up members of the Conservative Party.
This is a subject to which we must return. If the Government will not plough back into football money which it receives from betting, they must surely look at the laws of copyright or establish a betting levy board for football in the same way as they have done for horse racing.
Let us consider what we are asking football clubs to do. They have to go in for penning, dividing up grounds, creating new entrances and providing wholesale seating as distinct from terracing facilities in order to attract families to the game. But the Bill does not mention the necessity of such facilities as toilet and refreshment arrangements, which at many grounds, including some of the most important, leave much to be desired. They should probably be considered at this time. In addition to the impositions which I have mentioned all this activity has to be undertaken in the middle of a tremendous credit squeeze.
Football chairmen tell me that their bank managers are breathing down their necks, that they are in great financial difficulty and that they are being asked to do something about their overdrafts. Only last month Fulham FC had to sell its two best players to placate its bank manager because of the great difficulties the club faced. That is what it came to. Therefore this is a serious matter, because the Government's failure to provide financial assistance to football might mean that we have either no safety or no football at many grounds.
We can speak from our own experience, and I hope my hon. Friends will quote theirs. In Birmingham we have three clubs, Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Bromwich Albion. One thing they have in common is that they have spent money on ground improvements and new stands and they are trying to do their best for the public. Each 1103 of them has an overdraft and each is trying to provide first-class sporting facilities for the public in Birmingham and the Black Country. But they cannot see how they can accept more financial burdens without undermining their prime purpose—the provision of public entertainment.
The Minister keeps saying that this has nothing to do with the Government and that if a club attracts a crowd the safety of the public is a matter of concern for the club. We are told that Governments have never subsidised operations of this kind. I do not believe that, because the Government are subsidising people all the time, if they feel it right to do so, in industry. With their taxation policy they are already treating sport as an industry.
Housing improvement grants go to many landlords who have tenants living in unsafe, insanitary conditions and who need to be encouraged to put their houses right. Therefore landlords are offered, I think, 50 per cent. improvement grants, which we all support. But if one can make 50 per cent. grants for the purpose of restoring safety and health in the home, it seems to me that the precedent is created for offering money to football to deal with matters of similar importance, covering even larger numbers of people—the general public.
I conclude by saying what the Opposition want to see. We welcome the Bill and want to see it on the statute book. We welcome the Government's proposals for licensing. First, we desire to see a code of practice geared to the sport for which it is intended which would clearly state the peculiar circumstances of that sport. Second, we want the governing bodies of sport fully consulted about a code of practice. Third, we want local authorities required to consult clubs and governing bodies. Fourth—this is our most important request—we want no financial obligations to be imposed upon football without the Government giving some financial support to clubs. The Government should do so if necessary through the Sports Council. We would certainly support this.
Fifth, we want all sports buildings to qualify for industrial buildings allowances. We believe that from the tax point of view they should qualify for concessions. 1104 Finally, the appeals procedure which the Secretary of State is to conduct should contain sensible case law which may be used as guidance for the remainder of sport. We shall therefore seek in Committee to approach the Bill in a constructive frame of mind on the technical matters which I have raised. We hope to have a response from the Government which is equally constructive in respect of the financial burdens about which sport is today so fearful.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
The House has heard two first-class speeches from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and from the Opposition Front Bench. I should like to take up a few of the points that were raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell). I wholeheartedly supported the Football Betting Levy Board Bill when it was introduced by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). My recollection, however, from having sat in the Chamber on a number of Friday afternoons, is that that Bill fell into casualty not through anything done by the Government Front Bench but through the actions of the hon. Member for West Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who at that time had some resentment against the House. I remember his objecting to that Bill on a number of occasions.
As the hon. Member for Small Heath has just said, the Clause 6 point, on exactly how the question of appeal is to be dealt with, in itself is not very important, but I am a little puzzled by what the hon. Member said about establishing a body of case law. I should have thought that it applies as much in this respect as it does to liquor licensing, and that every case is sui generis to the ground concerned and its special circumstances. It is almost impossible to get a precedent which would apply, for instance, in the case of Portman Road which would also apply to Stamford Bridge or some other ground with a completely different crowd. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I should have thought that it would be more worth while for the Government not to establish one more quasi-judicial tribunal, which is "not on", but to examine the idea of having a permanent body, 1105 rather on the lines of that which the Secretary of State for the Environment has just appointed to advise him about theatres, which could be consulted whenever necessary. The Minister could have a representative body from sport which could advise him on the question of appeal which would give encouragement to the sport, and the matter would be dealt with not by civil servants. I say that with no disrespect to the civil servants. But it is, I agree, important to keep the principle to the House, so that right hon. and hon. Members can raise this sort of point, rather than having it dealt with by a quasi-judicial body which is not accountable to the House.
Another thing which I found a little puzzling in the speech of the hon. Member for Small Heath was that he said that about £500,000—the figure was also quoted by the hon. Member for Basset-law—was needed to bring the grounds of certain leading teams up to standard. If that figure is right, I find that fact very frightening. It is immensely frightening that any club needing £500,000 to be spent on its ground merely in order to bring it up to a normal safety standard has been allowing the public into its ground.
§ Mr. Ashton
I shall try to deal with that point in detail later, but the provision deals with the speed at which the ground has to be emptied. It lays down a time of two and a half minutes for a wooden stand. That would make such a wooden stand, which may be in good condition, obsolete.
§ Mr. Money
When the time comes no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to go into detail on the figures that he has, which other hon. Members have not seen.
I was a little puzzled when the hon. Member for Small Heath, after dealing with the figure of £500,000 for the club which he mentioned, said that a great deal of public money needed to be spent on refreshment rooms and toilets. I do not quarrel with that, but we are dealing today with the safety of sports stadiums. I want in principle every penny that we can grind out of the Government for the game at any stage. But, having said that, in common sense it is not logical to include that kind of ground improvement. 1106 which is very desirable in many ways, in a Bill dealing with the safety of sports grounds. When figures are being quoted, that is when it will be difficult to estalish what is purely a question of bringing a ground up to the Winterbottom recommendations, the recommendations that were part of the appendix to the Wheatley Report, and the many things which are simply very desirable adjuncts for the game and for the pleasure and general enjoyment of spectators. In Committee when we deal with the question of figures it will be important that a division should be kept between what is essential for safety and what is desirable for the enjoyment of the public.
I fully accept a remark which fell from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State when he said that the trouble so often seems to lie in the open terraces. While the Opposition spokesman is still with us, may I say that very often the discipline on the terraces to which he has referred depends on the quality of the refereeing which is taking place on the ground. Having watched the hon. Gentleman with pleasure, I find that he has always been a very fair referee concerning Ipswich Town. A good deal of the crowd movement and discipline about which he spoke stems from having the quality of refereeing which he represented. I hope that the Football League will examine a matter which is vitally important, and which is not a matter directed to the Government ; that is, whether our referees are being given enough encouragement and whether they are being paid enough for their services, to maintain the very high standard which we have had in the past.
I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's point that the category of game which is not covered by the Bill is the cup draw, when one suddenly gets a home game for a small team with one of the big First Division teams. One is aware of extraordinary situations, such as a club with the pulling power of Aston Villa remaining in the Second Division. I respect what the hon. Member for Small Heath said. I hope that one thing which the three Birmingham teams will not have in common at the end of the season is that they will not all be in the Second Division.
§ Mr. Money
The position of the game is fluid the whole time. One has only to look at the recent successes of teams such as Hereford or Cambridge United to see how the luck is not always on the side of the big battalions but is occasionally on the side of small teams with good managers and enthusiastic players. Some clearer scheme will have to emerge.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
May I give my hon. Friend a complete assurance on this matter? This is what I would describe as a situation which arises once in a blue moon ; that is, when a small club, through the draw or through its success, attracts a Tottenham or a Leeds to a small ground, and therefore, there will be an exceptionally large congregation of people trying to get into it. What has happened and will continue to happen is that in cases of that sort the football authorities and the club in question consult the police and the local authority and on the day some sensible arrangement for the management of the occasion is made. This has been done at Hereford, Aldershot and many other places. It will continue to be done, and provisions exist for that.
§ Mr. Money
I am grateful for that assurance. I hope that the same kind of assurance can be given over the next few months, before the scheme comes into operation, that special consultations will take place with the local authorities and the police where particular situations arise with regard to local derbys, as they are called in East Anglia, or on the question of visits of foreign teams. In regard to the EUFA Cup, amends have now been offered by the directors of that club regarding the deplorable incidents in the Italian crowd when Ipswich Town went to play at Lazio. One lives in some anticipation of what will happen in the summer, when the Italians come, as a matter of apology, to play a friendly match at Portman Road. I hope that that type of situation will be taken into account.
I turn to something which I found very disappointing in an obiter of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. That was the matter which was raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) concerning the cost of policing. It seems to me that it is very 1108 unfortunate that when an attempt is made to introduce an equitable system into the clubs to ensure architectural safety there should still be substantial gaps in the amounts due to different police forces for their services in different parts of the country and that the cost to one club, because of the contract which has been negotiated with the chief constable, may be much greater than it is to another club in a different area.
I was not very happy about the answer given by the Minister of State—he is not here at the moment but, no doubt, my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport will refer the matter to him—that this matter could be discussed at local level, because all that that merely means is that clubs must try to negotiate with the chief constables as good a contract as they can get. This is part of the difficulty, because the contracts have been so widely diverse in different parts of the country. Of course, the Home Office has indirect influence with the chief constables, and I hope that it can use its influence with the Chief Constables Association so that one club in one part of the country does not have to pay much more money than is paid by a club in another part of the country for the services of police officers, special constables and so forth.
I was a little alarmed by something which came in a further remark from the Minister of State when, dealing with Clause 14, he said that it was intended to provide an extension to cover such sports as speedways. So far we have heard little about speedway in this connection. I declare an interest straightaway. Ipswich has one of the most successful speedway clubs in the country. It is a first division club, and it has done very well. This sport does not have the same opportunities of getting money from a subvention on betting or other sources which association football and to some extent rugby league and rugby union do. It is a sport where high gates can be expected at international meetings, although these are sometimes held at fairly short notice. The happiest relations fortunately seem to exist between the Ipswich Witches Club, the local authority and the police. Nevertheless one can imagine circumstancs in which a gate of over 10,000 could be expected at a speedway ground and where 1109 the burdens placed on that club to meet the high gates at a particular international meeting could be very substantial and could reduce by a great deal the profit at that meeting and possibly for the season as a whole. I hope that special and sympathetic consideration will be given to that matter.
I should like to follow a remark which came from the hon. Member for Small Heath because it seems to me to go very close to the heart of the matter. I refer to the question of tax relief for football league clubs. Over the last four years since I have been in the House, there have been at least two early day motions signed by a substantial number of Members urging the Chancellor to end what I know the Treasury can argue strongly is a case for which there is good precedent but what on any commonsense showing is a pure anomaly—namely, the situation in which a club can buy a player before paying tax and has to do improvements to its grounds out of the taxed income.
This seems to me to be fundamental, and a great deal of the doubts which are now being expressed by the clubs could be resolved in this way. It seems to me that the arguments which are put up by the Treasury every time the subject is raised, that it is frightened of creating a precedent or of driving a wedge into what has so far been a unique situation in the matter of agricultural and industrial exemption, do not apply. As has already been said in this debate, if on the one hand the Government treat sport as a business and expect to get VAT and other things from it, they cannot on the other hand argue that it should be treated on a totally different footing.
The other matter which worries me about our general thinking on this subject is the different approach which has built up over the years to public subsidy for the arts and for sport. In both these spheres of activity, in which I am vitally interested, the approval has differed. So far as the arts are concerned, until the fairly recent establishment of the Regional Arts Council, the bulk of public money went to large commercial companies—to Covent Garden, to the National Theatre, to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and to Sadlers Wells. The bulk of the public spending went there to keep 1110 those institutions alive and to provide the public with such amenities.
On the other hand, in the case of the Sports Council the money has gone to amateur rather than to commercial enterprises, and there has been a slightly shocked reaction to the effect that it is not the place of the Sports Council to spend money on what are continually referred to, and have been referred to during the debate, as commercial enterprises and that they ought to be able to look after themselves. We know that commercial enterprises of the type which comprise something like half the first division, the whole of the second, third and fourth divisions and most of the Scottish first and second divisions are commercial enterprises which cannot run on their profits. They exist on what they can get by way of money culled in other directions, usually large overdrafts, having to buy players out of income on which income tax has not been paid, on hire purchase, or by turning to all sorts of other ways to raise money.
That being so, I hope that the point has been reached where a great deal of the expenditure which has been made on the amateur side of sport can be coupled with helping the football clubs—for example, by improving some facilities in large clubs, the space under new stands when they are erected being turned into squash courts on which a Sports Council grant would be available, the use of money from the Sports Council for dual-purpose gymnasiums which could be available both to the club and to the public at certain times.
There is great scope here. If the Government are not prepared to go the whole way and put money through the Sports Council or make a direct subvention—and I can understand that in an emergency it would be difficult to do this at this stage—they could make possible some of the improvements that the clubs need, through money being made available in this way, or alternatively they could help the clubs so that if they have to spend more money on safety, some of the improvements which are required in the shape of better gymnasiums and training centres could be shared with the public through the help of the Sports Council. I hope that the sort of division which 1111 we have got, with money spent on commercial enterprises for the arts and money spent on amateur facilities for sport, can be rationalised, and that this can be considered during the course of our discussion on the Bill.
Having said that, I think the whole House accepts, against a long series of, fortunately not very frequent, tragic accidents, of which the worst were Ibrox and Bolton, that something needs to be done. As the Minister of State said, this is a matter which has been left for far too long ; but, at the same time, I hope that every effort will be made by establishing a Football Betting Levy Board and encouraging other existing authorities to make sure that what is done does not penalise the game, so that the public will be the long-term beneficiaries.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
I welcome the Minister's admission that the Bill is 50 years too late. In fact, it is legislation seeking to close the stable door after a considerable number of horses have got away. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, however, that the Bill was intended to bring a reasonable degree of safety to sports grounds. In the past 10 years 300 million people have attended professional football matches and there has been one—admittedly serious and much to be regretted—fatal case. To speak of a reasonable degree of safety is wrong. We already have a very reasonable degree of safety in our sports grounds.
Basically, there is no Member of this House or the other place who does not welcome any legislation which gives greater safety to everyone. But some of the guidelines in the Guide to Safety—some of which would cause the Sheffield club to spend £500,000 simply because people cannot run fast enough after a game—are wrong and are an imposition on a sport which at the moment is going to the wall—rather like the Government.
My objection to the Bill and its proposals as drafted is that everything which could be done appears to be structural. All the requirements seem to be for work to be carried out by builders and contractors. There are other solutions. One solution, as my hon. Friend—if I may use the term socially rather than politically—the Member for Birmingham, 1112 Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) will, I am sure, agree, lies in better refereeing. Obviously, much of the trouble in football comes when there is confrontation between sets of fans or conflict between supporters and decisions made on the field.
In football there are, I think, three points in time when accidents may occur: at the beginning of a match, when a goal is scored, and when the game is over.
§ Mr. Freud
I acknowledge that addition from the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), who does not appreciate that Birmingham is in the First Division.
On the Continent there is a rather good system which pretty well stops panic at the beginning and at the end of a game. I suggest that the Minister responsible for sport would be wise to take notice of this. The system is that, before the game starts at a big match, the junior sides play, so that there is an incentive to go to a game for as much as an hour and a half before the kick-off ; and then, immediately after the game is over, the reserve sides play, so that there is no necessity for people to race out of the ground when the game is finished.
If we are looking for inexpensive means of providing greater safety both before and after a game. I contend that those would be sensible moves to make. Perhaps one could add that, in view of the dearth of goals scored in football at present, we have managed to cut down the hazard of goal scoring.
At the very end of the Bill there is the happy disclaimer thatNothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds".Of the 92 league clubs, 23 are already owned by local authorities. They will be in a difficult position, because the local authority will have to go to the local authority and ask itself to give itself a certificate. I see the Minister shake his head, and I await a little more than that.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman is not quite right there. If I recall correctly, of the 22 local authorities—that is the figure, I think—which own football clubs, almost all are district 1113 authorities. The licensing authorities are the counties, which is quite different.
§ Mr. Freud
I am grateful for that. But they are still owned by authorities rather than by private persons. It seems to me that for the Government to impose considerable expenditure on all clubs, whoever owns them, is not only a mistake at this time but is to miss a rare opportunity for radical thinking, and for doing what the hon. Member for Ipswich suggested ; that is, increasing the safety of sports grounds while at the same time giving them amenities which will make them assets to the local population, not just for one and a half hours a week and the occasional mid-week match. The Government could have used this occation to make an inspired move to bring football stadia to the sort of position which Coventry attempted during Mr. Hill's reign and since, that is, as a family centre. It would be splendid if that opportunity were taken.
Several small points in the Bill worry me. Clause 5(7) provides:The holder of a safety certificate may surrender it to the local authority and it shall thereupon cease to have effect".I regard this as a dangerous provision because it virtually means that if the holder of a safety certificate does not agree with a match going on, or if he decides to fall out with the people whom he represents, he can effectively stop a stadium from being licensed.
I am concerned also about Clause 10. It is hard to reconcile the Government's expressed concern for safety and possible loss of life with the provision in subsection (5) that anyone whoknowingly or recklessly makes a false statement or knowingly or recklessly produces, furnishes, signs or otherwise makes use of a document containing a false statement"—that false statement, after all, being a lie endangering people's safety—shall be guilty of an offence and liable … to a fine not exceeding £400".I consider that to be a totally inadequate fine for a very serious offence.
In particular, I want the Government to think again on the question of expense. Football is in a bad way. The Government have received a great deal of money from football. There is not only the £72 million which comes from taxing the football pools. In the "Guinness Book of 1114 Records" one reads that the richest man in this country is the Chairman of Vernons Pools, who is worth £600 million, got out of football, and not only out of honourable football such as we have in this country in decently controlled stadia but from Australian football, which is a virtually non-existent sport.
In bringing in the Bill and in asking clubs to pay rather than for the Government to contribute to the payment, the Government are killing the pen that houses the goose that lays the golden egg. They will be most embarrassed by the substantial absence of golden eggs when the football league clubs go to the wall, as inevitably they will if the Bill is fully implemented.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I shall not pursue the points raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) because I want to deal with a different aspect of the matter, namely Wembley Stadium. I have represented Wembley Stadium in this House for 24 years. It is not a football club but a national organisation dealing with football and other sports and which has to be responsible for the safety of those who use the stadium. It is the largest covered stadium in the country and it holds 100,000 spectators. There are two larger stadia but they are not entirely covered—Oldham and Hampden Park. The attendance figure at Wembley consists of 56,000 standing and 44,000 seated.
I understand that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) is a little worried about the crowds leaving the stadium. He has kindly sent me copies of the correspondence he has had with the GLC and the stadium about the problem. I believe that the GLC estimates that 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. of spectators arrive and leave by train from Wembley Park Station. My view, which is supported by stadium officials, is that not all these people necessarily use Wembley Park station. That percentage may be a slight overestimate of the number who travel that way.
The stadium has plans for building a walkway from the stadium into the station but we should not forget that there are three other stations which can be used to get people away from the stadium. There is Wembley Central, 1115 which is on a different branch of the Bakerloo line and which is almost within reasonable distance of the stadium. A number of spectators will use that station without having to use the walkway. They will make their way out across the car park and emerge at a different spot on Wembley Hill Road. There is also North Wembley station on the same line, which is reached again without having to use the walkway, and there is Sudbury Town station on the Piccadilly line.
At the present moment there is a subway leading from Olympic Way under Bridge Road directly into Wembley Park station. The police now control entry into the subway at the Olympic Way end and if it gets too jammed or if there are too many people on the station they stop people using the subway. In the same way they will control entry into the walkway at the stadium end to prevent it from getting too congested. The stadium authorities have had great experience in controlling crowds. Two hundred police inside and outside the stadium control the crowds, the road traffic and pedestrians most efficiently. The part played by the police in controlling the crowds tends to be glossed over.
Wembley's long experience of crowd control dates from the famous Cup Final, mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, when in 1923 Wembley had, touch wood, its only mishap. Two hundred thousand spectators managed to get into the stadium instead of the limit of 100,000 to watch Bolton Wanderers play West Ham. They swarmed over the ground and delayed the start. That was the famous instance when a mounted policeman on a white horse, assisted by other police, managed to get the ground clear and the match started. That incident resulted in the first Departmental committee which was set up to consider crowd control. That committee observed how Wembley was unique in one respect. Wembley crowds are mainly strangers who come from all over the country and they are in special need of direction and control. Crowds using their local football club will, of course, know the club ground and everything about it. That incident took place before the British Empire Exhibition of 1116 1924 and 1925 which brought in crowds from different areas.
Not only football—both soccer and rugby league—is played at Wembley but there is greyhound racing and at one time there was speedway. It has been the venue for the Royal International Horse Show which is now held next door at the Empire Pool. The Olympic Games were held there in 1948 and there have been other sports as well. Over this long period Sir Arthur Elvin was the chairman and I expect that most hon. Members knew him well. Now the chairman is Sir John Spencer Wills, and the son of a former Member of this House, Mr. James Harvie-Watt, is the managing director.
As for the anxieties which have been properly expressed by the hon. Member for Acton, Mr. James Harvie-Watt has given an assurance that he will send copies of the correspondence initiated by the hon. Member to his architect and to other technical members of the staff for detailed examination. Wembley's record shows that there is no danger of its losing sight of any risk of accident or of ways of dealing with such a risk. As Mr. Harvie-Watt says in a letter to the hon. Member:I need hardly assure you, of course, that we at Wembley Stadium are fully conscious of the need for a very high standard of safety at the Stadium. Because of this I have passed a copy of your letter on to our professional advisers for their comments.I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member's worries will be taken care of.
Many hon. Members and their wives have been guests of the stadium at football matches over the years. I am proud to have represented it in this House and have enjoyed not only football but other sports and the generous hospitality which has been extended by the stadium to hon. Members by way of a delicious lunch before the match or a supper afterwards if it is an evening event. After the match we have been given a tea to enable us to avoid the crowds which cause the hon. Member so much worry. Therefore, I have had no personal experience of these crowds.
The experience of the organisation over the years will be of great benefit not only in dealing with its own worries but possibly in giving advice to less fortunate grounds. Its use of 200 police is also 1117 a great asset which is inclined to be overlooked. Police and crowd control methods can deal, and have dealt, with crowds of 100,000 at many Cup Finals, international matches and various other matches over the years, luckily with only one mishap, in the first Cup Final.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Bradley (Leicester, North-East)
I declare a personal interest in the Bill in that I am a director of a non-league football club, Kettering Town, the Southern League champions, which has spent £250,000 on ground improvements and facilities over the past two years and which hopes very much to be admitted to the Football League this year.
The debate is centred largely on football finance. Kettering Town is in a much stronger financial position than most third and fourth division clubs. That is due to our commercial activities off the field. Its strong financial position is the exception rather than the rule in the game at present. The Minister of State was proud of the fact that the Government had introduced flexibility into the Bill. He could have been prouder, and the Bill would have been more acceptable, if he had also announced that they would put finance into the Bill. It is well known that many Football League clubs face a financial crisis as desperate to them as the country's balance of payments is to the nation.
No one can have any objection to the principle of the Bill, which is to secure a greater degree of safety for members of the public admitted to sports stadia. The disasters at Bolton and Ibrox Park have been recalled several times during the debate to remind us of what can happen. Perhaps considering that over 28 million people on average have attended league matches in each of the past 10 years, we can agree that it is remarkable that there have not been more casualties.
It is the Government's decision that the money for ground improvements should come from the clubs themselves which is causing all the apprehension in football circles. It is wrong to imagine that there is a lot of money in football. Very few clubs make a profit—probably no more than 10 first-class clubs throughout the country. All kinds of schemes have to be devised to raise money out- 1118 side the turnstiles, and directors, in addition to giving guarantees for overdrafts, frequently have to dip into their own pockets to keep their clubs alive.
Football has acquired its inflationary look as a result of all the publicity surrounding big transfer deals, which can nowadays reach £500,000. That creates a completely erroneous impression. In a football club there is no such thing as stock-in-trade. When a club sells a player it creates an immediate profit on which it could pay tax if it did not buy another player for about the same amount. In that way the money remains in the game, which is sensible. A footballer is much to be preferred to an Inland Revenue demand note. That is the basic cause of high fees being paid. It is important to realise the true financial state of clubs and to realise that the high transfer fees are not brought about by affluence. No clubs are rich today, not even the best first division sides.
On top of all the problems that have beset our national game in recent years—not to mention the current energy crisis, with its effect of bringing about early kick-offs—value added tax has been an outrageous imposition. There has already been a quarrel during this debate about how much money the Government raise through the tax. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) believes it to be £4 million. The Minister who is responsible for sport disputed that. Perhaps he will enlighten us a little later as to what he thinks is the correct figure. Whatever the figure, it is bound to be substantial.
My constituency club, Leicester City, which I am pleased to say is having a successful season, has to pay about £25,000 a year in VAT, and for many clubs this comes at a time when incomes are at their lowest level.
In putting forward the Bill the Government should consider the plight of some of the poorer clubs in the fourth division, struggling to survive on gates of fewer than 3,000 people a week—or a fortnight, if we take into the calculation away games. Any club whose average attendance over the past two years was less than the 10,000 figure stipulated in the Bill—that would include some second division clubs—should have a longer period in which to carry out the regulations.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to create a misleading impression. That is certainly not his wont in the House. But those clubs with attendances of less than 10,000 to which he refers will not be brought in at all unless my right hon. and learned Friend should so decide, and there is no evidence that he will decide for a considerable time, if at all.
§ Mr. Bradley
I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I am sorry if I did not explain the matter well enough. I am not talking about the capacity of grounds. I said that any clubs whose average attendance in the past two years was less than the 10,000 stipulated capacity should have a longer period in which to carry out the regulations, the point being that their attendance figures on immediate past experience are such that they are not likely to be in breach of the Bill's safety requirements and to be involving risks for the public.
I have mentioned the money that the Government get from the game by way of VAT. It does not end there. Millions of pounds are raised—I believe that the figure is £72 million this year—by a betting tax on the pools. Yet not a penny piece is paid back into the game by the Government. With pools turnover increasing all the time, and with it the tax, it is reasonable to ask for Government help to meet the safety regulations. Why is it right to help horse racing but not football? Why can the Government make a contribution of £20 million a year to the arts—I do not decry that but applaud it—and yet shrink from giving some sustenance to the national game?
There is nothing wrong with the suggested safety regulations. Clubs would like to co-operate, but it is impossible for many of them to finance the expenditure without some form of grant. I suggest to the Minister that the grant could be calculated on so much per spectator—for example, £1 a head. If a small club with a capacity of 10,000 carried out the safety regulations, it would on that basis receive a grant of £10,000 and Manchester United would attract a £60,000 grant. That is one way in which a share of the money which the sport provides for the Government could be rechannelled to benefit our premier game.
1120 There has been some discussion about standards, to which we shall want to return in Committee. No detailed safety requirements have been laid down, Apparently local authorities are to be guided by a non-statutory code of practice. That will result in variations of standards between different local authorities. There should be uniformity.
The game is now going through one of its most difficult periods. It is essential that it should be preserved. I hope that all the financial problems which I have outlined, and which are now becoming well known to the House, will carry through to the Government and that in Committee and in remaining stages we shall find them to be much more helpful and forthcoming to those of us who are involved in promoting association football.
§ 1.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I go part of the way at least with the hon. Member for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley), who might also be said to represent Kettering Town, in his request for greater assistance to be given to football clubs. I am not sure that football need be quite so poor as it is now. I go along entirely with the request which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) that there should be a change in the tax rules regarding the provisions which are made for improvement. The Government should take such could be taken quickly by the Government. The Government should take such action so as to help the football clubs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) referred to the hospitality which he had received from a stadium and the comfort in which he has watched various football games. I fear that my own experience in watching football is rather less comfortable. Last time I went to a football game was to watch the Chelsea-Leeds match. Through circumstances entirely within my control, I arrived late, after every stand seat had been sold. I tried to find a place on the terraces. After some 10 minutes of pushing and shoving I found a small alleyway from which I could see about 40 square yards of the pitch by hanging on to a railing and balancing on a brick. 1121 Not unnaturally, I decided to leave the ground after a short time.
On leaving the ground I was fortunate, like the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), in that I went through the wrong door and found myself behind a stand. From that position I had a good view of the ground whilst surrounded by a large posse of Metropolitan police. After watching three-quarters of the game I decided that I had better chance my luck no further. I left the ground at the same time as an unruly spectator, covered with blood, was being ejected. That happened at Stamford Bridge, a stadium on which millions of pounds are being spent so as to improve spectator facilities.
Throughout the country there are hundreds of grounds where spectator facilities are completely inadequate. During the past few years I have had the opportunity to watch many games of various sports in Britain and, on occasions, in America. I know that the Minister knows America well, and I am sure that he will agree that the American experience is of considerable importance. On the whole, American society is more violent than British society. On the whole, American sport is more violent than our's. I suppose that American football is the closest approximation to medieval warfare that can be found in the realm of sport. One would therefore expect the problems of crowd safety and crowd violence to be very much worse in the United States than in Britain. However, that is far from being the case. In America there is no problem of crowd violence or crowd safety except, alas, for the occasional racial clash after certain matches. Violence, as we know it, in American stadiums is virtually unknown.
The reason is simple. It is not that they have a legal code, Government intervention or safety regulations in their stadia but that every American spectator has a seat. No American would consider watching a football match, a baseball match or a basketball match unless he had a seat. It is a fact that a seated American in a sporting stadium is a great deal less dangerous than a standing Englishman.
I welcome the provisions of the Bill in so far as they go, but I am sure that the problems of safety and violence will remain with us until standing accommodation 1122 is drastically reduced and the proportion of seating accommodation is increased dramatically. I hope that the football authorities and the richer clubs which can afford the outlay will press ahead with the provision of more seats in the stadia so that a far higher proportion of football spectators can watch in comfort.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
I agree very much with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). Unfortunately, the Bill does not insist on those criteria being fulfilled. There is nothing in the Bill or in the code of safety which provides that there should be a certain proportion of seats and standing loom. That is one of the major anomalies.
I have listened with great interest. Many of the major points have been discussed, but there are still one or two matters which should be mentioned. The Wheatley Report made one major error in that it seemed to give the impression that accidents were caused by the grounds instead of by people. The report, of course, referred to the accident at Ibrox. In addition, much of the trouble to which the hon. Gentleman referred could be prevented by the use of more police officers or, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said, by playing a reserve match after the main game had ended.
Another simple facility which I put to Lord Wheatley, and which is now offered at Wembley Stadium, is to display the full-time football results. Some grounds show results on a scoreboard. At the end of matches many of the spectators stay behind to look at the full-time results on the public scoreboard to see how the various competing teams have fared. This sort of service could be extended at quite reasonable cost rather than football clubs having to go in for some of these massive pieces of expenditure which the Bill would entail.
A survey was carried out on behalf of one of my local football clubs, Sheffield United. That survey, undertaken by an authentic firm, concluded that it would cost £510,000 to adapt Bramall Lane to the standards laid down in the green code, "Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds". Bramall Lane, which has recently built a new stand at a cost 1123 of £600,000, is not particularly derelict or decrepit.
What will be the most expensive item in the Bill, if the code is implemented, is the provision relating to evacuation of a stand within a certain time. Item 8 of the guide to safety says:Evacuation time, which will depend largely on the fire hazard present in the stand, should be eight minutes where a stand is of the non-combustible fire-resisting construction … 2.5 minutes for stands of a lower standard.There are many grounds where the stands are partly modern and partly dating back to the First World War or before. Parts of these stands are made of thick planking. In the case of Sheffield United it would be impossible to evacuate the stand within two and a half minutes, and it would not be practicable to convert that stand. As far as I am aware, there has never been any accident in the stand, and yet it would cost £420,000 to replace it because of the fire risk and the maximum clearance time of two and a half minutes.
Furthermore, money would need to be spent on exits and entrances and reversible turnstiles. The code says that turnstiles should not open one way so as to prevent a crowd who want to get out of a ground in a panic. However, the code does not say anything about people running on to the pitch, which would appear to be the obvious thing to do in an emergency rather than to run out through the turnstiles.
These are some of the things in the code which are beginning to frighten people. The code lays down in millimetres certain standards, and this will mean that a ground's capacity could be reduced by as much as 18,000 people. For example, Spion Kop, the huge mound behind the goal at Liverpool, would be reduced in capacity from 24,000 to 18,000. The capacity of the ground, which at present accommodates 50,000 people, would be reduced to a capacity of 30,000—a reduction of a third. This would happen without any money being spent at all.
I should like to deal with the question of the amount of square footage to be allowed for spectators. The amount laid down in the code is quite ridiculous. Let us take Sheffield Wednesday as an example. That ground is one of the finest in the country, and I suppose it can be said to be in the top three foot- 1124 ball grounds ; there have been 19 semifinals staged there in the past 24 years. There has been excellent organisation at the ground, and the Football Association and everybody else have admired the organisation. Indeed, there has never been a single accident or any trouble at all. However, according to the code, it would cost at least £100,000 to adapt that ground. Two brand-new stands have been built in the ground within the last 10 years, including every safety precaution but, according to the code, the capacity behind the goal at Sheffield Wednesday would have to be reduced by 8,000.
It is all very well to say that the code is only a guide, but what will happen in practice? The chief constable in an area will have no option but to use the code. He cannot afford to ignore it ; he is bound to take notice of its provisions in case an accident should occur. I believe that the code will be enforced.
Let us examine some of the other matters dealt with in the code. It says that about two square yards should be available for a person standing on a terrace. The figures are in millimetres, but I have done my best to convert them into some recognisable form. For example, Hillsborough has always worked on a figure of 1.3 to 1.5 square yards for each standing spectator. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Beckenham said about his having on one occasion to stand on a brick, but I believe that was a special occasion. However, it should be taken into consideration.
It is ridiculous to talk about two square yards per spectator. Let us look at that sort of figure in terms of the measurements of the House of Commons Chamber. Early this morning I obtained some information about the Chamber, and I discovered that it consists of 340 square yards of space and is designed to accommodate 346 Members. That means about one square yard per Member—less than spectators at Hillsborough get for a semi-final. We all know that in this Chamber at times we get very cramped for space and people sit in the gangways. In terms of football the code says that the gangways should be 3 ft. 6 ins. wide. Certainly the gangways in this place are not that wide. Therefore, if this Chamber were a sporting stadium we should have to revise it.
1125 Then we have the Public Gallery—although I appreciate that we are not supposed to refer to what goes on there. However, we all remember that a couple of years ago somebody threw a bomb from the gallery into the Chamber and we had to get out pretty quickly—far faster than anybody might have to leave a football ground. I do not know how long it took to evacuate this Chamber on that occasion, but I am sure that it took a lot longer than two and a half minutes when one looks at the narrowness of these gangways.
In considering this matter in a little depth one soon sees what a lot of nonsense much of the code is. If it had not been drawn up and put into this code one would not have believed it. As I have said, it would certainly cause difficulties were it applied in this Chamber. We all know that at times this place can be as rowdy as a football match. The House of Commons is not classified as a sports stadium, but I suppose it has a fire certificate probably issued by high authority, no doubt the Home Office ; yet this House would not qualify in terms of fire safety under the green code.
I believe that a major error has been made in the Bill in terms of what these provisions will mean to football authorities. Perhaps we shall be able to deal with these matters in more detail in Committee. I hope that the green code will be withdrawn, because if it is ever implemented it will bankrupt football. It will cost around £2 million for first division clubs alone. Where is that money to come from? Many people see the high transfer fees that are paid for footballers and take it for granted that all clubs are rich. But what really happens is that the money goes round in a circle from one club to another. The money does not leave the game ; it is a paper token.
The Minister of State said that football clubs are commercial concerns. Lord Wheatley and his Committee thought it right to let the clubs pay for the safety of their own spectators. But football clubs are not commercial concerns. Their dividends are limited by a Football League ruling to 7½ per cent. Nobody is allowed to control a club and thereby put money into his own pocket. Therefore, a football club is not a normal commercial concern. Perhaps it would 1126 be better for the game of football if it were allowed to be a commercial concern and players handled their own contracts. This might stop some of the inflationary fees.
Value added tax has been mentioned in this debate. In April 1972 I asked the Treasury to give me an estimate of revenue from football in terms of this tax. The reply was £4 million. I do not think it will be £4 million now, because since then attendances have fallen ; the income in the game has tended to fall.
Then there is the question of the massive income from the football pools. Why does not the Home Office bring in a Football Betting Levy Bill? The pools could well afford to pay a levy. Their turnover has soared in the past two or three years. In fact, in times of unemployment and crisis it increases, because more people do the pools in the hope of realising their dream about a golden beach on a desert island. The pools can well afford the cash to pay for the improvements which we are discusing.
Everybody benefits from football. About 10 million people watch "Match of the Day". Half a million people pay to go through the football turnstiles each Saturday, but the number is ever dwindling. The Government cannot go on milking these people. I hope that in Committee the Minister will accept that the green code of conduct should not be used by chief constables. If he does not, he will bankrupt the game.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) has referred to the dilemma of a chief constable, or indeed of the chairman or members of a local authority committee, who will have to take some awkward decisions about the proposed code and the issuing of certificates for which there is provision in Clause 2 of the Bill. I well understand the dilemma which they may face, because I wish to draw attention to a dilemma which faced me as a member of a local government committee concerning a planning application in respect of a well-known stadium which, in my view and in the view of my friends on the committee and throughout the organisation concerned, was a source of danger to the public.
1127 I should not think that Clause 2 as drafted, even if the Bill had been passed and the code had been accepted and put into practice in its entirety, would have affected the situation confronting the public in respect of Wembley Stadium. The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) referred briefly to the Wembley Stadium developments.
The land surrounding Wembley Stadium is not public in the sense that streets and other land around the Houses of Parliament are public. I understand that it is owned by the Wembley Stadium Company and by other property owners. The Wembley Stadium Company, quite properly, has applied to the Greater London Council and has received planning permision for the development of some of these lands. That is not an uncommon proceeding. A comparable situation appertains in respect of other football clubs which similarly have land at their disposal.
I do not blame the Wembley Stadium Company, which is aware of what I propose to say, for what it is doing, which is a widespread phenomenon—the development of land and making it pay better. Not only is Wembley Stadium our premier national stadium but it has peak times. Many people travel by car and particularly by coach to see the big international matches, the Cup Final and so on.
I understand that the development of Wembley Stadium has involved a readjustment of the parking places to make better use of space which is occasionally used for parking purposes only. This means that the area immediately outside the main entrances in the direction of Wembley Park Station is to be reallocated in usage. In order to make more space for parking it is proposed that, to separate pedestrians from vehicles, there will be an overhead walkway from the main entrances going in the direction of Wembley Park Station.
The hon. Member for Wembley, South mentioned that two other stations can be used, but there is not much doubt that between 50,000 and 60,000 people are likely to want to go towards Wembley Park Station at the end of any match at the stadium. Those figures have been given by the GLC. All would be well if the overhead walkway provision was such as not to cause any diminution in 1128 safety. It is my contention, and it has been my contention on the sub-committee of the local authority, which is the GLC, the contention of the main planning committee of that body and the contention of my member friends—I was a co-opted member of the other two committees of the council—that the provision is inadequate for the number of people likely to use the stadium.
The figures which I use have not been disputed by the GLC or by the Wembley Stadium Company. The GLC estimates that Wembley Stadium can be cleared of people in 20 minutes. That is well beyond the time which the Wheatley Report suggested, namely, eight minutes. For the purposes of my calculations, I have doubled the time given in the Wheatley Report to 16 minutes, which is a reasonable and notional figure.
When 50,000 to 60,000 people leave the stadium and move over the existing car park, which is not fully used, it is said—I do not deny this—that they can be moved from Wembley Park station, over a period of about an hour only, by London Transport. This means that at Wembley Park Station, and including the subway where the arrangements are by no means ideal, there is a ponding back of people waiting to go into the station. The effect of the overhead walkway—again this has not been denied by the GLC or by the stadium—will be to transfer the ponding back from the station to the immediate environs of the stadium.
The walkway will be several hundred yards long, raised above the surrounding ground, and 60 feet wide—6 feet less than the length of a cricket pitch and significantly less than the width of this Chamber. It is along this overhead raised footway that the GLC and the stadium company envisage 50,000 to 60,000 people moving towards the station. I do not suggest that they will necessarily leave the stadium in 16 minutes. The period may be much longer, particularly if the suggestions made by hon. Members about alternative activities are adopted. But that is what is notionally possible. The dimensions of the footway are quite inadequate to deal with anything like that number of people, and that has not been denied.
The figures are not in dispute. In paragraph 43.1(a) of its recommendations the 1129 Wheatley Committee states that within eight minutes 200 people should pass through every foot width of passageway. That is the standard which the committee laid down, although I agree that it is for a passageway only 10 feet wide—in other words, a gap in a wall or some other space. The GLC contends that with a passageway 100 yards long it would be able to pass a few more people through. That may be so, but even on those figures the arithmetic does not work out because on these calculations a 60-foot passageway will allow 24,000 people to pass in 16 minutes.
However, as I have shown, the number of people wishing to go in that direction when the stadium is closed is 50,000 to 60,000, leaving about 20,000 or 30,000 people unaccounted for. The figure may not be as high as that. The GLC's figures may be correct and more people may move along the passageway, but no doubt, on the figures I have presented and which have not been contradicted, a considerable number of people in the immediate environs of the stadium will be waiting to go into the constricted walkway over the existing car park. That is a definite hazard.
It is clear that the end of any football game is the time of greatest risk. Paragraph 7 of the Wheatley Report draws attention to this point. If people, having easily left the stadium by no doubt excellent exits in the course of 16 to 20 minutes, are then to be penned in a waiting entrance to the walkway for another 10 or 15 minutes, or whatever it may be—it may be even longer—such a situation will cause difficulty and congestion. In addition, there is the fact that the immediate surround is used by other people going for coaches or to the other stations that have been mentioned. In effect, its real function is that of a milling area for criss-cross movement, but if crowds are waiting to go across the walkway that movement will be restricted.
This matter seems to call for some action by the Government of the day. We have a situation where it is not a question of removing a danger but, for reasons connected with development, the use of land, and the cost of extra overhead walkways—a wider walkway would cost more—of having a hazard deliberately introduced to a stadium which, apart from the opening day, has an enviable 1130 reputation for safety. Yet nothing in the Bill would get rid of the hazards that I have outlined.
The GLC, in its letter to me of 3rd July 1972—it does not contest my figures—said:Considerable congestion at the entrance to the walkway is not anticipated because the effective area for 'milling' will be increased in the proposed layoutWhether it is large enough for the thousands of people who may wish to be milling there I rather question.
I drew this matter to the attention of the Home Office. On 16th May 1973 the Under-Secretary of State wrote to me and said.As concerns the congestion at the entrance to the proposed walkway from the stadium, I cannot add to the information given in the last paragraph of my letter of 30th March. I see no reason to question the judgment of the GLC that the stadium concourse, even without the improvements I mentioned, provides an adequate reservoir area for the purposes of the walkway. You will understand that we have no power, in any case, to intervene.That letter specifically states "an adequate reservoir". The hon. Gentleman has admitted that there must be a space, even if it is not used. Is it right for us to plan outside a major stadium and envisage a reservoir being necessary at all? I submit that it is not.
There is a secondary consideration that I have not mentioned. If large numbers of people after a football match are crossing an overhead walkway and one person falls down, do we know what is likely to happen? I asked the officials of the Greater London Council, on whom the majority of members rested their faith, what studies had been made internationally of such situations. Unlike the present situation outside Wembley where people can walk about in the car park or sit down or where a knot of friends talking together can be easily moved, on an overhead walkway 10 ft. or 20 ft. above the ground if somebody trips, falls down or has a heart attack—that is not unknown at the end of an exciting match—what will happen? The walkway being several hundred yards long, will stretchers be able to be taken to the spot where they are required? Will people crowd on top of each other? Some of us recall the disastrous situation of Bethnal Green during the war. I realise that this is to be a walkway and not stairs, but 1131 with people pushing from behind there might be mishaps irrespective of the one I have outlined.
I should have wished not to make this speech. I had hoped at an earlier stage that this hazard would not be proceeded with and that alternative arrangements would have been made—perhaps two or three walkways or an area of the car park reserved for pedestrians, as it is now. That has not been done. Therefore I find myself, by chance, not only a member of the sub-committee that had to deal with the application and a member of the main committee that had to approve or disapprove it—there was a majority in favour of its approval—but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw said, rather like a chief constable, because if I did not make this speech today and something happened people could come to me and say "You raised this point on the committee and on the council. Why did you not raise it on Second Reading of the Safety of Sports Grounds Bill?".
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
I have taken an interest in sport in the South-West man and boy. Indeed, I was Chairman of the South-West Regional Sports Council for a substantial period and greatly enjoyed my work, which was mainly involved with amateur sport, though not exclusively.
Today we are mainly concerned with the problems of professional sport. I need not remind the House of the tragic disaster in Scotland which was the instigating factor for initially the report and now this legislation. However, we ought not to ignore the fact that we live with a constant fear in the back of our minds that that kind of thing could happen again. The longer that disaster recedes, the easier it is to forget on what delicate ice we all tread.
I have taken a considerable interest in safety matters over a wide range of areas since I have been in the House. There has been a depressing tendency, particularly by the Treasury under successive Governments, to will the end but not to provide the means when it comes to safety matters.
The Bill and the debate rightly focus attention on the central and fundamental 1132 problem, which is the financing of these measures. The Government are in danger of making a tragic mistake because, when safety matters of this kind are being discussed—we are talking about the safety not of individuals but of hundreds and thousands of people—somebody has to pay.
I challenge the Government's acceptance of the phasing and of Lord Wheatley's categories, which I understand are not entirely related to financial provisions, although we shall have to accept a situation where the Government say that we can afford to go only so far in certain areas.
The main problem is that we may be ignoring the fact that some of the gravest dangers will occur in grounds—I refer mainly to soccer—where the normal crowd is easily containable but when a special event occurs, such as a cup game, and a capacity crowd is suddenly drawn to a club which has a long tradition of having wholly manageable crowds, it is suddenly faced with a potentially dangerous situation. Yet such small clubs are probably the least able to bear the burden—a heavy financial burden in some cases—that the Bill will impose upon them.
My love of football stems from days when as a schoolboy I used to stand on the terraces at Home Park watching Plymouth Argyle. When I first came into the House and made my maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who previously gave distinguished service as the hon. Member for Devonport, wrote me a note afterwards which contained only two words, "Up Argyle". His affection for Plymouth Argyle is well known.
Plymouth Argyle is in some sense fortunate. Like so much of the City of Plymouth, its ground was devastated by the ravages of war. In the rebuilding of Home Park it has avoided some of the most obvious safety risks of other football grounds. Even so, I am advised by the club that full implementation of these measures will be extremely costly. If, as I hope, Plymouth Argyle gets promotion, the costs will be substantial. An extremely heavy burden will be placed on the club at a time when it is having to meet the other costs that go with promotion. The central issue is that of finance, and I am unsatisfied that this 1133 financial burden, which is predominately a once-and-for-all cost, should be laid upon the local clubs, and particularly the smaller ones.
One has to challenge the whole assumption behind that part of the Wheatley Report which reveals the Government's underlying policy. The report says in paragraph 60:The Government's general policy as brought to my notice by the Treasury is that in the private sector occupiers of premises should take whatever measures are necessary for the safety of their customers while they are on the premises and should finance such measures themselves.The Bill incorporates that Treasury philosophy, and it is that philosophy which the House should reject.
I think that it would almost be better to reject the Bill than for it to go along on its present basis and give the public a feeling that all is well and that somehow safety provision has been made, because we know that we shall have to come to a more radical solution when, which I am afraid is almost inevitable, we are faced with yet another disaster.
How can we make financial provision so that the safety regulations which everyone accepts are necessary are implemented, and implemented readily? I do not believe that the Government can phase safety. If the Government believe in safety, they must believe that it must be introduced now. I repeat that safety cannot be phased.
The financing of these measures could be by way of an overall Exchequer grant, but I am against that for many reasons. One is that the public would find it difficult to accept because they see tremendous transfer payments being made for individual players. They do not understand that the vast majority of football league clubs do not make a profit, or that many of them have not made a profit for many years.
The financing of national sport should be considered in its overall context. The most attractive option for improving football safety is the establishment of a betting levy board similar to that for horse racing. In contradistinction to what Lord Wigg said in another place, the new board should have the definite job of actively promoting safety in football clubs, and its resources should come from betting on football, and particularly from 1134 the betting pools system. That would be the best way of bringing about what we want.
If the Government refuse to accept that suggestion, another method is direct recompense to football for the money which the Government have taken out by way of VAT. The Government could make a total remittance to football clubs. If they wanted to form a levy board, they could do that.
The Government's objection to such a proposal is that it would lose them revenue. If there were a levy board the Government would eventually receive less revenue, but they must accept that there is a national responsibility for safety. If one considers how much successive Governments have paid out on industrial safety and on safety in the home one realises that they have accepted those as legitimate charges. They have provided the money by grants, incentives and in other ways, but the Bill is enabling the Government to escape their financial liabilities for safety, and in my opinion that is a new principle. How the Government finance safety in this context is something about which we can argue, but the principle of the Government's having opted out is serious.
Once the safety standards of a club have been brought up to the required level the responsibility for their maintenance should rest with the club. I have no doubt about that, but in many cases it is the large initial capital cost that is the problem. The present situation is a legacy of 50 years of neglect, and small clubs cannot meet these requirements in the short term.
Some club premises are not owned by the club. Home Park is corporation-owned, and almost all local authorities—and I am certain that Plymouth City Council is no exception—take the view that as the premises are on a long lease to the club the costs involved in providing safety measures are the responsibility of the club. That is understandable. The local authority does not want yet another burden on its ratepayers, but it is always a case of shifting the responsibility on to somebody else. The financial responsibility rests with the club, but we know that many clubs cannot meet these costs.
The Minister for Sport showed considerable surprise, and not a little alarm, 1135 at some of the figures that were put to him. A figure of £500,000 was mentioned as the sum required to introduce the necessary measures at one club. That is a substantial figure but I wonder how many small clubs which are not yet in the categories which require a financial commitment will be able to spend money in order to raise their safety standards. The amount of money spread over a two or three year period would be a fairly heavy burden for the Government, but it must be remembered that all the time they are getting more revenue from betting on football. It is a tax that is receptive to a substantial increase, and the Government should be prepared to provide the necessary money.
We must change our attitude to Government support for sport. A great deal has been done for amateur sport. The Government do not regard it as unusual to provide money for the Royal Opera Company, they have given large subsidies to the arts, and when one thinks of the millions of people who enjoy the sport that we are mainly discussing today one realises that the Government's attitude is incomprehensible. It is one more indication of a Metropolitan London-orientated view of society that the allocation of resources is wholly dependent on the normal habits of the people who are dealing with it. If the decision were made by those who reflected the enthusiasm of the nation for soccer as opposed to those who reflect the overall enthusiasm of the nation for opera and ballet, who can say that the result would not be radically different?
We are dealing with safety. The Minister is well aware of the problem that he faces. It must haunt him that some member of his party may have to come to the House as Secretary of State and reveal the circumstances of another tragic disaster in a sporting accident. He will have to defend the decision about the designation of the club. He will have to say that the club was not put into the appropriate category and, therefore, the necessary safety provision was not made. The country will find that even more difficult to understand than having no statutory requirement for safety.
It is a matter of considerable concern to anyone who looks at the Bill that we are making inadequate financial provision 1136 for safety. The Minister knows it, and all those who have taken part in today's debate know it. There are financial resources that can be tapped with which to make provision to put all our major stadia safe within a period of three years. To neglect this situation now, to allow the situation to go on for another 10 years with safety standards below the normally accepted level, would be to risk not only another disaster but the hostility and criticism of the nation, which would not understand the priorities that we have given to this major national sport.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
There has been an astonishing and sharp contrast between the speeches or, on the one hand, my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), Acton (Mr. Spearing) and Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley), who have emphasised the paramount needs of safety, and, on the other hand, the astonishing opening passage of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who seemed to take the view that safety was by no means paramount. This prompts me to begin on a personal note.
When I was a schoolteacher at Bowness Academy in West Lothian, along with teaching colleagues and the janitor I used to orgainse parties of 80 to 120 boys to visit evening European Cup matches at Ibrox Park at a time in the late 'fifties when Glasgow Rangers were having a successful run in international competitions. I confess to having had a certain sense of relief when the last pupil was back on the bus on the way home.
When I first heard about that terrible Ibrox disaster on that ghastly early January afternoon in 1971, my reaction was, frankly, one of "There but for the grace of God went we." The general point to be made is that it is no good allowing us to say "Oh, but Ibrox was one in a million. If they had not scored a late goal, if the crowd had not turned back, if the goal had come a minute earlier or a minute later …", because any Scottish football fan can provide 40 odd "ifs". The truth is that, whereas the Ibrox disaster was the result of a culmination of unfortunate coincidences, the odds stacked against such an event were not all that long. That is where I agree profoundly with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton.
1137 More than that, there may be other disasters which have been just avoided in the last 30 years. It is on these grounds that we deeply disagree with the first thoughts presented by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely. Nothing could have been worse than the aftermath of Ibrox. Welsh MPs of all parties, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), then the Prime Minister, and others, have movingly described what they felt in the week of Aberfan. Ibrox was the Scottish Aberfan.
I shall never forget—many of my Scottish colleagues of both parties did the same—going to the funeral of a 16-year-old constituent in Broxburn, West Lothian, and being taken to his bedroom by his grief-stricken parents to see the lad's bed covered with flowers and the pictures of his Rangers heroes pinned around the wall. Nor do I forget the lasting distress of Colin Stein, whom I had taken abroad as a 13-year-old to play football from the Linlithgow Academy, who scored that vital last-minute goal. Anyone in St. Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow, for the official memorial service must have taken a vow that day that a disaster of the order of Ibrox must never be allowed to happen again. This distressing human situation is much involved in the Bill. For most hon. Members, it is about that human tragedy, and about families losing bread-winning fathers and teenage sons. When it comes to this kind of discussion, there are no grey areas.
The first principle is that football clubs are the only commercial venture providing entertainment which do not currently have to conform to legislation for safety. Would it be tolerated if theatre management were to say "We are so squeezed for space that we cannot provide the safety element which we ourselves know to be necessary, or guarantee the safety of our clients"? The answer is, of course not. Simply to articulate such a proposition shows its absurdity.
In this context of safety, football grounds are in the same category as theatres and cinemas. They, too, must been seen to be doing as much as possible for the safety of their clients. "Clients" may be an unusual term to describe the regulars who go to Highbury, Anfield or Parkhead, but in terms of personal safety it is as clients 1138 to whom there are obligations that football supporters must be viewed.
If the money is not to be forthcoming the question arises "Do we have the Bill or do we not"? If money is not to be found from Government sources or from club sources, someone some time will say to us "Be it on our own heads if there is another Burnden Park or another Ibrox Park." Here there is a feeling of responsibility ; I deeply agree with the feelings expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton.
The Wheatley Committee wisely assumed that in normal times the Treasury under any Government was unlikely to support improvements with massive public expenditure. If it were a choice, as it might be, between using vast resources on football stadia and building desperately needed new homes, hospitals or schools, my right hon. Friends would not hesitate to opt for homes, hospitals and schools. I emphasise that I am speaking in no sense of contradiction to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), who could not be here for the winding up, when he said that there are priorities to be established. In this context I talked of "massive expenditure".
On the other hand, I would not like to think that financial help should be ruled out for improvement to stadia and the important approaches to stadia which could be undertaken within the scope of central urban redevelopment. Even accepting the Government's financial position, we must ask how the allocation of Treasury funds to central urban redevelopment can be fitted in with the development of stadia. Often the problems are of the approaches in Victorian cities and not simply the stadia themselves.
It is worth remarking that many of our famous clubs have either just passed their centenary year, are in their centenary year or are approaching it. Naturally, the grounds are situated in the mid- and late-Victorian parts of our cities, which have special problems. We say that central Government should give considerable attention to the clubs if their grounds fall within the area of central urban redevelopment.
The unfortunate truth is that, financially speaking, the Chester Report has not been acted on. All of us are familiar 1139 with the Treasury attitude towards the hypothecating of revenue. Any politician knows that time and again the Treasury is asked to allot special funds for a certain purpose, but, for reasons which are often good, the British Treasury will not hypothecate revenue. I should like some explanation—for which two of my hon. Friends have also asked, in different ways—of the philosophical distinction the Treasury makes, that betting somehow is an integral part of horse racing whereas the pools are not an integral part of football. There may be an obvious distinction.
As I understand it, that is the Treasury argument. Since we have the time, would it be unfair to ask the Government Front Bench to reflect on that frankly philosophical point, because the distinction is not immediately obvious?
§ Mr. Dalyell
The Treasury would continue to argue that in some form or another betting is an integral part of horse racing which does take place. It is different if horse racing does not take place. We have here, therefore, a serious problem about which one can talk jocularly. But it is a serious point.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Obviously, successive Governments have had to look at this matter from a Home Office point of view. One has to remember that the Horse Race Betting Levy Board was set up at the same time as the setting up of betting shops off the course. The argument advanced was that allowing betting shops off the course would reduce substantially the attendance at race meetings, because people would instead bet at the betting shops. As I understand it, the argument that was advanced was that it was to compensate for that loss that the levy board was set up, to retain a levy out of the money that went through the betting shops on the races on the courses, whereas previously it was legal to bet only if one was on the course.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That sounds suspiciously like a good argument for approval of the kind of proposition that was advanced 1140 in a Ten-Minute Rule Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who wanted a Football Betting Levy Board. I shall have to read what the Minister has just said, but it raises the whole discussion again whether there should be a betting levy board for football. The Minister says that the Home Office has had these problems. It has had long discussions with Lord Wigg. It is equally true that, other than for eight or 10 clubs which have been mentioned on both sides of the House—not least by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money)—football now is in the same difficulty as horse racing was some years ago. Therefore, perhaps the Government would reflect on whether my hon. Friend's Bill, or something like it, would be a way out of what we all recognise to be a serious problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-East simply had to mention the figure of £25,000 for Leicester City Football Club's payment of VAT. The costs for many clubs have become what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath would call "unstomachable"—a new word which has been invented during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester North-East also spoke the truth when he talked of many directors dipping into their own pockets. That is the financial reality that we have to face.
I am sure that the Government accept the proposition that transfer fees, though they make it look as though football has a great deal of money, are very misleading and create an erroneous impression. To a club, a footballer is much to be preferred to an Inland Revenue demand note. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton talked of the costs of promotion. When discussing finance, the Government would do well to pay attention to what he said about the costs facing a club such as Plymouth Argyle, which may come even to dread promotion. Some of the smaller clubs, when promotion looked as though it was possible, expressed a sense of fear. That is the reality that we have to face.
Again on finance, I repeat the question about police payment. I suspect that the Minister, who, in a previous incarnation, was adviser to the Police Federation, may have views on the 1141 matter. It was raised by the hon. Member for Ipswich, who said that he hoped that the Home Secretary would use his influence. I have to report that the Home Secretary has direct responsibility for this matter, as I understand it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw and I went to a meeting, which the Minister of State will remember, in the Home Secretary's room, at which we were very courteously received. My understanding was that, although there were grave difficulties—it would be wrong to pretend that either the Minister of State or the Home Secretary promised anything—there would be reflections on the whole subject. I do not think that that precedent, as such, is an argument for not helping. In saying that, it would be wrong not to accept part of the difficulty as being that others would have to have police payment waived. It was not that the Home Secretary did not have a strong case, because he did. If it had been easy, something would have been done about it. Given the question of hooliganism and the new situation, one has to ask again whether, in the light of changed circumstances, there is not something to be done here.
We welcome the fact that licensing is to be done on a more regional basis. The more local the decision the greater the danger of over-sympathy and over-criticism. Therefore, Wheatley was undoubtedly right to suggest that it should be done on the basis of the larger area.
On the question of appeal, the Government stick to wanting a reporter. I marginally favour Wheatley's independent appeal committee, composed, one hopes, of a lawyer, an architect, a surveyor and, perhaps, a retired policeman. I took note of the point made by the hon. Member for Ipswich when he said that this is, after all, what has happened with theatres and that there should be a standing committee. One advantage would be that one would, perhaps, get greater uniformity than if it was simply a reporter. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath made a valid point when he said that there should be some degree of answerability to the House. On this subject there is no point in arguing at length, other than to say that we take note of the Minister's remark that if a number of appeals appear, the Government will go for the Wheatley recom- 1142 mendation, depending on how frequently it is likely to be used.
Regarding crowd limitation, we think that it is rather easy to say "Let us limit the crowd and thereby escape our problem." That is not necessarily satisfactory. First, there could be as much danger from a crowd of 40,000 as from a crowd of 80,000. What makes more sense is to apply limitations to those parts of the ground where any sign of danger is identified. We agree with Wheatley and the Bill that blanket crowd limitation is not usually the answer and that the approach should be one of flexibility depending on the crowd.
After the clubs have had some experience of the ban on floodlighting, we should like to know whether it makes more than a marginal difference. Our suspicion—I speak from conversations with my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) and others who have taken special and commendable interest in this matter—is that the difference made by denying football clubs floodlighting is so marginal as to enable us to ask whether the matter should not be reconsidered.
We agree with the technical report that we must try to regulate the crowd flow coming out of grounds so that the number of people who can get to a particular approach to an exit is limited at any one time. Only a safe number should, ideally, be able to get access to staircases at a given moment, so that the funnel of people entering descending staircases can be controlled. Funnelling was the trouble at the ill-starred staircase No. 13 at Ibrox. This incidentally has been put right by an up-and-along narrower concourse at the top. I should like to pay tribute to the Glasgow Rangers Football Club for what it did immediately after the disaster, for the care which it took, as well as for its action since.
I wish to go back for a moment to the speech of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely, who courteously asked me to tell the Government Front Bench that he has an engagement in his constituency, and, therefore, is no longer here. The idea that problems can somehow be wished away by better refereeing is not very realistic, because it is not the refereeing which may be the operative factor so much as what people think of the referee. One cannot simply say "Let us 1143 have better referees and that will solve our problem." Anyone who has refereed, as I have, after he has become a Member of Parliament knows how hazardous it can be. We ought to have a bit of humility on this subject.
On the other hand, I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely that there is a good deal to be said for junior sides playing before the match, and perhaps reserves and other junior sides or schoolboys playing after the match, to create a modicum of attention as people go into the ground and before they leave it. Indeed, the Glasgow Celtic club pioneered this idea with very good effect.
§ Mr. Money
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of refereeing, may I ask him whether he would not agree that a great deal of pleasure and understanding is given to the crowd when there are referees like, for example, Mr. Kirkpatrick, to whom I pay tribute, who make it clear to the crowd exactly why they are giving any decision?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am rather reluctant, as a politician, to go into the details of passing judgment on sporting personalities, but I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. I think that we would often bring ourselves into disrepute by commenting on sporting details, but I listened carefully to what he said.
I also agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely on the desirability of the kind of thing which Coventry has done in creating a family centre. Anybody who has been to the Coventry ground recently must hope that other clubs will follow in that direction.
The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) reminded us of what happened half a century ago and mentioned that legendary policeman. All I say, as a fairly frequent visitor when possible to Wembley, is that those of us who come from far away appreciate the courtesy of the Metropolitan Police in helping us to get to that ground and from it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath mentioned other sports. I was sitting next to him at the Europa Games, and I think the hon. Member responsible for sport was also there, when a javelin nearly injured one of the competitors. All I say is that my hon. Friend has 1144 a serious point and at least this kind of thing ought to be looked at. I think it is a matter which the Government should discuss with the AAA.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) raised the question of Bethnal Green, and we hope that something will be said about the problem involving the staircases.
§ Mr. Spearing
I think my hon. Friend has misunderstood. The problem to which I was referring was one to which he referred earlier ; namely, the problem of access and the principle, which is being introduced at Wembley, of constriction after the staircases have been successfully left behind. My reference to Bethnal Green was by way of a comment on a past disaster, which may not have much relevance to the point that I wished to make.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Doubtless every hon. Member present has his own story to tell of an ugly moment with a football crowd. I content myself by saying that I never was so frightened throughout my teens as during the 30 seconds or so when I was lifted off my feet at the end of one of those marathon Cup ties between Hibernian and Aberdeen which have entered into the legend of Easter Road. Not having control over one's limbs is a really terrifying experience. It is on these grounds, rather human grounds, that we hope that in this legislation there will be no cause for delay.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
The House will agree that we have had a wide-ranging good-tempered and informative debate, of considerable value to the Government. We learn much during these Second Reading debates from what hon. Members on both sides have to say and I am sure that many of the important points made will be further discussed during Committee.
We have the benefit of the experience of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) as a referee of some distinction. I was also glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell), after his distinguished record over 24 years in representing that area. I have seen him on many occasions at Wembley. I take note of what he said, particularly 1145 regarding the question of the walkway, which was mentioned also by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing).
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Leicester, North-East (Mr. Bradley) speak not only as a director of Kettering—a club which has done much to improve its own ground—but also because of his active support for Leicester City. We have also had the advice of one of the keenest football supporters in the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money). It is rare that an Ipswich game takes place without my hon. Friend being there to cheer the team on. I am sure that his support has helped his club to come forward as it has done in so spectacular a fashion in recent years.
I was also glad that we had the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). He is not only very knowledgeable on the subject ; he wrote a book, which I read with great interest some years ago, on the very subject of sport and crowd safety and its psychological implications. He speaks with great distinction. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) spoke with considerable authority and eloquence, as did the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen).
It may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words generally and then come to some of the specific matters which have been raised. The first general point on which there was a consensus is that football by any measure is our national game. I was interested in some figures which were given in the other place by a very distinguished football club chairman, Lord Westwood. He pointed out that during the past 10 years of football league matches alone the total number of paying spectators was 283 million, an average of more than 28 million per season. This figure is for England alone. Nor does it include cup ties or cup finals, which are fairly well patronised, as hon. Members will know if they have ever attempted to get a ticket at the proper price. Football is by any measure, therefore, our national game and the debate is of some significance to millions of our fellow countrymen.
There is no doubt—and it should be recorded—that the great majority of our major grounds are reasonably safe for those who attend matches there. I hope 1146 that it will not go forward from the House, or from anything stated in the Wheatley Report, that somehow the vast numbers attending our football matches are normally at risk. This is not so. It would be a slur upon the highly responsible football authorities of this country if it were to be suggested that most football fans are at risk in attending grounds. They are not.
Football authorities, being responsible bodies, have accepted the principle of the Bill. They have shown to me in the many private discussions which I have had with them that as responsible people they accept the need to ensure that those who attend football matches shall be safe while they are there. Therefore, there is no problem of principle on the matter.
We are all aware of some of the difficulties under which football is at present labouring. There are problems of finance, and I shall come to these in a moment. There are the special problems arising from the emergency ban on floodlighting. The football authorities face many other difficulties, but in the torrent of comment that is made upon the state of football it would be better if occasionally people would not concentrate only on what was wrong but would from time to time recognise so much that is right in a game that gives excitement and pleasure to so many millions. I do not believe, in spite of all the comments to the contrary, that football is going down the drain. On the contrary, I believe that it is continuing to thrive in this country and we owe to those who organise it a very great debt of gratitude.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Are the Government convinced that the saving derived from the ban on floodlighting is commensurate with the problems caused?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I shall come to floodlighting in the course of my speech.
I hope that nothing going from this House today, because we are concentrating on football safety and because for a variety of reasons there is a great deal of negative comment about football, will detract from the fact that it is a great national game which gives enormous pleasure and is not constantly beset by problems, difficulties and the rest.
Everyone has his view on the state of football and I do not believe it would be entirely out of order if I, bearing some 1147 responsibility for sport, were to make a few comments of my own. The present season has seen British football at its best and at its worst. On the one hand we saw the defeat of England in the World Cup—something all of us regretted—and the all-too-frequent record of violence, indiscipline and name-calling. On the other hand we have seen, as we always do, a great deal of breathtaking skill, drama and virtuosity.
This is not the time or place to dwell on the vagaries of our fortunes in the cup or the upsets and sensations. We have a Bill before us, but at times I despair at the nature of the commentary that we are asked to read and hear about our national game. When there is a punch-up, a disputed decision or an ugly crowd scene, what actually happens on the field is seen to be of secondary importance. What so often interests the Press and television are the peccadilloes and private misdemeanours of the football stars. All too often it is the showdowns, the backbiting and the tale-telling that hit the headlines.
The Times put it succinctly not so long ago when it said:Nothing so damages any great sport over a period of time as for attention to be diverted consistently away from the game itself to the storms and the tempests on the fringe.Yet that is precisely what all too often happens in the case of football.
There is no doubt, whether it is the consequence of violence or many other things, that attendances at football are now on the wane. There has been some return in some areas but generally there is a steady decline in football attendance. Some of the reasons are undoubtedly within football itself. I believe that hooliganism is a factor. But very often hooliganism on the field can generate hooliganism on the terraces. If a bad example is set by the players, the heroes of the many thousands of young people who attend, it frequently communicates itself to the terraces.
That is why on behalf of the Government I welcomed the so-called referees' revolution of a year or so ago when the football authorities rightly sought to tighten up discipline. I believe that there has been a material improvement in behaviour on the field which in turn has its effect on behaviour on the terraces. 1148 But certainly hooliganism is a factor in the decline of attendances.
There is the argument that the game has become less attractive and that there is too much defensive football and not enough goals. The fact that television can screen the highlights may give the impression to many that all football is highlights and not the middle periods of hard, slogging work. It may be that people going to football matches and finding that they are not all highlights are to some extent disappointed.
Our not getting into the final stages of the World Cup may have some affect on attendances. But where England has not succeeded, Scotland may, and on behalf of every hon. Member I wish Scotland the best of good fortune in the World Cup. I know that Scotland can count on the full support of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office, who is present on behalf of the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Does the Minister agree that before the war what were loosely termed the masses of soccer supporters were happy to stand on wind-swept, cold, bleak, open banking, but that they will no longer do so? They have more money today and they demand more comfort. They want a seat and far better accommodation.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Not for the first time, the hon. Member has anticipated me. I was trying first to define some of the reasons within football itself for a decline in attendances.
I turn now to those main reasons for decline outside the control of football. I believe that there is a secular shift from watching to taking part in sport of which I have had some experience. Many fewer people attend horse races, but vastly more ride horses. Many fewer people, alas, watch football, but I hazard the guess that in our towns and villages more people than ever before play football. There is no doubt that the shift from watching to taking part has some effect on the attendance at football matches.
I have already mentioned the impact of television. I think it will be generally agreed that, whilst it has brought football at a high level into people's homes, television has unfortunately discouraged 1149 some people from watching their local club side, something I very much regret. The motor car has led many more people to go with their families to distant places at weekends rather than, as in the past, walk down to the nearest football ground and attend a game.
The shift from the city centres to the suburbs is a factor. I have no doubt that many of those Londoners who used to live in the vicinity of Tottenham, Arsenal or Crystal Palace and who have now moved out to the expanding towns or overspill estates do not return to watch their teams. Therefore, the shift to the suburbs has undoubtedly helped to reduce attendance at football matches.
There is the great rise of family sport. Men and women and their children often prefer when possible to go together to a multi-purpose sports centre where the children can take part in one kind of sporting activity, the mother another and the husband a third.
As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) rightly said, there is also the desire for greater comfort. A nation which can sit comfortably at home in better housing and enjoying the advantages of greater affluence will find it increasingly unacceptable to stand on draughty and uncomfortable terraces, particularly if people experience the jostling and thrusting about which we have heard, when they can stay at home and watch Arsenal playing Leeds on television, even though that be only a recording.
The background to the Bill is that there are a number of important secular changes in our society which have a bearing on football attendances. As that trend continues, as I think it will, there is a danger that we may be confronted with what I call gladiatorial football—that is to say, comparatively few rich and successful clubs growing more and more powerful, getting more coverage on television, being able to hire some of the better players and managers and thereby reinforcing their commanding position. That would leave the rest of the clubs struggling harder and harder to get sufficient attendances to keep themselves going. The risk of relatively few gladiatorial clubs may be reinforced by the emergence of European leagues.
1150 As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said when opening the debate, a number of principles are contained within the Bill. The first is that none of us doubts the need for the Bill to be introduced. Hon. Members have spoken eloquently and rightly about the traumatic experience of Ibrox. Those of us who remember that can have no doubt that the Bill is necessary. When anybody puts the public at risk for commercial purposes, the responsibility for providing safeguards for the public's safety must rest with the promoter or the organiser of the event, or with the owner of the premises. I do not think that that proposition is in dispute.
The second broad principle within the Bill is, above all, that it is reasonable and flexible in its intended method of operation. It is based on wide consultation. That is why it did not come before the House sooner. It has had consistently the constructive suggestions and help of the football authorities. They have played their part in a working party. The guide to safety, about which a number of hon. Members have complained, is the product not only of Lord Wheatley but of a working party on which the football authorities were represented. I do not believe that they would dispense with it in the same way as some hon. Members.
The Bill is reasonable and flexible. It does not envisage and it will not require any wholesale rebuilding. The grounds of many of our first-class teams are safe or broadly safe. I believe that there will not be the massive rebuilding of stadia which has been suggested by some people.
One of the main feature of the Bill is its flexibility. We are not proposing to institute a whole series of edicts and rigid and unchangeable rules costing enormous sums. What is required is that the football authorities and the club owners will work with the local authorities, consult their local police, contact their local fire brigades and arrive at a reasonable and flexible solution to meet their circumstances. Most of them already take such steps as they are responsible people.
The Bill is not a recipe for massive changes across the board. I suspect that a local authority, having inspected a ground, will say "We believe that in its 1151 present circumstances this stand should have a maximum capacity of X thousands." That may be rather fewer than at present, but broadly speaking it will not be very many fewer. It will then be open to the club, with the help of the local authority, the building authorities, the fire brigade and the police to decide on a reasonable figure to be admitted to the stand. If the football club were to say "We have a certain amount of money we can spend this year to improve the stand, but we shall not have enough to do the whole job", I should imagine the local authority would say "Let us set the figure at X for this year, but when you can get on with the scheme for the bottom end of the stand, the figure will be increased the following year." It is a matter for local consideration in the light of the club's circumstances. I believe that the financial situation of a club can be taken into account, provided only that the overriding considerations of safety are not overlooked.
The Bill is of limited application, flexible and, above all, based on sweet reason. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State explained, we do not in the first instance propose to designate all the Wheatley categories. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends only to begin with the Wheatley category 1 ground—that is to say, international grounds such as Hampden Park, Cardiff Arms, Wembley, Twickenham and so on, plus the English first and second division clubs and the Scottish first division clubs. But all others, at least for the time being, are excluded. They will not be designated unless events show that it is necessary to do so. Therefore, the Bill is of limited application.
Above all, there is a right of appeal against any unreasonable requirement which may be put on a club by the county authority. My own experience of local authorities is that they are very much influenced by the attitude of the local public. If some unreasonable provision were required, a provision that might put the team out of business, I am sure that the county authority would think again if that matter were likely to destroy a club completely. Therefore, I believe that many of the fears that have been expressed are unfounded. There is a right of appeal, 1152 and, on balance, it is best that the appeals should come to the Secretary of State, who is answerable to the House.
We must now consider the special case—what happens on the occasion, once in a blue moon, when a small club—it may be Aldershot, Hereford or even Bury St. Edmunds—is drawn on its own ground against one of the mighty teams. Clearly, the ground in question would not be designated, but the Bill contains a special licensing procedure. What would happen in a nation of sensible people is that the local club would inform the local authority of the situation—indeed, it would not need to do so because the news would be plastered all over the local paper in banner headlines. There would be a sensible discussion with the local police and fire brigade as to how best to organise the ground for the purpose.
I attended the match at Aldershot when it drew Manchester United. That ground had a capacity of only 8,000, and it was clear that 20,000 people wanted to attend. The police agreed with the club that it should get over the problem by bringing chairs down on to the touchline in certain areas and bringing to the ground other movable benches at either end to bring the capacity safely to the desired total. This was done by sweet reason, common sense and co-operation. This is precisely what would happen in the special case of a small club that had the fortune to draw one of the giants in the football league for a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. The local police, the fire brigade and the football authorities locally would undoubtedly work out some sensible arrangement to meet the situation. They do this already, and they will continue to do it.
I turn to some of the specific questions raised in the debate. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised the question of the charges made by the police, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich. My experience in this matter, which is not inconsiderable, is that the police generally charge for the officers that they send into the ground, but if there may be trouble outside the ground—and often there is—they make no charge, quite reasonably, to the football authorities because they regard it as part of their general policing duties, although no doubt it puts an additional burden on them.
1153 I should be prepared to consider any cases which my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich or the hon. Member for West Lothian brought to my notice, but I should be very surprised if the police took an unreasonable attitude. Submissions have been made to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I know that he has considered the matter. The important point is that when the police are deployed on private property the owners of that property should, in the ordinary way, bear the additional cost. That is the principle, and I think that it is generally applied with reason. If there were any examples of unreasonable charges being made, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be prepared to consider them, although, in the end, it is a matter for the local police authority.
The hon. Member for Small Heath referred to the question of the javelin. I had not thought of that point. I take it on board ; that is the best I can say now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, as well as other hon. Members, raised the question of taxation. Certain items involved in the improvement of grounds for safety purposes will count as machinery and plant. In those cases, 100 per cent. of the expenditure incurred on them will be allowed for tax purposes in the year in which the money is spent. The technical term "machinery and plant" would cover such items as fire alarm systems, fire-fighting equipment, floodlighting, removable seating—for example, if the seating were bolted down it would count as removable seating—communications equipment, a lot of which is relevant to the question of crowd safety, counting equipment, and crush barriers, particularly of the movable kind.
A number of other items, notably replacement items where one is, as it were, adding to the capital value of the plant in question, would not normally be allowable.
Those are matters which, as hon. Members who have had anything to do with company taxation will know, fall to be judged by the Inland Revenue. However, the Inland Revenue is not, in practical terms, unreasonable, and it would be wrong of me to try to anticipate what its judgment would be about particular items of expenditure.
1154 I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is not present, because he made a very interesting and important speech. He speaks with great knowledge on these matters. He said that the value added tax raised from football was estimated to be £4 million. He quoted a parliamentary reply. I should refer to the only parliamentary reply which I have been able to find on this point. It was given by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 2nd May 1972—which was, I think, the date mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—and it stated:The expected yields from VAT at 10 per cent. on admissions to association football matches and other spectator sports are £2 million and £750,000 respectively …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 111.]Therefore, I cannot accept the figure of £4 million which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. It will interest the House to know that the estimated yield from value added tax on theatres was £4 million and on cinemas £6 million. Therefore, it would be wrong to suggest that sport is being discriminated against in this general tax.
That was not the main gravamen of the speech by the hon. Member for Basset-law. I will not deal with his speech in detail because he is not here. It is better that I should undertake that either my hon. and learned Friend or I will write to him on the main points.
The green code to which the hon. Gentleman referred is not the absolute be-all and end-all of what the authorities must do. It is a long-stop statutory code of guidance that authorities can look at as representing the best advice that can be obtained for all circumstances. But no club is confronted with all the possible circumstances. It has only the circumstances relevant to its own ground. Therefore, I know nothing of the outside consultants who may have been asked for advice by either of the two Sheffield clubs. It would be surprising if a local authority, having regard to the particular circumstances and the real improvements that have been made at Sheffield United's ground, levied on the club safety requirements and improvements of the magnitude suggested by the hon. Gentleman. This is a detailed matter. It is not for me as a Minister to go into this form of detail in the House. I hope that the impression will not go forward from the 1155 House today that such figures are the necessary consequence of the Bill. I do not believe it.
I must refer to another serious point to which I adverted in an intervention. I hope that it will not be suggested, by outside consultants or anybody else, that clubs in this country, particularly major first division sides, have been admitting the public in great numbers to grounds so inadequate and unsafe as to require expenditure of the magnitude to which reference has been made. I do not believe that Sheffield United or any other club will suddenly be faced with this kind of expenditure to make people safe. If that were so, that shows gross irresponsibility on the part of those who manage those grounds for allowing the public year after year to attend in circumstances that were so manifestly unsafe. I reject that notion as much on behalf of responsible football authorities and clubs as on behalf of the Government. We are seeking to be reasonable in this matter. I hope that no one will suggest that if the situation at a club is manifestly unsafe it ought to be left as it is. We all agree that things should be put right.
Several hon. Members have referred to the problem of floodlighting arising from the present emergency. It has unquestionably inconvenienced both football clubs and spectators. It has made the task of the football authorities very difficult—for example, in arranging fixtures and getting them played off for the major cup competitions to be completed on time. It is a matter that the Government as well as the House are bound to regret, but it is the inevitable consequence of the fuel emergency. I am grateful to the football authorities for the public-spirited way that they have accepted these difficulties in the public interest.
The ban on floodlighting has thrown up the whole question of Sunday football. It is perhaps early days, but so far the evidence suggests that large numbers of football fans are prepared—indeed, some are very keen—to attend matches on Sunday afternoon and, in some cases, on Sunday morning.
Many people, on the other hand, are strongly opposed to Sunday football, some for religious reasons, and others because of the effects on public transport, on the 1156 police and ambulance services and on the neighbourhoods surrounding the football stadia. I should also mention that there is a general presumption—which I share —that there is a lot to be said for at least one day of the week being treated as a day of rest.
The present position is that providing professional sport for money on Sundays is, in most cases, unlawful. The football clubs, however, are staying within the law by a device long used by those law-abiding people the cricket authorities ; that is to say, they charge no admission, but they expect those who attend the match to purchase a programme on entry.
So far the response of the football public appears to have been favourable to that type of arrangement for professional matches on Sundays. How far that will continue beyond the present emergency must be a matter for speculation, and I note that the football authorities, while supporting Sunday matches in present circumstances, have been very careful not to commit themselves about Sunday football in normal conditions. They have not committed themselves about Sunday football in the long term. Indeed, I understand that there are divided opinions within football itself on this subject.
The Government's view is bound to be that the law as it stands should be observed. As far as I am aware, there is nothing unlawful about the arrangements now being made. I readily appreciate that the distinction between paying for Sunday football by putting one's money down at a turnstile, which is unlawful, and handing over the same sum or slightly more for a programme, is a fine one. I have no doubt that sooner or later this House will need to consider the question and either reaffirm or change the present law. The Government's view is that before doing any such thing they would want to consult very carefully all those who have opinions to express on this still very sensitive subject.
I now turn to the question of finance. I was asked about estimates of how much it would all cost. All I can say is that some of the estimates that have been thrown round the Chamber seem to be dead wrong, but we cannot now make any really detailed and meaningful estimates because we are expecting local authorities and clubs to be realistic in all 1157 the circumstances. I think that they will be, and that they will also be willing to phase the changes so that football clubs can accommodate them.
I have very much welcomed the recognition by the football authorities themselves that Lord Wheatley at least had a point when he said in paragraph 61:The practical approach seemed to me to be to work out a solution which was based on things as they are. This means that the money for ground improvements must be found by the clubs and within football itself.Those are not my words, but the words of Lord Wheatley. I noted that one of the best authorities on football, speaking, as I understand it, with the support of the football authorities—and I refer to Lord Westwood—said:I fully agree with … Lord Wheatley when he states in his 1972 Report that if the public pay for admission to the ground, then it is up to the club, whether it be a football club, a cricket club or a rugby club, to ensure that the ground is safe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 20th November 1973 ; Vol. 346, c. 951.]
§ Mr. Bradley
Is it not the case, that, not surprisingly, Lord Wheatley obtained that view from his consultations with the Treasury?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Indeed, it is although as a member of what I might describe as a spending Department I occasionally consider that the Treasury is not the fount of all wisdom, I will not accept from anyone that the Treasury is is doing anything other than seeking to protect the Revenue and protect public expenditure interests. The Treasury has a job to do, and does it generally well, but I cannot accept that it is the responsibility of the general taxpayer to provide the reasonable safety precautions that are necessary to ensure that those attending a commercial venture should be safe while they are there.
Whether it is in a cinema, theatre, or any other form of commercial enterprise, those who attend and pay money in order to do so should be able to expect that a part of the contract that they make with the owner, or the organiser of the event, when they pay their money is that the situation into which they are put shall be safe. Therefore, there cannot prima facie be a reason why the general taxpayer should go to the aid of one section of society in order to ensure that people are safe while enjoying its wares.
1158 What I nevertheless accept is that the general financial situation of football and of sport as a whole gives rise to some concern. That is why it is right, as far as possible, and bearing in mind the overall financial difficulties of the nation, to seek to inject more finance into sport as a whole, if it can be done. That is precisely what the Government have done.
I believe it right to conclude my remarks by putting on record, so that the House will know it, what the position it.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, will he return to one issue that I raised ; namely, the basis on which revenue is, in effect, hypothecated to horseracing from the Horserace Betting Levy Board and why we should not have a football betting levy board?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for not allowing me to reach my concluding remarks without dealing with that. This is a matter to which I have given much thought. My constituency includes Newmarket and probably has more horses and horse-racing than any other, and so I have discussed this subject on many occasions. I have much sympathy with the views of those who say that football would like to get in on the sort of trough, if I dare use that phrase, that horseracing has been using for some time.
However, there are certain distinctions. They are not on all fours—I am sorry that I have fallen into the trap of using that term—but there is a case for helping horseracing through the betting levy, because horses provide a substantial addition to our exports. At nearly every spring sale at Newmarket alone £3 million or £4 million worth of blood stock is purchased by overseas buyers, and that materially adds to the balance of payments. That is an argument which football cannot adduce, but I do not close the door on this subject.
In the first instance, it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is also a matter in which the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend are intensely interested. The football authorities are having another look at the implications of the Chester Report, and I have told them that if they will get together, the Football League and the Football 1159 Association, and, I have always insisted, professional players as well, and come forward with some joint suggestions, although I cannot give any commitment and do not do so now—successive Governments, Labour as well as Conservative, have turned their faces against that—I will bring them together with a Treasury Minister so that the matter may be thrashed out. I hope the House will accept that that is a statement of some modest significance.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the question of exports, is the argument that if we were to arrange for the transfer of Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter to Inter Milan, this would be part of a good argument for a football levy board?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I would need notice of that question, but I should strongly oppose transferring Billy Bremner to Inter Milan or anywhere else. We badly need him here at Leeds.
I should like to conclude by putting the House in the picture about some of the money now being made generally available to sport. I say "generally" because, if football is to receive additional public funds, the money should come from bodies like the Sports Council with responsibility for sport as a whole. If there were to be levy money, or a lottery, whatever the source, it should be handled through the Sports Council, which has a general responsibility.
The House will not know, I think, that the total expenditure on sports facilities from public and private sources will almost certainly be £80 million for 1973–74. There has been nothing like that in any previous year. Public sector investment passed the £50 million mark last year on capital account alone and it is running this year much nearer to £70 million. Local authority sports expenditure in England and Wales in 1969–70 was £9.5 million. By 1971–72 it had passed £20 million and in 1972–73 it exceeded £38 million—about four and a quarter times more than the highest point reached under the previous Government.
In 1969, the Chairman of the Sports Council tells me, we had 10 fully-fledged indoor sports centres. Today there are more than 100, and 200 more are in 1160 various stages of planning and construction. In Greater London and the South-East, local authorities have arranged to spend £55 million over the present five-year period to provide 19 multi-purpose sports complexes, 43 new indoor swimming pools, 41 indoor sports centres, seven golf courses and 51 other sports facilities of various kinds. A comparable rate of improvement is under way in all the other regions. At national level, the present Government have increased their grant to the Sports Council from £1.58 million in 1969–70—a miserable sum—to £6.5 million this year.
I have done my part in trying to bring football and the Sports Council closer together by the appointment of Mr. Bob Wilson of Arsenal and of Mr. Jimmy Hill, who is not unknown in professional football, to the council. The council now has powers for the first time to associate itself with local authorities and voluntary sporting groups to assist professional football grounds, which will join together to provide multi-purpose sports facilities in town centres.
I am happy to be able to say that schemes are now to come forward. The first is at Sunderland, where a scheme is in an advanced stage of discussion with the Washington Development Corporation. There is to be a joint arrangement with the Sunderland Football Club for the use of the club's large indoor hall to provide regional spectator events and to provide squash courts. This will be grant-aided by the Sports Council.
At Sheffield, negotiations are proceeding—and, I understand, will shortly be completed—for the establishment of an indoor sports hall of great size behind the main stand. While Sheffield City Corporation will equip the hall and accept overall responsibility for management and running costs, the Sports Council will grant it. Similarly, in Bournemouth there will be another multi-purpose project organised with the local football club and provided with funds from the Sports Council.
This is a good Bill. It is a sensible Bill. It needs discussion in Committee, and no doubt it will get it in full. But I have no doubt that the right answer to helping the financial side of football is to do it through bringing football together 1161 with other sports, with local authorities and with voluntary bodies with the assistance of the Sports Council.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).