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Sporting Events (Safety)

Volume 81: debated on Wednesday 19 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied with standards of safety and crowd control at Scottish sporting events; and if he will make a statement.

No one can ever be wholly satisfied about matters of safety and crowd control, and I have therefore arranged that the inquiry under Mr. Justice Popplewell should include Scottish sports grounds. My officials have asked Scottish fire brigades to visit sports grounds in their areas to advise managements on any necessary safety measures. With the co-operation of the police, a programme of such inspections is currently being undertaken. The governing bodies of sport have been asked to make constituent clubs aware of the free advice available, as the clubs have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the public.

Instead of imposing crippling rate burdens on Scottish football clubs in comparison with English football clubs, will the hon. Gentleman consider introducing a system of financial assistance for ground improvements? Will he support the representations that I have made to the Belgian Government to follow the example of FIFA and UEFA and draw a distinction between Scottish and English football, rather than impose a ban on Scottish as well as English football clubs? In effect, this ban is punishing Scottish clubs and their supporters for the gross and deplorable behaviour of some English fans during the Brussels tragedy a few weeks ago.

One of the results of the revaluation is that the rating burden on many Scottish football grounds has declined. I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point about European matches. I think the House will agree, however, that the Belgian Government's announcement in those tragic circumstances was understandable. We have passed on to the Foreign Office the representations that we have received.

In recent years, Scottish football club supporters have had an excellent record in away matches. I am sure the House agrees that, in the present circumstances, it was sensible for the five clubs involved in European competition to announce that they would do everything possible to dissuade their supporters from travelling to away matches next season, except in the case of cup finals on neutral ground.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the Government have had a significant influence by the banning of alcohol at football matches, ultimately every sporting club must bear a greater responsibility for the safety and care of those attending sporting events at their premises?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to point to the responsibility of clubs. There is no room for complacency about the control of hooliganism in Scotland. That is why I have arranged to meet the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Football League, the chief constables and the British Transport Police on 1 July to review existing arrangements and to consider whether, in the interest of the huge majority of fans, further action should be taken to improve behaviour at football matches next season.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not enough simply to suggest that free advice will be available? If safety at football grounds in Scotland is to be improved, money must be forthcoming. The parlous state of the finances of most of the small Scottish clubs makes it difficult for them to find the necessary funding on their own. The Government must give greater support to help small clubs to make their grounds safe.

Substantial sums of money go into football, including £7 million a year to the Football Trust. Last year, the Football Grounds Improvement Trust distributed £3·3 million retrospectively. I am a member of the working group on financing improvements at football grounds, which is under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane). The FGIT surveyors' report will include surveys of all non-designated grounds in the Scottish first and second divisions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important contributions to crowd control is an all-seated stadium? Does he agree that Aberdeen has been able to show an example of crowd control not only in Aberdeen but when Aberdeen clubs have travelled abroad? Aberdeen's supporters are ambassadors for the game, rather than the reverse.

Yes, Sir. I had the pleasure of attending Pittodrie at the beginning of the season to present the championship flag to Aberdeen. There is no doubt that it has an excellent stadium. The McElhone report emphasised the importance of seating.

When the Minister refers to £7 million going to the Football Grounds Improvement Trust, does he appreciate that that money comes from the pools companies for the use of the fixtures list? In terms of their take from betting, the Government take far more from football pools than the football clubs have returned to them for ground improvements. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that a ground at which we have trouble—not in terms of controlling crowds, but in relation to crowds entering and leaving—is Hampden Park, because the design of the reconstructed stadium had to be changed as a result of the Government cancelling the £5 million grant that was to have been made available? Will the Minister, as a contribution to solving the problem in Scotland, restore that grant and give the money to the Scottish Football Association at Queen's Park so that the reconstruction of Hampden Park can be completed?

The reconstruction of Hampden is going ahead, and I visit Hampden regularly. There are sources of Government assistance which are potentially available, for example, the leg-up and the urban programmes. The hon. Gentleman should accept that the tax on betting to which he refers is a tax on gambling, not a tax on football, and that is an important distinction.