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Sports Grounds Safety Authority Bill (Money)

Volume 518: debated on Monday 15 November 2010

Queen’s recommendation signified.

I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Sports Grounds Safety Authority Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State by virtue of the Act.

I should like to take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord) for introducing this important Bill, and I am pleased to be able to confirm the Government’s support. On Second Reading, it was the will of the House that the Bill should be discussed in Committee. The Bill repeals and replaces the statutory basis for the Football Licensing Authority and thus triggers the need for a new money resolution. The Bill seeks to reconstitute the FLA as the sports grounds safety authority and will extend its advisory functions so that it has the power to provide advice about safety at sports grounds to any national or international organisation, person or body.

The FLA receives grant in aid funding from my Department of just under £1.2 million a year to carry out its statutory functions, including advising on spectator and venue safety issues at football grounds in England and Wales. The Government are very clear that the FLA carries out an important role and want this to continue, but we also want to allow it more freedom to develop and thus become more independent from government and less reliant on public funding. The FLA has built up a national and international reputation for expertise in the area of sports ground safety, but the statute prevents it from formally sharing that advice with other sports or with those in other countries, and it is right that we remove that restriction.

Extending the FLA’s advisory role will be especially important as we approach the biggest sporting events that this country has ever staged, including the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. It makes complete sense to free the FLA from current constraints and allow it to provide advice to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and local authorities in relation to non-football Olympic venues. That would allow the authority to offer such advice to other sports, creating the potential to help to ensure greater consistency in the application of sports grounds safety advice across all sports.

The new role will not extend the FLA’s regulatory role, nor will it add any burdens to football clubs, other sports or local authorities or, indeed, change the safety regime for football or other sports grounds. The Government are committed to reducing regulatory burdens, not increasing them. In addition, local authorities and others will not be required to seek advice from the new authority in relation to sports grounds.

Although the authority will be able to charge for its advice in certain circumstances, providing that it has the consent of the Secretary of State, that will be limited to cost-recovery only, so there is no risk of the fees being unreasonable. Those charges will simply ensure that the costs of providing the advice are generally met by those who receive the benefits of that expertise, rather than by any increased public expenditure. However, there still may be occasions when it is not justifiable to charge, and when the organisation can easily absorb the costs of that advice. It is therefore important that there are no doubts in relation to the use of publicly funded resources by the sports grounds safety authority. On that basis, I commend the motion to the House.

I thank the Minister for his courtesy earlier today. As he said, the Football Licensing Authority was established in the wake of tragedies at football grounds such as Hillsborough in 1989 and Heysel in 1985. Following Lord Justice Taylor’s final report on the Hillsborough disaster, the FLA was charged with responsibility for monitoring local authorities’ oversight of spectator safety at international, premiership and football league grounds.

The Minister is absolutely right about the FLA’s importance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) referred to the establishment of the FLA as a debt of honour to the families of those who lost their lives at Hillsborough; my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), who was at Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy, said that he believes the FLA was the correct response to helping to ensure that nothing like that happens again; and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) has already raised a series of concerns and questions about the Bill with the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), and I know that she will scrutinise its details as it proceeds through the House. Other hon. Members with Merseyside constituencies and interested members of the public have also raised a number of questions.

Margaret Aspinall, of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, for example, said that the Government

“must make sure there is no cost-cutting on safety.”

We agree and believe that any dilution of the focus on safety at football grounds would be a cause for concern. I welcome the additional details that the Minister has provided today, because it is fair to say that the detail of the Government’s intentions had not been crystal clear.

The Government announced the abolition of the FLA in the spending review and said that its responsibilities were being “transferred to another body”. They obviously support the Bill, but the Minister for the Cabinet Office has been reported as saying that the responsibility for safety at grounds will shift to local authorities, so although we will not oppose the motion, we will vigorously scrutinise the Bill in Committee in order to ensure that safety is not compromised.

I am grateful to the Minister for moving the motion and supporting my Bill, and to the shadow Minister for his guarded support at this stage. I hope that we can make that the Opposition’s full support in due course. I hope also that the House will allow the Bill to proceed into Committee.

The Football Licensing Authority was set up by the Football Spectators Act 1989 in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. Over subsequent years, the authority and its key personnel have gained an extremely good reputation for their expertise and experience in football ground safety, but the organisation has been forced to turn down requests from other sports and sports grounds for safety advice, as its existing statutory remit extends only to football—even though those seeking that advice had indicated their willingness to pay.

The increased advisory role that the Bill proposes will usually be provided at no additional cost to the organisation or to the public purse. The sports grounds safety authority will be able to charge to recover its costs for providing advice about the safety of sports grounds, but that will be with the consent of the Secretary of State, and there will be no requirement for the authority to offer its advice.

A charge for the authority’s advice will not always be appropriate or necessary, for example when giving one-off, informal views, so such costs will be easily absorbed by the authority’s existing resources.

As the Minister explained, his Department is committed to funding for the FLA of just under £1.2 million a year, and that figure should not have to rise as a result of the Bill. The Bill will allow the sports grounds safety authority to generate additional income streams, especially from advice to other sports. Charges for that advice will not be allowed to generate profits, but the authority will be able to include an element of fixed and running costs, thereby relieving pressure on public funding.

In particular, the Bill will enable the authority to become fully involved with safety advice and guidance to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and to local authorities in relation to the 2012 Olympic venues. As we prepare to welcome the rest of the world to our shores for the Olympic and Paralympic games, I trust that the House will approve the motion and, in due course, the Bill in order to help to ensure that the games are as safe as we can possibly make them. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.