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Stadiums (Disabled Access)

Volume 534: debated on Thursday 3 November 2011

6. What discussions he has had with the Football Association on ensuring that all Football League stadiums have adequate access and facilities for disabled spectators. (78175)

17. What discussions he has had with the Football Association on ensuring that all Football League stadiums have adequate access and facilities for disabled spectators. (78189)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will link questions 6 and 17.

We are working hard to bring all stadiums up to the necessary standards—

Order. May I say to the Minister that it is a courtesy for the Department to seek clearance of such groupings in advance of the sitting? Exceptionally, I will allow it today but it is a rank discourtesy to the House simply to announce it in that way without prior notification.

I can only apologise, Mr Speaker. I thought that that had been done.

We are working hard to bring all stadiums up to the necessary standards. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority, formerly the Football Licensing Authority, has published “Accessible Stadia”, which has made an important contribution to delivering better facilities for disabled spectators, not just at football grounds but at all sporting venues. However, much needs to be done and we are working closely with the Football Association and the professional leagues to achieve this.

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. I invite him to congratulate the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign on its Trailblazers campaign on promoting better access to stadiums. Will he meet a delegation of young people from the campaign to discuss their aims?

I am very happy to acknowledge the campaign in the way that the hon. Gentleman asks. If he would allow me, I would rather those young people met the Football League first. If he has any difficulty in fixing that meeting, I would be happy to do that. If there are any issues that cannot be resolved or that arise out of that meeting, I will of course be happy to meet them in due course.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The Liberal Democrats and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster), have been campaigning on this issue tirelessly. A large proportion of the 30,000 disabled supporters who regularly attend matches in England still encounter a range of problems related to access, so I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what additional spend may be possible in the next year or so in support of the Trailblazers campaign.

Directly, Sport England has earmarked £8 million of lottery funding for disabled sport issues, but there is an opening at the moment in a way that there possibly has not been before. As a result of the Select Committee’s report on football governance, the football authorities are consulting on a range of licences that will govern the running of the leagues. This is an extremely good moment for the hon. Gentleman and others interested in this campaign to feed into that process and make recommendations.

But the Minister will know that this is long overdue; as the previous sports Minister, I tried, as he has done, to push the FA into making sure that access was available. Is this not about the role of the FA too? Can he update us on its reorganisation?

Yes, of course I can. I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman did on this during his time in office. As a result of the Select Committee report, we produced a response in September. That has set a straightforward deadline to the three football bodies—the FA, the Football League and the Premier League—to come back to us with firm proposals to address the three central tenets of that report: the FA board, the licence, and the link with the councils. I expect that work to be completed by the end of February.

In this day and age it really is not acceptable that only 13 football grounds in the country meet the minimum standards and I am sure the Minister would agree that we should be moving towards a time when people with disabilities should not be turned away from a football ground because they cannot be accommodated. In its evidence to the Select Committee, Level Playing Field highlighted a number of horror stories. Its representatives talked to me about a gentleman who had turned up on crutches and been turned away because, he was told, his crutches might be used as a weapon. What is the Minister doing actively to move the FA to improve the situation and increase the number of grounds that provide at least the minimum facilities for people with disabilities?

I hope that I am not traducing him but I think the current chairman of the FA was the chairman of the National Association of Disabled Supporters beforehand.

The former sports Minister nods. There is therefore somebody at the head of the FA who understands this agenda. As I said in answer to an earlier question, there is an opportunity now with the new licensing system, and I will certainly encourage the FA to take every available step.