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Football Grounds: Safe Standing Areas

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 21 June 2018

4. What assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of introducing safe standing areas at football grounds in the English premier league and championship. (905965)

Over 1 million people watch football every week. We are grateful for the engagement of fans from across the country in expressing their views on safe standing, including 541 of the hon. Gentleman’s own constituents who signed the recent petition. We are looking into any changes that may be needed, and we are in discussions with the football authorities and relevant stakeholders to ensure that we carefully review the evidence on this matter.

The truth is that we already have standing at practically every football ground in the country—it is just that it is on terraces designed for seats rather than standing, so it is less safe. The majority of clubs, and the leagues, are now calling for safe standing, so will the Minister let the clubs work with the safety advisory groups to design a system that works for them?

It is only in the top two tiers of football that an all-seated stadium policy exists; the other tiers are allowed to have standing. However, we are working very closely with all the football authorities to look at this issue.

My local football club, Rochdale AFC, plays at Spotland stadium, which is also home to Rochdale Hornets rugby league club. If Rochdale AFC were promoted from league 1 to the championship, it would have to get rid of its standing area, to the detriment of the rugby league fans. Can the Minister explain why it is safe to stand watching rugby but not safe to stand watching football?

There are variations in a number of policy matters between different sports, and standing is just one of them. Of course, I wish Rochdale well in its promotion attempts next season. It did not do so well last season, as I know from many of the lobby fans of Rochdale. We are looking at all the various issues. We are working very closely with fan groups and the football authorities to carefully review this.

May I heartily recommend that the Minister meet Ian Bankier and the board of Celtic football club, which has successfully piloted a safe standing area? If Ministers cannot take up the offer that Celtic has made for any of them to attend an upcoming home game, might they meet Ian Bankier here, where they can hear at first hand about the success that this pilot scheme has been?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a member of the Celtic board, albeit by accident, in Westminster. I can assure my hon. Friend that members of the Sports Ground Safety Authority and my officials have already spoken to Celtic.

Only a few weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) held a meeting in the House with over 30 football supporters’ clubs, all of which unanimously called for the Government to listen to fans and introduce safe standing. Will the Government finally listen?

As I have made clear in almost every answer I have given, we work very closely with bodies such as the Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct. We are listening to the football authorities and we are looking at this issue more carefully. There are a number of complexities around safe standing, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates. This will be debated in more detail on Monday.

I welcome the Minister’s comments and hope that she intends to fully involve supporters’ groups such as Scunthorpe United’s Iron Trust in her deliberations.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the England team on their fantastic win in the World cup this week.

I have met safety authorities, supporters’ groups, clubs and leagues, and they all have one thing in common: over the last three months, they have not heard from Government Ministers, which is why they are bemused at the rushed review announced more than two weeks ago. The Government need to stop taking football fans for granted and start listening. The Minister has an open goal. Will she make football safer by introducing safe standing? Is she going to listen?

I have already said that I am listening to a number of people in football from across the board, including the authorities. We are looking at all the data and evidence and will make a decision in due course.