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Disabled People: Sports Stadia

Volume 759: debated on Monday 9 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that sports stadia in the United Kingdom are made fully accessible for spectators with a disability.

My Lords, the Government are working to ensure that all spectators have equal access to sporting venues and services, and that the owners of stadia are aware of their responsibilities towards disabled spectators. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that the rights of disabled spectators are properly recognised.

My Lords, according to the charity Level Playing Field, only 15% of Premier League clubs are providing sufficient wheelchair space for disabled people, and access for people with other kinds of impairment is said to be “woefully inadequate”. The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for football clubs to treat disabled people less favourably than other customers, so is it not time to ensure that all football stadia are fully accessible so that disabled fans are supported? Should this not apply to every level of this beautiful game?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that more progress needs to be made. That is why the two departments’ joint survey of disabled sports fans is important, but there is also the issue of sports clubs. That is why the £1.9 million bid from the Equality and Human Rights Commission is designed precisely for a programme that includes support and guidance for improving the physical and cultural accessibility of sporting venues. Indeed, the EHRC is working actively with the Premier League, the England and Wales Cricket Board and rugby. It is very important that the momentum of the further work that needs to be done is continued very strongly.

My Lords, I must inform the House of a major structural defect in the main stand at Chelsea: it was built facing the pitch. I apologise to all Chelsea fans. This is a serious issue. Derby County has gone the extra mile, and Cardiff and Swansea have done great stuff on access. Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is best in class. What does my noble friend believe should be done to clubs which choose actively to flout the law and not make their stadia accessible? If it is good enough for the Gooners, it should be good enough for any club. What should be done?

My Lords, again, I entirely agree with my noble friend. It is one of the reasons why the joint departmental project is both seeking good practice and wanting examples of bad. It is not just about seating; it is about transport, ticketing, sightlines and the whole operation, so that we ensure that people with a disability have a much greater chance to enjoy their sport.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the one alibi which cannot work for the Premier League clubs is shortage of money? Is he aware that Manchester United, which received, according to the Daily Telegraph, £89.1 million in 2013-14, largely from television deals, and is expected to receive even more when the outcome of the present bidding is concluded, still provides only 43% of the spaces required under the accessible stadium guidelines? Is not the answer that the Government must legislate to make those guidelines mandatory?

My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the noble Lord’s point—the noble Lord brings immense experience to this issue—that those large clubs with the resources really must do better. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism is speaking to all the sporting bodies, particularly the Football League, to ensure that this point is made on every meeting agenda. I hope that what we are doing now will be part of a cocktail of activity that ensures that legislation is not necessary, but if clubs of Manchester United’s wealth are not prepared to do better, then everyone will have to think about that.

My Lords, in an earlier answer, my noble friend the Minister referred to the survey and said that this issue was about much more than the physical space for wheelchairs and other disabled spectators. Does the survey also assess the training of ground stewards and the percentage of ground stewards who have accessibility training?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I will check precisely and let her know. Clearly, all that side of things is important. It is one reason why the survey is not just of disabled fans but of clubs, so that we can understand some of the challenges and what more needs to be done to help the clubs.

My Lords, sport makes a significant contribution to the health and well-being of those who take part, and access should be available for everyone who wishes to participate and to spectate. Volunteers play an essential role in making this happen. Research recently published by the Join In Trust, which I chair, shows the benefits to both physical and mental health for those who take part in sport. It also found that a huge contribution is made to the economy, of some £53 billion per annum, from sports volunteering alone. What plans do the Government have to invest in and expand this valuable resource to our economy?

My Lords, the track record is immense. We have only to look at the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Commonwealth Games to see how vibrant volunteering is. We want to develop that across a broad piece, but I shall certainly take back what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, my noble friend in his earlier Answer gave a comprehensive and impressive list of things that people were undertaking and that the Government were doing. The slight danger in his Answer might conceivably be the implication that we were short of knowledge about what the problem was. When does my noble friend think that this will become an issue of political will rather than more and more about persuasion and trying to find out information that is readily available at the moment?

My Lords, one reason why we wanted to have the survey was that there was a lot of anecdotal evidence. We want firm evidence from both the clubs and disabled fans across a range so that we can properly address this matter. The survey concludes on 28 February. I hope that many more sporting clubs will contribute to that process. Then we can start to plan and remedy what has been unsatisfactory for too long.

I want to extend the Question to places other than sporting facilities. Will the Minister look at the need for handrails in areas such as theatres and cinemas as well as in sports stadia, because they are very important now? We are an ageing population, but we still love our sport.

I very much hope that all places the public wish to enjoy, whether the theatre, the cinema, sports stadia or wherever, are very mindful of safety. Certainly, within football, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and, indeed, the Level Playing Field of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, are all about ensuring better facilities.