My Lords, I start by expressing my thanks to all noble Lords who have indicated their wish to speak. I hope very much that the Government and the football authorities in particular will appreciate the great support that exists in this House and outside for the principles underlying this short but necessary Bill. Its purpose is to create a civilised and safe environment for disabled people who want to watch sporting events at football and other stadiums. The Bill does so by giving local authorities a discretionary power to refuse a safety certificate to sports grounds which do not comply with the accessible stadia guidelines published by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority. I am proud to declare my unpaid interest as a vice-president of the charity Level Playing Field, which has done so much to raise the profile of disabled sports fans and to campaign effectively on their behalf. I pay tribute to the zeal, courage and dedication of LPF’s chair, Joyce Cook OBE, who has raised to great effect the needs of disabled fans in Britain and indeed in Europe.
Your Lordships will be aware that this is not the first time that I have raised the subject in this House. Almost exactly a year ago, on 14 July 2014, I asked an Oral Question about how the Government planned to ensure that professional sports clubs follow the accessible stadia guidance. I drew attention to the letter written in April 2014 by Mr Mike Penning, the then Minister for Disabled People, to all professional clubs, in which he described the situation with professional football as,
“‘woefully inadequate’, when it was revealed that only three clubs in the Premier League, the richest league in the world, comply with the requirements for the number of spaces for supporters in wheelchairs”.
I said that,
“the time has now come for equality law to be properly enforced and the guidelines, which have been in place since 2004, properly implemented”.
Answering for the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble—who I am delighted to see is in his place on the Front Bench—said that,
“the Government are committed to ensuring that all spectators have enhanced and appropriate access to sporting venues and services, and that professional sports clubs are aware of their responsibilities towards disabled spectators. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working with the Department for Work and Pensions on a range of measures to ensure that the rights of disabled spectators are met by professional sports clubs … Premier football clubs have considerable means and I think that they should be looking to do very much better”.—[Official Report, 14/7/14; cols. 374-75.]
I think that we can all say amen to that. The “considerable means” to which the Minister referred included the clubs’ share of the latest broadcasting deal, which amounts to £5.34 billion.
Let us consider the depth and impact of the problems faced by disabled sports fans. More than 12% of the UK population is disabled, with one in four families having a disabled member. This number is expected to rise significantly over the next decade or so as healthcare continues to improve, with survival rates and life expectancy increasing year on year. At any given time, more than 40% of the population requires easy access. This includes families with young children, senior citizens and people with temporary injuries or ill health. The annual spending power of the UK disabled community, which is our largest minority group, is estimated to be more than £80 billion. Accessible venues are more sustainable, and inclusive facilities and services make good business sense. When disabled people are unable to attend a public event or use a service because of poor access, then most often neither will their family or friends. This means that inaccessible venues lose business and also owners lose their reputation.
Attending a live football match or sporting event and supporting your local team or club is an integral part of our culture and traditions. Matchday crowds are at last becoming more diverse and representative of our wider society. This should naturally include many more disabled people. Social inclusion and equal access is a basic human right and a fundamental pillar of social justice. It is clear that many people experience great joy and a sense of belonging in being able to follow live sporting events and their local team alongside fellow fans, family and friends. But for our disabled fans, that cannot happen unless our sports stadia and venues are truly accessible and inclusive. Service providers and public venues have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to provide accessible facilities and to remove the barriers that may prevent disabled people from using their services.
The Act requires disabled individuals to challenge service providers who are not meeting their legal obligations through the civil courts, but it is neither realistic nor fair to expect disabled fans to take this on individually. We would be asking them effectively to sue their own club—something that is anathema to most sports fans because of the life-long, loyal relationship that they may have with the club that they support. Disabled fans who have considered taking such action will tell your Lordships of the threats that they are subject to if they take on a multimillion pound club.
This is not a new issue. We have been aware of the problems faced by disabled sports fans for more than 25 years. Following the Hillsborough disaster, Lord Justice Taylor made a series of recommendations for disabled fans back in 1990. Then, in 1998, the report of the football task force, on which I served as deputy chairman, went further than Lord Justice Taylor and made 52 recommendations to set mandatory requirements on the minimum number of wheelchair-user spaces and adapted seats for disabled people. The report recommended improvements for disabled fans in line with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, including decent views, shelter from the weather, and access to toilets, refreshment bars, ticketing and stewarding. It also proposed annual visits by hit squads to all the grounds to conduct access appraisals of facilities and to monitor progress. That report was agreed to by all the parties represented on the task force, including the Premier League.
Following those recommendations, the National Association of Disabled Supporters—the predecessor of Level Playing Field—carried out access appraisals of all football clubs in the professional game between 2000 and 2002. Yet no further funding or follow-up was provided to continue with that important work. In 2003, the Independent Football Commission reported on the lack of progress in implementing the 1998 football task force recommendations in the annual report.
Football should do better and can do better. For an indication of what can be achieved, we should look at what happened with the London Olympics in 2012. Access and inclusion were integrated at all stages of the planning and everyone was committed to ensuring that it was there from the outset. I suspect that we may hear from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and possibly the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on that subject during this debate.
There is often talk about the difficulties of improving access to existing football stadia because of their age. This is an indefensible argument, especially when we consider the extraordinary wealth of the Premier League clubs. They have no difficulty in finding money for improving and extending their hospitality and media areas or in spending incredible amounts of money on players and managers. Earlier this week your Lordships may have read in the sports pages the report of Raheem Sterling’s transfer from Liverpool to Manchester City. Monday’s Guardian states:
“Agreement was … struck on Sunday afternoon on a deal which will cost City an initial £44m, with a further £5m due in add-ons. The player is now formally free to discuss personal terms and undertake medical checks with his new employers. A long-term contract worth around £200,000 a week”—
I repeat, £200,000 a week—
“has in effect already been agreed”.
The accounts for all Premier League clubs for 2013 have recently been published. The annual wage bill for all Premier League players was £1.85 billion. The weekly wage bill was £35.4 million, and the daily wage bill, based on a five-day working week, was £7 million. If all Premier League players donated just one day’s pay, their clubs could reasonably improve their disabled fans’ facilities to meet at least football’s own minimum standards. As I have said, the minimum standards of football are significantly lower than those set by other bodies such as Sport England, the London 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority and the International Paralympic Committee. Football’s own standards are less than half of what those bodies have accepted.
Only 14 of the 92 professional football clubs in England meet football’s minimum numbers. Of these, only three Premier League clubs exceed those standards and more than one-third meet less than 50%. Top clubs not meeting the standards include Chelsea and Manchester United. Almost 1% of the population uses a wheelchair, yet Old Trafford provides only 120 wheelchair-user spaces, which is equivalent to less than 0.15% of the overall stadium capacity.
Disabled fans at 55 of the 92 professional clubs have no choice but to sit with home fans as away supporters, and many have stopped travelling to away games because the situation is so awful. Disabled fans are often asked to hide their team colours and to refrain from celebrating goals. It can be an intimidating and hostile experience. They have been verbally abused and threatened, and some have had coins, cigarette lighters, urine and other items thrown at them. The Accessible Stadia guidelines state:
“Designated viewing areas should be provided for both home and away”,
Let us be clear about the matchday experience. Surveys show that 82% of British football fans agree that being around other fans in the atmosphere of the grounds is as important as watching the game itself, and 85% associate football with friendship and camaraderie. Disabled fans should not be deprived of this experience. Being able to sit with your family or friends at a match is taken for granted by most fans but that is frequently denied to disabled fans and they often have to sit in a completely different stand or even use a different entrance. Recently, a father of three young sons, a Manchester United fan, was told to go and support Stockport County if he wished his disabled son to sit with the rest of the family. There are reports of walking aids being confiscated and of guide dogs being banned.
Poor sightlines within disabled fans’ seating areas are commonplace, with views blocked by stewards, police, players warming up on the touchline, match officials and other fans who insist on standing. Several clubs have resorted to putting signs on the back of seats asking non-disabled fans to remain seated. Not only does this not work, it is ridiculous. Fans always jump to their feet at crucial moments of a match and block the view of the fans behind them. In some Premier League grounds, persistent standing is commonplace, with disabled fans often located at the back of stands behind such fans. Accessible parking and accessible amenities are often limited, of a poor standard or non-existent, and there is a lack of suitable drop-off points. The situation is especially difficult for some older fans and those with limited mobility.
Let us be clear: when a disabled person is denied access or provided with a lesser service, it is discrimination and exclusion in its worst form. It sends a message to disabled people that they are somehow less important, less valued and less worthy. Is that the reputation that we wish for our sports, our national game, our clubs, our leagues or our governing bodies, or do we seek true inclusion? It is now clearly time for new measures. Everyone has so far failed in their efforts to persuade the clubs to do the right thing and to play their part. It is apparent to all of us who have been involved over the last few years that the clubs will not fix these issues themselves. It is time for effective regulation. That is why this Bill, or one drafted along these lines, is so urgently needed now. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is normally a pleasure to speak in your Lordships’ House on sport. Today, there is a sadness, because we should not need this Bill or this debate. Football should have sorted access at stadia long ago. I speak today merely as a Peer and for no other organisation.
Let us consider some of the facts. Earlier this year, the Premier League was officially declared the richest football league on the planet. Some of the best players in the world play in the English Premier League, which is broadcast right around the globe. This is a great British success story. It is a fabulous brand, a fabulous broadcast and a fabulous export. So such sadness is amplified by the almost complete lack of ability to sort it when it comes to access.
The reasons are many but not that varied: stadia are too old, it is too difficult. But let us consider a different league. We all know who raised the Premier League trophy earlier this year. The teams have got their place in the Champions League. But let us consider the league table that ranks Premier League clubs on their provision of accessible seating. Does that mirror roughly how the teams finished on their points, on the park? It does not. Only three Premier League clubs meet those minimum standards, agreed by the task force in 1998, which the Premier League was part of, and put into the 2003 guide: Swansea, Bournemouth, and Leicester City. The Emirates is impressive at 96% and great progress has been made by Manchester City. But what about some of the other big guns in the top five or the top 10? No: Chelsea is in the 12th spot, Liverpool in 15th, Manchester United in 16th. If we measured clubs on the provision of accessible seating, these clubs not only would not be winning a place in Europe, but would be looking dangerously close to the drop zone.
The excuses are that the stadia are too old, that it is impossible or much too difficult. I went to a Cambridge college that had buildings that dated back to the 15th century. Those buildings were made accessible, yet it is too difficult for some of the richest football clubs on the planet to make their stadia accessible. Tranmere Rovers is firmly, completely committed to disability access. Is it a club awash with funds? At the end of this season it was relegated from the Football League, yet its commitment to disability access and its desire to be a leader in this area holds true. Perhaps it is a new stadium; perhaps that makes it easier? Prenton Park dates back to 1912. It is hats off to Mark Palios and the leadership he shows there, demonstrating what can be done.
It is not a question of the age of the stadium, it is a question of leadership. There is an incredible lack of leadership—a vacuum in this space—from the Premier League, the chairmen and the chief executives of the clubs. When you have a leadership vacuum, pernicious forces step in. The Premier League Handbook, which is binding on all clubs, has one line on disability access, rule K.34: the clubs must,
“provide sufficient and adequate facilities for disabled supporters”.
There are pages on the provisions for the media. This shows the lack of leadership when it comes to disability access.
As I said, inevitably where there is a lack of leadership, pernicious forces step in. We saw it at Liverpool earlier this season, where disabled fans were verbally abused and received death threats when they simply tried to see what was going on on the pitch. At Manchester United, an 80 year-old gentleman had his walking stick taken off him. A man in his 20s who had a cast on his foot had his crutches taken away. I was fortunate to see the police statement on those incidents, which said that the behaviour of the stewards was extraordinary and astounding. I do not necessarily seek to blame the stewards; I would be very interested to understand what diversity and inclusion training they had received. At Chelsea, a fan too scared to give his name said he was told he would just have to wait until 2022 for the new stadium for more seats to arrive.
This is constantly being pushed into the long grass. For far too long, discrimination and a lack of disability access have tarnished football. If progress is not made, I believe that sponsors should consider their connection and relationship to football and how that fits with their ethical state. I believe that what we see is nothing short of shambolic. Feeble excuses begone! They have been used for far too long. The Premier League has been in existence for more than 20 years and we do not have even minimal access for disabled fans. Yet when it comes to new cameras and media positions the changes are made in a trice. So-called old grounds have been rebuilt from the inside out, with new media positions, new commentary booths, new VIP and hospitality facilities. Yet, when it comes to disability access, it is too difficult. It has been far too long, yet my Cambridge college could make 15th -century buildings accessible.
Today, I will write to the sponsors of the Premier League and the broadcast partners to suggest that, if there is not considerable progress in this area—so far, we can describe it as glacial progress—they should consider their relationship with football and how that fits with their ethical state in the market. These sponsors and broadcasters are brilliant brands, fabulous market leaders with great corporate social responsibility programmes. How does football fit with that?
I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister two questions. First, in her previous business life, if one of her stores said, “We can admit only three wheelchair users per day”, what would her response have been? Secondly, will the Government support this Bill and end this iniquity once and for all? If they will not, will my noble friend work with the Secretary of State to bring legislation forward at the first possible opportunity to put this situation right? Whether it is the FIFA debacle, casual sexism or the national disgrace of disability access, the need has never been greater for football to discover its moral compass. It is our national sport and yet for far too long the beautiful game has been for many disabled spectators an ugly, ugly experience.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. It is indeed shameful that we have to have this debate today.
I have been a wheelchair user since I was seven and have a lot of experience as a spectator, admittedly quite mixed. I have experienced all the things that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned. For any fan it can be hard to get a ticket, but, for a disabled fan, even if there happens to be an open purchasing policy, it is more challenging because tickets are sold or given away in a pair as a wheelchair user and companion or carer. Imagine the difficulty of having a husband who is a part-time wheelchair user and a daughter, and trying to obtain three tickets for us to sit together, or going with a friend in a wheelchair, as the stewards desperately try to figure out who is caring for whom. When my daughter was very young, we went to a sports venue and I was told that, as my five year-old was not my carer, she could not sit with me. It was suggested that she might like to go and sit in a bank of seats at least 10 rows away from where I was, where I had no access to her.
The issue about the number of seats also hides a wider problem of sight lines, accessible toilets, access to food and drink, and, in the case of football, home and away fans being able to sit together, which are compounded by the lack of seats and understanding of disabled people. This is about respect for disabled fans. I think the Bill is making a reasonable request and is not asking for special treatment. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority is best placed to take on this challenge. I completely understand that you cannot have totally flexible seating with no limit on the number of wheelchair spaces However, disabled people should not be fighting for something approaching equality. This is dreadful. Is it too much to ask? I do not think so. It may take some imagination, perhaps some money, but we have the richest clubs in the world. I do wonder what message these stadia are sending out to supporters. Is it that wheelchair users are welcome to attend as long as there are not too many of them? What message do wheelchair users hear? Is it that they have to be grateful for what they receive? Is it that they are not good enough to be part of the fan experience?
I have been disappointed by the attitude of the larger football clubs. It is great that they support educational programmes and most of the big clubs support wheelchair football, but I wonder how many of those players can actually get in to watch a first team game. When I started looking at the statistics for accessibility, I was shocked. They are all available on the Level Playing Field website. In previous debates, I have pointed out issues around Manchester United, which has been in touch with me and asked me to visit, and we are, indeed, trying to find a suitable date. I quote directly from the email I received:
“Your exchange on Twitter, as attached, could be seen by some as indulging in matters which you remain uninformed of and accepting our invitation could be the beginning of an understanding which brings to the fore the many operational features that come together on a match day in a stadium capable of holding upwards of 75,000 people”.
I have been privileged to be at a lot of very big sporting events—six Olympics, seven Paralympics, 11 World Championships, Europeans and Commonwealth Games, plus individual events at venues with far more than 75,000 seats. I have had some great experiences at Wembley, but Trailblazers has found that other people have not. The fan experience will vary. In the lead-up to 2012, this is one of the things that I worked on with LOCOG, when the whole of the Olympic Park was in operational mode. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, is in his place and thank him for his contribution on many areas. The fact that you could go into the Olympic Park and have no worry whatever that you could sit with the people that you went with was incredible. You cannot underestimate the power of being able to sit with your friends and family. Until you have experienced exclusion, it is hard to imagine what it feels like. I do hope that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will look at this further. Surely what is happening here is discrimination, but are we too afraid to call it such? Surely this has to be on the same page as racism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination. When you exclude disabled people, you are being discriminatory.
It is a shame that those who run the stadiums talk about CSR and community engagement when wheelchair users are far more likely not to have the same experience as non-disabled people. I suggest that this is just an outdated way of looking at this. We should be forward thinking and inclusive. It is not just about the fans. I wonder how many disabled people actually work in sports stadia.
Wrexham also got in touch with me via Twitter and adopted an altogether more positive tone. The club is 100% fan owned and the ownership body is Wrexham Supporters Trust. The stadium is owned by Glyndwr University and is the oldest international football stadium in the world still in use. The club is not making any excuses about the age of the stadium. It is a non-league club and receives no FA/Football League pre-season “solidarity” payments or parachute payments, and, because of its status, its football in the community and centre for excellence are also unfunded by the FA and Football League. However, the club has done some incredible work. It sanctioned and facilitated the UK’s first ever autism-friendly football match and donated two separate cheques received from the proceeds of the FA Charity Shield for its FA Cup runs. Admission prices are fixed at the lowest ground rate for wheelchair fans based on the lack of choice that they have in viewing the match. The club does so much more. Its first wheelchair viewing platform will be available next week on Wednesday 22 July. Twenty of its season ticket holder fans voluntarily moved their seats to allow wheelchair users to watch the match. The club has a commitment to raising funds for two more wheelchair viewing platforms, one of which will be for away fans. This is a club that genuinely cares about its spectators.
The big clubs are hiding behind all sorts of reasons. I do not generally think that we should be legislating for this. What has changed my mind? It was the fact that a really big, powerful, rich club is able to tell a family with a disabled son that they should perhaps go and support a smaller club like Stockport, which might be able to accommodate them. Those clubs do not deserve those fans, and that is why we should support this legislation.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, on this Bill, which I warmly support. The noble Lord is a fellow member of the recently established committee looking at the Equality Act 2010 as it affects disabled people, and his experience in this area is invaluable.
I confess that I have never been to a football match in my life. I went to Twickenham once for an international rugby match, where I had the great good fortune to sit next to the noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, who could explain the finer points to me—basically why the ref kept blowing his whistle.
My interest in the Bill stems from my love of cricket, and in particular test matches at Lord’s Cricket Ground, where I hope to be tomorrow. I think I am right in saying that, if this Bill becomes law, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority’s statutory responsibilities will extend to cricket grounds such as Lord’s, although I am not clear whether we are talking about refurbishment of existing areas or new build only. I am a proud member of its Disability Access Users Group, set up two years ago by Marylebone Cricket Club, which owns Lord’s. The MCC, as many will know, has set out on a redevelopment programme for Lord’s that will see most spectator areas and facilities rebuilt or renovated over a timescale of more than a decade. The Disability Access Users Group has provided a valuable opportunity for those who are affected by poor access to put our oars in at the crucial planning stage of alterations and rebuilds. Some among our number are expert in asking the right questions of the architects and planners, and we have not been holding back in our views. The question of enough accessible lavatories able to accommodate wheelchair users as well as ambulant disabled people is of particular importance, and has been the subject of lively debate. All disabilities are being covered, not just mobility problems, and I commend the good practice in this field undertaken by Lord’s.
I must say that the welcome that those of us with mobility problems receive at Lord’s from all the stewards—particularly, in my part of the ground, from Steve Crocker and his team—is wonderful and makes all the difference to our enjoyment of the day. Plans for the redeveloped stands either side of the famous pavilion have 1% of spaces accessible for wheelchairs, including some flexible seating to allow for multiple companions; a further 3% of seating is allocated as amenity seats, with greater legroom, width, height or armrests, for ambulant disabled people. The MCC has also initiated a programme of disability awareness training for all its full-time staff, with some also undertaking specialist training in areas such as dementia awareness, to support community activities aimed at making Lord’s a more inclusive venue. The importance of this kind of training cannot be overstated, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, would agree.
However, the Accessible Stadia document was drafted with new stadia in mind, and numerous older sports grounds—including Lord’s, of course—will struggle to comply if the guidelines are to be made compulsory and retrospectively applied, although I take the point made by all noble Lords who have spoken so far that the age of the ground is not in itself an excuse for inaction. It would be most unfortunate if, in seeking to make compliance mandatory, the Bill in its current form risked driving sports grounds towards meeting only the minimum standard, thereby discouraging innovative approaches such as those taken at Lord’s.
To sum up, Lord’s is in the process of providing much-needed extra facilities for disabled people, while acknowledging that there is a still a long way to go, particularly in view of the rapid increase in the number of elderly and disabled people. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, and wish the Bill well.
My Lords, I may seem an unlikely figure to be concerned about sports grounds. However, my involvement with the Lords Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee has highlighted to me that we all become disabled in the end—it is just a question of how quickly and how severely the conditions present themselves in one’s life. Sports grounds accessibility is also a metaphor for the whole of our public life. Attending matches and other sporting activities is an integral and vital part of our culture and tradition. Sports grounds are not used just for sport; when matches are not being played they are frequently made available for community activities, so accessibility is vital for non-sports events as well.
The requirements of the Accessible Stadia guidelines referred to in Clause 1 are not rocket science. They list the elements common to our movement around our towns and buildings, and they symbolise the need for the whole country, in building and designing, in offering services and communication, to be proactive in thinking about accessibility. In general, we should not wait for a disabled person to discover an insuperable barrier and complain. We should be planning ahead for accessibility for all; today it is them, tomorrow it will be us who need that. Accessibility needs to be mainstreamed and built into all our plans.
The guidelines referred to in the Bill require that adjustments should be made to:
“Transport and access to the stadium … Information and signage … Parking … Ticket outlets and designated entrances … Movement and circulation in and around the stadium … Lifts, ramps and staircases … sightlines … Toilets … Restaurants and bars … Directors’ boxes … Hospitality suites … Retail and commercial activities … Press and media … fire and emergency warning”.
These are all, with a moment’s thought, essential parts of everyday life not only in stadia but generally. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, pointed out, 40% of the population currently require easy access, not just the 12% who are formally disabled persons, but senior citizens, families with children in buggies, and people with temporary conditions that inhibit their fitness. We all have the right to participate fully in society. Human rights in all their particularities must apply to the disabled and the less fit just as they do to the fully capable.
Sadly, the promised Olympic legacy of wider participation in sport has not materialised. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to see the Paralympics and the enthusiasm for them. The organisation of the Paralympics showed what could be done successfully to enhance accessibility. But that extraordinary display of the abilities of the disabled sports men and women, whose prowess belied the term “disabled”, should not lead us to think that there are no barriers to the ordinary non-sporting disabled person. Too many of them have never participated in sport activities or attended a public event. They are therefore excluded from the social interactions—the enjoyment of shared experiences, triumphs and losses—that focus so intensely in our everyday chat about what is going on in national sport. Young people, particularly disabled young people, feel very badly their inability to access sports grounds, to have a decent sightline and to sit with their friends and fellow fans. The Bill is an honourable and sensible step to rectify that limitation.
There is also a business case for the Bill. Increased attendance at stadia, opening up the retail and refreshment facilities there, can only be good for business; nor is there any shortage of the resources needed to make the adjustments called for in the Bill. As others have said, football is awash with money. If clubs can afford the salaries we read about, if they are getting £5 billion for broadcasting deals, this must be the first call on their funds. Huge sums change hands when necessary. Some of the richest clubs are among the worst offenders in terms of access. I see that, among others, the following clubs provide far fewer wheelchair places than the recommended number: Manchester City, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United, Stoke City, Everton, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Burnley and, last but not least, Aston Villa—of which Prince William is reportedly a fan; as president of the FA he could exert his persuasive powers. We should not have to wait until Prince George is old enough to be going to matches with his father.
A major moral call on the football wealth is accessibility for the disabled fans. New stadia must have the necessary adjustments built into the design; existing stadia must also be adapted, and not all the adjustments are expensive. The clubs must be held to account to ensure that they are doing the right thing. They should not have to be coerced but the Bill will ensure that the adjustments are carried out through the requirement in Clause 2.
I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has introduced this excellent Bill. I call on the Government to support it, and wish it well.
My Lords, I declare my football interests as set out in the register, in particular my interest as a vice-president of Level Playing Field, the charity which campaigns to promote good access to sports venues for all fans and disabled fans in particular.
Under the Equality Act 2010, and previously under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, sports bodies have a legal duty to make,
“reasonable adjustments to remove barriers”,
that put disabled people at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with people who are not disabled so that they can access sports grounds. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has expressed concern that there is a lack of commitment from some sporting bodies to improve access for disabled people to their venues. In particular, the commission says that its discussions regarding football have indicated some reluctance to take the actions necessary to deliver the improvements needed within a reasonable timescale.
Why is this reluctance being encountered? It could be that clubs at the top level feel that making the reasonable adjustments to remove barriers that put disabled people at a substantial disadvantage would use up space into which a rather larger number of fans who are not disabled either are currently, or could be, accommodated. That rather larger number of fans would generate more income for the club than the much lower number of disabled fans who could be accommodated in the same space. It could also be that the clubs feel that the cost of making those reasonable adjustments does not represent for them the best use of capital, as determined by the rate of return received. It could be that the governance arrangements for the Premier League militate against any decisive leadership being shown on this specific issue or that there is just a straight failure of leadership on it. Whatever the true reasons, the present situation is unfair and discriminatory.
Disabled fans can be placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with people who are not disabled in a number of ways, not just through a failure to provide the required level of accommodation and facilities for such fans. Level Playing Field has carried out a survey of match ticket availability and proof of disability policies at Premier League clubs. Disabled fans find it increasingly difficult to purchase tickets for Premier League matches, since ticketing policies and procedures are often much more complicated or completely inaccessible when compared with access for non-disabled fans. Only two Premier League clubs have facilities for online ticket purchases for disabled spectators. It is impossible to purchase a disabled fan’s ticket online at 18 of the 20 Premier League clubs, yet all Premier League clubs offer online sales to non-disabled fans.
Some clubs have complex ticketing policies for disabled fans. For example, four of the biggest Premier League clubs require disabled fans to be members of both the club and their disabled supporters’ association before they can even qualify to apply for tickets. This practice is surely discriminatory. Non-disabled fans are not required to become a member of a specific fans’ group at the club to apply for tickets, and those non-disabled fans who are not club members can still purchase tickets on general sale.
As has already been explained so powerfully today, it is almost impossible for a disabled fan to attend a match with other family members at the majority of Premier League clubs, and disabled family members will often be located in a different stand from the rest of the family. For parents with children, this can cause real problems. The example has already been quoted of Manchester United telling a father of three young boys to follow another team if he wished to attend with all his sons. His eldest son is a wheelchair user, while he is a lifelong fan who hopes that his sons will follow in his footsteps. Sadly, that hope does not appear to be shared by Manchester United Football Club.
Many believe that the only reason for the kind of complex, unfair and discriminatory schemes for disabled fans which I have been able only briefly to outline is to enable the Premier League clubs at fault to manage the effects of the deliberate, continuing severe shortage of required facilities and accommodation for them at nearly all grounds—a shortage judged, I emphasise, against football’s own minimum requirements.
Level Playing Field has recently undertaken a review with leading stadium architects and quantity surveyors to ascertain the ballpark costs in making the required access improvements at Premier League and Football League stadia. The estimated cost to make the required improvements at all Premier League clubs to meet football’s own minimum standards is less than £8.5 million. To make these same improvements to the very highest standards, with all wheelchair user spaces provided in the upper tiers of stands and across the stadia, would be no more than £25 million. To put that in context, there are reports in the papers even this morning of one Premier League club being about to purchase a player from another for £32.5 million, which is more than 25% higher than the cost of making the required provision for wheelchair user spaces to the very highest standards, and four times more than making those improvements to the minimum standards.
A lack of willingness to act unless compelled to do so is at the root of the problem. For that reason, I support my noble friend’s Bill. There is also a safety issue because the lack of required accommodation for disabled fans means that away disabled supporters too often find themselves with, or adjacent to, home supporters. That presents safety problems all too often. The need for a fair deal for disabled football supporters has been pushed to one side for far too long, and with it the implementation of both the terms and spirit of our equality laws in this field. The time for decisive action is now. The question that will be answered shortly is: is that also the Government’s position?
My Lords, I am pleased to welcome the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and to support it this morning. I am grateful for his and others’ determination to make good provision for disabled people at sports grounds a requirement and not just a vague aspiration. Were this not a sitting Friday and it my responsibility to lead the Prayers of this House, I would instead this morning be at Lord’s for the second day of the Ashes test. My ticket—obtained long before today was fixed as a sitting Friday—is being put, I trust, to good use. As a keen sports fan, particularly of football and cricket, I find it disappointing and sobering that so very many grounds have such poor provision for people with disabilities of various sorts. Although there is a small number of examples of thoughtful and good provision, the overall situation is not just disappointing but bad. Out of care for each other and common decency, it is right to give everyone the dignity of access and safety.
Where money can surely not be judged a mitigating factor given lucrative sponsorships, high admission prices and the years that there have been to implement recommendations, it is surely clear that voluntary compliance with best practice has occurred only in isolated instances. I can only wonder, with some incredulity, why at the pinnacle of professional sport there is not the will to implement change, even where there is the way. If the richest clubs, some with the most modern stadia, will not voluntarily accede to reasonable encouragement and exhortation, something stronger is needed.
A few years ago, my daughter worked for a while for Muscular Dystrophy UK. One project in which she was involved is the already mentioned Trailblazers young campaigners’ network, through which young people with different types of muscle-wasting conditions campaign for better access, including to sports and leisure facilities. Its 2013 report Game On reported, in particular, on squalid accessible toilets, poor views of the game from the designated places, separation from families and friends and being allocated places among rival fans—all of which we have heard about already—along with a limited, and often very limited, number of places allocated to those with a disability. There are too many examples, some of which can be seen in individuals’ comments shared on Facebook: how thoughtless to allow disabled toilets to be used by anyone in the crowd; how thoughtless that a retaining rail is at eye level from a wheelchair; how thoughtless to suppose that seating friends close to but behind someone in a wheelchair enables the togetherness which is such an important part of watching sport.
My support for the Bill might be less passionate, though still strong, if the top clubs and grounds had over the years steadily moved towards compliance. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, suggested that we could all say amen to the view that Premier League clubs should do better. Appropriately, your Lordships may judge, I repeat that amen. If, with only a handful of exceptions, they have not voluntarily complied, there is no trickle-down encouragement for smaller stadia and clubs to move in the right direction. What is needed is the requirement to comply. I hope that the Bill receives from the House and the Minister the support it deserves.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on introducing his Bill. The noble Lord deserves the respect of the whole House for all the work that he has done behind the scenes on the development of grass-roots football, for the importance he attaches to accessibility and for the care he has always given to both players and supporters, not just recently but over many decades. The House is greatly indebted to him for that work.
The noble Lord briefly referred to the 1980s in his introductory remarks. I remember, as a Minister, introducing the first review chaired by a Minister of Sport for those with disabilities. The review included the issue of access and made the vital point that we needed to make progress. One of the recommendations was that we set up a British Paralympic Association. The Secretary of State at the time was Nick Ridley, who taught me one or two things about how to handle the House of Commons. I had been going religiously to football matches as Minister for Sport, simply to be able to answer the question that the shadow Minister at the time, Denis Howell, was bound to ask the moment I got on to my feet to introduce a highly contentious Bill to address issues related to hooliganism in football. Nick Ridley, in characteristic form as Secretary of State, had asked which was the most difficult Bill due to be taken that week. He looked at me and said, “It’s yours, Colin, isn’t it? I’ll do Second Reading”. I looked at him and said, “You’re not in the least bit interested in football or sport; how on earth are you going to do it?”. He said, “I’ll definitely do it. The Secretary of State’s job is to take the toughest Bills and give the young Ministers the opportunity to shine with some rather easier material”. So up he got on his feet, with the House absolutely packed. Denis Howell, sitting opposite, intervened after about a minute and said, “I’d like to ask the Secretary of State when he last went to a football match”, to which he responded, “At Eton, under duress”. That completely defused the situation in the House of Commons and left me sitting there thinking that I was going to football matches every Saturday, irrespective of whether they are First, Second, Third or Fourth Division, simply to meet that question.
At the end of the inquiry into sports for those with disabilities, we had the usual Wednesday morning meeting with Ministers. Nick Ridley asked whether any follow-up was needed, apart from considering the recommendations. I said, “Yes, Secretary of State, we need £1 million to start the British Paralympic Association”. He just said, “Yes”, and walked straight out of the office before there were any supplementary conditions. We took the £1 million and made quick progress, which later led to us going to the International Olympic Committee to urge it to ensure that any city bidding for the Olympic Games would also bid to host the Paralympic Games. I am grateful for the comments that have been made about the work of the Olympic Board on London 2012, which was the culmination of a lot of work from people on all sides of the House. It is interesting to note that everybody who has spoken in the debate, on all sides of the House, has done so from a lifetime of experience, commitment and passion on the subject. This is not a subject where people have just picked up the order of proceedings and come in to speak. I hope the Minister takes that into account as well as the fact that there is all-party support for the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.
I have one or two observations about the noble Lord’s Bill, which I hope we might be able to look at as we make further progress. I declare an interest as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which has looked at the Bill and will no doubt be reporting in due course, although I emphasise that I am speaking as an individual and certainly not on behalf of the committee. It strikes me that one of the issues is that the principal purpose here is to provide for greater accessibility at large sports grounds for spectators with disabilities. As drafted, the Bill relies on the definition of a large sports ground being one that, in the opinion of the Secretary of State under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, provides,
“accommodation for more than 10,000 spectators”.
As we make progress on this, it may be worth while debating whether that is too high a threshold and whether, given the objectives that we are seeking to achieve here, a lower threshold might be more appropriate for this Bill.
There is also the well-trodden difference between compliance and guidelines. Compliance and guidelines, as all noble Lords know, do not sit comfortably in legislation. Accessible Stadia, as noble Lords will all have noted, consists of some 607 pages and is an outstandingly good work. If my memory serves me correctly, the document was significantly influenced by Peter Lee, one of the unsung heroes of our time in sports administration, who does an enormous amount of good work. However, Accessible Stadia consists of guidelines, and it is quite difficult to request in a Bill that the certificate from the Sports Grounds Safety Authority confirming that a ground complies with guidelines has legal backing. Those guidelines may be amended and changed from time to time. Clause 1 clearly talks about the guidelines, while Clause 2 would add a new subsection to Section 2 of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act to say:
“A safety certificate shall contain a condition that the sports ground must comply with the … guidelines published”.
It does not say it must comply with the guidelines if they change, and we might wish to amend that to clear up that potential loophole. It is worth looking quite closely at how you have compliance and advice in one clause and then, in the next clause, seek to enact that through legal requirements.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will be aware that I put a Bill before the House on sports policy shortly before the last election, not because I anticipated that it would go through to become law but because I hoped that, during the following five years, many of the issues that were floated in the Bill would be seriously considered as different pieces of legislation were presented to your Lordships’ House for consideration. When drafting it, I felt that the Secretary of State might be given the power to make regulations in respect of access for disabled athletes, and indeed disabled spectators, in sports venues and at sporting events if he or she thought fit, including in relation to technical specifications. I also hoped that those regulations would make sure that venue design in the future took into account all the recommendations made by the accessibility guide and the inclusive approach to the Olympic and Paralympic Games which was issued by the International Paralympic Committee in June 2013. That might strengthen part of what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is seeking to achieve. It might also address the question of the 10,000 threshold and the discomfort of having guidelines on the one side and making them mandatory on the other.
Those, however, are recommendations to strengthen the Bill. As for the Bill itself, and as for the work that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has put into this, I cannot but commend him very strongly. I will do everything I can to help. I know that those I have spoken to on these Benches who are passionate about sport echo the gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and to those in the House so actively supporting the Bill today.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK for reasons that will become apparent in a minute. I am also a member of Southampton Football Club, and usually a season ticket holder—but not in a general election year. I am not quite sure why. I offer my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for bringing forward this important Bill. It is utterly reasonable, and rightly brief. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, I should like a couple of details to be discussed, for reasons that I shall come to.
I am in a wheelchair these days, and I want us to pause for a second over the meaning of “accessible”. There are many other forms of disability that provide problems for people trying to access stadia. I have progressed from being fully fit and walking many miles a day through to using a stick, finding that I have to pause, having balance problems and then moving into part-time and then full-time wheelchair use. My experience at Southampton Football Club has been to watch my own progressively more disabled position and see how the club has responded to my needs—and it has been a very positive story.
We need to think clearly about how training happens for staff, not just for disabled access officers or stewards but right the way through the organisation, from that first moment when you telephone and ask for a ticket, so that the right questions are asked to facilitate us as best as possible. I, too, have had the problem of not being able to have my family sit with me. My brother is usually my neighbour, but sometimes we like to go as a fairly large family. In the past, they have often had to sit many rows behind us—but I now find that when I ring and ask, the first thing that the ticket people do is to ask how many tickets I need for the family, and they see how close they can find them. It is quite often my fault because, without a season ticket, I am booking very late. None the less, they go out of their way to help.
There are some other things, too, about training. That is what is missing from this Bill and from the accessible stadia guidelines. For example, are stewards trained to spot somebody who may have a problem? Stewards started coming up to me when I was using a stick saying, “Would you rather come through the side door than use the turnstile?”. Then there is making sure that there are enough benches on the route to the stadium, which can be very long these days, to make sure that someone who cannot walk very far can pause and rest for a moment. It is sometimes necessary to point out when there is no space where a wheelchair can be stored during the game, so my brother can take me to my seat and then take the wheelchair and park it somewhere else. Most importantly, in the run-up to the game, you sometimes have to ask people to move from standing right in front of wheelchairs, having a look at what is going on. They obviously have to move as the game starts. Stewards need to keep their eye out for that, so that we as disabled people do not have to say to other fans, “Would you mind moving?”. All those things are good practice, and I am proud that my club makes training such a key part of that.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, it was wonderful at the Olympic Stadium—and I have seen Wembley Stadium as well. My disappointment came last year in the Commonwealth Games. I am a trustee of UNICEF UK, which was a co-sponsor and ran a very unusual scheme during the opening ceremony, whereby we highlighted disabled children throughout the Commonwealth countries. But there were no wheelchair spaces in the VIP seats, so I was the only trustee of the sponsoring organisation who had to sit elsewhere in the wheelchair seats because the stadium just did not provide them.
As we have heard, it is not good everywhere else. I wanted to highlight two points that young Trailblazers raised personally—because, while we anonymise it, we do not get the feeling of the frustration of the fans. Mansoor Ahmad told us:
“I go to Chelsea often. Access is fine but the view in west stand is poor, especially depending on how high or low your wheelchair is. At my eye level I see shins and feet of players depending on where they are on the pitch. They should raise it”.
Jo McNicol, who is a regular spectator at premier league football games, told us:
“I have been to loads,”
“and I hate the grounds where as a”,
“away fan you have to sit with the home fans. At Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium, you sit in front of home fans then get told off for cheering your team by stewards … The stewards threatened to throw my friend out … as he was shouting”,
for his team,
“which we always do and we were told we couldn’t shout or cheer as home fans were behind us. If we were sitting with our fans it would not have mattered. I want to be able to sit with the fans of the club I support so I am able to enjoy the match and not worry about the other fans’ abuse”.
Let me make a political analogy. It would be like asking a member of the Conservative Party in the Lords or the Commons to sit with Labour or the Liberal Democrats for a long debate and asking them to be completely silent for the four or five hours of a Budget debate. We would think that was not on.
I want to contrast that with some of the very specific things, other than disabled seating, which I know that Southampton and some of the other clubs provide elsewhere. There are RADAR locks on all the concourse-accessible toilets, so that only people with a RADAR key—therefore, disabled—can use. That is important, because some disabled fans also have illnesses that mean that, if a toilet is dirty, it is a dangerous place for them to go. Accessible toilets have painted contrasts for the fixtures, so that you can see grab rails easily, improving the facility for visually impaired supporters. They work closely with guide dogs and canine partners and assess the allocated spaces specifically for supporters with assistance dogs. There are lowered counters at all units and ticket office windows. I hate having to buy a hot drink of coffee at nose level; it is not safe. They provide DAB radios for visually impaired supporters, so that they are provided with a full match commentary. There are six disabled parking spaces for away fans, reduced ticket prices and free enabler tickets anywhere in the stadium, and dedicated accessibility stewards to help to support us. There is also a disabled drop-off point outside the main entrance in the lay-by, giving access on the main match day, which was vital in the days when I had a stick and could not walk the half a mile plus from where I usually park.
One thing that I am really pleased about are the new UEFA regulations, which mean that disability access officials will become mandatory. However, there are disturbing reports and stories that some disability access officers at some of the high-profile clubs that have been mentioned today are gatekeepers not facilitators. They sometimes prevent disabled supporters from getting tickets because they have “caused trouble” in the past, in their view. Disabled access officers should not be handing out tickets; they should be making sure that those who do so at that club are doing so correctly. They should be accountable to the board and, at the minimum, there should be an annual report every year. I would like to see the guidelines for accessible stadia to include training and specific responsibilities for disability access officers in future.
Finally, there is no more time to go through it but there is one extra hidden benefit from allowing disabled sports supporters to really enjoy their sport. It is not just about viewing sport; the good clubs provide foundation money for disability sports in their communities. Southampton is one among many that does that.
To end on a warning note, the Equality and Human Rights Commission says that it always aims,
“to work with organisations to help them improve their equality practice, in order to avoid costly legal proceedings. However, we also continue to consider whether future action is needed to ensure clubs comply with their legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to improve access for disabled people”.
I and other disabled fans will hold the Equality and Human Rights Commission to that promise.
My Lords, like others I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on his persistence and tireless campaigning on this whole issue, as well as his ability to get to the top of the queue and bring forward his Bill so that it gets the maximum chance of being considered before your Lordships and, I hope, be endorsed so that it goes forward. He made an excellent speech which reflected on the long history that is antecedent to this issue. In doing that, he has also brought out of your Lordships’ House a range of fantastic speeches, which have covered all the issues with knowledge, compassion and humour—and has also opened to those of us who are not as knowledgeable about this some of the extraordinarily bad practices that are going on. I hope the Minister has noted that, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, this is a non-party issue. This is an all-party issue as well as a non-party in the sense that all sections of your Lordships’ House have supported what is being said. It is very important that the Government reflect on the fact that there is a huge amount of support for this issue.
On this side of the House, we believe that everyone should be able to watch sport in safety, security and comfort, and we support all measures that improve the current situation, which we find completely unacceptable. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, this is an issue about respect. We need to look at all aspects of this issue, not just the simple but obviously rather complex issue of access, but ticketing processes, family access, the training that is provided and the catering—the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made a good point about the way that is operated. If you bundle this up together, it is really about the culture in which we engage with sport and not just sport. As has been pointed out, many of these stadia and facilities are also used for other purposes. We need to think much wider than we would perhaps otherwise have done.
When this issue has previously been before the House, we argued that the SGSA should have powers to address accessibility issues directly and that it should also look at spectator safety issues in the round; in other words, the gap between what the SGSA does and the responsible safety authority, which is usually the local authority, has become too great. That needs to be looked at more closely so that any recommendations that can improve the situation we have been hearing about have an immediate impact. At the moment, it is a requesting situation, not a directing situation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, reminded us, we all have an interest in this because we are all going to be in this situation sooner or later—hopefully later. Importantly, there should be no question that the duty required should be anticipatory, not one that is left to those who have an issue to raise. It should not be contested in the courts because it should already have been sorted by those who have the responsibility to do it.
Several noble Lords mentioned the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and my noble friend Lord Rosser, referred to its briefing note. It is extraordinary that the law to require this matter to be resolved is already in place. It is interesting to read in the briefing that the FA Premier League rule book, which is binding on clubs, already has a rule, albeit a very simple one, which deals with disabled sport. A number of noble Lords mentioned the contrast between it and Rules 44 to 124 which deal, broadly, with what media facilities have to be provided. They show up by their prescription the enormous gap between the attitude that FA Premier League clubs seem to have towards disability issues as opposed to media and other faculties. For example, Rules 53 and 54 require clubs to provide,
“at least three UK TV Commentary Positions on the Television Gantry”
and that each seat must,
“be no less than 3 metres wide and 1 metre deep”.
Rule 66 provides that,
“each club shall make available … at least 25 seats for the use of accredited representatives of Overseas Broadcasters, to be situated in close proximity, and with easy access, to the tunnel area”.
Rule 86 requires clubs to provide,
“a minimum of 50 seats for the use of accredited representatives of the media”.
Really, what a ridiculous way to behave. To set out in such detail that sort of provision for media access when the line for disabled supporters is:
“Each club shall provide sufficient and adequate facilities for disabled supporters”,
is to rub people’s faces in the issue. I thought it would be a trivial, but rather interesting, reflection to read the phrase which I have just quoted at length from Rule 66 substituting “disabled supporters” for “accredited representatives of broadcasters” and see what impact that would have.
The Government are in a mess of their own making on this issue. The legislation is either available and ready to sort this mess out, in which case the Government need to explain why it is not being enforced fully, and I look forward to the Minister’s comments on this matter, or it may be that the legislation is in some way deficient, in which case, they need to explain to this House and to disabled fans, their families and the world at large why they will not act.
This is a short, but necessary, Bill, in my noble friend’s words, but it is one that we want to see progress. My noble friend Lord Rosser said that the figures involved are really quite small relative to the overall economy of football. At the moment it is about £9 million, so what are the Government going to do about it? Are they feart, or are they unwilling to take on the vested interests which seem to be the block here? The current situation is a stain on our country and on our reputation for fair play, and it is unacceptable that those who own and run our national game continue to evade their legal, let alone their moral, responsibilities. Surely it is time to sort this out. The Government should either take over this Bill or perhaps do what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said and take powers to make regulations. The status quo is unacceptable.
My Lords, this has been an important debate. The Bill seeks to use the existing safety certification process undertaken by local authorities for designated sports grounds, as set out in the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, as a means of ensuring that sports grounds comply with the guidelines set out in the Accessible Stadia publication. The right of disabled people to be treated equally is fundamental and, as we have heard in this debate, has been upheld passionately and sincerely.
I echo the praise for the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, not only for what he said today but for all that he has done for sport and the disabled in the public and private spheres over many years. I echo everything that was said, especially by my noble friend Lord Moynihan and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about his contribution: thank you very much. This House is a better place because we have noble Lords who argue the case for the neglected, the powerless and those who need help. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, spoke from the heart. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has made a contribution in a similar field and brought his knowledge to our debate.
We also heard from those with experience of being disabled and attending sports events. It was great to hear from my noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about their experiences. It was good to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, talking about cricket. As some noble Lords know, with three cricket-playing sons, cricket is my love. Lord’s Cricket Ground is potentially in scope of this proposal. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, described her own case, with some very positive comments about Southampton Football Club, which is my local club too. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, was right to underline the way that many of us will become disabled, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, picked up. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth expressed his surprise that some of the richest clubs in the world are not rising to the challenge.
This is an important debate for sports lovers, not only those of us here today but those more broadly in the country at large. The Government are committed to ensuring that the owners of stadia are aware of their responsibilities towards disabled spectators. I endorse what my noble friend Lord Gardiner said in the past on this matter. Professional sports clubs and sporting venues already have a legal duty to provide equal access for disabled supporters. It is not a legitimate excuse for clubs to say that reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled spectators apply only to new stadia because the law, which I will come on to in a minute, applies across the board.
My noble friend Lord Holmes asked me to look back at my business career. I would simply say to him that, as with any good business, it is up to clubs to take their obligations seriously. There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all, but clubs need to work to address their unique circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, talked about Lord’s. As I have said, it would be covered. It is worth repeating my note on which stadia would be covered by the Bill. Massive stadia would be covered, such as Wembley and Twickenham, as would Premier League club grounds, Championship club grounds and home grounds of clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. That picks up the point that was made by my noble friend Lord Moynihan about the reach of the Bill. I think he felt that any steps we should take should go wider than that list.
We have heard about a lot of disturbingly bad cases today and a disappointing attitude from some of the Premier League clubs. However, I wanted to pause on some good practice, because it is important to do so in order to encourage the good. Derby County Football Club’s ground, Pride Park, is an exemplar of what can be achieved to accommodate disabled spectators with regard to dignity and equality. The ground offers both pitch-level and elevated wheelchair and assisted seating, hearing-loop-equipped seating, dedicated seating for ambulant and visually impaired supporters, disabled toilet facilities and accessible catering facilities throughout the stadium. That is a good example of how things can be.
Blind or partially sighted supporters at Tottenham Hotspur, which is still in the Premier League, can enjoy match commentary provided at all home games via specialist headsets. Sevenoaks Town Football Club, which plays in the Southern Counties East Football League, is building a new stand for its growing ranks of disabled spectators. The club has said that it wants to,
“provide these loyal and valued supporters with a quality viewing experience of the exciting games we play here”.
And of course all the facilities in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as well as the park itself, continue to offer exemplary access. That is a key aim of the London Legacy Development Corporation, which manages the park. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, rightly spoke of the wonderful Olympic experience for the disabled. The main stadium, of course, is still in the process of transformation into a multi-event facility, able to stage athletics and Premier League football with West Ham as well as concerts and other large-scale events, and the converted stadium will offer a similarly high level of disabled access to that created for the other venues in the park. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, spoke inspiringly of the provision at Lord’s Cricket Ground and of the MCC’s disabled training programme.
I want to pick up a final point regarding good practice, which is that the little things matter. This is a theme that came through quite strongly from the debate. Small problems can be a problem as well as big problems, and those are the things that are not expensive to change. That shows that clubs and venues at all levels and across a variety of sports can accommodate disabled fans so that they can enjoy the sports they love; there can be no argument that such accommodation cannot be provided. To pick up my noble friend Lord Holmes’s helpful intervention, we are supportive of initiatives such as his to make clubs take seriously their obligation to provide accommodation for people who cannot otherwise attend games because of their disability.
Having celebrated good practice, it is right to mention the four-letter word of cost, especially for the smaller clubs, although I was glad to hear about examples such as Tranmere Rovers. Requirements have to be proportionate and take account of this, but of course they need to comply with the law.
That brings me on to the Equality Act. The Government do not wish to seek out new legislation where a mechanism exists to achieve an aim, and the provision in the Equality Act 2010 requires providers of services to the public, such as a sports stadium, to make a reasonable adjustment. For example, a club’s ticketing arrangements for disabled supporters should provide the same level of service as is provided to non-disabled supporters so that disabled people are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people. Premier League clubs, as the noble Lord explained, are adequately resourced to provide proper access for disabled supporters. Unfortunately, the blanket approach adopted by this Bill departs from the careful balance sought to be achieved in the Equality Act 2010. To date, no disabled spectator has brought a case under the reasonable adjustment provision of the Act—I am not sure what the reason for that is, although the noble Lord speculated on it—so it is untried and untested in the very area where he wishes to enact new legislation.
Moreover, the Bill seeks to redefine the very nature of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority. Access is primarily an equality issue, not a safety issue. It is stretching both the remit and the powers of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority too far to seek to give the SGSA responsibility for general accessibility matters, as the Bill seeks to do. For the Bill to be effective, the powers of the SGSA would need to be extended beyond its current safety focus to include accessibility. The SGSA’s internationally renowned publication, the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds—or the Green Guide, as it is known—contains guidance on disability issues, such as instructions on evacuation and sightlines for disabled spectators, which are matters relating to safety, but it does not have the power or expertise in relation to matters of accessibility more generally.
So where do we go next? The Government’s sports strategy will be published later this year, and one aspect of the strategy will be accessibility. We will be consulting the public and stakeholders in the coming months on what they want to see in the strategy. Specifically, we will be asking how to tackle this issue, not just from a narrow safety perspective, as the Bill does, but more broadly. Noble Lords’ points about accessibility that have been raised in the debate today, and which will arise with the Bill that has been put forward, will of course be considered. I picked up my noble friend Lord Holmes’s point about what diversity training stewards had had, and on training more broadly; my noble friend Lord Moynihan’s advice on the reach of anything that we do on accessibility; the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about future guidance; and the point that was made today about the difference between the provision for the media and the provision for the disabled. Other points that were made in this important debate will help us in getting that consultation under way and asking the right questions.
My noble friend Lord Holmes, ever challenging, asked whether, if we could not support the Bill, we would bring legislation forward. We need to do consultative work before considering whether legislation or indeed other measures are necessary, but I am sure that today’s debate will be an important input into this very important process.
I am grateful for the comments from noble Lords on this important issue and have found this debate very informative. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for his Bill. While the honourable intentions behind the Bill are clear in seeking a catalyst for action to ensure that stadia are made accessible for disabled spectators, I am afraid that the proposed mechanism to achieve the desired objective is flawed and that, as I sought to explain, existing legislation on this matter is untested. The Government are compelled today to voice reservations about the Bill while setting out their plans to tackle accessibility more generally. Still, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for his persistent and courageous efforts, which I acknowledge are in a very good cause.
My Lords, I thank all the speakers who have contributed to this debate. It is unusual for the three main-party speakers, the Cross-Bench speaker and a right reverend Prelate all to meet on exactly the same side, promoting the same cause. I am grateful to every one of them for such powerful and, in some cases, entertaining speeches. I hope that ears are burning at certain clubs. I am perhaps thinking of one club up in the north-west which I am sure will read the remarkable account by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, of the emails that she has exchanged with Manchester United. Other reports will come out of the debate that are of great significance.
I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, because of his experience and because, as he said, we worked together on some of these issues in the 1980s. I like his thought that the Bill would benefit by being strengthened. That is not exactly what his noble friend on the Front Bench said in her reply a moment ago. However, I can assure your Lordships of my intention to continue with the Bill into Committee, and I am very willing to consider amendments from whatever source they come. I have already made an offer to the Minister for Sport, with whom I discussed the Bill on three separate occasions, that if the Government would like to see amendments made to it, we will consider them, and I am sure that there will be amendments, perhaps along the lines of those proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and other noble Lords.
Quite frankly, the talking needs to come to an end on this issue and there needs to be some action. With great respect to the Minister, disabled people do not need yet another period of consultation on what they need when they attend sports grounds—rather, the consultation that has gone on almost without cessation over the last 20 years needs to be taken into account, and action needs to be taken now.
We have heard from all noble Lords in the Chamber today the feeling that using cost as an argument is completely unacceptable, particularly in a sport where the sums of money involved are absolutely eye-watering. Therefore to use cost as a way of not making progress is not a good argument.
I was particularly grateful to the Minister for reaffirming something which I do not think I have heard a Minister say before, that the accessible stadia guidelines apply equally to old stadia as well as to new. Some people in the Premier League have said that they apply only to new stadia, so the fact that the Minister has said that they apply to old ones as well is of great importance.
I should say that I had a conversation with a very senior official of the Premier League while waiting for a train three weeks ago. He said, “How’s the Bill going?”, and I replied, “I think it’s going to get a lot of support in the House”. He said, “We can’t say so publicly, but we think our clubs need a nudge”. This will be quite a big nudge, and we will go on with the Bill in the autumn. For the moment, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.