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Football: Disabled Spectators

Volume 764: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the provision made for disabled spectators at Premier League football stadiums.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, the result of the Government’s inclusive and accessible stadia survey, published yesterday, showed that despite examples of good practice, progress at some Premier League clubs towards meeting their existing legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 has been slow. Therefore I hope the whole House will welcome the statement by the Premier League yesterday that commits all Premiership clubs to achieve compliance with the accessible stadia guide by August 2017.

My Lords, I am sure all noble Lords welcome yesterday’s statement from the Premier League. In light of that statement, will my noble friend commit her department to monitoring closely the Premier League to ensure that, be they old grounds or new grounds, come 2017 all grounds will meet minimum access requirements so that more people from more backgrounds can enjoy Premier League football?

My Lords, the progress of this initiative is incredibly important, and indeed the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, will be seeing the Premier League early in November, which will be a good opportunity to start that process.

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Level Playing Field, which deserves immense credit for its campaign, which culminated in yesterday’s decision. It welcomes the decision by the Premier League. Will the Government do their utmost to persuade the Premier League that it find the £55 million or so that it will cost for all Football League grounds to come up to the standards that Premier League grounds will reach by August 2017? It certainly has that money and can afford it. Secondly, does the Minister agree that the rights of disabled people to attend sporting events should be enshrined in law, and therefore she will support my Private Member’s Bill?

My Lords, the other clubs are subject to the same overall legislative duties, and I would expect them to take inspiration from the Premier League’s initiative yesterday. The Equality Act 2010 requires providers of services to the public, including all sports stadia, to make a reasonable adjustment so that disabled people are not placed at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled people. I think the Bill has been given a Second Reading and awaits parliamentary time for its next stages.

My Lords, I congratulate the Premier League, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on the timing of his Questions, which has provided a great catalyst for the Premier League. It has two years to reach the minimum standards. Will the Minister explain what encouragement the Government can give to the Premier League to raise its standards? In 2012, the standards at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games were exceptionally high and set a positive tone around the world. Surely we should be looking at those as the future for accessible seating.

My Lords, the 2012 Games were indeed an inspiration in terms of disabled access and have helped to make this progress. I would also reference the consultation document A New Strategy for Sport, which was issued recently. It contains three chapters—three themes—that focus on different aspects of disability, and it is extremely important that people respond to it.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Premier League for finally agreeing that it has a duty to respond to the minimum requirement, and congratulations too to Level Playing Field on its 14-year campaign. UEFA regulations now require disability access officers to report to their clubs. Will the Government ensure that disability access officers report not only on the physical space but also on the training of all staff involved in the provision of disability services? Will they also encourage the appointment of disability access officers in the league as well, not just in the Premier League?

My Lords, the Premier League has said that clubs will appoint disability access officers who will assist with compliance and report to a senior executive on a whole-club basis, which I very much welcome.

My Lords, in wishing well to the legislation currently before the House, may I invite the noble Baroness to join me in saluting Wrexham Football Club, whose exemplary performance in this matter has been recognised and highlighted this week? If a small club such as Wrexham, owned by its supporters, can make this sort of provision, what possible excuse can there be for Premier League clubs not to do likewise?

My Lords, the point is very well made. I congratulate Wrexham, and, indeed, Arsenal and one or two other clubs which have also been beacons for good practice. A noble Baroness talked on a previous occasion about Lord’s Cricket Ground. We need to celebrate success as well as to press those who are bad on disability access. That is happening as a result of the increased focus that there now is on this important issue.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I support Wrexham Football Club and am also a vice-president of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club—which does not absolve us in terms of having the correct facilities for our disabled supporters. May I suggest that the Minister pursue the fact that local authorities provide a licence to operate to all Football League clubs? Would that not be another route through: to suggest that a licence not be granted to a club unless it follows the lines that have been recommended to this House today?

My Lords, as always, my noble friend is full of ideas, and I will certainly have a think about that. I am always careful about being regulatory; people who know me know that. I feel that we are making progress under the existing legislation but I thank my noble friend for her comment, and of course we should also celebrate Wolverhampton Wanderers.

My Lords, the whole House will want to join in congratulating the Government and the Premier League on the work that they are doing on this. I am sure that the movement which has been observed is due largely to the pressure on these issues that has come from this House. In the papers which the Minister referred to, and more generally, disability is often taken to be physical disability, but there is a large number of people who enjoy sport who are ambulant physically disabled people—a group which is often overlooked. Will she reassure us that this group, the blind and the deaf particularly, will be looked at too?

The noble Lord is right to remind us that disabilities raise different issues. Of course, the duties apply in the round. The disability access officer who is to be appointed by the Premier League clubs will look at the matter on a whole-club basis. Sharing best practice on hearing loops and access for the blind will be extremely important. I know that some totemic events, such as the Olympics, had very good facilities.