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Disability: Football Stadiums

Volume 774: debated on Thursday 13 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that the Football Association Premier League fulfils its commitment to make all its clubs comply with the accessible stadia guidance by August 2017.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Level Playing Field.

My Lords, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is monitoring progress against the pledge made by Premier League member clubs to comply with the accessible stadia guidance, and has asked for regular reports on progress from the Premier League. The EHRC will write to each club to ensure that it does not renege on its commitment. If insufficient progress has been made, the EHRC will consider using its legal powers to ensure that clubs comply with their legal duties.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply and I welcome his reference to the involvement of the EHRC. On 10 September 2015, partly in response to pressure from this House, the Premier League issued an unequivocal statement which said:

“All Premier League Clubs have agreed to make their stadiums compliant with the Accessible Stadia Guide by August 2017”.

This summer, Premier League clubs spent more than £1 billion on transfer payments for players and the league as a whole sold its television rights for a record £5.14 billion. That is more than £10 million a match. Can the Minister think of any possible reason why the clubs should miss the deadline they imposed on themselves, as clearly shortage of money is not a factor?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that whatever happens now, the point at which we should be asking and suggesting has long since passed? We should actually be telling, and relying on an independent body to take legal action without government backing may not be sufficient to tell loudly enough.

My Lords, the Premier League made a commitment, and that commitment, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, goes only to 2017. The Premier League will make a detailed report in January and we expect it to comply with its promises. That is the best way forward at the moment.

My Lords, will my noble friend undertake that, given the importance of this issue, if that January report shows any clubs not complying with the commitment, legal action will be taken against them and/or against the Premier League to demonstrate how important this issue is and how seriously it should be taken?

Of course. I repeat that it is the Government’s view that this is very important, not least because it is their legal duty under the Equality Act 2010. Under that Act, the EHRC has been given the authority and duty to do that, and it would be up to it to abide by its responsibility in this matter.

My Lords, the EHRC, although it is doing a good job, is not the only player in the game—excuse the pun; we were up late last night. The Minister and I were here until long after you guys had left. Premier League clubs of course have to obtain a licence to operate on their present premises. Why do the Government not insist that licences will not be awarded if clubs continue to be in default of their obligations under the accessible stadia guidance?

I think this was the subject of the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The problem is that the statutory basis for the Sports Grounds Safety Authority did not cover this area. Parliament has decided under the Equality Act that the EHRC should be given responsibility for this. I take the noble Lord’s point, and we are very concerned about this. We are waiting anxiously to see what will happen and whether the Premier League will abide by its commitment. I assure the noble Lord that Ministers are in contact frequently with the Premier League and the English Football League on this, among other subjects.

My Lords, I declare my interest in the register. Does my noble friend agree that there is no realistic prospect of all Premier League clubs complying with the guidance by next summer? Best estimates demonstrate that probably more than one-third of clubs will still not be compliant with the guidance. Does the Minister agree that the Government and the EHRC should take another look at this because it may be the richest football league on the planet, but on disability access it is morally bankrupt?

The noble Lord speaks with experience as a commissioner of the EHRC. I was not aware of the information that he has. The Premier League has written to the DWP and the DCMS giving its half-time reports on this subject, which will be released to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee soon. As I say, we expect a more detailed report in January and we will see whether what the noble Lord has said is true then.

My Lords, I fully appreciate that it is important that Premier League clubs provide adequate facilities, but an awful lot of people watch other clubs as well that are not in the Premier League. We ought to encourage clubs in the other leagues to provide similar facilities. Does not the Minister agree? Perhaps I should declare an interest as a supporter of Brighton and Hove FC, which has some of the best facilities in the country.

I completely agree with the noble Baroness. Of course, the duty under the Equality Act applies to everyone. The English Football League wrote on 8 July to the Minister of Sport and the Minister for Disabled People setting out a plan to improve facilities, so it is doing that. I agree that other sports have a duty under the Act.