My Lords, the Government are working closely with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority—the SGSA—towards implementing the manifesto commitment to work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing. The Government expect to announce next steps in the coming weeks.
I declare my interest as the elected chair of the Leeds United Supporters Club. Every supporters’ club in the Premier League backs safe standing now. What timescale is the Minister giving clubs for the rather complex discussions and arrangements to introduce it for next season?
I had hoped that the noble Lord would be stunned and happy at the accuracy of my prediction about more information in the next few weeks. He will also be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State confirmed that standing would be seen at top games this season, albeit in all likelihood initially in pilot form.
My Lords, the Minister has given us some information but not very much. Would she like to start by thanking my noble friend Lord Foster for setting this ball rolling with a Private Member’s Bill about 10 years ago? If we are going to do work in football stadiums to change the way that seats are put out, can we have an assurance that the first thing we will do is make sure that wheelchair and disability access are of a sufficient standard? This has been promised for even longer than my noble friend’s Bill.
I hope I can address both of the noble Lord’s points. I am delighted to thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for his early work on this. The research by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority has demonstrated that introducing standing areas can not only reduce conflict but improve wheelchair access.
My Lords, over the summer, we sadly learned of the passing of Andrew Devine, who suffered life-changing injuries during the Hillsborough disaster. The coroner ruled that he should be considered the 97th fatality caused by the events of 15 April 1989. Since the horrors of that day, many improvements have been made at football grounds and these must be welcomed. While Labour supports exploring options for the safe reintroduction of standing, it remains an emotive issue for many. Can the Minister confirm that the department recognises the need to handle this topic sensitively and take time to consider fully the evidence gathered in pilots across various leagues before making a final decision?
The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. Obviously, the context of all these discussions is the Hillsborough tragedy, which he rightly raises. The department is currently working with a wide range of supporter groups. Our absolute abiding principle is that we will never compromise safety and never return to the tragedies of old.
My Lords, safe standing is already working very successfully all around the world, including in Scotland. However, the Minister will be aware that there are many different forms of safe standing, even within the lower divisions in England. Can the Minister give us an absolute assurance that any new regulations that come forward will take this into account to make sure that a range of allowable options will suit the needs of clubs of all sizes and all sorts of stadia, not just those in the top flight of the game? With so many examples working so successfully, can she explain why we are still talking about the need for further pilots?
The noble Lord will be aware that the Sports Grounds Safety Authority commissioned independent research into this, which is in the public domain. It published its Safe Management of Persistent Standing in Seated Areas report. As the noble Lord said, this confirmed the very positive impact this has had on spectator behaviour, particularly in relation to away fans. That is what we will be updating on in more detail in the coming weeks.