The Government believe that all-seater stadiums are currently the best means of ensuring the safety and security of fans at designated football matches in England and Wales, but we continue to work with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to consider advances in technology and data that may enhance the existing policy.
It is a buoyant time for football in Teesside, with Stockton Town in the final of the FA vase and Middlesbrough in the Championship playoffs. Some 94% of Teesside football fans would like the choice of whether to sit or stand when they watch a match, so what advice has the Minister taken from the SGSA about the safety of standing in seated areas?
I regularly meet the SGSA to discuss all matters of safety and I continue to listen to its advice. We are looking at ways in which we can consider advances in technology that do not require legislative change to see how we can deliver that. Having worked for one of the hon. Gentleman’s predecessors, albeit a long time ago, I know that many of his constituents are Boro fans and of course Stockton Town fans. Not only do I wish Boro well in the playoffs this weekend, but I wish to thank the Middlesbrough Supporters Forum for its positive engagement in this debate.
Celtic Park is one of the largest football stadiums in the UK and lies a mere stone’s throw from my constituency. It is the only stadium in the UK currently to be piloting a safe rail seating area, with 3,000 places available for safe standing for the past two years. Will the Minister therefore consider visiting Celtic Park to assess the merits of that scheme, which has been a great success for the past two years, and look at how it could benefit other stadiums in the UK?
I had the good fortune of bumping into a senior member of Celtic in Parliament earlier this week and we had a brief discussion on Celtic. Both my officials and those from the SGSA have already visited the rail seating area at Celtic to see it in operation. It has not been without its problems and has been closed twice already during the last season because of fan behaviour, but we continue to look at the development of rail seating at Celtic.
As the Minister knows, a growing number of clubs are calling for safe standing to be reviewed and reintroduced. Does she think this should now be not the matter of a blanket ban, but a matter for safety authorities, the fans and local authorities, and decided on a case-by-case basis?
The Government are committed to the current policy on all-seater stadiums. For this to be different, legislative change would be required. We will have a longer debate on this matter on 25 June, when I am sure we will be able to have a much more engaged discussion on it.
I am a Bournemouth supporter. Would the provision of safe standing not discourage those people who insist on standing throughout the match in the seating areas, which is much more dangerous?
Enforcement powers are in place for the SGSA, to ensure that we deal with persistent standing. Addressing the safe standing issue would not necessarily mean that persistent standing did not happen elsewhere in the stadium, but we are looking at these issues. Clubs should remember that safe standing does not come without cost; as we have seen from Celtic Park, it can be rather costly to clubs.
On the subject of persistent standers, I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
The House will not be surprised that I stand today after the magnificent result of Huddersfield’s draw with Chelsea, meaning that we will not be relegated. Is the Minister aware that many of us have fought for years for family-friendly football and some of us have deep reservations about standing areas, where there might be a lot of young men, who like to shout, and sometimes shout racist abuse—I am not saying all of them do. Dean Hoyle, the wonderful owner of Huddersfield Town, has his reservations and so do I.
As a Tottenham fan, may I also congratulate Huddersfield Town on holding Chelsea to a draw last night and helping us secure a Champions League spot? The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has been a significant change since the all-seater stadium policy came in and that spectators have evolved, and we now have a much more family-friendly place for people to go to watch football. That is not to say that we are not looking at ways in which we can accommodate those who do wish to stand, but we do not have any plans at this moment to change the legislation.