Previous Section Home Page

Column 905

Rateable Values

4.54 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : I beg to move,

That the draft Mines and Quarries (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following motions :

That the draft Industrial and Freight Transport (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.

That the draft Football Grounds (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.

That the draft Telecommunications Industry (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.

Mr. Stewart : The four draft orders concern the determination of rateable values. Three of them could reasonably be described as technical. The first two continue derating in Scotland for the coming financial year for industrial and freight transport lands and heritages and for mines and quarries. The fourth concerns the annual recalculation of the rateable value of the telecommunications hereditament in England and Wales. The third order, which may be of particular interest to the House, introduces a revenue-based scheme of formula valuation for Scottish Football League club grounds for the present financial year and for 1994-95.

As we move towards full harmonisation of rating valuation north and south of the border and towards a common level of rate poundage, the justification for industrial derating obviously diminishes. We have, therefore, undertaken to phase out industrial derating in Scotland in parallel with the progressive reduction of rate poundages that continues this year. Measures have already been introduced to secure a further reduction of £60 million in non-domestic rates next year. That allows us to reduce the level of industrial derating from the 1993-94 level of 17.5 per cent. to 10 per cent. for 1994-95. That is achieved by the draft Industrial and Freight Transport (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order. The Mines and Quarries (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order provides for the same level of derating to apply to mines and quarries.

With regard to formula valuation, the Football Grounds (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order relates to the valuation of Scottish Football League club grounds. That subject has been of considerable interest to hon. Members--in particular, perhaps, those who are members of the all-party Scottish sports group, chaired by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), which has taken a special interest in the matter. The order prescribes a formula to be used in determining the rateable values for 1993-94 and 1994-95. The objective is to mirror the effect of the non-statutory scheme of valuation that is used for similar subjects in England and Wales. As hon. Members who are interested in this subject will recall, following the 1990 revaluation the Valuation Office agency and the Scottish assessors assured the Government that, although different methods of valuation had been used north and south of the border for league football grounds, broad harmonisation had been achieved. However, that was not the view of the Scottish Football Association, the

Column 906

Scottish Football League and their members, who maintained that there were still significant differences, resulting in an unfair rating burden falling on Scottish clubs. As there is a discretionary element in the English scheme, it is not possible to prove some of these things with certainty. However, we have decided that it is right that the method of valuation for this class of subject should be seen to be as similar as possible on both sides of the border. The draft order therefore seeks to mirror the effect of the non-statutory English scheme of valuation for league football grounds by assigning to each Scottish Football League club ground a valuation by formula based on the club's home league gate receipts in the season 1987-88, as that is the year in relation to which values were struck for the 1990 revaluation.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Does the order have any consequential effects on junior football clubs ? As the Minister knows, many of their grounds are becoming dilapidated and funds are extremely scarce. There is a problem with junior football grounds.

Mr. Stewart : I do not dispute what the hon. Gentleman says, but the scheme applies purely to league football grounds. The issue of Highland league clubs was raised, but if the formula were applied to them, most would pay rather more than at present. We sensibly decided not to extend the formula.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : The Minister will appreciate that the Scottish Football Association is concerned about its clubs in the Highland and East of Scotland leagues. Will he gave a commitment to consider the situation because of the genuine concerns of the SFA ?

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman is right. The SFA has genuine concerns and we have considered them. The issue is not covered by the order, but he asked us to keep the matter under review and I give him the commitment, without making any promises, that we will continue to consider the matter. We are approaching a general revaluation, which may be of assistance.

Hon. Members may be interested to know that the draft order will be of particular benefit to clubs that have either moved recently to new purpose- built stadiums or have incurred significant costs in modernising their grounds to meet the requirements of the Taylor report. Most clubs will see their valuations reduced as a consequence of the order.

The fourth order deals with the way in which the rateable value of Mercury Communications is recalculated annually between England and Wales. The matter has been discussed with Mercury Communications, which is content with the fact that the technical recalculation introduced by the order corrects a discrepancy that was not originally appreciated. I hope that the orders commend themselves to the House.

5.2 pm

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : As the Minister said, three of the four orders are technical. The one involving the rating of football grounds is of greater interest to us. The Minister will know that the order has been a long time coming. The Minister first took the matter up way back in 1983 during a previous incarnation in the Scottish Office. For us to make any progress, he had to leave the Scottish Office, return to it and be the subject of lobbying. At that time, a White Paper expressed the view that Scottish sports

Column 907

grounds generally paid more in rates than their counterparts in England and Wales because the two systems used differing rate poundages and methods of valuation. As he knows, Scottish football clubs petitioned against the system. In 1985, a number of appeals were heard involving statutory provisions by the Lands Tribunal for Scotland and the Lands Valuation Appeals Court. Clubs such as Celtic, Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian appealed and Celtic received a 25 per cent. amendment to its rates.

The disparity between the position for clubs in England and those in Scotland has been highlighted. The Minister mentioned the building of new stadiums. I remember that a comparison was made between Scunthorpe United and St. Johnstone regarding the building of new stadiums. Both grounds had a capacity of about 10,000, but the 1990 assessments were £10,500 for Scunthorpe United and £65,000 for St. Johnstone--a gross disparity between clubs in England and Scotland. Nothing much happened, however, and Scottish clubs continued to press the Minister.

In April 1991, the Scottish Office wrote to the Premier League clubs to gather information to enable detailed consideration to be given to the effect of a change to a revenue-based approach to valuation of football grounds in Scotland. In March 1993, the Scottish Office stated that there was insufficient time before the 31 March deadline of that year for a statutory instrument to be introduced. We are delighted that, this year, that has happened.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : What are the consequences of the order for Berwick Rangers and other Scottish teams ?

Mr. McFall : The Minister could guide me, but I think that the smaller clubs, rather than the larger ones, will benefit from the order. During his regular forays across the border to see Berwick Rangers, my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) may see things getting better in the coming months as a result of the statutory instrument.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : I had intended to raise the subject later, but I shall do so now following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes). There is an anomaly in that Berwick Rangers plays in the Scottish league, but its ground is located in England. Presumably, therefore, it will not benefit from the provisions. It will be interesting if the Minister will tell us-- perhaps he will receive inspiration from someone on his left-hand side in due course--whether Berwick Rangers will be significantly better off than other Scottish league clubs as a consequence of the continuing difference between the rating systems north and south of the border.

Mr. McFall : I think that it is up to me to give a typical "Yes Minister" reply by saying that, at present, I do not have that information at my fingertips, but I shall do everything to ensure that Berwick Rangers prosper in the future. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me on that.

I mentioned our qualified support for the order. The Scottish Football League and the SFA are glad that the order has been laid before the House and do not wish to impede its progress. Some issues, however, should still be brought to the Minister's attention because there has been

Column 908

insufficient focus on some aspects. For example, as I mentioned, last year the order was not laid before the House in time. The inability to implement the statutory instrument in the previous rate year led to a greater loss of benefit to Scottish clubs than was envisaged by either the SFA or the Scottish Office. It would have been beneficial if the formula in the statutory instrument had been adjusted to compensate fully for that period, but I believe that that will not happen.

In addition, the formula, although available only until the 1995 valuation, does not allow for major physical changes that would result in significant changes in the pattern of income. It appears that total loss of structures or loss of individual structures in grounds cannot be reflected in the formula, as instanced in the case of Aberdeen football club. Under the formula, 1988 is the date for valuations in terms of rental evidence for the 1990 roll and the physical circumstances are those pertaining at 1 April 1990. The formula does not allow for the correct adjustment for clubs that have moved league positions as well as grounds in the intervening period. A particular problem faces St. Johnstone football club, which has moved to a new ground.

The 50 per cent. rule in the formula excludes Queen's Park football club from the calculation. The clubs and the SFA reckon that the rule is inequitable and bad. Queen's Park FC is termed as a rateable occupier of Hampden Park, and although Hampden is used by others--for example, it is used for international events for which payment is made to the rateable occupier--the statutory instrument seeks to exclude Queen's Park from the formula, thereby prejudicing its position with regard to rateable value and rate payment.

Queen's Park and the SFA would like the position regarding Hampden to be put into two categories--one for Queen's Park exclusively and the other to recognise that it is a national football ground. The exclusion that is built into the statutory instrument for the purposes of leaving Queen's Park to be valued on a contractor basis is wholly inappropriate and has no foundation in rating law, vis-a-vis the point that the club, as a rateable occupier of a football ground, is treated differently from other similar rateable occupiers of football grounds.

The Minister mentioned that the statutory instrument has been written to apply only to clubs in membership of the Scottish Football League notwithstanding the fact that, from the outset of discussions relative to the rating of football grounds on a revenue-based method, the SFA has sought to have consideration given to applying the agreed scheme to all member clubs that participate in other leagues, such as the Highland league and the East of Scotland league.

The exclusion of such clubs, whose circumstances are similar in many instances to those of clubs in membership of the Scottish Football League, is considered to be inequitable and is an issue which the Opposition and the SFA would wish to have addressed in the lead-up to the 1995 revaluation. I am pleased to note the Minister's comments on that point.

A number of problems have resulted with the current system in relation to the Taylor report. For example, my understanding is that if a Scottish club improves its stadium, the rateable value will increase. In addition, a club's overall income might very well fall as a result of finished improvements that lowered the ground's capacity

Column 909

and because parts of the ground had to be closed while improvements were in progress. That particular point was made regarding Celtic and Parkhead this year.

The result is that clubs would spend large amounts of money on improvements while their incomes suffered as a result of lower capacities and, at the end of the day, they would face higher rateable values for the work that they had undertaken. The current situation partly explains the reluctance of Scottish football clubs to improve their grounds. I do not accept that proposition and I hope that the Minister agrees. It is important for Scottish football clubs to come into line with the Taylor recommendations as soon as possible.

I hope that, for the sake of the fans and of safety at Scottish football grounds, the Minister will cast a critical eye towards clubs, particularly those in the Premier League, regarding implementation of the Taylor report.

I give the example my local club, Dumbarton. The income of clubs at its level may depend on getting a good Scottish cup tie. For example, Dumbarton played Rangers a couple of months ago at Ibrox, with a hefty sum of money as a result. That money will take the club over the year, and that was good for Dumbarton. But many clubs in the lower divisions do not have that opportunity, and they are up against it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned junior clubs. I know that they are not included in the statutory instrument, but if we want to keep our heritage and our football culture alive, we must look at such issues as time goes on.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : I would just caution my hon. Friend about his enthusiasm for the Taylor report and the need to implement crowd safety. Clubs are confronting problems because of delays in planning processes. That has meant, for example, that Hibernian FC is faced with the requirement to have an all-seated ground before the start of next season. The club has plans to move from the existing Easter road stadium to a facility at Straiton. The difficulty is that it has encountered problems in planning that have meant that it must spend money that has been allocated for the prospective Straiton project on Easter road because the club is required to have an all-seated ground by the end of July in preparation for next season.

Money that should be going on future improvements will have to be spent on a stadium which, frankly, will be redundant at the end of the season after this. Therefore, there should be qualification of my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the Taylor report. The way in which it has been interpreted and applied by Mr. Farry of the SFA seems to suggest that there is a requirement on every club to have an all-seated ground by the beginning of next season.

That is regardless of the good endeavours of clubs to meet serious slippages in the planning processes. Hibernian FC has to spend on the old stadium money that it does not really have and which was identified for the new stadium because of the narrow and unhelpful interpretation of the rules that have been laid down somewhat brutally and simplistically by the secretary to the SFA.

Column 910

Mr. McFall : I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. I know that that problem applies to Hibernian, and also applied to Celtic before the present board took over. I believe that Celtic FC was to put in plastic seats in Parkhead. As a general principle, I believe that football clubs should have had their houses in order on this issue years ago, as provincial clubs such as Aberdeen and Dundee United have done.

If clubs are there to satisfy fans and to breed success on the park, they must have the best facilities possible. In that context, I would say that the Taylor report is pointing in the right direction, and the quicker that clubs comply with it the better, although there are certain caveats.

With those comments--I am rather surprised that the order has generated such debate--I welcome the proposition, but, like Oliver Twist, I come back to ask for more.

5.17 pm

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : I will say a few words, initially to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on introducing the statutory instrument on football grounds. I believe that it measures up to the needs of Scottish football and certainly recognises the difference between the major and minor clubs. The formula is a good one which recognises the pulling power of the major clubs and the fact that there are differences in cost between access to second division and Premier League games. That is a major factor in the formulae that have been devised.

I can identify with most of what was said by the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). Perhaps one disagreement would be with his use of the term "provincial clubs" when he referred to Aberdeen and Dundee United. Those clubs would see themselves as slightly more than provincial, and the way in which the teams perform would certainly suggest that.

My hon. Friend stressed the importance of ensuring that Scottish clubs were not paying more in this way than their counterparts south of the border ; that happened in the past. The changes seem to be another example of the drive towards a uniform business rate, which we all wish to see in Scotland.

I should be interested to hear my hon. Friend's comments on the point raised about Berwick Rangers a few minutes ago. He suggested that the valuations would reflect the amount of capital investment made by clubs in bringing their stadiums up to standard. That, again, is an important point which my hon. Friend recognised, and I congratulate him on dealing with it.

As for the Taylor report and the comment that was made about the Hibs, I should have thought that there would be powers of derogation. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would clarify that point. Perhaps it does not lie entirely with the secretary to the Scottish Football Association. I should have thought that a realistic approach would allow us to ensure that the overall objectives set by Taylor could be reached in a way that did not place unnecessary expenditure in the path of those clubs that drive towards the Taylor recommendations. With those few words and my congratulations once again, I am pleased to welcome the statutory instrument.

Column 911

5.19 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I should like to raise three subjects : first, football ; secondly, mines and quarries and thirdly, Mercury.

I begin by reiterating my comment that money is desperately needed for many of the junior football clubs. The Minister and everyone here knows that the stadiums are often crumbling. There simply is not enough money to allow the necessary capital expenditure to be found. I realise that the matter is on the periphery of the order that we are discussing, but it raises the question whether some of the money that finds its way to the senior football clubs should find its way to the junior clubs. After all, the junior clubs are the feeders. If junior football is not flourishing, that is detrimental not only to the Scottish game as a whole but to many communities. What is the Government's thinking about junior grounds ?

I wonder whether I could turn the Government's mind to a constituency problem that has wider implications. I am deeply and increasingly worried about the position of the Polkemmet pit. I should explain the background. Polkemmet used to be the second biggest pit in Scotland. I am glad that the Minister for Energy is here. He may recollect that, unfortunately, during the miners' strike after weeks, indeed months, of good relations between the police and the National Union of Mineworkers, the pit was flooded, in the most horrendous circumstances, partly because of the infiltration of individuals who crossed picket lines. Mrs. Rimington has to take her responsibility for that matter, which has been raised in an Adjournment debate.

Be that as it may, Polkemmet was flooded. Now we have a double problem. First, there is the question of purification of water. It is a matter of considerable concern to the Lothian purification board that the amassing water from Polkemmet is finding its way into all sorts of underground water supplies throughout the Lothians. The second and even more immediate problem is that the fire at the top of the pit has not been put out. I say that in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who speaks for the Opposition on mining matters. The fact of the matter is, and he knows it, that the cone of fire is still burning. It is very difficult to put out a fire without massive development on the surface. One has to tackle the fire by vast opencast expenditure. Is any Government finance likely to be available through the order to help the local authorities ?

The Mines and Quarries (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order says : "after consultation with such associations of local authorities". When the Government are doing their best to create mayhem among the local authorities, this is not the easiest moment to get the full attention of local authorities on an urgent problem. Incidentally, "such associations of local authorities"

is slightly unusual wording. I wonder why it is not "after consultation with the local authorities". Is there any significance in the wording "such associations of" ?

At a time when it becomes ever more clear that British Coal is willing to take less responsibility for its residual

problems--Polkemmet is such a problem--what will be done about a major pit fire ? Will it be entirely left to West Lothian district council ? If it is, the Government will see in full focus the problems that a small local authority has when faced with a major problem. I would rather that

Column 912

Lothian region was there to cope with the problem of Polkemmet, or at least help cope with it, than the problem being left to the small district councils.

The last subject that I wish to raise--I see that you are on the edge of your seat, Mr. Deputy Speaker--is Mercury. I am not sure whether you had taken over the Chair when the Minister mentioned Mercury Communications. I do not know whether the reference was to the English order. I asked the Clerk at the Table to let me have a look at the order, which is not immediately available in the bunch in the Vote Office. The order refers entirely to England. In any case, I shall continue until such time as I am told that I am out of order. There is an immediate issue in connection with Mercury Communications and Hutchison Microtel. It can be encapsulated in what happened at Cairnpapple a year ago. It may be within the recollection of Ministers that Hutchison Microtel, which is based in Hong Kong--I make no complaint about that ; it is a big international company--decided to erect a mast on the perimeter fence of what Historic Scotland claims is the most important bronze-age site

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Before the hon. Gentleman deploys his argument, let me say that the Telecommunications Industry (Rateable Values) (Amendment) Order covers England and Wales and is exclusive to England and Wales. It is about the valuation of Mercury's cable in those two parts of the United Kingdom. So unless the hon. Gentleman intends to deploy his argument in relation to parts of England and Wales, I shall have to ask him to cease giving the example that he had begun to give us.

Mr. Dalyell : The cable will be temporarily extended to Scotland. In defence of that attitude, apart from the fact that I have wanted to air this grievance for a long time

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. All of us have wished to express certain views and opinions for a long time, but there are times when they are in order and times when they are out of order. That cannot be the basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument. A temporary move or alleged temporary move of certain cables is equally not a sound basis on which to take the argument further.

Mr. Dalyell : All of us have to plug into our parliamentary opportunities when such occasions arise. Could you spend a minute thinking about why the Minister could raise the subject and I could not ? It was the Minister who sparked me. Had it not been for him, I would not have had the opportunity to raise the matter. I ask briefly--it will be in one sentence- -whether the Government are giving any careful thought to the planning considerations in determining whether masts should be put up near historic sites and in areas of natural beauty.

I am coming back to England straight away. I gather that after the Cairnpapple episode, which received a great deal of national publicity, there were considerable complaints in Bradford and elsewhere about masts being erected without proper consideration. In this rating matter, I wonder whether I could stretch the point--that will be the end of the tube as far as I am concerned, Mr. Deputy Speaker--and ask whether the Government will consider that point and at least write to me about it.

Column 913

5.29 pm

Mr. Stewart : Of course I always listen carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Some of the matters that he mentioned are the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and he, of course, will also have listened to the hon. Gentleman. The English and Welsh order applies simply to the calculation of the rateable values of cables, not masts in England and Wales or Scotland, and the order applies only to England and Wales.

I thank the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) for expressing the Opposition's welcome for the orders. He is right to say that they have been a long time coming. Many people have done a great deal of work and the hon. Gentleman will recognise, as my hon. Friends have recognised, that this is a complex matter. The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) spoke about Berwick Rangers. As he knows, Berwick Rangers is located in England and its ground is therefore harmonised with other English football grounds. That means that Berwick Rangers is unaffected by the order.

Mr. Boyes : We are in an interesting situation. May I put a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker ? I am not absolutely sure

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman has a point of order for the Chair I will have to listen to it.

Mr. Boyes : I am not sure whether the Minister has finished or is expecting an intervention from me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I can clarify that. The Minister has the Floor and he has given way to the hon. Gentleman for a short intervention. When the hon. Gentleman has made that intervention, the Minister will resume his speech.

Mr. Stewart : I thought that I had not wholly satisfied the hon. Gentleman and that he wanted to intervene. If he does, I am happy to give way.

Mr. Boyes : I want to make a small contribution to the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot make his contribution at this point.

Mr. Stewart : I was dealing with the points made by the hon. Member for Dumbarton. I am happy to reassure him about the effects of the order on a number of the clubs that he mentioned. He will be glad to know that Dumbarton benefits under the order. He specifically mentioned St. Johnstone, which had a rateable value of £65,000 under the previous system. Its estimated rateable value--it is an estimate at this stage--is £18,000 under the formula in the order. The hon. Gentleman spoke about improvements in relation to the Taylor report.

Mr. Boyes : Whether it relates to Scottish or English football, this is an important issue. It is a major problem for many football grounds because of the amount of revenue needed to increase the value of the team. Some of us are a little worried about whether smaller clubs will have enough cash to provide all the seating that will be needed. In general, we accept Taylor's thesis, but the smaller grounds have big problems and a number of them will not be able to determine the number of seats that will be needed in the next few years.

Column 914

The Minister must accept that some clubs will not be able to provide all that the Taylor report requires, and he should consider granting leeway for some of the smaller clubs. Some clubs in Scotland and England are very small and are strapped for cash and much money will be needed to satisfy the demands and needs of the Taylor report. As I say

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. This is a long intervention. The hon. Gentleman can catch my eye when the Minister has finished if he wishes to make a speech.

Mr. Stewart : Perhaps I could help the hon. Gentleman and the House by saying, in relation to a number of clubs, that the certainty of valuation under the order would protect clubs such as Hearts and Hibs, which were referred to by Opposition Members, from any potential increase in their valuations for 1994-95 which may have occurred under the contractor's principle if they had embarked on significant modernisation work to meet the requirements of the Taylor report. In principle, the same point applies to Aberdeen, which is undertaking a major ground improvement. That would have been reflected in a substantial increase in its rateable value under the previous system compared with the present one. Under the formula system that we propose, the club is bound to be better off.

The main criticism of the order by the hon. Member for Dumbarton, which I have not dealt with in my short speech or in answer to interventions, related to Hampden Park. Of course, that matter has been raised with us. We appreciate that Hampden Park is a national stadium. Its 1990 valuation of £80,000, which of course could have been subject to review because of phase 1 of redevelopment, compares with £560,000 for the National Stadium of Wales, £226,500 for Murrayfield and £1.25 million for Wembley. Like other football grounds, Hampden Park will, of course, be subject to the 1995 revaluation.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton said that this was not a perfect order. We recognise that, but the objective was to bring Scottish valuation into line, as far as was possible, with the treatment of clubs south of the border. We have substantially achieved that and I commend the orders to the House.

5.38 pm

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : I have three small matters to raise with the Minister. First, Berwick Rangers is in an interesting situation because it is an English club and is in a Scottish league. At times, it is difficult to resolve that dichotomy. From time to time, Berwick Rangers has a good season and about two or three years ago it was doing extremely well. Generally, it does not do too well. It is vital to sustain our small clubs, of which Berwick Rangers is one.

A host of clubs in Scotland will have some difficulty in satisfying the requirements of the Taylor report. There is a similar situation in England where some football grounds will have big problems. I watch about 50 football matches every season and that means that I visit clubs of varying sizes--some with large parks and others in great difficulty. Consequently, that affects the rateable value of the grounds.

I confess that it would be a damned sight easier for me to talk about English football clubs than about Scottish ones, but in a sort of algebraic way there is a means of getting from the poorer English teams to the poorer

Column 915

Scottish teams. I think that Hampden Park is being equipped and transformed and will have an official opening in the near future. The Minister may be able to confirm that. For us, Hampden Park is like Wembley is for England. It is is one of the most important places for football in Scotland.

Mr. Gallie : The hon. Gentleman mentioned poorer teams in England and Scotland. In Scotland we have great teams and good teams, but no poor teams.

Mr. Boyes : There is always one, and today it happens to be the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie).

Hampden Park is one of the great places for football. When I was a young boy, my uncle used to take me to football matches up and down the country and a visit to Hampden Park was extremely special. I remember seeing a film of thousands of people running on to the pitch. I hope that, through the formula of the rating valuations, we can make Hampden Park even better. That is a value judgment, but many clubs would like to be in a similar position. A number of them might not have as much cash as they might have had because of what is happening at Hampden Park.

I shall return to Berwick and Hampden in a moment, particularly as Berwick is an English club in the Scottish league.

Mr. O'Neill : It may be interesting for my hon. Friend to note that a Scottish club from Gretna Green participated in the FA Cup last season, so there seems to be two-way traffic.

Mr. Boyes : I am glad that my hon. Friend nudged me on that point. I understand that Gretna Green has had a good run and is top of the league. It would have been remiss of me not to mention a Scottish football club that is in the English league. We have to recognise the smaller clubs and the bigger clubs and how they work, or not. I mentioned seating in a short intervention that was too long for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Seating is a major problem. We all understand the need for it and why the Taylor report was necessary in view of the tragedies that had taken place. However, it represents a problem for a number of clubs. If we are not careful, some grounds will be half seating and half standing. That is the opposite of what we want.

Some fans like to stand. I would not give a jot for standing on a football ground. At the 50 games that I attend, I sit in the seating section, but many people want to stand and there has to be an area for that, even though, as a consequence, there will fewer seats. The Minister will recognise that it is an important point.

Mr. McFall : Does my hon. Friend accept that all-seater stadiums help prevent behaviour problems at football matches ? For example, at the last Rangers-Celtic match at Ibrox I had the opportunity to view the security arrangements with Chief Superintendent Lawrence McIntyre. I asked him what his experience had been over the years and he said that undoubtedly all-seater stadiums have contributed immensely to good crowd control and good behaviour.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. This has developed too far. Seating does not affect rating.

Next Section

  Home Page