|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 567Thurnham, Peter
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George (Acton)
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and Mr. Michael Bates
Column 567Question accordingly negatived.
It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned . Debate to be resumed tomorrow .
That, at the sitting on Thursday 24th November, the Speaker shall--
(i) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to Deregulation (Procedure) not later than two hours after their commencement, and such Questions shall include the Questions on any amendments to the said Motion which she may have selected and which may then be moved; (ii) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to two and three-wheeled vehicles not later than one and a half hours after their commencement; and
(iii) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), put the Question on the Motion in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to the draft Ministerial and other Salaries Order 1994 not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings thereon;
and the aforesaid Motions may be entered upon and proceeded with, though opposed, after Ten o'clock.-- [Mr. Wells.]
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I am pleased to present tonight this petition, organised by the Action for Children campaign, which has been signed by 1,253 attenders at the 21st Greenbelt festival on 29 August. In the petition, they call for tough new legislation against those involved in the heinous crime of the exploitation of children for the sexual gratification of adults. I fully endorse the views expressed in the petition, which concludes:
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House do introduce legislation to ensure that citizens of the United Kingdom who commit serious sexual offences against children abroad can be prosecuted in this country.
To lie upon the Table.
Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley): In addition to the more than a quarter of a million signatures that were presented to Downing street on Monday this week by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo), a further 2,000 signatures are attached to this petition to the House of Commons. It reads:
The Petition of the Citizens of the United Kingdom
Declares that the Government decision to increase VAT on domestic fuel from 8 per cent. to 17.5 per cent. in 1995 will place a heavy financial burden on pensioners and others on low incomes which they will find hard to meet.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons votes down this terrible proposed increase when it is raised in the House. To lie upon the Table.
Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Further to the petition moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie), I have here a petition from 2,000 constituents in Sheffield, Hillsborough. They declare that the Government's decision to increase VAT on domestic fuel and power from 8 per cent. to 17.5 per cent. breaks election promises and is unfair, hitting those who can least afford it. The petition reads:
The Petitioners therefore request that this House of Commons passes legislation to stop the further VAT increase on domestic fuel and power.
To lie upon the Table.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn): I have pleasure in following the petitions presented by my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) and for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) against the increase in VAT. This petition has 1,000 signatures from my constituency of Glasgow, Springburn. It reads: To the House of Commons
The Petition of the Citizens of Glasgow, Springburn
Declares that the Government decision to increase VAT on domestic fuel and power from 8 per cent. to 17.5 per cent. in 1995
Column 569breaks election promises and is unfair, hitting those who can least afford it. The petition continues:
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons passes legislation to stop the further VAT increase on domestic fuel and power.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wells.]
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): I would like to declare an interest in the matter that I intend to raise. I own a share in Barnsley football club, although I derive no benefit from that club whatever. On 24 June, the football club was refused a temporary exemption from the licensing requirements of the Taylor report. That report required that Premier League and Endsleigh League first division clubs were to have all- seater accommodation in place by 1 August 1994, or to have closed down that accommodation which was not seated. I hope to persuade the Minister this evening to change that decision in view of the changed circumstances at the club since that decision was taken earlier in the year.
I should say at the outset that Barnsley football club is committed entirely to the Taylor requirements. Its request, which I am echoing tonight, is for a temporary exemption only from those licensing requirements, until the end of the season. Both the club and I accept that the move to all-seater stadiums should continue.
Since the start of the season, the club has required home spectators to use the brand new 7,000-seat east stand. Those seats were planned and built into the ground this year. That large number of seats was planned to maximise the number of seats for the expenditure which the club had to outlay. It needed a large number of seats as quickly as possible and it wanted those seats to be a permanent structure--a permanent stand and a quality building. That is what the club has achieved with the east stand, which is a quite remarkable building. The remaining 2,000 or so seats on the opposite side of the ground have now been reserved for visiting spectators. Many fans chose not to use the east stand. Some were reluctant to move from their former seats and some fans, in opposition to the requirements of the Taylor report, chose not to be seated at all at football matches, which has resulted in decreased attendances at home games. The club desperately needs to attract those spectators back to the ground to maintain its financial viability. In June, I and representatives of the club predicted that attendances would fall and it appears that that is exactly what has happened.
Those falling attendances have been quite dramatic. The home gate this season has fallen to below 4,000, compared with last seasons's average of around 7,000. At the same time, the team is performing very well and is placed ninth in the Endsleigh league first division. Therefore, the reduction in attendances can only be related to the problems of accommodation at the ground and not to the performance of the team. The current attendance levels, at below 4,000 for a home match, means that the club will face financial problems unless that figure can be improved and improved very quickly.
I am sure that neither the Minister nor the Football Licensing Authority want to see the club's future jeopardised for the sake of a temporary exemption to last, perhaps, until the end of this season. The club is confident that it will have seating installed at the south side of the ground--known locally as the Pontefract road end--by the end of the season. That will provide cheaper seating than the east stand at the favourite end of the ground. I
Column 571stress that because many fans, who stood previously at home matches, like to stand at that end. Now that that end of the ground cannot be used, many fans have chosen to stay away.
Until the new south stand is built, the club would like to use the existing terracing, which is in front of the old stand. Even then, the numbers standing would be limited. That is because the club will be undertaking work on the construction of new seating at the south end of the ground. That for which I and the club are asking is limited in any event.
The Government's arguments were advanced in June and encapsulated in a letter sent by the then Secretary of State to the club. The arguments were based on the criteria laid down by the Football Licensing Authority. The criteria provided that any exemption from the requirement of licensing had to be the result of wholly exceptional circumstances or unforeseen delay, and not through any inaction on the part of the club.
A wholly exceptional circumstance for Barnsley football club is a covenant on the playing surface at the ground. The family which gave the club the ground--it originally owned the brewery that adjoined the ground--placed a covenant on the land when it was given to the club. The covenant provided that the land could be used only as a football pitch. That meant that if the club wanted to dispose of the ground it had to face the covenant on the pitch. That meant, in turn, that the club could not relocate to another ground without substantial problems in disposing of the playing area. Relocation was not really an option for the club. I suggest that that is an exceptional circumstance.
The club's other problems are to a great extent exceptional and unique to it. They began about 10 years ago with the miners' strike, which ended in 1985. Since the end of the strike there has been a rundown in the coal mining industry in Barnsley, with the result that the economy has been depressed for some years. The club's gates prior to the strike when compared with even those of last season reveal a substantial difference. They were about 17,000 before the strike, when the club was in a lower division, whereas they were about 7,000 last season. They are now below 4,000.
The ground has limited road access. There are difficulties in accommodating visiting spectators. Those spectators could not really be accommodated in the new east stand, which has 7,000 seats. I know that the Government were critical of the club for concentrating on that stand, but if away supporters were not to use it they would have to mingle with home supporters in the stand leaving the stand as well as passing through the car-parking area. There is no other egress from the stand that could separate home and visiting spectators. I remind the Minister of the Barnsley against Stoke City Football Association cup replay match some years ago, when 2,000 Stoke City fans arrived at the ground very late, escorted by South Yorkshire police. The officers ordered the club to open the gates to the ground and the Stoke City fans were admitted without payment and in a hurry. The same force was involved at Hillsborough. Indeed, the match to which I have referred took place six weeks before the Hillsborough tragedy. That relates to a policy that was being pursued at the time. We are conscious of the problems that are involved in accommodating away spectators.
Column 572The development of the south side stand was delayed. That was referred to in the then Secretary of State's letter. There was a hint that the club could have speeded up that development. I was involved in persuading the brewery company to sell land to enable the club to build the 7,000-seater east stand. Not all the land that was sold to the club was required and so the club, after building the stand, had to sell the residue of the land.
Money was tied up in that residue until such time as a buyer was found for it. The residue was subject to planning restrictions which were completely outside the club's control. As a result, the club could not proceed to enable it to meet the deadline because of the tie-up of money from the land that the club had to sell and because of planning permission difficulties.
I want to quote from two letters that I have with me. The first is from my letter to Courage in July 1991. In it, I wrote:
"The purpose of my letter is therefore, to ask whether the Brewery would be willing to negotiate the sale of the land in question to the Football Club in order that steps can be taken towards the building of a new stand. As you are probably aware, the recent report by Lord Justice Taylor specifies that clubs within the first and second divisions of the Football League"--
as they were then--
"must have a certain proportion of seated accommodation within their grounds. Barnsley, sadly, is well below the proportion stipulated by Lord Justice Taylor and, therefore, the question of new facilities is a pressing one."
I wrote that in letter to the brewery in July 1991 to try to encourage it to sell the land which the club needed to allow development to take place. The reply from Courage in August 1991 stated:
"Following the merger with Grand Metropolitan Brewing we are currently engaged in a major restructuring exercise and we are not in a position to release any part of the brewery for the foreseeable future. I am sorry that we cannot offer a more optimistic response to the Football Club."
It is clear from that that, at the end of 1991, the club could not acquire the land to build the east-side stand let alone build the south-side stand. That caused the club several problems in relation to tying up money that the club needed to build the south-side stand.
I am pleased to say that the planning matters have now been resolved. The club met the Football Trust last week and it has met the various financial institutions to ensure that funding for the new south-side project is now available. That funding is no small amount of money. It is a £2 million development. It is not just a question of installing seats into original terracing; the structure of the stand must be made safe. The project is rather expensive. I suggest that the delay in respect of the south-side stand was unforseen and not due to inaction on the club's part. As the Minister can see from the correspondence that I have quoted, the brewery was unwilling to relinquish the land until well into 1992. The club has been doing all it can with limited resources.
Once the south-side seating is completed, the club will be able to maintain cheaper seating accommodation at the favourite end of the ground for the home fans. Hopefully, that will resolve many of the problems, but that is obviously a season away.
The Secretary of State said that the all-seater policy was flagged up as long ago as 1990 and that the club should have acted sooner. However, Barnsley simply did not have the money to implement more than the one- seater stand scheme. It could not implement the
Column 573south-side scheme and the east-side scheme together. The east-side stand, the large 7,000 seater stand, took precedence to obtain the maximum possible number of seats in one development. No one foresaw the fact that the gates would fall as dramatically as they did. Contrary to what the Secretary of State maintained in his letter, the club has not been too ambitious. It wanted to build a quality development and it wanted the fans to have a proper well- built stand. The facilities that are being removed comprise old wooden stands similar to the stand that so tragically caught fire at Bradford City football club. The club wants to avoid temporary botched accommodation. It wants to build quality accommodation for the Barnsley fans.
In his letter, the Secretary of State also maintained that the club could adequately accommodate away fans and home fans together and avoid possible disorder if the club employed very careful planning. As I have pointed out, the limited access to the ground from several sides made that difficult, although I am pleased to say that the Government have given the go-ahead, under the city challenge scheme, for a new road to be built as part of that scheme. That road will relieve some of the problems facing people leaving the football ground. That road is somewhere in the future, but we look forward to it being built.
Although this point has been made before, it is worth repeating that Barnsley must be an all-seater stadium. No one complains about that. Its current gate is fewer than 4,000. The neighbouring Rotherham team, which is in a division below Barnsley, does not have to have all-seater accommodation, but its average attendance is about 6,000. Preston is also in a lower division, but it is not required to have an all-seater stadium. It recently hosted a match with an attendance of about 14,000.
I have already said that the club is doing all it can to provide all-seater accommodation. The finance, the planning and the developer are all in place and work is due to commence as soon as the final matters are tied up. I think that it is worth comparing its position with that of other clubs that were granted exemptions--Sunderland, Grimsby, Derby, Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.
I understand that, although those clubs were granted exemptions on the ground that they were relocating to new stadiums, some of them have not yet begun the necessary work on building them. Indeed, in some cases the decision to relocate has been changed to refurbishing the existing ground. It is worth noting that Barnsley has tried its level best to accommodate the Taylor report and to get the money to build the seated accommodation, while some of the clubs that had exemptions seem to be, for whatever reason --and I know that some of them have problems--dragging their feet.
The club made the point earlier this year that gates would fall, which might jeopardise its revenue. That has happened and the fall in gates has been quite dramatic, despite the fact that the team are doing well. Fans have not been able to use their favourite area of the ground. In fact, I had to give up the seat that I have had for a number of years to move into the new stand. All that was predicted earlier this year has happened and the club is facing financial difficulties, despite the team doing well.
Column 574I urge the Minister to look again at the matter and find a way to grant a temporary exemption, perhaps until the end of the season, to ensure the financial viability of the club.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat): I congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) on securing this debate and on his admirable persistence in trying to seek an exemption for Barnsley football club from the all-seating requirement imposed on premier and first division football grounds. The debate closes at 10.49 pm, so I may run out of time. However, I shall come to his last sentence, even if it is in mid-sentence, before I sit down.
I am aware that this is a very strongly felt issue with many football supporters throughout the country and that has been proven by the hon. Gentleman's speech today. I know that many football fans prefer to stand on the terraces rather than sit down. That point has been made forcefully by several hon. Members in the past. Converting stadiums to all-seating can also be very costly and can create problems for some smaller clubs.
In recognition of that, and having listened carefully to all the representations received, the Government reviewed the all-seating policy and, in July 1992, announced that only premier and first division clubs would need to convert their stadiums. Clubs in the second and third divisions of the football league are being allowed to retain their terracing, provided that it is deemed safe by the local authority and the Football Licensing Authority. I hope that that shows that the Government have not acted in an inflexible way, but have responded, to a considerable extent, to the legitimate concerns and wishes of the supporters and the clubs.
Before I deal with Barnsley's particular circumstances it may be useful to remind the House why the all-seating policy was introduced and what its benefits have been. All hon. Members are, of course, aware of the Hillsborough tragedy and the consequent report produced by Lord Justice Taylor, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We should also remember earlier disasters, such as those at Ibrox in 1971 and Bradford in 1985. Decisive action was needed to ensure a sea change, not only in the safety and quality of the grounds, but in the attitudes of the clubs to make them put crowd safety at the top of their list of priorities.
It is all too easy for some supporters to think, "It could never happen at our club." They should remember that Hillsborough was selected by the Football Association because it was one of the best grounds in the country and had hosted safely an identical fixture the previous year. As Lord Justice Taylor commented:
"I have little doubt that if the disaster scenario had been described to the management at Hillsborough prior to 15 April, they too would have said, `Of course, it couldn't happen here.'" We should also remember that other blight in the game of football, particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s-- that of thuggery and hooliganism. The combination of poor crowd behaviour and dangerous facilities could not be tolerated any longer and action had to be taken to ensure the very survival of the game. I quote again Lord Justice Taylor's report. He said:
"There is no panacea which will achieve total safety, and cure all problems of behaviour and crowd control. But I am satisfied that seating does more to achieve those objectives than any other single measure".