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House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Safety of Sports Grounds (Northern Ireland) Order 2005

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Third Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: †

Derek Conway

†Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
†Bottomley, Peter (Worthing, West) (Con)
†Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Campbell, Mr. Gregory (East Londonderry) (DUP)
†Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
†Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
†Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)
†Keen, Alan (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
†Osborne, Sandra (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab)
†Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
†Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey (Coventry, North-West) (Lab)
†Truswell, Mr. Paul (Pudsey) (Lab)
Vara, Mr. Shailesh (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
†Vaz, Keith (Leicester, East) (Lab)
†Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
†Wood, Mike (Batley and Spen) (Lab)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

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Wednesday 7 December 2005

[Derek Conway in the Chair]

Draft Safety of Sports Grounds (Northern Ireland) Order 2005

2.30 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Safety of Sports Grounds (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Conway. I hope that the Committee will prove uncontroversial, but still interesting. The purpose of the order, a draft of which was laid before the House on 21 November, is to improve safety standards in sports grounds in Northern Ireland for the benefit of all users. It has been widely consulted on and in the consultations to date it has received full support.

In Northern Ireland, unlike Great Britain, there are no arrangements requiring owners, occupiers or managers of outdoor sports grounds actively to consider the safety of spectators. District councils and the Health and Safety Agency of Northern Ireland have found it difficult to enforce existing legislation on spectator safety as it primarily relates to employers and/or employees. One of the difficulties that they have encountered has been the identification of the employer.

Hon. Members will remember the disastrous events at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, and the subsequent report by Lord Justice Taylor at the behest of the Government, which made recommendations for spectator safety throughout Great Britain.

In Great Britain, existing legislation such as the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987, which followed the disastrous Bradford fire, were acted upon and enforced by local authorities under the leadership and guidance of the Football Licensing Authority, which was established by the Football Spectators Act 1989. However, Northern Ireland was not included in that legislation.

Today, by bringing the draft order before the Committee, we will be introducing new safety standards for spectators at all sports grounds, not just association football, and bringing Northern Ireland into line with the legislation already on the statute book for Great Britain.

Although legislation has not been introduced until now, work has already begun in earnest on improving safety at sports grounds. An interim safety of sports grounds programme has been, and will be, provided under the auspices of the Sports Council for Northern Ireland. I hope that, with the support of the Government, some £9 million of Government
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funding, provided over the next three years, will assist the Sports Council for Northern Ireland to implement the scheme, if it is approved by the Committee.

In October 2000 the then devolved Minister, my colleague Michael McGimpsey MLA, created a soccer strategy advisory panel to look specifically at the development of association football in Northern Ireland. One of the recommendations of the panel was to introduce legislation similar to that which existed in Great Britain. This then became a priority for the Government.

We undertook a 14-week consultation on the proposed policy, examining the equality impact assessment between June and September 2004. We have consulted widely with Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, Members of the Legislative Assembly, district councils, governing bodies of all the sports involved, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and individual clubs and organisations. The proposed policy was broadly welcomed and supported by most of those consulted; indeed, no objections have been submitted to date.

I undertook a further consultation over this summer, and all those who responded supported the draft order. There were some proposed amendments, which I have been happy to include in the order.

As I have said, the order will introduce in Northern Ireland powers similar to those that are already in place in Great Britain following the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987. It will improve crowd control with access and egress, require maintenance records for grounds to be kept, and require emergency evacuation plans to be kept. It will also ensure that asbestos is removed from all sports grounds.

The aim of the legislation is to introduce a safety certification scheme for grounds with a capacity for more than 5,000 spectators and for spectator stands with a capacity of more than 500. It is estimated that about 26 sports grounds and 15 spectator stands will require certificates.

The order, if approved, will give district councils the authority to issue safety certificates, enforce the terms and conditions of those certificates, and ensure that owners, occupiers or managers are responsible for the safety of their organisations.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has established an overseeing body, using existing provisions, in the Sports Council for Northern Ireland. Unlike Great Britain, we shall not establish a body such as the Football Licensing Authority, but we believe that the Sports Council is in a position to oversee the work.

The introduction of this legislation and its associated regulations will improve sports grounds throughout Northern Ireland and ensure that, as in Great Britain, we comply with safety standards. I am pleased to bring it before the Committee, and I am sure that early in the new year, when the Sports Council produces the guide to safety at sports grounds—in colloquial terms, I shall refer to it as the green guide—the order will work with that advice. There will be
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advice to grounds, and there will be finance from the Government to support the implementation. I am confident that it will receive a welcome from the Committee, to which I commend it.

2.36 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I too welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Conway. I think that this is the first time that I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship, and I am sure that it will be an enjoyable but disciplined experience.

I can tell the Minister that although we have no objection to the order, it is sandwiched between two days of Committee sittings on another piece of legislation relating to Northern Ireland—the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill—to which we have many objections, and we shall return to the fray on that tomorrow. For today, however, we can give the Minister a reasonably easy time. None the less, I want to ask him some questions.

I am a little surprised, although having some experience of Northern Ireland affairs by now I probably should not be, that the legislation was not enacted there originally. I well remember, with great sadness, the tragic events at Hillsborough and Bradford, and the people in Northern Ireland deserve the protection that we hope that the measure will bring them.

The Minister mentioned accommodation for 5,000 spectators, and 500 in a stand. Will he be a bit more specific about that? Presumably he meant 5,000 in the whole arena, and 500 in a stand. I believe that those numbers represent the whole capacity of a ground, rather than the average number of people who actually turn up. Is there any difficulty for a facility that, although it could accommodate 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000, normally attracts only 100 or 200? Not every sports ground is always full to capacity. Has that aspect been considered?

I am a little confused by something in the explanatory notes, which say that the definition of a sports ground would include

    “sports stadiums (e.g. association football, gaelic and rugby grounds), horse racing tracks, golf courses and motor racing tracks.”

I may be missing something, but further on, the explanatory notes say:

    “It is not the Department’s intention that this Order will be used to designate golf courses, horse racing courses, motor racing tracks or other sporting events such as horse trials and point to point meetings”.

I do not think that the order specifies the type of stadium, but the explanatory notes do go into detail, seeming to suggest that horse racing tracks will be included, whereas horse racing courses will not.

There are two main horse racing courses in Northern Ireland, at Down Royal and Downpatrick. Indeed, representatives from Down Royal are coming over here to see me about a different matter next week. Will the Minister clarify the effect on those courses?

The explanatory notes say that the cost to district councils per safety certificate is estimated at £2,362. What estimate has been made of how many certificates per district council will be awarded, and will councils
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be recompensed? I know that the estimate for the basic compliance cost is £19 million, netted to £16.2 million—the difference being accounted for by some financial assistance through the Sports Council. What influence do the Government have over the awarding of grants from the Sports Council? I am not an expert on that subject, but I understood that it made its own mind up about such things.

If organisations apply for a certificate, what changes does the Minister envisage will have to be made to many of them? Does he expect that many will be refused certificates, and for what reasons? How much does he estimate that it would cost them to bring themselves up to the required standard? Of course we have to protect the public, but it would be most unfortunate if they were to lose out on sports facilities as a result.

I think that that is enough questions. I am sure that you would say that it was, Mr. Conway. In broad terms, we support the order.

2.41 pm

Mr. Hanson: I thank the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) for his support for the order. I shall try to answer his questions as best I can. I do not want to break the consensus on this matter, but he did ask why Northern Ireland was not included originally—

Mr. Robertson: I know the answer now.

Mr. Hanson: The answer is that the Conservative party was in government at the time.

Mr. Robertson: It seems longer ago.

Mr. Hanson: It does seem a long time ago—but when the original legislation was passed in 1987 and 1992, I do not recall Labour Ministers being in charge. I do not want to break the consensus, but that is just a factual point for the Committee.

Mr. Robertson: That’s my career gone.

Mr. Hanson: The order does apply to grounds with a capacity of 5,000 in the arena and 500 in the stands. It will be for sports grounds, along with the district council, to agree their capacity. The hon. Gentleman asked why golf courses, horse racing courses and motor racing tracks were defined as sports grounds. As part of the consultation, we were told that there are vast open spaces at such grounds, allowing for easy movement of spectators. Indeed, at race courses spectators move around while events are being run. To demand certification of those facilities for such events would therefore be an unnecessary burden both on them and on local councils. The order is primarily aimed at enclosed sports areas, and most golf courses and race courses allow free movement.

Mr. Robertson: I am a keen follower of horse racing. I have Cheltenham race course in my constituency, and I have been to Down Royal a number of times. There is free movement, but there are many times
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when more than 500 people will be in the stand. Anyway, my point was actually that there appeared to be a contradiction in the explanatory notes.

Mr. Hanson: If I may complete my remarks, perhaps all will become clear.

In terms of the whole sports ground and the 5,000 figure, that would not require a safety certificate from the district council, but the stands within the facility would still require one. Managers and owners of such grounds will still be expected to have in place adequate safety arrangements. If a district council finds anyone failing in that responsibility it will have the option of issuing a prohibition notice.

Mr. Robertson: I think that I understand now. Does that mean that the 500 limit will apply but not the 5,000?

Mr. Hanson: That is correct.

The hon. Gentleman also asked what physical manifestations would result from the order in sports grounds. I talked about some of the changes that might be made in my opening remarks. For example, people will be able to look at improvements in crowd control for access and egress. You will remember, Mr. Conway, that one of the difficulties at Hillsborough was related to access and egress, and pressures on an entrance into the ground. Minimum standards for access and egress will be published in the green guide in February.

Maintenance records will have to be kept. As you will also remember, Mr. Conway, maintenance problems were involved in the fire at Bradford in 1987. Fire certificates and other related issues are relevant here. In my opening remarks I also said that each ground would need an emergency plan in place, to be agreed and inspected by the council, for evacuation in the event of an emergency, whether that be fire, terrorism or a false alarm.

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There may also be sports grounds in Northern Ireland containing asbestos, and removal of that will be a condition in the green guide. District councils will consult the green guide to agree standards with the grounds, not just on those aspects but on capacity. Clubs can agree capacity with them, and if they wish to increase it in future, they will be able to arrange that.

The costs cannot be determined yet, but the legislation provides the opportunity, which exists in the rest of the United Kingdom, for district councils to re-charge sports grounds a one-off fee for a certificate until such time as any changes are made. We have estimated that that could be about £1,000 plus—a one-off payment that will last for the lifetime of the sports ground, provided that no substantial changes are made.

The money supplied by the Department to the Sports Council has been specifically allocated for designation to deal with this matter, and we have put in place £9 million for the next three years. That will kick-start developments, some of which are ongoing anyway, because ground owners recognise, as the Government do, that it is in everybody’s interests to ensure that grounds are safe.

With those few comments, I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s questions and satisfied him that the order is welcomed in Northern Ireland, has widespread support and will lead to a positive outcome for the people there. I thank you, Mr. Conway, for your chairmanship of the Committee. I also thank my officials, Jerome Dawson, Jack Palmer and Michael Cory, who have put a lot of time into this legislation over the past two years, and for whom today, together with the consideration that will shortly be undertaken in another place, is the culmination of a lot of effort to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom and ensure that sports grounds will be safer for the people of Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Safety of Sports Grounds (Northern Ireland) Order 2005.

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Three o’clock.


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Prepared 9 December 2005