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13 May 2009 : Column 857

Speaker’s Statement

12.32 pm

Mr. Speaker: Before I proceed with the business of the House, I wish to make a statement about demonstrations in Parliament square and issues of control and access to the House.

First, let me make it clear to the House that I support the right to demonstrate, but as right hon. and hon. Members have made clear through points of order the recent demonstration by Tamils has caused disruption to the work of the House and to individuals and organisations seeking access to it. It has also involved considerable cost to the House and to the police and exposed many issues of health and safety.

In the light of those difficulties, and given the distribution of responsibilities for Parliament square between various authorities, I can tell the House that I have arranged a meeting with the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, the deputy Mayor of London responsible for policing, the leader of Westminster council and an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police to discuss how demonstrations in the square can be better regulated so that the functioning of Parliament is not impeded and the health and safety of individuals is not breached. I shall come back to report any progress that we can make to resolve this highly unsatisfactory situation.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for that statement, and I hope that you will bear in mind during your discussions the pain and suffering that the Tamil people are going through. We must understand their need to express their point of view, in the hope that the British Government and others can encourage a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. These are desperate people shouting out for help, and I think we should listen to them.

Mr. Speaker: I note the points that hon. Gentleman makes. He has always been consistent regarding this matter.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right that a Member should use your statement to further a political cause? Would you argue that that is not what your statement was about?

Mr. Speaker: I have known the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) for many years. He made his comment through a point of order in good faith, and I think we should leave it that.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Please can you, Mr. Speaker, tell us the date of the meeting that you have convened?

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Mr. Speaker: Today, at 5 o’clock. How’s that?

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point has to do with the meeting and the demonstration. Like you, many of us have had considerable involvement with the demonstration. Would you be willing to accept a short note from any colleagues who have had some professional involvement with the police and others with regard to the events of the past few weeks? We want to assist you, and to make sure that the resolution of the matter commands the consensus of the whole House, irrespective of hon. Members’ individual views on the demonstration and the issue involved.

Mr. Speaker: I am always happy to receive representations from all hon. Members throughout the House. Thank you.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have focused today on events with regard to Sri Lanka and the Tamil demonstrators, but over recent years there have been a number of demonstrations of different kinds. We need to bear it in mind that London is a global city, and that we cannot have its centre and our Parliament regularly disrupted by any organisation whatever.

Mr. Speaker: I note the hon. Gentleman’s point of view.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Joint Committee on Human Rights produced a report on policing and protest a few weeks ago, and one of our recommendations was that there should be no surprises, either from demonstrators or in the policing of demonstrations. We also stressed the importance of dialogue between police and demonstrators. In the light of that, would you consider inviting organisers of the Tamil protest to meet the people whom you are seeing later today, to discuss terms of reference for the demonstration?

Mr. Speaker: I am meeting the people with responsibility in this matter, but who they write to is up to them. Let me make it clear: as I said in my statement, I believe that it is part of the democracy that we live in that people are entitled to demonstrate around Parliament, and therefore in Parliament square. However, what we have out there at the moment is a blocking-off of the right of others to demonstrate, and that is a deep concern to me. The square is an absolute shambles, and that should be taken into consideration as well.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will not be holding court on the statement that I have made. The statement was clear and the meeting is at 5 o’clock, so I think that we should move on.

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Bill Presented

School Bus (safety) Bill

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I call the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) to present his Bill, I draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Bill’s long title was printed incorrectly in the Order Paper. A revised page of the Order Paper with the correct long title has been issued.

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Malcolm Bruce, supported by Miss Anne Begg, Mr. David Blunkett, Peter Bottomley, Mark Pritchard, Willie Rennie and Sir Robert Smith, presented a Bill to make requirements relating to the design and operation of school buses; to make provision about road safety training for drivers and users of school buses; to establish a School Bus Safety Council; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 95).

13 May 2009 : Column 860

Goalpost Safety

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

12.39 pm

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I beg to move,

Eighteen years ago, an 11-year-old boy from my constituency, Jonathan Smith, was killed during an away game of the Witham under-12s. Jonathan was swinging from the crossbar when the goalpost fell on him, ruptured his heart and left his family devastated. Since his death, Jonathan’s mother, Brenda Smith, who is here today watching the presentation of this Bill, has fought a tireless campaign to improve the safety of goalposts.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), who secured a debate on this important subject in Westminster Hall in January 2000. Nine years on, however, there is still no legislation to improve goalpost safety standards.

The beautiful game has a devoted following in all parts of the House. Many of us, including, I am sure, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, are wary of imposing new rules, regulations or requirements on the game, its clubs, supporters or amateur players, but my Bill is not an example of health and safety gone mad. I am not talking about professional football, or families having a kickabout in their back yard, and I am not out to ruin anyone’s fun. As a passionate Newcastle United fan and father of five, I do not need to be told how important football is to young people. I know only too well that millions of people regularly enjoy playing football, and we need to encourage them to do so, but we also need appropriate legislation to help to keep them safe.

It is true that some progress has already been made. We now have a good British Standards Institution standard, an up-and-running scheme to replace unsafe goalposts, some growing publicity, and letters of support for Brenda Smith from Her Majesty the Queen, sports personalities and the Football Association, among others.

In 2005, a new BSI standard was introduced. The Football Foundation says that

Nevertheless, manufacturers and buyers are only recommended to comply with it. In addition, the FA distributed more than 1 million leaflets to help clubs, schools and councils to understand better the risks posed by unsafe goalposts and how safety measures should be applied practice.

The Football Foundation operates an excellent scheme, which allows any FA-affiliated club, local authority, school, community group or club in the national league system step 7 and below to apply for a 50 per cent. grant to replace any of their goalposts that do not adhere to the recognised BSI standard. However, my Bill seeks to go a step further, by making the replacement of any goalposts that do not meet the BSI standard mandatory by 2012. That will include goalposts used on property owned by councils, schools and clubs.

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The Bill will target in particular goalposts made before 1996—the year in which British standards were first produced for goalposts. Despite the introduction of those standards, the FA says that some schools still use, for example, wooden goalposts, which are not illegal, but which do pose a threat to the children using them. Other unsafe goalposts include those that are corroded, rusted or free-standing, or those with metal cuphooks on the posts of crossbars.

In 2005, the FA identified approximately 15,000 goalposts that did not meet the BSI standard. The Football Foundation has, to date, offered 3,192 grants with a value of nearly £2 million. As the grants can be offered for multiple goalposts, they have enabled about one third of the unsafe goalposts identified to be replaced. That is an admirable achievement, but more can be done.

I admit that I was surprised when I first became aware of the risk posed by unsafe goalposts. Since Jonathan’s death in 1991, at least 10 other children in the UK and many others worldwide have been killed by falling goalposts. Even more have been injured, suffering broken limbs, bruising and fractured skulls, often leaving permanent damage and disfiguring scars. Adults, too, have also been injured in the same way: I recently heard from the parents of another constituent who, 10 years ago, when she was in her mid-20s, had an unsecured goalpost land on her, causing severe injuries for which she is receiving treatment to this day. I am sure that other hon. Members have similar stories.

The Football Association says that one of the biggest problems is when children swing on goalposts, and I suppose that one answer is to admit that it is difficult to stop children wanting to play on goalposts. Nevertheless, we can minimise the risk as far as possible by ensuring that goalposts are fit for purpose, properly installed and well maintained.

The goalpost that killed my constituent’s son, Jonathan, was simply made of scaffold poles welded together, weighing 200 lb, that were not fixed to the ground. Jonathan was playing in a game for under-12s, who weigh perhaps 60 or 70 lb; they would not have been at risk if purpose-built, lightweight plastic or aluminium goalposts had been in use. Installation and maintenance is as important as manufacture; indeed, the current Football Foundation scheme insists on professional installation and offers training in proper maintenance techniques. Local authorities already have to organise an independent annual check on the conditions of their own pitches. I believe it would be a simple matter to ensure that the safety of the goalposts was also checked at this time.

The Government have argued that enough has already been done and that a voluntary code will suffice. In a
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letter sent to my constituent, Brenda Smith, in September last year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that the Government still

I agree that support, guidelines and recommendations are a major step forward in creating good practice, but we can do more to ensure that no other family has to mourn losing a child who should have been celebrating winning a football game.

Other countries have taken more robust action on this issue. The New South Wales Government in Australia passed legislation prohibiting the manufacture of goalposts that did not meet strict criteria. This guarantees that goalposts cannot fall or tip over, and that they are of a limited weight and force.

I never imagined that I would suggest to the House that France is a country that has anything to teach us about the beautiful game, but the French have legislated for a safety standard that makes the manufacture, distribution or use of non-standard goalposts illegal. I am sure that when it comes to goalpost safety, even my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) would not object to our following the French lead.

Given the simple and accessible scheme already in operation, 2012 is a realistic target. The year of the London Olympics is also an important symbolic target, proving that we have a commitment to grass-roots sports and that we care as much for safety as for success. That would be a great British Olympic legacy.

The Football Association says it has

while the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), a supporter of this Bill and a previous sports Minister, said that pushing for legislation on goalpost safety was “obviously a longer-term solution”. Well, it is now 18 years since Brenda Smith lost her son—and that is not just the long term, but a whole lifetime. I hope that I will receive the support of all hon. Members for this Bill to place our children at the heart of a culture of safety and awareness, and to make minimum safety standards for goalposts mandatory by 2012. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Brooks Newmark, Mr. Don Foster, Rob Marris, Mr. John Grogan, Mr. David Anderson, Kate Hoey, Mr. Simon Burns, Alistair Burt, Mr. John Randall, Mr. Mark Field, Mr. Nigel Evans and Stuart Hosie present the Bill.

Mr. Brooks Newmark accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October and to be printed (Bill 961).

13 May 2009 : Column 863

Finance Bill

(Clauses 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, 16, 20 and 92)

Further considered in Committee (Progress reported, 12 May)

[Sir Alan Haselhurst in the Chair]

12.50 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): On a point of order, Sir Alan. I seek your guidance. Yesterday in Committee, it appeared to more than one Member, including me, that a Member was simply reading from a handheld device, such as a BlackBerry, to make an intervention. Is that in order?

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The hon. Gentleman was perhaps more observant than the occupant of the Chair, as it is clear that such a practice is not permitted under the ruling originally given by Mr. Speaker on the use of personal digital assistants in the Chamber. In interventions in particular, and even in a wider sense, reading from either mechanical means or paper should be practised as little as possible if the spirit of “Erskine May” is to survive.

Rob Marris: Further to that point of order, Sir Alan. May I assist you? My recollection is that the Member concerned was not in your line of sight or that of whoever was in the Chair at the time.

The Chairman: I say to the hon. Gentleman that the line of sight of other Members is more varied than is possible from the Chair. The matter could have been raised as a point of order at the time, but I suppose it is better late than never. I thank the hon. Gentleman.

Clause 92

Duties of senior accounting officers of large companies

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I beg to move amendment 4, page 45, line 18, after ‘after’, insert ‘the first anniversary of’.

The amendment refers to clause 92, which imposes additional duties on senior accounting officers of large companies. The Financial Secretary can be assured that schedule 46 will be discussed in some detail in Committee upstairs, because it raises issues that need to be explored properly. From time to time, we have been complimentary to the Government when they have consulted on legislation: we recognised their efforts in consulting businesses on the taxation of foreign profits, and, after a somewhat tortuous process, the outcome of that consultation was satisfactory.

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