On the 15th December the Select Committee session included questions to Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister for Disabled People, Nicky Morgan MP, Minister for Women and Equalities and Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.
During the session LPF Vice-President, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, questioned Justin Tomlinson MP, the Minister for Disabled People on accessibility to sports stadia and the recent Premier League pledge to meet Accessible Stadia by 2017.
The relevant excerpts are as follows:
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: “…I have a Private Member’s Bill, which is about to leave the House of Lords and head your way, on disabled access at sports stadia. I shall ask a supplementary question of Mr Tomlinson relating to that in a moment, but my question is for each of you. Are you satisfied with the remaining legal provisions concerning disabled people and are there any changes that you would recommend?”
Nicky Morgan: “…The Equality Act introduced important new protections for those with disabilities and the bulk of disability‑related provisions and the age‑related ones have now been implemented. We believe that the Act is working as it should do and our post‑legislative scrutiny memorandum on the Act shows that the two key objectives that were originally set, harmonising the equalities legal framework and strengthening the law to support progress on equalities, have substantively been achieved. In light of that, there are not any specific changes that I, as the Equalities Minister, would wish to put to the Committee, but of course we will look at the conclusions of the Committee and we will no doubt be reviewing the Act again. I have already mentioned some of the uncommenced provisions that we will be looking at again.”
Justin Tomlinson: “I would echo those comments.”
Andrew Jones: “I would echo but add something, which I am not necessarily sure is a legal issue. We have been talking about access to public transport and I think we need to keep a watching brief. We often define access in physical terms. We need to be aware that dementia is a growing feature in our communities and that one in three people over the age of 85 will suffer some form of cognitive impairment. We need to make sure our communities are very dementia‑friendly. That needs to be borne in mind as well in transport planning. I am not sure that is necessarily a legal issue, but it is something I feel personally strongly about, so I thought I would mention it.”
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: “This is my supplementary to Mr Tomlinson. I have armed myself with some splendid quotes of his, most of them from Wiltshire newspapers or his website. I will start with this one: “Most football clubs in this country are behind when it comes to disability access to their grounds. It is my belief that football should be a game enjoyed by everyone, and someone with a disability should have as much of an opportunity to watch the game as someone without a disability”. A second one is: “Frankly, some of it is disgraceful”—that is, provision for disabled people. “There is not provision in some grounds. Supporters are split up or are put in with the away fans. I find that totally unacceptable. We are in the last chance saloon with those football bodies, saying, ‘You need to get your house in order’”.
Since you made those comments, Mr Tomlinson, the Premier League came up with its encouraging commitment to make its grounds accessible to disabled people by 2017. Can I ask what the Government are doing to make sure they stick to that commitment and how they are monitoring progress between now and that date?”
Justin Tomlinson: “I think you can tell that I was very passionate about that subject and keen to take that forward. For probably 20 years, the Premier League had been encouraged to take action. It is a collective body that has an income of about £6 billion a year, so money is no excuse in this area. A combination of the fantastic work you did with your Private Member’s Bill, which highlighted the issue, and some extensive research into this subject highlighted what a major problem this was.
We immediately challenged the Premier League. They came in. To their credit, their chief executive, Richard Scudamore, was very proactive on this. He had personal experience and acknowledged that something needed to be done. We made it very clear that something would be done and it would be preferential if they could do that quickly. They came back and confirmed that all stadia would be fully accessible by 2017. We invited them in to explain why 2017, not 2016 or 2018, and how we could be sure, which is the thrust of your question.
The principle is that the majority of the physical changes to the stadia need to be done in the off‑season, in the summer. Therefore, they have two windows to do that in. They are setting out a very clear timetable of which grounds will happen when, on which we will have regular meetings with them to hold them to account. If this is not done, it is something that we would be keen to take further action on. In the spirit of what I was talking about earlier, where either MPs or Members of the Lords have expertise in a particular area, I would very much welcome them joining me in those meetings.
I am encouraged that they recognise that, as a principle, this should be done and that £212 billion spending power is something that, as an entertainment business, they simply cannot afford to ignore. It is an absolute right that this be sorted out.”
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: “Bearing in mind that my Private Member’s Bill has almost passed all stages in the Lords and it will probably be with you in January or February, would it not make sense for you to take that over and give yourself the legal powers to make sure these timetables are adhered to?”
Justin Tomlinson: “Those are discussions I have with my colleague, Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport. It certainly helped to focus minds, but I genuinely believe that the Premier League, through Richard Scudamore, are determined to see this happen. I think what they are proposing is realistic, but we will keep a very close eye on that.”
Full Hansard transcript can be read here
You can watch the select committee debate below (Lord Faulkener’s questions starting at 16:23:20)