Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport responded to today’s debate in the House of Lords by confirming that Accessible Stadia applies to both new and existing stadiums. The second reading of the Accessible Sports Grounds Bill, put forward by Lord Faulkner of Worcester, is seeking government regulation for disabled provisions at sports stadia.
The DCMS Minister went on to underline that the Equality Act clearly sets out the anticipatory duty of all service providers to make adequate provisions for disabled people. The Government stance being that the Equality Act provides sufficient legislation, with Baroness Neville-Rolfe expressing her surprise that a legal challenge had not yet been taken against a football club.
It is worth noting that Lord Chris Holmes, Equality and Human Rights Disability Commissioner, recently confirmed in an interview to The Daily Telegraph that all options remain on the table to the EHRC.
There was cross party support in the House of Lords debate regarding the Accessible Sports Grounds Bill.
Lord Richard Faulkner of Worcester introduced the debate on his Bill, saying:
“I hope very much that the Government and the football authorities in particular will appreciate the great support that exists in this House and outside for the principles underlying this short but necessary Bill. Its purpose is to create a civilised and safe environment for disabled people who want to watch sporting events at football and other stadiums. I am proud to declare my unpaid interest as a vice-president of the charity Level Playing Field, which has done so much to raise the profile of disabled sports fans and to campaign effectively on their behalf.
The Bill does so by giving local authorities a discretionary power to refuse a safety certificate to sports grounds which do not comply with the accessible stadia guidelines published by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority.”
Lord Faulkner went on to say:
“When a disabled person is denied access or provided with a lesser service, it is discrimination and exclusion in its worst form”
“If all Premier League players donated just one day’s pay, their clubs could reasonably improve their disabled fans’ facilities to meet at least football’s own minimum standards”
“It is time for effective regulation. That is why this Bill, or one drafted along these lines, is so urgently needed now”
Here is a selection of additional quotes from the debate:
Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond:
“For far too long, discrimination and a lack of disability access have tarnished football… what we see is nothing short of shambolic”
“The need has never been greater for football to discover its moral compass. It is our national sport and yet for far too long the beautiful game has been for many disabled spectators an ugly, ugly experience”
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson:
“Surely this has to be on the same page as racism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination. When you exclude disabled people, you are being discriminatory”
“It was the fact that a really big, powerful, rich club is able to tell a family with a disabled son that they should perhaps go and support a smaller club like Stockport, which might be able to accommodate them. Those clubs do not deserve those fans, and that is why we should support this legislation”
“Some of the richest clubs are among the worst offenders in terms of access”
The Bishop of Portsmouth:
“I can only wonder, with some incredulity, why at the pinnacle of professional sport there is not the will to implement change, even where there is the way”
“It would be like asking a member of the Conservative Party in the Lords or the Commons to sit with Labour or the Liberal Democrats for a long debate and asking them to be completely silent for the four or five hours of a Budget debate” (On away fans being made to sit with home fans)
“One thing that I am really pleased about are the new UEFA regulations, which mean that disability access officials will become mandatory”
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara:
“This is a short, but necessary, Bill… The current situation is a stain on our country and on our reputation for fair play, and it is unacceptable that those who own and run our national game continue to evade their legal, let alone their moral, responsibilities”
Lord Faulkner of Worcester (concluding the debate)
My Lords, I thank all the speakers who have contributed to this debate. It is unusual for the three main-party speakers, the Cross-Bench speaker and a right reverend Prelate all to meet on exactly the same side, promoting the same cause. I am grateful to every one of them for such powerful and, in some cases, entertaining speeches. I hope that ears are burning at certain clubs. I am perhaps thinking of one club up in the north-west which I am sure will read the remarkable account by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, of the emails that she has exchanged with Manchester United. Other reports will come out of the debate that are of great significance.
I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, because of his experience and because, as he said, we worked together on some of these issues in the 1980s. I like his thought that the Bill would benefit by being strengthened. That is not exactly what his noble friend on the Front Bench said in her reply a moment ago. However, I can assure your Lordships of my intention to continue with the Bill into Committee, and I am very willing to consider amendments from whatever source they come. I have already made an offer to the Minister for Sport, with whom I discussed the Bill on three separate occasions, that if the Government would like to see amendments made to it, we will consider them, and I am sure that there will be amendments, perhaps along the lines of those proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and other noble Lords.
Quite frankly, the talking needs to come to an end on this issue and there needs to be some action. With great respect to the Minister, disabled people do not need yet another period of consultation on what they need when they attend sports grounds—rather, the consultation that has gone on almost without cessation over the last 20 years needs to be taken into account, and action needs to be taken now.
We have heard from all noble Lords in the Chamber today the feeling that using cost as an argument is completely unacceptable, particularly in a sport where the sums of money involved are absolutely eye-watering. Therefore to use cost as a way of not making progress is not a good argument.
I was particularly grateful to the Minister for reaffirming something which I do not think I have heard a Minister say before, that the accessible stadia guidelines apply equally to old stadia as well as to new. Some people in the Premier League have said that they apply only to new stadia, so the fact that the Minister has said that they apply to old ones as well is of great importance.
I should say that I had a conversation with a very senior official of the Premier League while waiting for a train three weeks ago. He said, “How’s the Bill going?”, and I replied, “I think it’s going to get a lot of support in the House”. He said, “We can’t say so publicly, but we think our clubs need a nudge”. This will be quite a big nudge, and we will go on with the Bill in the autumn. For the moment, I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
You can also listen to Lord Chris Holmes speaking on BBC Radio 4 – Today here.