Football: Safe Standing

Royston Smith Excerpts
Monday 25th June 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Mr Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (in the Chair) - Hansard

Order. Members may remove jackets if they wish.

Royston Smith (Southampton, Itchen) (Con) - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 4:46 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I shall try to make some comments while ignoring the taunting of the Portsmouth fan on the Opposition Benches to my right—although it is difficult to ignore. If we want to see who is successful in football, we need only note that Southampton has survived in the premier league again this year, while Pompey languishes somewhere closer to the Sunday leagues.

All-seater stadiums have been required by law since 1994. There were good reasons for introducing them, but I think that now is the time to consider whether we can have safe standing as well as seating. Safe standing has been trialled and is now accepted as being safe. In 2011 the Scottish premier league relaxed its requirement for all-seater stadiums and Celtic, as has been mentioned, now has a safe standing space for 3,000 supporters. Next season, league one team Shrewsbury Town will join Celtic and have its own safe standing area.

The stunning St Mary’s stadium in Southampton has a capacity of more than 32,000. Frequently 32,000 fans attend to watch—unlike at Portsmouth, not far down the road. The Saints moved from the iconic Dell ground in 2000. We used to stand on the terraces until the move to the new stadium. Many football fans want to continue to stand, and Southampton fans are no exception. Fans in the Northam stand all too often still stand, although by law they should not. That presents the club with a difficult decision about how to police the situation; thus far it has not managed to do it. However, the situation proves that safe standing, even in an environment where there is standing between seats, has been safe for some 18 years at Southampton football club.

A recent survey by the Football Supporters Federation received more than 33,000 responses and discovered that 94% of fans wanted the choice of whether to sit or stand at English Football League matches. Personally, I prefer to sit, which perhaps is an age thing—but not everyone does, and thousands would prefer to stand. That said, if safe standing can be introduced we must not lose sight of the fact that there are those who want to sit.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con) - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 4:49 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it has become very expensive to attend football matches, and standing areas might allow cheaper access to football for genuine fans?

Royston Smith - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 4:49 p.m.

I think that has been said—that it may be cheaper if tickets are sold for standing. I have no evidence of it, but there is no reason why it should not be part of the mix.

As a Southampton fan, I am no stranger to nail-biting finishes to the premier league, and last season was no exception. I am not especially vocal, although by all accounts people with offices near mine could hear me shouting my relief when we managed to stay in the premiership for at least one more season—which Portsmouth, of course, failed to do. Many people are vocal and spectators at football like to sing, chant and explain to the referee when he may need to review a decision or change his glasses. That is part of the enjoyment of the match.

There are laws that are made for good reason—goodness knows, this law was made for good reason; no one could deny that—but that, in their implementation, do not always work in the way they were intended. This is one such law, and I am pleased that the Minister is open-minded about changes. With safety as the top priority, of course, I hope that a compromise can be reached to accommodate everyone.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op) - Hansard
25 Jun 2018, 4:50 p.m.

I will start with a fact: standing happens at every football match, whether that is legal standing up the pyramid to league one or the blind eye turned to it in the premier league and the championship. Every match-going fan knows that away from home they will stand whether they want to or not, and they know the areas of their own ground where stewards will let it go. The choice before us is not between football fans standing and not standing; it is a question of how to make it safe and as enjoyable as possible. The rules are out-of-date and we need our Government to act.

It is clear from the turnout how many MPs this campaign has reached. I was pleased to host an event on this important issue for the Football Supporters Federation, safety experts and parliamentary colleagues before today’s debate. Safe standing is an issue whose time has come, a fact borne out by the simple numbers. It is borne out by its successful use outside the top two flights week in, week out. It is borne out by the 94% of fans surveyed by the EFL, who made it clear that they wanted a choice in the type of match day experience they had. It is also borne out by the more than 100,000 football fans and supporters who signed the petition to secure today’s debate. Fans want safe standing even if they do not want it for themselves, and it is increasingly clear that clubs want safe standing, too.

I was delighted that earlier this month my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) announced that the Labour party backs safe standing. I salute her leadership on the issue.