Don Foster MP

Don Foster MP - 49/267 - Bath's #1 Supporter

Safe Standing (Football Stadia)

December 6, 2023 by admin in Don in Parliament, News

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give all football clubs the freedom to build, or maintain existing, safe standing sections in their stadia if they choose; to establish minimum safety criteria that must be met for standing sections in football stadia; and for connected purposes.

Any debate on football stadiums will inevitably, and quite rightly, raise the spectre of the tragic events at Hillsborough in 1989 and those that preceded it such as in the Heysel stadium in 1985. No debate on this topic can avoid addressing those tragedies and their repercussions, which still resonate with us even now. The events of 15 April 1989, which saw the deaths of 96 people and the injury of hundreds more, were uniquely horrific. An entire city has struggled with that day’s trauma ever since. The annual memorial services held at Anfield and elsewhere show that that day is still keenly felt and will never be forgotten, and nor should it be.

Nor should anyone believe that in raising the possibility of introducing safe standing in football grounds now, I am critical of the actions that were taken more than 20 years ago to outlaw standing at matches in the top two football leagues. I am certainly not calling for a return to the old-style terraces, which were poorly designed, overcrowded, poorly monitored and entirely unsuitable for the purposes for which they were used. A return to that world would be a retrograde and wholly unacceptable step.

Today, I propose something very different-another step forward to more modern, safe football stands that provide what fans want, but do so with maximum safety. After all, standing is not inherently unsafe. Lord Taylor’s report into Hillsborough cited many reasons why the disaster occurred, but the fact that the crowd was standing was not one of them. It happened, rather, as a result of gross overcrowding, a lack of concern for the safety and comfort of spectators, a lack of awareness of existing safety regulations and the poor design of the old-style terraces. The disaster happened because of a culture of negligence, not because standing is inherently unsafe.

Lord Taylor went on to recommend all-seater stadiums, because he argued that seats establish individual areas for individual fans and give them more space and comfort, prevent crowd surging, and make it easier to identify troublemakers in the crowds. I shall discuss how modern safe standing preserves those features in a moment, but it is worth noting that in making his recommendations Lord Taylor believed that fans would become accustomed to sitting and come to prefer it. Some 20 years later, the views of thousands of fans in the premiership and the championship demonstrate that that has not been the case.

When fans stand in all-seater stadiums today, it causes problems: it ruins the experience for those who want to sit. Equally, sitting ruins the experience for the many fans who prefer to stand. When they do stand, as many do, it is particularly unsafe. Yet, as we know, preventing large numbers of people from standing in all-seater stadiums is extremely difficult for stewards and the police. If it can be done safely, as I believe it can, it would be far better to have a mix of safe seating and safe standing areas in stadiums where clubs choose to offer such options. That way, children, families and others who want a more peaceful experience could have it, while those who want to stand could exercise that right. This can be done.

Countries such as the United States, Canada and Germany are certainly not negligent towards their citizens’ safety. They have harnessed technological developments to create standing areas that truly are safe, and such areas are a popular choice with supporters. In such areas, as with seated areas, there are designated spaces for each fan, and there are barriers between rows, preventing surging, pushing or jostling. Individual fans can be easily identified if they are causing trouble, because they are limited to their own individual spaces. Thus, the key reasons why Lord Taylor recommended seating can also all be met with safe standing. In many cases, each individual standing area comes with its own flip-down seat. That corresponds with UEFA and FIFA rules that require international and European matches to be seating only. There is absolutely no evidence that such standing areas, where properly designed, managed and maintained, are unsafe for domestic matches. As numerous polls have shown, they are overwhelmingly backed by supporters and, as they create more space for fans, clubs could then reduce the price of tickets, thus offering another benefit for fans.

The question of standing is even more pressing for fans of Scunthorpe United football club. For them, promotion has come at a very high price. After Scunthorpe United FC’s third season in the top two tiers, it will have to have converted its ground into an all-seater venue. That will reduce the ground’s capacity, which is already the lowest in the championship, from 9,000 to 8,000. Neither the club nor its supporters want that. More seats mean less space, and so fewer supporters will get to see their team. If Scunthorpe United FC is demoted in future, it will not be able to convert some of its seating back into standing areas. The conversion will have come at tremendous expense, and Scunthorpe United FC will have paid for the privilege of ruining its own ground. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), on whose constituents this change has an impact, for their support for this Bill.

I am also grateful to the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, who I see in his place, for agreeing at least to consult relevant bodies. Sadly, I suspect that he will hear, as I continue to do, some outdated criticisms. Some will raise the issue of cost but, as my Bill proposes, that should be a matter for individual clubs to decide. Some will suggest that spectators have become used to sitting and like it, but that is patently untrue, as the long-running campaigns by football fans’ organisations show. Some will argue that statistics prove that seated stadiums are safer than standing ones. For some years, the Football Licensing Authority did claim that. However, when its statistics were challenged as inaccurate, it subsequently withdrew them. As my Bill makes clear, minimum safety standards would be nationally established before any new safe standing areas are permitted.

Some might claim that seating has reduced hooliganism, but even before Hillsborough, hooliganism was declining. Inside grounds and outside, in clubs that are all seated and in clubs that are terraced, hooliganism has receded. The character of this country’s fans has changed for the better. For example, no England fans were arrested at the World cup in South Africa with the exception of the practical joker who sneaked into the England team’s dressing room. The decline in football hooliganism is not directly because of a move to all-seater stadiums. Last week’s Home Office arrest figures show no evidence of any link between grounds where standing is still allowed and the number of arrests. There is no reason to believe that a move to introduce safe standing areas would mean an increase in hooliganism.

Finally, I have no doubt some will raise the issue of the UEFA and FIFA rules, which I mentioned earlier, that games under their jurisdiction must be played in all-seater stadiums, but with the inclusion of flip-down seats in each standing area, those regulations present no problem, as was demonstrated in the Veltins arena in Germany, which was used for the 2006 World cup, and the Tivoli Neu stadium in Innsbruck, Austria, which was used during Euro 2008.

I defy opponents of safe standing to demonstrate that those stadiums are unsafe and that those countries are neglecting the safety of their fans by allowing standing. Following the H
illsborough disaster, it was right to take action against the old-style standing terraces, but modern developments mean that, as other countries have shown, it is perfectly possible to introduce safe standing into the stadiums of premiership and championship clubs if the clubs want to and when stringent safety standards are met. I hope the House will support moves to allow clubs to consider such options.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr Don Foster, Andrew Percy, Nic Dakin, Greg Mulholland, Mr John Leech, Mr Mike Hancock, Bob Russell, Mr Roger Godsiff and Kate Hoey present the Bill.

Don Foster accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June, and to be printed (Bill 121).

Horse Racing Levy

December 6, 2023 by admin in Don in Parliament, News

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) on securing this really important debate. As we have heard, there are 60 racecourses in the United Kingdom. They provide 20,000 direct jobs and a further 80,000 indirect jobs. They provide about £330 million in tax income to the Exchequer. Racecourses provide a wonderful range of opportunities for events to be held, they are a significant boost to tourism and, of course, provide a product that is critically important to the gambling industry.

For some 50 years, there has been an interdependence between racing on the one hand and the gambling industry on the other. We know that the racing industry provides its share of the bargain by having a rule book, which is largely determined by the gambling industry. There are some 1,500 racing events every year and about 80% of them are dictated by the gambling industry. If that were not the case, who in their right mind would think of holding a race meeting on a cold, wet, winter’s evening if they were reliant only on attendance money to cover the costs? That is its side of the bargain. As we have already heard, to ensure that bets are fair and clean, a huge amount of money is spent on integrity and other such issues.

On the other side, as part of the independence deal, the gambling industry makes a contribution not only through the levy, but by sponsorship and other forms of support, although it is predominantly through the levy and through the increased money paid for television coverage. The levy provides funds to be used for prize money, which is critical-not least, as we have heard, for far-away courses in Scotland and elsewhere-but it also provides money for developments in veterinary science, for jockey training, education and much more.

Andrew Griffiths: I am lucky to have Uttoxeter racecourse in my constituency-a magnificent historical racecourse that is home to the west midlands grand national. My hon. Friend will know that when it comes to prize money and fees, we have seen a drop of some 38% across the industry. My own racecourse, however, has seen it drop by 61%, which is having an impact on owners and their ability to take part in the industry. Does he agree that, ultimately, that will lead to the racecourse’s demise unless we do something about it?

Mr Foster: I entirely agree, and it is borne out by evidence from the wonderful racecourse in my own constituency of Bath, as it doubtless is by Wincanton, which I was asked to mention by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, and indeed by the wonderful course in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). That is true because, as we have already heard, since 2003, when the levy brought £110 million into racing, it has fallen to about £65 million. Such a reduction has inevitably had an impact.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I just want to claim a share of Bath racecourse, which I believe is in North East Somerset.

Mr Foster: Given the boundary changes, I have to concede that to my hon. Friend. I share the same passion he does for the course’s continued success.

I was explaining that the mutual interdependence has existed for 50 years, but it has become increasingly difficult. It is now critical to find a sustainable future for the link between the racing community and the gambling community. In so doing, we have to remove the involvement of politicians. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State when he said at the end of last year:

“Frankly, the government should never be the last resort in an essentially commercial negotiation”.

A sustainable way forward should not involve politicians, but politicians will have to help find that way forward, which must be based on a number of fundamental principles.

The first principle is to be absolutely clear about what the levy is about. Many hon. Members will have come across a leaflet put out by William Hill, which says under the heading “Real People, Real Jobs”:

“For every additional £1 million that the bookmakers are forced to pay in horseracing levy, 100 industry jobs may be lost for people like this”.

It goes on to provide examples of such people. That is a bit rich from an organisation that has recently moved its internet betting operation-and is soon to move its telephone operation-offshore, losing many hundreds of jobs and about £12 million of tax revenue for the Exchequer. My key point, however, can be seen on the other side of the leaflet, which says:

“Whilst racing can depend on a 1960s state subsidy it will never have the incentive to modernise.”

My clear understanding of the levy is that it is not a state subsidy; it is a relationship between two organisations. It cannot-as some have sought to portray it-be defined as state aid. We must be clear that this is a relationship between two organisations that get mutual benefit from each other. That is crucial to understanding what we are talking about.

Philip Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr Foster: I will, but only briefly.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman says that this should not be considered as state aid, yet his beloved European Union-I, of course, want to be out of the wretched thing-takes precisely the opposite view. In looking at the French proposals for a horse racing levy, the Commission said:

“At this stage, the Commission considers that the aid measure contains all the features constituting the concept of State aid. After exploring several means by which the notified measure could be regarded as compatible with the rules in force, the Commission has not found any clear means of regarding it as compatible.”

I am afraid that that is what the hon. Gentleman’s beloved European Union said.

Mr Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of why I raised the point. There has to be clarification. Personally, having studied the various issues in some detail, I do not accept the definition that we just heard from him. Incidentally, even if he is right, which I do not believe he is, it would not threaten
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the levy as it was already in existence way before the establishment of those rules. There would not be a problem.

Matthew Hancock: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Foster: I will, but I want to finish.

Matthew Hancock: My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) mentioned the European Commission’s view of the French system, but would it not be better to look at the view of the British system? The levy board does not define the levy as state aid precisely because it is a transfer between two industries. Moreover, a racing right would establish a property right on which our whole constitution is based.

Mr Foster: Since we are getting into this topic, I shall go into a little more detail and omit some other parts of my speech. Having looked at the issue, it is clear to me that levy grants and loans are not paid by the state; by definition, therefore, they are not state aid and they are not provided through state resources. They do not impose a selective advantage; they do not distort or threaten to distort competition; and they do not affect trade between EU member states. On all criteria, this does not amount to state aid.

I hope that we can sort out three things when we come to finding a sustainable future. The first is the offshore issue. I have long argued that we have to do something about that and I was delighted that the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe), when he was the excellent Minister with that responsibility, instituted consultation on the issue. I want to see a situation where any firms or organisations regulated offshore-whether they be in the European economic area o
r are white listed-that want to advertise within the UK must have a secondary licence, which would require them in turn to contribute to the levy and to research, education and treatment for gambling addiction. I hope that we can resolve that issue.

Secondly, we need to resolve the issue of betting exchanges. They cannot be allowed to get away with having no involvement in the levy. As other hon. Members have said, however, I welcome it when some of those organisations make voluntary contributions.

Thirdly-a totally separate issue that is also important-I believe that we need to support our bookmaking industry, particularly the small independent firms that are losing out. I believe that the current charging regime of the Gambling Commission penalises them unfairly. I am worried that the current threshold, which was designed to help them, does not in fact do so, because each individual shop within a large chain reaps the benefit, rather than the small independent bookmakers. The levy board has proposed that we should remove the threshold, but I hope that we will not remove it, but reform it to provide more benefit to the small independent bookmakers.

We need to move forward rapidly, but the deal must be done between the two mutually related independent bodies-the racing industry and the gambling industry.

Intellectual Property (Hargreaves Report)

December 6, 2023 by admin in Don in Parliament, News

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who made an excellent speech. I agree with nearly everything that he ahs said. He rightly began by talking about the importance of the creative industries. Many of us believe that, given the right support and the right environment, they could become as important in this country as financial services are at present. It is critical that we give them the right support and the right environment. That is the climate in which the Prime Minister made remarks that led, in due course, to the Hargreaves report. I share some of the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the language used by the Prime Minister at the time and about the thought that we may end up going down the American fair-use route, which he has described. I want to clearly state on the record that I am very pleased that the Hargreaves report did not conclude that we should take the American fair-use approach.

I also join the hon. Gentleman in agreeing with one critical thing that appears at the beginning of the Hargreaves report, namely the importance of making decisions on the basis of clear evidence. Although I am the first to admit that the evidence is mixed on some of the issues, such as the impact of piracy on the creative industries, I nevertheless believe that the report goes too far when it dismisses some of the information, data and research-it calls them “lobbynomics”-from the industry. The one thing that I think we can learn from that is that getting this information right is really important. I am therefore delighted that discussions are now taking place between the UK Intellectual Property Office and the creative industry sector about the basis of research methodology and the presentation of data. That will help us all in making judgments about how we progress.

Notwithstanding the Hargreaves report’s perhaps overly critical view of the degree of concern about issues such as piracy, I am pleased that it recognises that there is a problem and that we have to address it. I am delighted that the three things it says that we need to do are enforcement, education and the development of new business models, and I accept that those are the three key things that we need to do. On enforcement, it is important that hon. Members acknowledge that, unless we are prepared to recognise the importance of the intellectual property rights of creators, we can never be said to be supportive of the creative industries. It is therefore vital that we find ways of ensuring that we provide much-needed protection in those areas.

During his excellent contribution, the hon. Gentleman said that the Government need to get on with the measures in the Digital Economy Act 2010. I do not fundamentally disagree with him, but it is important that we are aware that a number of problems must be addressed, particularly in relation to the use of illegal websites. During the passage of the 2010 Act through Parliament, I made clear-the hon. Gentleman was present in the House at the time-my concern that sections 17 and 18, which deal with those issues, are unworkable. Although we have not yet seen the report, I understand that Ofcom has looked at the matter and reached a similar conclusion. Therefore, if we are to move ahead, we will have to find other ways to address illegal activity on the internet. I know that productive discussions are taking place between the industry and internet service providers to find a way forward. I welcome those discussions and hope that they will be fruitful. We will also have a look at a number of other measures coming out of Europe, which might also inform our decision.

The hon. Gentleman has rightly referred to peer-to-peer file sharing. It is crucial that every hon. Member is clear that the 2010 Act gives ample opportunity for further discussion, research and debate before any of the actions about which some people are concerned-the so-called technical measures-take place. The legislation already enables us to do that, so I hope that we will be able to implement and progress with those measures as quickly as possible.

I said earlier that Hargreaves said that we also need to address education, which is critical. Far too many people in this country simply do not understand the damage that they are doing to the creative industries by obtaining the intellectual property of other people without making any contribution towards it. If we cannot have a situation in which people are creating material and being rewarded for it, the creative industry simply cannot grow, which is the key thing that the Hargreaves report is concerned about. It is critical that we recognise that and educate people so that they understand that they could be damaging the very creators of whom they are supportive and whose works they enjoy.

The third issue is the development of new business models. I agree entirely with the Hargreaves report that that is important, but it ought to be placed on the record that the picture is nowhere near as gloomy as the report perhaps suggests. For instance, while I acknowledge that it made a very slow start, the music industry has got its act together, and the UK now has 72 different business models for people to easily and cheaply access the music that they are keen to hear. It is already further ahead of the game than the rest of the country in that respect. Other parts of the industry-the film industry, computer games and others-have to try to improve what they are doing. I broadly support what the Hargreaves report says about enforcement, education and the development of new business models. I also broadly support the hon. Gentleman in saying that we need to get on and address those issues as quickly as possible.

One of the kernel ideas in the Hargreaves report is, as the hon. Gentleman has said, the digital exchange. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument that it is an exciting idea and that it offers the opportunity to improve the growth of the creative industries. He was right to say, however, that many problems still need to be addressed. First, I am concerned about the use of the word “exchange,” which is why I intervened on him. I do not believe that we are anywhere near developing all the things that we need to even think about having a single port of call where business is transacted. We ought to be looking much more at helping each sector of the creative industry-video games, film, books, magazine publishing, the music industry and so on-to ensure that they are developing their systems, but in such a way that they can work together to develop interoperability.

The music industry is advanced in its thinking on this. Not only is it well advanced in the UK, but it is working with colleagues throughout the rest of Europe. Collectively, they are pulling together the sort of database that Hargreaves talks about. I hope that the industry will be willing to share its data sets with other sectors of the industry, so that we can find some commonality. Commonality is absolutely vital, even simply on the number labeling of an item. Let us imagine a bit of film for which there is some music and a script, and where stills and bits of other people’s films have been used. All those things need different access, but they all need to be coded in the same way, so that we know where they all come from. We need to work at interoperability.

If we acknowledge that different parts of the sector are developing their own databases and their own licensing systems-in some cases, they have had such systems for a long time-it seems somewhat perverse to suggest that we might get rid of all that. As a first step at least, I would prefer the exchange-or whatever it might be called-to be a front page or a signpost to ways of finding this material and establishing how people can get a licence for the use of it for commercial purposes.

We must then address the issue of the digital champion. I apologise to the author if I have got this wrong
, but the report seems to be saying, on the one hand, that finding a digital champion should be industry led and, on the other hand, that the Government should appoint someone to do it. That does not mesh together very well. Initially, someone should do a scoping exercise of what is needed. We should consider using somebody who is, for example, a project manager and who gets the support of all sectors of the industry. We could do that very quickly, which would deal with the issue raised by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire about getting on with things. I urge the Minister to consider whether that could be a way forward.

Jim Dowd: On that aspect, the report uses the precise expression “a highly respected figure” in the industry. I am not sure that that takes us much further forward in defining how respected they are and by whom.

Mr Foster: That is why there are so many problems. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise his concern about the matter. We need to find a way of making progress. I am suggesting that if we can downgrade the issue of what we are looking for and be clear about the job spec, it might be easier for the industry to come together and find a way of doing it.

Finally, on the digital copyright exchange, I agree with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire about its being voluntary. It seems totally wrong to suggest that if I am the creator of something-a piece of music, a film, a book or whatever it might be-I should be automatically forced to place my work on that particular platform. That is not the sort of liberal society in which I want to live. It would also be totally wrong to have a situation whereby if I do not put my piece of work on to the exchange, I will somehow be exempted from access to the law that applies to everybody else. After all, if somebody nicks my work, they should be punished for it and the full force of the law should apply, whether or not I have chosen to put my work on a particular exchange.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the important matter of orphan works. Sadly, clause 43 of the Digital Economy Act 2010, which covered those issues, was ditched at the last minute during the wash-up at the end of the previous Parliament. I am concerned about what the Hargreaves report suggests is a possible way forward. In effect, the report says that we should allow an orphan work, of which the creator is unknown, to be licensed and used by somebody in a commercial or possibly a non-commercial venture for a nominal fee. The problem with that is twofold. First, someone has to do some level of due diligence to get that licence and demonstrate that they have tried to find the author. However, I am sure that they will not go any further than they need to if all they have to do is pay a nominal fee. A nominal fee does not provide any additional money to do more diligent searches to try to identify the author or creator of the work.

The second problem is that if by chance a particular piece of work of which the creator is unknown suddenly becomes a worldwide best seller and generates vast sums of money for the person or organisation that obtained the licence, surely we must have a system in place whereby the creator, if identified, has the opportunity to benefit from that worldwide success. The report does not cover real issues that we must address adequately.

I know that other hon. Members want to contribute, so I will briefly make one final point about exceptions. Again, there are real issues surrounding the sort of exceptions proposed in the Hargreaves review. I shall talk about the exception in relation to parody as an example. We all enjoy a parody of something. However, the truth is that if someone takes something, parodies it and achieves an enormous commercial success, that parody is based on somebody’s creation. I am absolutely convinced that the person whose creation has led to the commercially successful parody must be able to benefit from it. The creator must also be able to say that they are unhappy with their work being used in that particular way. We must consider the issue of exceptions more closely and in more detail. That applies to the use of material and so on. There will no doubt be an opportunity for consultation once the Government come forward with their response to the Hargreaves report.

The Hargreaves report mentions many other issues, which I am sure other hon. Members will cover. I may have seemed critical of the report, so I will end by saying that it was important to have such a report to kick-start the debate. What matters is how that debate develops and the action that the Government take. I hope such action will support the creators, who are so critical to our creative industries.