|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : As my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport is shortly to unveil the Bill that will require football supporters to carry membership cards to gain admission to football matches, it is certain that in the coming weeks there will be a substantial volume of comment about the merits of the proposed legislation. Understandably, much of that comment will be on the
Column 188sports pages, and it will come from those who are directly involved with football, such as the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), who initiated this debate.
I want, however, to deal with this as someone who is not directly involved with football but who is concerned about public order and about the cost to the whole community of the need to have substantial numbers of police officers at football matches and who is concerned that Britain's name overseas should not be besmirched by being associated in people's minds with violence and hooliganism by Britons at football matches. This is a matter that concerns us all, not just those who are directly involved with football.
Who in Britain, in June 1985, could not have been ashamed and appalled by the scenes of violence at the European cup final in Brussels that resulted in 38 deaths and a much larger number of injuries? Who in Britain could not have felt a sense of outrage and shame that the behaviour of some of our citizens led to such a tragedy? Who could not have resolved that we should all do everything possible to make sure that such a disaster never happened again? Undoubtedly matters have improved during the past three seasons, with restrictions on alcohol at football matches and full use being made of closed-circuit television, crowd segregation and firm and positive policing. A continuous and sensible package of measures has been taken of which the proposed legislation forms part. I suspect that the only reason why it has not been in place earlier is that the football clubs have not been prepared to produce their own voluntary scheme. But it is necessary to introduce legislation to further that package of measures, to make sure that all grounds are licensed, that responsibilities go with such licences and to introduce a national membership scheme. All those initiatives form part of an interlocking and inter-relating set of measures to tackle football hooliganism. There is still a long way to go before football's good name is restored. Last season there were 6,147 arrests and 6,542 ejections from football league matches. There were also the recent appalling events at the European championships in Germany earlier this year. Those statistics translate into substantial amounts of police time, magistrates courts' time, Crown court time and therefore substantial sums of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money.
Let us not forget that it requires a sizeable police effort to police the matches and contain the risk of hooliganism. For example, Thames Valley police provides some 80 to 100 police at most football league matches in its area, and considerably more at some matches. The cost of such policing is about £7,500 per match for a four-hour period. On average, the clubs pay some £2,000 towards the cost, so that ratepayers and taxpayers foot the rest of the bill. Of course, police officers on duty at football matches are not available for duty elsewhere. If Oxford were playing at home, there could, and almost certainly would, be about 100 police officers in attendance at the match. In contrast, at the same time almost certainly fewer than 20 police officers would be available to police the whole of the Banbury area in north Oxfordshire. Oxford United football club has a good reputation and has taken every measure possible to reduce public disorder within its grounds. How much worse the situation would be at clubs which have a consistently bad reputation for public disorder.
Column 189Those manpower figures and costings clearly demonstrate that football hooliganism affects us all, not just those who attend football matches or live and work near football grounds, but the whole community. I welcome the promised Bill that will provide the framework for a national membership scheme designed to break the link between football and hooliganism. The prime purpose of the scheme is to keep troublemakers out of football grounds. Removing the football match as the focus for the activities of the hooligans will also act as a disincentive for them to travel and will help to break the link between violence and football.
It is said the scheme will simply move violence from inside to outside the grounds, but I disagree. My experience as a barrister tells me that those who are involved in football violence need the anonymity of the crowd and the presence of the crowd to behave as they do. They will act in groups in a crowd in ways in which they would not act as individuals in the street. Unable to get into football matches, the thugs will have no crowd in which to act. The responsible football spectator has nothing to lose and everything to gain by the introduction of a national membership scheme. Concerns that have been raised are misplaced. I have no doubt that when the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone sees the full details of the scheme, he will find that many of his fears have been misplaced. The scheme will not interfere with civil liberties. No one has an absolute right to enter a football ground and clubs already refuse entry to unwanted spectators. However, hooliganism does infringe the civil liberties of the general public--those who live near football grounds and those who live away from the grounds but find that the number of police officers in their area has been cut because they are needed to police matches.
Improved technology means that those with membership cards will be able to enter football grounds speedily. Far from being a cost to clubs, I suspect that they will soon find that the membership scheme provides a positive cash flow. As a publisher with some experience of the commercial potential of membership lists, I know that there are enormous commercial opportunities in a membership list of millions. One company has already agreed to set up and run the scheme at no cost to clubs. I am sure that any competent club will be able to turn the scheme into a revenue-generating opportunity.
Radical change was needed if football was to survive as a spectator sport and if English clubs were once more to be acceptable abroad. My hon. Friend the Minister is introducing a sensible scheme as part of a series of measures in the interests of genuine football supporters and the community as a whole. I hope that the scheme will have widespread support in the country.
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde) : The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) began by saying that he is not a football supporter. That was illustrated in his speech. I am sure that he knows a good deal about being a barrister and publisher but he knows nothing about football or the proposed Bill. Much of what he said related to Heysel and West Germany and the proposed Bill does not attempt to tackle those problems. The hon. Gentleman
Column 190received a brief from someone who is no friend of his. Even the Minister woke up when he heard some of the nonsense that was spoken. The opposition to the proposed measure is gaining strength, not least among Conservative Members. This is an opportunity for us to discuss the measure and I am sure that we will not discuss it again. When the Bill goes to the other place it will be buried, and rightly so.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) on raising the matter. He has done the House a service. Even at this late hour it is a pleasure to expose some of the myths about hooliganism that are attached to football. We are not talking about "football hooligans" but, as I have said, hooligans attached to football. My hon. Friend mentioned the survey in The Mail on Sunday. I will not go into further detail because he dealt with that adequately. He also mentioned the Police Federation's response to the proposed measure. The police will be at the sharp end of the legislation. The federation says that the scheme will not work. Anybody who looks at it in depth will realise that. The football league's executive staff association, which has 440 members, is almost unanimous in its opposition to the proposal. It says that the proposed identity card scheme would not serve any useful purpose in preventing the spectator violence which is attached to football. Those experienced professionals feel that the scheme will lead to unaccompanied youngsters becoming the targets of violence, which is
"a truly frightening prospect."
As chairman of the all-party football committee, I have received many letters from clubs such as Ipswich Town, Chelsea, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke City, Sunderland, Exeter City and Wrexham. Conservative Members representing marginal seats should closely consider the proposed legislation, because a number of clubs will go the wall as a result of it, and as a result of that a number of Conservative Members will also go to the wall.
I shall refer particularly to Reading football club because the Minister for Sport, donning a Reading FC tie--I expect that he will use it on some future occasion--opened its membership scheme. Reading says that as a result of the proposed legislation
"the Government has set us back five years."
It has paid about £100,000 to introduce the voluntary membership scheme that the Minister opened. That is not an isolated case, and many clubs throughout the country will find it difficult to exist as a result of the proposed legislation.
I know that the Minister is under much pressure, from the kind of letters that I and other hon. Members have been receiving. Conservative Back Benchers are pressing for concessions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone said that some have been made, but they are insufficient and the wrong approach is being taken.
The Minister's justification for action--violent hooli-ganism associated with football--does not bear close scrutiny. An answer that I received from the Home Office dated 7 November said that 3.9 per cent. of adults in Britain were arrested last year throughout the country compared with 0.03 per cent. at football matches. The hon. Member for Banbury contradicted himself. It is true that the hooligan wants to be associated with the crowd, but the hon. Gentleman rightly said that because of
Column 191closed-circuit television and segregation the hooligan has been thrown out of football grounds and back into society. Arrests at football grounds increased last season by 11 per cent., but that increase has been attributed to police use of closed-circuit television to catch offenders who previously went free.
The debate concerns public order, and last year violent assaults increased by 13 per cent.--rather more than the increase in football-related arrests. Given that most football arrests are not for violent crime, we argue that the problem is one for the wider community. At the recent Liverpool-Everton match, there were no arrests inside the ground and three outside it, two of which were for theft from cars while one was for ticket touting. Eight of the arrests at White Hart Lane before the Spurs-Millwall match were because of a clamp-down on ticket touts. When there have been problems, such as at Stockport county versus Burnley this season, football has acted swiftly, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) will testify. Burnley uses closed-circuit television camera evidence to ban offenders for life. The problem of violence in society is the true problem, which identity cards cannot solve. Luton Town has been successful, by its own terms, in banning away supporters from Kenilworth road, but figures for violent offences in the Luton area prove that the problem has not been destroyed but displaced. In Britain, violent offences increased by 12 per cent. in 1987 compared with the previous year. In Bedfordshire police division C, which covers Luton, the increase was 14 per cent. The contrast is stronger when one compares Luton with the rest of Bedfordshire, where the increase was less than the national average. Violence has become not better but worse since identity cards were introduced at Kenilworth road.
When the police are given effective resources and support, they can tackle hooliganism. It was reassuring to see the ringleaders at Wolverhampton convicted last week and sent to goal. That was positive action by the police and the club. The police who are involved in the dangerous undercover work that leads to such convictions know full well that identity cards are irrelevant. This week, a sergeant who had to retain some secrecy on the point about gangs at Arsenal revealed that
"The football match was never the focus of the aggression. Once the match was over, opposition fans would be trailed or supporters in the match elsewhere in London would be ambushed at Euston. They were sophisticated criminals who were careful to avoid incidents inside the grounds because they knew they would be detected at Highbury. Identity cards would do nothing to defeat the problems of society and the cards would be an additional target for theft."
The Minister for Sport wants to make cosy comparisons between football and other sports, because he believes that families need only to return to football to solve many problems. Football has never been a family sport. It has always been a male-dominated sport. The Government refer to the American game of football as though it were some panacea. Before this season's Cincinnati v. Cleveland game, the senior police officer on duty said that it would be a normal match. He expected more than 100 arrests, lots of fights and disorderly behaviour because of intoxication. Not a single match here this season has caused anything like those problems. The
Column 192Minister should look less towards the foreign situation and more towards the actions of his own Government with regard to the impact of identification cards on attendances.
A comparison with the arts is realistic, given the introduction of charges for entry to museums. As with football, they create an additional barrier between the public and, in this case, the exhibition of historic treasures. Admissions to the national maritime museum fell by 36 per cent. in the first year following the introduction of charges. At the natural history museum, they fell by 40 per cent., and the science museum has just budgeted for a similar 40 per cent. loss. A 40 per cent. drop would be the death knell for most football clubs.
The Minister for Sport did not discuss the problem with football supporters' clubs when the working party was set up. Rather belatedly, the other day, he lectured them ; he did not listen to them. Had he listened to real football supporters, he would have come to quite a different conclusion.
I shall conclude my remarks by quoting a gentleman who, I am sure, is no supporter of the Labour party. He is from Guildford in Surrey. He wrote :
"My objections are on grounds of gross infringement of my freedom of choice, what to do with my leisure time on a Saturday afternoon. I happen to be chairman of the local British Legion branch here in Surrey. I was at the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert hall. And as the poppy petals fluttered down I asked myself how many of the 300,000 men who died or were wounded (in Flanders alone ; enough men to fill Wembley stadium three times over) would have dreamed that they were fighting and dying for a country which, by the year 1988, would be making such a demand of its free' citizens"
He went on to say :
"aided and abetted by a Prime Minister in her third term whose Falkland virtues of steadfastness and determination are now being turned against innocent citizens in her own country."
As hon. Members can imagine, that person is hardly a supporter of the Labour party. He and many others like him are turning against the Government's proposed legislation, because it will do nothing to assist our national game. It will drive many clubs out of business. At the end of the day, the Minister for Sport will be known as the Minister who killed our national game. The Government will be linked with him in that act.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : The speech of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) clearly showed why the Government will be getting it wrong if they proceed along the lines suggested in the Queen's Speech and bring in a Bill to introduce identity cards for football matches. He said that he was no supporter of football. He also failed to recognise the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that this is not a football problem. We must get out of the habit of referring to it as such. The media have given that impression and regrettably the Prime Minister and others in the House have allowed it to be referred to as a football problem.
There is hooliganism and violence on the Costa Brava, on ferries, planes, trains and the Underground, in town centres and shopping precincts and in many other places. If we keep the matter in perspective--as we should for football matches--we find that it is a small percentage of the population who commit acts of violence and hooliganism. Opposition Members would not for one
Column 193moment condone acts of hooliganism, violence or vandalism. We should like such acts, wherever they are committed, to be banned and kept out the way. We would merely say that this is not a football problem.
I have been a Burnley supporter ever since the club won promotion to the first division in the first season after the war and ever since it got to Wembley. I want to give as examples two games which, for different reasons, could not have attracted such large crowds had an identity card scheme been in operation. The first game was at the end of the 1986-87 season. Burnley had to win the last game of the season to remain a member of the football league, of which it was one of the original 12 members when it was formed 100 years ago. Burnley had had a disastrous season in the fourth division with gates nose-diving because of bad results. It also had to depend on one or two other clubs losing that day if it was to survive. Burnley's gates had dropped to below 3,000 that season, yet on that day 18,000 people turned up at Turf Moor to will the team to win the game. That is what football is about, and the crowd played just as important a part as the team in Burnley's victory that day and in the club's survival. On 29 May this year--the very last game of the football season--instead of fighting for survival, Burnley played Wolverhampton Wanderers in the final of the Sherpa Van competition at Wembley. There was a gate of 81,000 people, who came to see two fourth division clubs--of former first-division glory-- fighting for the trophy. Wolves won it, 81,000 people turned up but there was not a single incident or problem. Such an attendance would not have been possible under the new regulations. We need to ensure that people can go to football matches because I believe that the casual supporter may become a regular supporter when a team is doing well. This coming weekend, many people will have their parents staying with them. If the scheme were in place, people would not be able to take their father to a football match on Boxing day--something that is part of Christmas for many people. Do we really want to prevent them from doing that?
The scheme will also create problems at the gate. Most football crowds arrive in the 10 or 15 minutes before a game. It is no good saying that the cards will take a fraction of a second to process or wipe through ; those who have used credit cards and phone cards know that they do not always function. However good the computer system is, there will be failures and with thousands of people using the cards just before 3 o'clock on a Saturday, there will be chaos if the computer cannot cope. Initially, nobody with a membership card will be banned because they will not get a card if they are banned. Burnley football club has made it clear that if anyone commits violence at any of its games, whether at home or away, it will ban them for life from all Burnley games.
The legislation will cause problems. On television the Minister said that if there was a problem, the person will go through the turnstile and be stopped by stewards and police. That is based on the assumption that only the odd one will cause a problem. What will happen if at every turnstile a person is rejected and has to be challenged by stewards and the police? That will cause friction outside and will not stop problems in the grounds.
Such people are not football fans. The people who cause the problems do not watch the football match because they are not interested in it. Of course we do not want them there, but they will find a way of getting a card and they will get in. We shall have to have a skillful system
Column 194that can check photographs to see whether a person has somebody else's card. The grounds will not be able to cope with a large crowd going through the turnstiles in the few minutes before the game starts.
The scheme will cause problems to many third and fourth division clubs, and even first and second division clubs will be affected. This year Burnley's gates are averaging just over 8,000. Luton, which is cited as an example of how such schemes work, has had a successful season. It reached Wembley three times, won the Littlewoods cup and its average gate was only just over 8,000. That is not enough to sustain a football club.
The legislation will sound the death knell of many clubs. I strongly believe that we want to preserve a league of 92 clubs which can move up and down the league and in which supporters can take an interest. It is regrettable that the scheme will be forced through by hon. Members who do not support football and who are encouraged by the Prime Minister, who is not a fan, but unfortunately happens to be the president of Blackburn Rovers, who are Burnley's greatest rivals. I hope that Blackburn puts pressure on the Prime Minister to think again and that the Minister will make it clear that the Government will rethink this nonsensical proposal.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) for expressing anxieties about football in this debate, having been successful in the ballot. I, too, wish to speak against a compulsory identity card system for football supporters. I oppose it for many reasons, which I shall go into, but mainly because the introduction of such a mandatory scheme has nothing to do with sport. It is a direct interference in sport. The Government seek to impose a scheme which is an insult to the majority of football supporters, to 91 of the 92 league clubs and to the majority of those involved in football at all levels.
Hon. Members on both sides may ask why I believe that so firmly. It stems from my firm belief that the idea is totalitarian as it does not seek to solve any of the problems of violence in our society or accept that the Government's economic policies have widened divisions within society, which have an effect on football. Social divisions are so sharp that they affect detrimentally inner-city communities, the young and the old, the employed and the unemployed and those in the north and the south. These measures are little more than a bullish public relations exercise by a Government with virtually no personal knowledge or experience of the game. The main purpose is to divert public opinion away from some of the major problems facing people in our society, primarily caused by Government policies. It is true that British football has a hooliganism problem, but it is not a new problem. For instance, the Leicester Daily Mercury reported disgraceful scenes at a Burnley v Blackburn Rovers match. It stated :
"the referee was mobbed at the close, the official had to be protected by the Committee and so demonstrative were the spectators that the police could not clear the field. He had to take refuge under the grandstand and subsequently in a neighbouring house. The police force was increased and eventually the referee was hurried into a cab and driven away by a howing stone-throwing mob." That happened in 1890. Examples of hooliganism can be found throughout the 20th century.
According to another report :
Column 195"In 1909, at Hampden Park some 6,000 spectators pulled up goalposts, fences and pay-boxes, set fire to them and danced round them in the middle of the pitch. Police, firemen and ambulancemen were stoned, fire-engines damaged and horses slashed. Police, after throwing the stones back at the rioters, finally cleared the ground at 7 o'clock at a cost of 54 constables injured and the destruction of virtually every street around Hampden. Sixty other people were also injured." Another report states :
"Neither of the New Year's Day matches at Parkhead in 1898 or Ibrox in 1905, between Rangers and Celtic, were finished because of pitch invasions, There were also serious outbreaks of disorder in Scottish fotball in 1941, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1957 and 1958 and on into the 1960s. The disorder in these cases consisted of fighting, bottle-throwing and pitch invasions in addition to ritual chanting, obscenities and jeering. In fact The Glasgow Herald wrote in 1952 : This hooliganism on the sports field cannot be allowed to go on. The sport of football must be cleared up'."
It is, therefore, not a new problem and it does no good to the sport for the Government--especially the Minister responsible for sport--to keep harping on publicly about it. In the same way as I condemn the television companies and the rest of the media for some of the ways that they have reported such events, especially in the recent past, the Government cannot be excused for their approach to the problem, which has done little more than highlight the active hooligans in their behaviour.
The 1986 Popplewell inquiry into crowd safety and control of sports grounds said it all when it said :
"There are three popular fallacies about hooliganism. Firstly, that it is something comparatively new, secondly, that it is only found at soccer matches and thirdly, that it is an English disease." Anyone viewing some of the Italian crowd at the Heysel stadium disaster, subsequent behaviour at Windsor park races or, indeed, for that matter Henley boating regatta last year, will understand what I mean.
We must also accept that violence at football matches is not at the behest of the majority of decent loyal supporters. Everyone inside and outside of the game must take a share of the blame--the Government, perhaps, for their economic policies or the present, and past Governments for their willingness to bask in the glory of individual success in sport, or to scream at its demise after tragic or wrongful events. The blame must be shared inside the game. Professor John Hargreaves aptly described the situation in his book "Sport Culture", when he said :
"Professional fouls, rows between players and officials, violence around football, power struggles and financial scandals in the board rooms, revelations about breaches of amateur status, the growing problem of drugs used in sports, the spatial representations of class divisions in seating arrangements at football grounds, executive boxes and seating accommodation in the stands versus the uncovered caged terrorists at the ends."
All those factors and others add to the problems of violence in sport, especially in football. The only two significant trends in football spectating in recent years have been declining audiences and the worsening ground behaviour.
Another reason for the problems might be the current state of British soccer, which might be as much to blame for the nonsense that occurs. Perhaps the Minister with responsibility for sport should pay a little attention to how our international squads do in various competitions. If he did we might not have some of the outrageous scenes that we have witnessed on the continent.
Column 196There can be no doubt that a problem exists, but everyone who cares about soccer wants to solve it. I have yet to speak to anyone connected with the sport, however, apart from those involved with Luton Town football club and the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who favour the Government's current solution. John Stalker, the former deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester who now advises Millwall on security matters has said :
"the harder and heavier the policing, the more they want to pit themselves against it. Identity cards are no solution. In fact in big cities and other places where groups of fans could come across each other outside the ground, it is a positively dangerous idea."
Mr. Pendry : I have followed what my hon. Friend has said carefully and he has been talking a great deal of sense. Does my hon. Friend consider that it is somewhat odd that he is making his speech but that the Minister responsible for sport is not present to listen to it? The Minister is responsible for the proposed legislation, but had he listened to my hon. Friend and others he might not have introduced it in the first place.
Mr. Meale rose--
Every football league club chairman to whom I have spoken opposes the idea of identity cards. They all consider it to be absolute stupidity. Every player dreads it as it could result in the shortening of their already limited playing careers because of club closures or restrictions on club finances to pay wages. Every police chief to whom I have spoken--apart from the chief constable of Greater Manchester--who is concerned with providing police cover for matches believe that the proposal is totally unworkable. Every football supporter I have met has decribed the measure as a hooligans' charter and the fulfilment of the hooligan purpose of causing havoc on Saturday afternoons.
I urge the Minister with responsibility for sport to start again in his search for a solution. If the Minister will do nothing else, he should come to my club, Mansfield Town. It is a third division club and it it not one of the biggest in Britain, nor does it have the great history of Burnley FC in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Minister of Burnley (Mr. Pike) who spoke eloquently about the history of football.
In recent times, Mansfield Town has striven to beat hooliganism in a positive way. It has done so by introducing a voluntary membership scheme ; by working with youngsters in the community ; by promoting a sound youth policy in the club. It has also provided a family stand and enclosure that has been sponsored by the local newspaper The Chad and it offers cut-price tickets to families. It has created and promoted excellent liaison between the police authority, the club and its supporters. It has bothered to get the help of the Football Trust and the Football Ground Improvements Trust to better facilities and install closed circuit television in the Fieldmill ground. It is no good the Minister saying that clubs such as Mansfield will not have to face any financial loss. I have to
Column 197admit that if he gave such a guarantee tonight I should be more than happy to accept it. Such a promise would help. Clubs like Mansfield Town cannot afford to lose supporters because of the inconvenience that such a measure would cause. A company has been reported today as being willing to step in with £34 million--perhaps the Minister will say something about that tonight. I understand that the company in question is the credit card firm American Express. I hope that the Minister will tell his hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport that that will not do for Mansfield. It is just no good. We want adequate support from the community, with supporters paying for their club to continue.
The proposal is incredibly unfair. As an example of that I quote a press release sent to hon. Members from the Department of the Environment by the Minister responsible for sport on 9 November 1988. The Minister hits the nail on the head. He said of the investigation :
"Its objectives were to review the main principles of the scheme and to identify appropriate technology to implement it."
So the idea was not to discover whether the scheme was a good proposal--it was merely to implement it.
Paragraph 4 of the same letter reads :
"The link between hooliganism and football is still there The central premise of the scheme is that no-one will be able to go to a match without a valid membership card."
That is untrue ; since the scheme was introduced, the Minister has made it plain that there will be exemptions for VIPs visiting football clubs around the country. But what is good enough for VIPs should, in my opinion, be good enough for the ordinary football supporter who goes to football matches every week--rain, snow or hail.
I request the Minister once again to ask the Minister responsible for sport to return to all who are involved in football and other sports--the police, the players the local authorities and the football supporters--and to stop this stupid Bill, so that we can find a more workable and proper solution to the problem. If he will not do that, I ask him at least to guarantee that second, third and fourth division clubs will face no financial loss over the coming years as a result of the scheme. Only in that way will the 91 league clubs who are against the legislation have a future.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) who said that he had been watching league football since the war, I reflected that I, too, had been watching if for 42 years. I tried to remember how many incidents of violence--as opposed to witnessing arrests from a distance--I had seen in that time. I can think of only three. One involved some Burnley supporters at Chesterfield, who were swinging on the barrier dressed as Red Indians. I doubt whether that was an offence that warranted arrest.
I once saw people fighting in the stand at a Sheffield Wednesday v Liverpool match. I was on the Kop, where I heard people saying that an upper-class punch-up was taking place.
The only other incident I saw which was anything like those related by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) occurred at a non-league match at which Easington played Sunderland A. The Easington crowd refused to let the referee off the pitch at the end and chased him around throwing mud at him. Sunderland were
Column 198winning 1-0 at half time, but Easington won the match 2-1. These were the only violent incidents I have observed in a great deal of time spent watching football.
Several hon. Members have tabled questions about football, and I refer to three--two from the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and one from me. On 9 November at column 186, the hon. Member for Hendon, South received a written answer from the Minister for Sport giving details for the 1987-88 season of matches played and total arrests by division. In the first division there were 5.5 arrests per game ; in the second, 4.4 ; in the third, 1.7 ; and in the forth, 1.9. That is hardly a massive problem that requires legislation to resolve it as opposed to present measures, which include television surveillance. There were 6,147 arrests in total. It sounds a great deal--it is about the average crowd at a Burnley football match. But Burnley play 23 home league games in a season, and there are 92 league clubs. If one relates the number of arrests to the total attendances, it becomes much more insignificant. It is no more significant than the number of cases of salmonella poisoning caused by eggs. Although there is a problem, we do not need measures that will frighten people and destroy football.
The second answer to the hon. Member for Hendon, South appears at column 628 of Hansard on 14 December and states that the statistics came from
"the Association of Chief Police Officers which collates statistics on arrests and ejections from football liaison officers at police forces throughout the country."--[ Official Report, 14 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 628. ]
If such statistics are readily available to the Department of the Environment, it is surprising that it took the Department so long to answer my question, which was tabled on 1 December. I did not receive an answer until 19 December, and then only after raising the matter in the House at business questions.
My question asked whether the Minister would list English league football clubs, together with the number of matches played at their grounds, the total season's attendance, the total arrests in association with such matches, the average attendance per match, the average number of arrests per match and the arrests as a proportion of attendance. I also asked him to make a statement about the number of charges and convictions that have arisen from such arrests. Eventually, I received an answer stating :
"Comparable figures are not available for charges nor for convictions arising from arrests."
It is surprising that such information is not also supplied by football liaison officers. It is obvious that the number of convictions does not match the number of arrests.
The answer goes on to say, in a defensive way, that the statistics do not tell the whole story and that other matters should be mentioned. It says :
"Neither the ejections nor arrests reflect the substantially greater number of incidents of violence, hooliganism and vandalism at football league grounds. Furthermore, the police view remains that many matches provide the focus for aggressive and provocative behaviour, with violence never far below the surface."
We are no longer talking about real violence, but about metaphysical violence. Dark looks and dirty thoughts must be taken into account when examining the statistics. That has to be done because the statistics are so inadequate. Over 75 per cent. of the 92 league clubs have records of fewer than five arrests per match. The subsequent charges will be considerably fewer than that. Only Scarborough and Exeter have arrest rates of over one
Column 199per thousand for last season. Scarborough was a new club in the fourth division and many of those arrests took place in the first two games that the team played.
The following teams have only one arrest per 10,000 spectators : Charlton, Norwich, Spurs, Watford, Manchester City, Oldham, Plymouth, Reading, Bury, Northampton, Preston, Wigan, Darlington, Leyton and Swansea. However, half of those clubs will be threatened by any move to introduce identity cards. The other week my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and I went to the Chesterfield-Mansfield game. Those two clubs have fewer than one arrest per match and are the type of teams that will be vulnerable following the change. Why should the overwhelming majority of third and fourth division clubs face bankruptcy when they have fewer than two arrests per match? Even 90 per cent. of first and second division clubs, where there is far more support, have fewer than 10 arrests per match.
Like the vast majority of football fans, I deplore violence at grounds and am aware of the many measures that have been introduced to enable the police to handle the situation more readily. The notion put forward by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that police will no longer be required when plastic cards are introduced is incredible. The Minister is, however, blowing the whole matter up out of proportion as there are probably far more arrests outside nightclubs on a Saturday night than there are in football grounds. I have been watching league football matches for 42 years. The first match that I saw was Sunderland against Grimsby in the first division. Sunderland had two arrests per 10,000 spectators last season and Grimsby nine arrests per 10,000 spectators. I have visited 30 of the 92 league grounds and would now call myself a casual supporter, but along with many others, I would stop going to matches. I shall not be going into any executive boxes to avoid providing an identity card and I would object to having to carry a passbook into the ground. Many other people will share that feeling. The statistics given in the answer that I have quoted show that the proposal is nonsense.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) on making sure that we had this debate. I only wish that he could have used his considerable influence to have arranged it earlier in the day. However, we have had an interesting debate. The House agrees that no one likes violence. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) reaffirm that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone made a number of comments about the Police Federation's belief that the scheme will not work. He referred to many of the practical problems of crowds at turnstiles, what will happen if the photograph on the card does not correspond with the face and who will deal with such problems--the stewards or the police. Those are matters of concern for the police and certainly for my excellent club, Hull City, as I have discovered from my discussions with police officers and directors of the club.
Column 200The debate is not about the report on identity cards, as you Madam Deputy Speaker said earlier. We are debating the broader issue of public order and that is why the home affairs spokesmen are present tonight on the Front Benches.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) is still in the Chamber. I do not like to attack hon. Members, but I was dismayed by the hon. Gentleman's speech. He spoke with great sincerity and his logic was impeccable ; the lawyer's mind was evident. However, I found his remarks about the cost of policing quite staggering. He said that most of the cost is covered by ratepayers and not by the clubs. As the core of this debate is about public order and the Government's failure to get to grips with law and order, according to the logic used by the hon. Member for Banbury, one could argue that central Government should be paying the costs of policing instead of the ratepayers or the clubs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) spoke with great authority as he is the chairman of the all-party football committee. We all listened with profound interest to what he said and in particular to his comment that possibly many clubs will go into liquidation and will have to close because of the impact that the scheme will have on gates. Many clubs are on the margin. If gates are reduced by 10, 15 or 20 per cent., many clubs will fail. That would be very sad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde put his finger on the central issue. He referred to the national situation with regard to violent crime. The Government have failed miserably, and, although Ministers talk about combating crime, it is obvious from the level of violence that the Government are failing dismally. This debate is not about football. It is about violent crime in this country. The idea of dealing with the problem by playing around with identity cards is quite absurd.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) raised a very interesting point. He explained that, because the Government are failing in their policy of law and order to combat crime, the Prime Minister is involved on a steering committee to draw up proposals on identity cards. It is remarkable that the Prime Minister should be involved in such a matter, but that shows that the issue is central. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield was right to claim that the cards are a diversion. The Government's law and order policy is failing and therefore they are using footbal as a scapegoat. The conclusion that we can draw from today's debate is that unquestionably there is a lack of confidence in the Government's proposed measures to deal with public order and football. The Police Federation, the supporters, club directors and others lack confidence in the scheme and if it goes ahead it will destroy a considerable part of the game for reasons that are the responsibility not of clubs, but of the Government who are trying to get their national policy on law and order right.
This is a sad day for football. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) adequately and eloquently emphasised that the problem exists in Spain, on the street, and even at Henley regatta. Even the Conservative party conference has been cited. The hon. Member for Banbury laughs, and I can understand why he does, but it is a serious matter that there was violence at the Conservative party conference ; it is not just a matter of football violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire,