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As the House will know, the Bill is addressed to the continuing problems of hooliganism associated with football, both in this country and abroad. Part I of the Bill provides a framework for a national membership scheme for spectators at designated football matches in England and Wales. Part II gives the courts powers to impose restriction orders on convicted hooligans to prevent them from travelling to English and Welsh matches abroad.
This Bill comes to us having completed its passage in another place. As the House is aware, the Government felt it right to delay the Bill for two months following the terrible events at Hillsborough stadium on Saturday 15 April. Before I go on to talk about the Bill, I should like to add my personal sympathy to those bereaved and injured at Hillsborough, and to the people of Liverpool as a whole. As my noble Friend Lord Hesketh said in another place on Third Reading of the Bill on 16 June, we must all share the hope that this, the latest in a long line of tragedies that British football has suffered in the past 40 years, will also be the last.
Following the Hillsborough disaster, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary invited Lord Justice Taylor to chair an inquiry into what happened there, and
"to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports grounds".--[ Official Report, 17 April 1989 ; Vol. 151, c. 19.]
His is an independent inquiry, and the content and timing of his report are entirely a matter for him. I stress, however, that the Bill was amended on Third Reading in the other place not to anticipate in anyway, but to allow Parliament to take account of Lord Justice Taylor's eventual report. Parliament will now have two opportunities to debate the national membership scheme following receipt of Lord Justice Taylor's final report : the first before a football membership authority is appointed, and the second after the scheme has been submitted, and approved by me.
Mr. Ridley : The House can reject the scheme if it wishes. Furthermore, the original Bill is there not to enable a scheme to be debated in every detail by Parliament, but to allow football to have the authority of Parliament to introduce such a scheme. By proceeding with the Bill now, we can put the framework for the national membership scheme on the statute book and be ready to proceed rapidly if Parliament so decides in the light of any comments that Lord Justice Taylor may make. The final decision to implement the scheme will not, however, be made until it has been debated twice more.
Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham) : Would not my right hon. Friend very much increase support for part I if he gave an unequivocal undertaking now that if Lord Justice Taylor expressed serious doubts about, or opposition to, an identity card scheme he would not proceed with part I?
Mr. Ridley : I do not think that we can prejudge what Lord Justice Taylor may say. We have deliberately amended the Bill so that--on not one occasion but two--not only the Government but both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to give their views on whether the scheme as proposed by the Football Membership Authority should proceed. Surely my right hon. Friend would not want to fetter Parliament's decision on whether it wished to proceed with the scheme, whatever Lord Justice Taylor may or may not say. I am sure that he would not suggest that we should abnegate our responsibilities to someone whose report we have not yet seen.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Ridley : I can see that a number of hon. Members wish me to give way. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), but after that I am sure that the House would prefer me to make a little progress, as many hon. Members wish to speak.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The right hon. Gentleman said that the scheme would be debated in the House twice. Can he tell us when and at what time? Will it be in the middle of the night, or can we have a proper debate for some hours? Even at this late stage, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to the House being allowed to amend the scheme? It is ludicrous that the arrangements should be on a negative basis--that we should vote either for or against the scheme without any opportunity to amend it.
Mr. Ridley : The debate will not take place until Lord Justice Taylor has delivered his final report, but I shall invite the House to consider the proposal that I appoint the Football Membership Authority, which will then design the scheme. When it has done so, it will be for me to consent to it. There will then be another debate in which the House will have a further opportunity to give its views. I think that, even in his absence, I can give an assurance on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that adequate time will be provided for the two debates, which will take place at times agreed between the usual channels. There is no question of our trying to confine them to the small hours or to a Friday morning.
Dr. Cunningham : Does not the Secretary of State see the hopeless position that he is portraying when the centrepiece of the legislation, the scheme that is supposed to deal with the problems, will never be debated in detail in Parliament, and Parliament will never have the chance to influence it?
Mr. Ridley : Does not the hon. Gentleman see the point that this is a highly technical scheme, which will be produced by the football industry and the people in it? It has never been proposed, and is not proposed now, that the details of the scheme should be amended according to the votes in Parliament.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) asked in business questions last Thursday whether the Bill's scope would allow for amendments on safety matters. In response to that question, I am proposing that the House should instruct the Standing Committee that will consider the Bill that it has the power to make provision in the Bill relating to any aspect of the safety of spectators at designated football matches.
The Government do not intend to bring forward wide-ranging amendments on new safety measures in this Bill. Under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, as amended by the Fire Safety and Places of Sport Act 1987, the Home Secretary already has the powers to make orders that, for example, could contain a provision requiring local authorities to include certain terms and conditions in safety certificates for a sports ground. The existing legislation does not, however, give the Home Secretary any enforcement functions. We have it in mind to propose an amendment to this Bill to provide a power to give the Bill's licensing authority a monitoring and enforcement role, to back up the Home Secretary's existing powers under the safety of sports grounds legislation--although only in relation to designated football matches in England and Wales. This will add to the Bill powers to enable us to deal with safety matters, on receipt of Lord Justice Taylor's report.
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : The Secretary of State will be aware that, immediately after the Hillsborough disaster, the Home Secretary drew attention to the need for all-seater stadiums. The Minister for Sport has made some statements about that which will no doubt be referred to in the debate. Will the proposals dealing with safety take that on board? How will the powers to enforce that be provided? What funds, if any, will be available if the Government go down that road?
Mr. Ridley : I am delighted to confirm what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said when he made the statement about the Hillsborough disaster. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has already had one meeting with the football authorities to discuss the possibility of all-seater stadiums. There is considerable support in the House for the concept, provided that it is adapted to the most suitable grounds and limited to those grounds where it is considered necessary. This matter will take some time to resolve, but it is right that the Bill and the instruction to the Committee should be wide enough to enable my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to use his powers to make any such provision if that is decided to be the right way forward. I cannot at this point commit the Government to providing finance for such hypothetical situations.
It seems to me desirable that the Committee should be enabled to consider amendments concerning safety
Column 847generally. The intention is not to anticipate Lord Justice Taylor's report, but to enable us to deal with his recommendations, just as the amendments that we made in another place--to provide for parliamentary debates on the scheme after Royal Assent--allow the House to consider any comments that Lord Justice Taylor may make on the membership scheme in his final report.
The Hillsborough disaster and Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry are rightly very much on all our minds. That is why I have explained today how we have taken account of them. However, the Hillsborough tragedy does not remove the need for the anti-hooliganism measures provided for in parts I and II to proceed in this Session of Parliament.
Hooliganism has been a fact of football life for all too many years. Since the mid-1960s, it has deterred millions of genuine football supporters from attending matches. Attendances fell from 35 million in 1967-68 to 21 million in 1987-88. Football hooliganism has made life very unpleasant for those who live or trade near football grounds, and the behaviour of England football supporters abroad has brought only shame to this country.
However, the Opposition may tell us, and I have heard mumblings from the Opposition Front Bench already, that all this is changing, that attendances are beginning to rise--so they are, very slowly. We may be told that a number of valuable measures have been taken in the past few years to tackle the problem, and so they have--restrictions on the sale of alcohol at football grounds ; powers for the courts to impose exclusion orders on convicted hooligans, all as a result of Government legislation ; stronger police co-ordination both nationally and internationally ; more co- operation between the police and football clubs ; effective segregation of rival groups of supporters inside grounds and the introduction of closed- circuit television.
These measures have been worth while, I agree. They have been taken very largely as a result of pressure from the public and from Government rather than at the voluntary initiative of the football authorities. Unfortunately, although they have been worth while, the measures taken so far have not been enough. They have just about contained the problem. They have not cured it. We still need about 5, 000 police to control football crowds every weekend of the football season--largely at the expense of the taxpayer and the ratepayer. Violence continues. The 1987-88 domestic season ended with a number of serious incidents of violence and was followed by the disgraceful scenes involving English football followers in West Germany in June last year. The season which finished last month has seen regular outbreaks of trouble both at and away from football grounds, culminating in a number of serious incidents on 13 May, less than a month after Hillsborough.
On that day, there was a pitch invasion at Crystal Palace football ground by Birmingham City football supporters, in which 16 people were injured, including a stabbing. At the match between Bristol City and Sheffield United, fighting between rival groups of supporters spilled over on to the pitch and held up the game. There were disturbances up and down the country --in Sheffield, in Cheshire, at Southampton railway station and at the Toddington service station on the M1. In all, more than 300 people were arrested on the weekend of 13 May at or on their way to or from football matches.
The claim that football hooliganism has ceased to be a problem inside football grounds is simply not borne out by the facts.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Had this Bill been on the statute book at the time of the disturbances in West Germany which were attributed to British fans, how many of those British fans would have been subjected to restriction orders? Is it not the case that there was not one conviction then?
Mr. Ridley : If this Bill had been enacted and had been in force for a few years, a large number of hooligans would have been banned from membership schemes and we could have prevented them from travelling to the overseas matches. I do not claim that this would work in a very short time, because it is necessary to have the bans on those who would commit--
Mr. Howell : The Secretary of State is very generous. He is now considering a very important matter. It is not the practice of continental policy authorities to charge those offenders, as we saw during the competition in Germany. They keep the fans overnight and then get them out of the country as fast as they can. They are not brought before the courts in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) is right : in those circumstances, there will be no offence to proceed against in this country under the terms of this Bill.
Mr. Ridley : The right hon. Gentleman misses the point. If they were hooligans, they would have been brought before the British courts and would have had to report during major overseas matches under part II of the Bill.
Dr. Cunningham rose--
Dr. Cunningham : Will the Secretary of State explain in a little more detail exactly what he has just said? With what will those people who have been detained overnight in police cells in European countries before being returned to Britain be charged? Since they are not charged abroad, and will not be charged here, how can they be excluded from travelling in the future?
Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman holds the record for missing the point. He has done so during the past three years that he has been shadowing me, and today is no exception. The point is that those who are convicted of hooliganism in British courts will be required to report here and so will not be able to travel abroad. Does he not realise that the sooner that the Bill is on the statute book the sooner those people will be caught in the way that I have described? The longer that we delay, the more will be free to go to Europe to make a nuisance of themselves.
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is remarkable that what he has accurately described--arrests, hooliganism and the peace and quiet of towns and cities being shattered-- surrounds a game of sport? Is it not a fact that those in Britain who have no interest in football--the vast majority--are desperately seeking an assurance from the Government
Column 849that something will be done, and the Bill is one way of correcting the terrible problems that Britain's towns and cities have suffered for many years?
Mr. Ridley : I never understand why the hooligans on the Opposition Benches associate themselves with the hooligans in the football grounds. They should be aware that public opinion polls show that some 80 per cent. of the population want the problem dealt with. Several Hon. Members rose--
When the Government bring forward measures to deal with the problem, the Opposition should be more--
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. I have already told the House that a great number of hon. Members wish to participate in the debate, some of whom are rising now. It will be difficult to call them if the Secretary of State is not allowed to continue.
The truth is that the measures in place so far are simply not enough to put a stop to football hooliganism. Even the chairman of the Football Association reacted to the events of 13 May by calling for a ban on all away supporters--a significantly more restrictive control than we have proposed. His own organisation promptly came up with another proposal for a membership scheme of a different kind. Football has had many opportunities to put its own house in order. It has failed to take them. Before the decision to introduce the Bill was taken last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked the president of the Football League and the chairman of the Football Association, at a meeting on 6 July, if they would voluntarily introduce a national membership scheme. They said that they would not, and the Government subsequently introduced the Bill. The continuing incidence of football violence since then has demonstrated just how right we were.
Part I provides a statutory framework for a national membership scheme for football spectators and for the licensing of football grounds in relation to the scheme. It provides for me to designate the matches to which the scheme will apply, to appoint a Football Membership Authority to draw up the scheme and for the Football Membership Authority to submit it to me for approval. On each of those three key points, my powers are exercisable only by statutory instrument, subject to the negative resolution procedure. In each case, the House will be able to debate and vote on the issue. It is our intention, and that of the football authorities, that they should set up and run the FMA. As a result of an amendment moved in another place, both the FMA and I are required to consider the possibility of phasing the introduction of the scheme.
Clause 5 lays down requirements that the scheme must satisfy and others with which it may deal. Its contents have been expanded a little as a result of amendments made in another place to specify exemptions for disabled people and accompanied children in designated areas and to
Column 850provide for temporary membership arrangements for the clubs to use. Those amendments meet the genuine concerns of clubs about the practical application of the scheme without weakening its basic purpose, which is to limit admission to spectators who are members of the scheme or who are authorised by it.
Clause 5 provides also for the Football Membership Authority to disqualify people from membership of the scheme at its discretion, and its powers to do so were clarified by amendments made in another place. The clause specifically provides that the full protection of the Data Protection Act 1984 will be available to applicants and to members of the scheme.
People who are convicted of an offence that is among those listed as relevant in the schedule to the Bill will be banned from membership of the scheme for a fixed period of either two or five years. It will be an offence to attend or to attempt to attend a designated football match for anyone who is not a member of or otherwise authorised by the scheme. It will also be an offence for a club or anyone else to admit spectators to a designated football match without a licence for the ground. The powers of the licensing authority are set out in clauses 8 to 11.
The licensing authority will be the Secretary of State or a body appointed by me.
Mr. Ridley : The authority's job will be to ensure that clubs have the equipment and are following the procedures required to enable the national membership scheme to work. If a club deliberately ignores the conditions of its licence it will run the risk of conviction for a criminal offence. If it is seriously or persistently in breach of its licence the Bill provides for the licence to be suspended or revoked.
A final decision to go ahead with the scheme will depend on parliamentary approval, when we have had the chance to consider Lord Justice Taylor's report. Even then it will, of course, take time to put the scheme in place. We shall not introduce it until we are confident that it will work effectively and safely. Subject to appropriate technology, we hope to see implementation achieved in the early months of the 1990-91 football season.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : If the right hon. Gentleman has followed previous debates, he will recall that one of the main criticisms of the plan as previously presented, and which the details that he has given today confirm, is that it will harm the position of many smaller clubs. Clubs will see the size of their crowds persistently reduced, which will put many of them out of business. What is the Government's best calculation of the number of clubs that will be injured by the scheme in that way?
Mr. Ridley : My present estimate is zero. Nothing could have done more damage to football than hooliganism, which has reduced the size of gates from 35 million people to 21 million. If football can regain only half those lost spectators that will transform not only the sport's finances but the fortunes of some smaller clubs. Would the right hon. Gentleman argue after a serious hotel fire that we should not introduce new regulations on hotel safety because that might bankrupt some smaller establishments? Is that the line that the right hon. Gentleman is taking?
Mr. Foot : Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to answer the question that I and many others have put? What is the Government's calculation, irrespective of other matters, of the harm done by the Bill to the number of people attending football matches? What will be its effect on many of the smaller clubs, and is it the Government's firm intention to proceed with a plan that will drive many of them out of business?
Part II deals directly with the problem of football hooligans abroad. The behaviour of such people has been a national disgrace for years. I do not think that there is any argument about the need for these provisions.
Clauses 12 to 16 provide that when someone is convicted of a relevant offence, as defined in the Bill, the court may also impose a restriction order requiring him, or her, to report to an agency when certain matches take place abroad. Restriction orders will run for the same periods as automatic disqualification from membership of the scheme in this country-- two years or five, depending on the severity of the sentence.
Clauses 17 to 19 govern the operation of reporting agencies. The reporting agency will set the time at which someone subject to an order must report, so as to ensure that he cannot attend the match. Offenders will have rights of appeal against the court's decision to impose restriction orders, but once the order is made, failure to report when required will itself be a criminal offence.
Clause 20 allows for an application to be made for a restriction order in cases where someone resident here has been convicted of an offence outside England and Wales.
Mr. Dicks : As I understand my right hon. Friend, he has said that if the restriction on hooligans travelling abroad had been in operation two years ago, some of the offences that have been committed abroad would not have happened. Does my right hon. Friend know that I received a letter from the Home Secretary just over a year ago in which he told me that it was impossible to introduce any measure that would prevent people from going abroad? What has happened between then and now to alter the position?
Mr. Ridley : The question related to taking away people's passports, which my right hon. Friend could not possibly do. However, this measure will solve the problem to the satisfaction, I hope, of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) and myself.
Column 852I recognise that there has been controversy about the Government's proposals, in the police service and in football itself. Of course, the police are rightly concerned that the national membership scheme should not be introduced until the technology is ready. So are we. It is our intention that the Association of Chief Police Officers should continue to be consulted closely as the scheme is drawn up. The football authorities will be drawing up the scheme themselves. It will be their responsibility to produce a scheme that best suits the needs of football, within the framework of the Bill. If they and the clubs will take a positive rather than a negative approach to the scheme, they and their supporters will benefit from it. Individual clubs should see this as an opportunity to develop closer links with their supporters--as their members --not to put them off.
I began by referring to Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry. I will emphasise again now what I said at the beginning : Parliament will have not one but two opportunities to debate and vote on the national membership scheme after we have received the report and in the light of any comments that Justice Taylor may make on the scheme. By proceeding with the Bill now, we can put the framework for the scheme in place and make it possible to move on rapidly with the scheme, if Parliament agrees that we should do so when it has seen what Lord Justice Taylor has to say.
It would be irresponsible to throw away the progress that we have already made on this Bill by delaying it for one year. The case for both parts I and II remains conclusive. Events since Hillsborough have shown only too clearly that hooligans continues to infect football. The national membership scheme offers the prospect of removing that infection in the interests both of genuine football supporters and of others whose lives are damaged by the behaviour of football hooligans. We should not hesitate to put the framework for the scheme in place.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I agreed with the Secretary of State when he again reiterated on behalf of Government Members the sorrow that people felt about the tragedy at Hillsborough. We on the Opposition Benches shared his expressions at least on that, if on little else, in what seemed to be the speech of a team member bound for relegation.
The preparation and promotion of the Bill have all the familiar trademarks of the domineering attitudes of the Prime Minister. The Bill epitomises all that is wrong with the Government and with many Conservative Members. As with the poll tax and water privatisation, the Secretary of State promotes the Bill only because the Prime Minister says so. She is determined to impose a national membership scheme and identity cards on hundreds of thousands of law-abiding football supporters. She is determined to do that against the advice of soccer administrators and the Police Federation and against all the evidence that her scheme is irrelevant to the problems of hooliganism and violence which have grown dramatically under her Administration.
This is not simply the wrong Bill at the wrong time. It is the wrong Bill at any time. Every team has its strikers and its specialists for dead ball situations and corner kicks, and the Thatcher team is no exception. Today we heard from the Secretary of State, her special own goal specialist,
Column 853and as with previous speeches of the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions, the majority of his colleagues in the Cabinet have an arranged away fixture, while he is at the Dispatch Box. The right hon. Gentleman reminds me of the old Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor song :
"Fitba' crazy, fitba' mad.
It's the fitba' that's robbed him of the wee bit of sense he had." In January of this year, the Secretary of State said in a press release that the Bill would
"break the link between violence and football."
He said that knowing--if he did not know, he should have been aware--that the majority of incidents of violence, hooliganism and arrests already take place outside football grounds. The tragedies at Bradford and Sheffield were not caused by violence or hooliganism. The Popplewell report did not recommend the proposals in this measure, which is being unnecessarily pushed through Parliament in the middle of the Taylor inquiry, which is specifically charged with making recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports grounds. It simple does not bear examination for the Secretary of State to say that the House should proceed to reach conclusions on legislation before what should be, and almost certainly will be, a watershed report about the circumstances and situations in and near sports grounds in this country. It is, frankly, ridiculous to ask Parliament to legislate in advance of that vitally important investigation, and the conclusions that it will take many more months to formulate.
The overwhelming majority of spectators of course want better standards of behaviour on and off the pitch, and the Professional Footballers Association, fan clubs, the Football Association and the Football League all recognise the need to go on working to improve those standards. But requiring all football supporters--law-abiding citizens overwhelmingly--to carry identity cards is irrelevant to those aims and objectives.
There is a clear and urgent need for soccer stadium facilities to be fundamentally improved, but far from bringing extra financial resources and essential investment into football clubs, the Bill is likely to reduce attendances and income, redirect existing and often inadequate cash to the equipment and administration necessary to operate a compulsory national indentity card scheme and bring many clubs in the lower divisions in England and Wales, despite what the Secretary of State said, into serious financial difficulties, if not into insolvency.
The Government's proposals are far more likely to deter decent football supporters than they are to deter hooligans. Once more we see the Government ignoring the advice, opinions and evidence of the people on the spot--the police, club administrators and those responsible for managing the situation--and imposing yet another central Government regime, another quango.
The Secretary of State recognised that the situation outside grounds, on trains and on public transport generally, was where the major problems existed when he said, in his 17 January press statement, and repeated today when talking about motorway service stations :
"Outside football grounds the behaviour of rival groups of supporters"--
although I believe that to be a misuse of the word--
Column 854"makes life intolerable both for law-abiding football supporters and for those who live or trade nearby, or wish to travel by train on the same day as a football match."
We share the right hon. Gentleman's view on those points, but the possession, or lack of a compulsory identity card will not prevent the incidents which are all too common in Britain today, whether or not football is the focus. Indeed, it could make the situation worse by requiring people to leave home or work earlier to ensure entry on time.
It could lead to more people spending more time in town and city centres before games, thus increasing the potential for disputes and disturbances-- [ Hon. Members :-- "Why?"]--because people do not want to queue up and miss the beginning of a game. They want to ensure that they get into the ground, and therefore they will travel earlier. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members went to a few more football matches, they would know all about it.
For several years, under pressure, it is true, from fans, from public opinion, from Parliament and--I agree with the Secretary of State--from the Government, football clubs have taken, and are continuing to take, action to improve the situation inside grounds. The effective segregation of fans, family enclosures, close co-operation with the police and the installation of closed-circuit television have all been important and beneficial advances. Local community schemes and, increasingly, good co-operation between clubs and local councils are also making a positive contribution to improving the situation. This essential progress must continue and that financial support from the Football Trust and from central and local government should be increased wherever possible. The Bill, however, is irrelevant to all of those issues. It simply does not touch them. The Football Association, the Football League, the overwhelming majority of football clubs in England and Wales, the Police Federation and football supporters share that view. The evidence available to the House supports our conclusions and not those of the Secretary of State.
Nobody in football would deny that there is a problem of hooligan behaviour which attaches itself to the game, more regularly in some places than in others, but it is not unique to football. Other sports and society at large are afflicted by public disorder and violent crime.
The nature of the problem which attaches itself to football has altered significantly. Although there are still incidents of violence and disorder within grounds, those have been contained and trouble-makers are quickly identified and dealt with by improved policing, aided especially by closed- circuit television, now present at all league grounds.
The 6,147 arrests during the 1987-88 season represented a tiny proportion, 0.03 per cent., of the 18 million attendances at games in that season. That compared with arrest figures for the population at large of 3.9 per cent. The number of arrests is, of course, a measure of the effectiveness of club and police control, and as it gets more effective, the purpose is to weed people out and get them out of the grounds. Many of the offences included in that total occurred away from the grounds and would not be directly dealt with by a mandatory identity card scheme. Indeed, two thirds of those offences occurred outside the grounds and only about 2,000 arrests were made within them. Of the 6,147 arrests during the season, in only 1,089 cases did conviction result in exclusion orders--a sign, at least, that a considerable number of those arrests were not for violence or serious disorder.