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Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : Given the scale of policing at football matches, the fact that football matches take place under close scrutiny and the fact that police officers are in large-scale attendance in the towns before matches, is it not remarkable that the scale of offences is so high? It is no point comparing that with what happens with the public at large, who are not subject to closed-circuit television or close scrutiny. It is remarkable that the scale of offences at matches is so high when there is such close scrutiny.
Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman appears to be reaching the conclusion that all is well and that there is no need to do anything--[ Hon. Members :-- "No."] That is the impression that the hon. Gentleman is giving. He will be laughed out of court if he persists with his complacent and stupid attitude.
Dr. Cunningham : The Secretary of State is more dozy and dim than I had thought. It is clear that he has not been listening, but if he reads Hansard tomorrow he will realise that I said that all is not well, that we all recognise that and that we want further improvement. We do not think that his proposals are relevant to the problems.
With the help of the Football Trust, all league clubs now have closed- circuit television at their grounds. In addition, a further £500,000 has been allocated by the Football Trust this season to provide the police with 45 portable systems to improve evidence gathering, which will enable them to take more positive action against troublemakers. That is the measure that the football authorities and the police believe will deal most effectively with the problem within the grounds, by deterring people from committing offences and by more quickly identifying those who have committed them. With one exception, all league clubs have voluntarily introduced partial membership schemes in the home areas of their grounds. All the clubs have comprehensive local plans to deal with the safety and control of spectators, which have been drawn up in consultation with the local police and local authorities. The vast majority of league clubs have family enclosures at their grounds, and they are now attracting more and more families to the game. Indeed, as the Secretary of State rightly said, attendances have been rising over the last three seasons.
The football-in-the-community scheme co-ordinated by the league and the Professional Footballers Association has proved effective in bringing clubs closer to their local communities. Some 34 clubs are involved and there are plans for extending it throughout the league. Many of the clubs not involved in the scheme have introduced a community programme on their own initiative. At 93 per cent. of clubs with a PFA scheme for the 1987-88 season, arrest levels were below their divisional average.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : The hon. Gentleman said that most grounds now have closed-circuit television to help the police. Does he accept that at Selhurst park on 19 May there was a pitch invasion during which 16 fans were arrested and one was stabbed? As there was closed- circuit television available on that occasion, does he now accept that it was obviously inadequate to
Column 856deal with the problem? Many people involved in offences on that day were beyond the policing available and so got away with them. Are not the hon. Gentleman's proposals inadequate to deal with the problems?
Dr. Cunningham : I do not accept any of what the hon. Gentleman says, other than that there was a serious disturbance at Selhurst park. However, I am not yet sure of the reasons for that disturbance and I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is sure either.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : I was at that match. One of the problems was that the fences had been taken down because of the recent Hillsborough disaster--a problem now facing many grounds. If the police had tried to arrest all those who invaded the pitch--they had no support from the majority of supporters--there would have been a major incident. I do not in any way excuse what happened at Selhurst park--it mainly involved Birmingham supporters--but it was caused partly by the taking down of fences as a consequence of Hillsborough. There would have had to be mass arrests for the Bill to have been of any consequence.
"Think again, Mr. Moynihan. The report of Sports Minister Mr. Colin Moynihan's working party on a national membership scheme for football has come in for almost universal condemnation. Sadly the strictures are deserved, for this is an extraordinary mish mash of good intentions and half-baked nostrums. If the Government insists on using its majority to steamroller this scheme through Parliament, the results could be disastrous."
Those were the comments of the police about the proposals. The Police Federation continued :
"When the scheme breaks down, it will do so on match days and give rise to the threat of even worse disorder than it seeks to suppress."
The Bill is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions and is full of holes. It is merely an enabling Bill ; the heart of the Government's proposals--the so-called national membership scheme--is missing. That is to be left to a football membership authority. The Bill, however, makes no reference to the football membership authority recommended by the Minister's working party. Instead, it says the Secretary of State will appoint an administrator--who may, or may not, be the football membership authority. We do not know. Whatever the House decides--not only today but in Committee--in advance of the Taylor inquiry report, the House cannot in any way influence the details of the heart of the proposals. The Secretary of State will determine that and bring it to the House on a take-it-or- leave-it basis.That is a wholly unsatisfactory way for the House to be asked to deal with such a matter, and in their heart of hearts Conservative Members know that to be so. The House is being asked to give the Secretary of State for the Environment a blank cheque for the proposals, and it should not do so.
Column 857I say to Conservative Members who have misgivings about the Bill--as many had misgivings about previous legislation such as the poll tax and water privatisation--that it is no good looking to the House of Lords to amend the Bill ; it has already been in the House of Lords. Conservative Members cannot fall back on that excuse. If they intend to influence these matters, they must do so here and now through their vote in the Lobby tonight. There is no other way.
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield) : Will the hon. Gentleman answer a simple question? Is his answer to the problem more police, more dogs, more horses and more fences? If, as I suspect, it is, will that continue until there are more police than there are spectators? Does he agree that it is about time that the Government and the House protected the vast majority of people who go in trepidation every Saturday in areas where football matches are being played?
Dr. Cunningham : Since my answer to the hon. Gentleman's unsimple question is no, all his supplementary questions fall. I do not agree that the answer is more police, more dogs and more horses. I think that he knows that very well. Nor do I say, incidentally, that the answer is the scheme that he and others have pioneered in the football club with which he has had a long association. That seeks to ban away supporters altogether.
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Will my hon. Friend point out a major hole in the Bill that has been brought out by the Football League-- that it is the custom at football matches to open the gates for people to leave 15 minutes from time? If the gates were locked until the 90th minute, there would be chaos. When the gates are opened 15 minutes from time, what is there to stop anyone walking in free, without a membership card? People do it now. Anyone could walk in without a card and cause a riot.
Dr. Cunningham : My hon. Friend is right. That is a problem that again is not addressed by the Secretary of State's proposals. Unlike many of the existing voluntary schemes, the Government scheme comes without any real benefit to members. No entitlements or rights will flow from being forced to have an identity card. It is nothing less than compulsory identity cards for up to perhaps 4 per cent. of the population of England and Wales.
The Government have rightly excluded Scotland from the provisions of the Bill. The Bill is nonsense for England and Wales. We support the exclusion of Scotland but at present Scottish and Welsh teams compete in European tournaments. Under the Government proposals Welsh fans will be required to carry identity cards ; Scottish fans will not. English fans travelling to Scotland will be required to carry identity cards but Scottish fans travelling to England will not. What will happen, for example, at an England versus Scotland match at Wembley, with Scottish supporters travelling down for the day, and Scots men and women who live in England claiming that they are just down for the day as well? Will a Scottish person living and working temporarily in England be required to have an identity card? Ministers have no answers to these questions. If the Secretary of State has got an answer, I will be happy to
Column 858give way. I think in football parlance that is called a set-up pass ; selling one's team mates short would, I think, describe the Secretary of State's behaviour in pointing to his hon. Friend. To admit people without identity cards to a designated game will be a criminal offence, punishable by a prison sentence. What will be the position, and who will be responsible for order and for taking decisions if, in the interest of safety and public order, the police instruct ground authorities to open the gates and admit people, whether or not they have tickets and cards? That is exactly what happens from time to time every season. Who will be responsible? Who will be in charge? There is no answer to those questions either.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Before my hon. Friend goes too far away from the Scotland versus England example, may I point out that there was a lot of trouble associated with the recent international at Hampden. All that trouble took place in the streets and in the city centre. If the Government would do something to stop marauding Fascists who have nothing to do with football attaching themselves to football crowds, they would be getting to the core of the problem. The proposed scheme would have been utterly irrelevant to everything that happened in Glasgow that day.
Part I of the Bill is totally unacceptable and clause 5 is particularly obnoxious. Does the House really believe that pensioners, who will have to carry identity cards, are a threat to public order? Are women a major cause of hooliganism? I understand from debates in another place that the Government insist that women cannot be excluded because male troublemakers would dress up and pose as women to gain entry. On such stupidities do the Government rest their vacuous case. All unaccompanied children aged 10 years and over will be required to have identity cards. There is no evidence to support the need for that draconian proposal. Season ticket holders who pay large sums to guarantee their seats and their comfort at every home game will also be required to carry identity cards.
A major anxiety occasioned by the proposal to introduce a compulsory scheme is the prospect that fooball will lose a great many casual spectators, estimated at 20 per cent. of attendances and probably including a great many hon. Members. These people may go to matches two, three or half-a- dozen times a season. They and we often have no particular club allegiance, although I have ; I say it quietly--Newcastle United.
In London and other major cities such as Birmingham and Liverpool many people may go to different grounds. The Government should recognise the problem posed by the potentially damaging loss of income which is worrying dozens of football administrators. How will the proposals cater for the spectator who decides at short notice to attend a match? Football clubs need flexibility to be able to issue cards on match days even for a single fixture. At larger clubs that attract much casual support the proposed scheme will lead to considerable administrative difficulty, delays, frustration and even anger.
Similar arguments apply to foreign visitors. Large numbers of spectators living in Europe, particularly Holland and Scandinavia, visit London clubs frequently, if
Column 859not regularly in some cases. Similarly, Irish spectators travel to watch Liverpool and Everton in particular. The European and Irish spectators may in future have to present their passports at football club offices to obtain a one-match membership card and a ticket. The proposal is preposterous.
In its independent report on the Government's proposed scheme, Arthur Young stated that it had examined the technology available and had identified six options. The review showed :
"No one supplier was able to demonstrate conclusively at this stage that their technology or approach could satisfy the total requirements of the national membership scheme."
We have only to go into London Underground at rush hour to see what happens. When there is a crush, the barriers are opened and everyone is allowed through. It is exactly such hold-ups, delays and aggravation that the Secretary of State proposes to impose on football spectators and clubs.
The problem that continues to cause football authorities, clubs and the police the greatest anxiety is the possibility that the technology will fail on a match day at more than one club, just before the start of the match, when thousands may be waiting to be admitted. What will happen then? The police will advise the club to open the gates. They will break the law by asking someone to commit a criminal offence and render himself liable to a gaol sentence. At the briefing meeting for club chairmen on 17 January, the Secretary of State apparently said that local police will not have overriding powers to instruct clubs to suspend the operation of the membership scheme in order to admit spectators without checking cards. However, we know that, in the past, when all-ticket matches have been played, the police have done just that--admitted spectators without tickets, in the interests of public safety and order. The Secretary of State says that he will stop that. He will be responsible for the problems that result or, alternatively, for the fact that thousands of people, who want to see a match, have tickets and are members, will have to be turned away. That is a recipe for civil disturbance outside football grounds.
I see that the Secretary of State has written to all Tory Members pleading for loyalty in the Lobby tonight. One of his loyal and hon. Friends has kindly sent the Opposition a copy of that letter. It would be interesting to see the loyal reply from the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). In any event, as I am sure that right hon. Gentleman would say, the best form of loyalty to one's friends is to tell them the truth, however unpalatable it might be. No amount of fudging can cover the huge inadequacies of the Secretary of State's proposals. He is fudging.
Typically, the Secretary of State is deliberately inaccurate and misleading in his letter to all Conservative Members. In his letter, he claims :
"The FA made a significant change of direction on 18th May in a statement which embraced the principle of a membership scheme." The Secretary of State appears to be referring to off-the-cuff remarks by Mr. Bert Millichip, but the FA and the Football League, in a brief to the House today, continue their opposition to part I of the Bill, which they describe as "seriously flawed".
They go on to say that it
"should not be considered in detail before full account has been taken of the recommendations of Lord Justice Taylor."
Column 860We share their views.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Is my hon. Friend aware that the letter was sent not only privately to Conservative Members but to all hon. Members--at least to other hon. Members--including myself on 21 December? The Minister with responsibility for sport said : "The Government, police and the football authorities were represented on the working party and agreed its recommendations." Quite clearly, they did not. The Football League told me that that was misrepresentation. Later, on 23 February, the Minister wrote : "I recognise that the football authorities have made clear all along their opposition to the principle of the scheme."
Therefore, is there not only dubiety in the Government's letter to Conservative Members but a calculated intention to mislead?
Dr. Cunningham : My hon. Friend's comments are borne out by the letter that he received, of which I have a copy, from Mr. J. D. Dent, the secretary of the Football League Ltd., dated 28 February this year. Mr. Dent wrote :
"Dear Mr. Spearing"--
I will not read the whole letter--
"It is good of you to take up with the Minister his
misrepresentation of the football authorities' views and I am most grateful to you for this."
There we have it--the football authorities themselves saying that the Minister with responsibility for sport was misrepresenting their position.
We can at least agree the principle of part II of the Bill and the intention to restrict people convicted of a football-related offence from travelling to matches abroad. That proposal rightly enjoys general support, but, again, there are weaknesses in the detail of the Bill. Police in Europe often do not charge detained troublemakers but simply return them to Britain as soon as possible. As they stand, the proposals simply cannot deal with those people--there will be nothing to exclude them for. In addition, exclusion will require a very large administrative effort by the police effectively to implement the reporting scheme nationwide when matches abroad are designated.
This Bill is the imposition of central Government control upon a single sport. It is unprecedented in its implications for civil liberties, and it has no parallel in Europe. Once again, it gives the Secretary of State powers that effectively prevent proper Parliamentary scrutiny of his proposals. It would punish football and the game's supporters for the hooliganism and public disorder that are endemic in Tory Britain. As the Association of Chief Police Officers reported last year :
"From Petersfield to Penrith, from Barnstaple to Bridlington, come reports of unprovoked attacks on property, public and police". The chief officers referred to 251 incidents, involving 36,000 people, in which over 2,000 arrests were made. That is, 2,000 arrests from 36,000 people in towns and cities around the country. That is as many as the arrests from 18 million football supporters in a whole season, and Conservative Members say that they are dealing with the right problem. They are not even aiming at the right target. There were 1,700 arrests at race meetings alone in this country last year--600 at Royal Ascot in one week. [Laughter.]
Column 861Mr. Holt rose --
Regrettably but true, it is the case in this country, that, wherever and whenever large numbers of people gather, there are always some arrests. As the figures show, to single out soccer is misguided and plainly wrong, especially when the situation in soccer grounds is improving because of the actions that are being taken. In early 1988, the Association of Chief Police Officers commissioned the centre for football research at Leicester university to undertake a survey of senior police officers with responsibility for policing Football League grounds. In all, the centre received replies from officers at 90 of the 92 Football League grounds. The survey covers a wide range of issues involving contemporary policing methods at football, but there is particular focus on a compulsory national scheme. The results of the survey--the most comprehensive one that we are aware of--show that the senior officers were divided about the Government's proposed scheme. A large proportion of them believed that hooliganism inside grounds is decreasing--the evidence bears that out--and four out of five of those senior police officers believed that hooliganism outside grounds was not worsening.
There is growing violence in all aspects of British life. It is more dangerous than ever before in our streets and on our public transport systems because of the increase in crimes of violence under this Government. To single out soccer grounds ignores where most violence takes place. Because of better crowd control, closed circuit television cameras and improved policing, football grounds are actually safer places to be than the average high street on a Saturday afternoon. The Labour party has supported the measures that were put into action by the Football League and the Football Association in their fight against violence associated with football. These actions have been successful in reducing the percentage of those arrested for any offences related to football to 0.03 per cent. of spectators, while the national average for criminal offences is 3.9 per cent. of the population. Football has done that, at a cost of £15 million to itself. A compulsory identity card scheme will cost many more millions and again the Government are inconsistent.
Column 862Let us consider the Secretary of State's performance in the House two weeks ago. The latest figures show that in 1985, 1,200 people were treated in hospital after being attacked by dogs. The Post Office unions claim that there are 5,000 dog attacks on postmen and women every year. It is estimated that about 1 million people in Britain are bitten by dogs every year. Yet this same Secretary of State rejected a dog owner registration scheme as
"complicated, bureaucratic and expensive to administer".--[ Official Report , 14 June 1989 ; Vol. 154, c. 1076.]
Dr. Cunningham : The Bill is not based on ideology, but on idolatory. The Prime Minister must have it, however stupid and however nonsensical. This is the Prime Minister who, on 18 May, was the subject of a four-page spread in the Daily Mail --a typical Daily Mail hagiography. Its banner headline reads :
"My European Nightmare by Maggie".
Well, that was one of her dreams that certainly came true. If we read beyond the headline, the Prime Minister is quoted as saying : "As I said in my Bruges speech, we are practical. They have identity cards, but can you imagine compulsory identity cards in this country? We recoil from it."
That was what the Prime Minister said barely one month ago, but today we have a three-line Whip on all her Ministers who are being dragooned into the Lobbies in favour of compulsory identity cards for football supporters.
The Bill is based on blind support for that increasingly isolated and erratic Prime Minister. It should not proceed before Lord Justice Taylor--
Mr. Ridley rose--[Interruption.]
It should not proceed before Lord Justice Taylor reports and it should be referred to the special statutory committee procedure so that witnesses can be called to give evidence and to answer questions from the Committee ; so that we can have the football authorities, the police and, if necessary, Lord Justice Taylor here to comment before the legislation goes through. The Government's decision to press ahead with the Bill at this time and in this way, while the inquiry is still sitting, is not rational.
Mr. Ridley : Half an hour after I last intervened in the hon. Gentleman's speech--after half an hour of absolute twaddle--it is now clear that the hon. Gentleman does not think that anything is wrong and does not think that anything should be done.
Dr. Cunningham : I unreservedly offer the support of the Labour party for any Bill which is genuinely and effectively concerned with football safety and the enhancement of a great national game. These are not and should not be matters of party political dispute. But this Bill does not meet those requirements. As drafted it can never do so. That is why we are opposing it tonight.
Column 8635.24 pm
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : Inevitably the House has been treated to a certain amount of humour from the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and, I suppose, to a certain amount of factual evidence that supports his party's opposition to this excellent Bill. However, what he was short on, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly pointed out in his two interventions, was any type of answer to the terrible problems not only that we face as a country, but which football itself faces. Much of the hon. Gentleman's argument was flawed. In his defence he quoted the Police Federation's opposition to the Bill, omitting to mention, of course, that just four or five weeks ago it reversed its opposition and said that it was in favour of the "no away supporters scheme" as exemplified at Luton. The hon. Gentleman quoted the Football Association in his favour, not mentioning of course, the words of Mr. Bert Millichip who has been described in a sedentary intervention as "a 68-year- old nonentity". He said :
"I do not know where we go from here. I just do not know what course of action we can take, but something has got to be done." The problem with the hon. Gentleman's speech was that he did not give the House any fresh ideas. The complacent attitude of the hon. Gentleman and of his right hon. and hon. Friends belies the fact that they have understood the fundamental principle of the Bill. Conservative Members appreciate that the problem exists. We shall not sit idly by and watch hooliganism spread throughout the greatest of our national games. Perhaps in the minds of some of my hon. Friends we are attempting to deal only inadequately with the problem, but the hon. Member for Copeland gave no answers in his speech. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985, which was supported by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), the right hon. Gentleman said that we should never have enacted that legislation.
Mr. Denis Howell rose --
Mr. Carlisle : I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman said that we should never have done it, but he supported the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman and I served on the Committee on that Bill. He knows that it was rushed through this and another place in a day and a half with the full support of the right hon. Gentleman and his party. However, he is now saying that that Bill was a mistake, and saying, "We should not have supported it," and, "I have no other answer."
Mr. Howell : The Opposition have never supported the proposal that drinks should not be sold inside grounds-- [Interruption.] No, we have always said that the problem was drinking outside grounds. If the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) will consider Hillsborough and if he will look at the police report on Crystal Palace, he will find considerable evidence--I am sure that Lord Justice Taylor will tell us this--of people arriving late because they had been drinking outside the ground. One effect of that legislation has been to aggravate
Column 864the late arrival of people who cannot get a drink inside the ground. That has caused additional difficulties, which we predicted at the time.
Mr. Carlisle : I advise the right hon. Gentleman to go back to Hansard and to read the record and the surrounding press comments of the time. The measure was supported by almost all hon. Members. If I recall correctly, there was little division between us. The right hon. Gentleman would be wise to remember that at times he has supported certain measures and at others he has not.
None of that alters the fact that throughout this argument, no Opposition Member--on either the Front or the Back Benches--and no member of the Football League or the Football Association has come up with any real solution to the terrible problem that we face. Although the speech of the hon. Member for Copeland was humorous at times, Conservative Members consider this to be a serious problem. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman lives in an ivory tower away from the problem on Saturday afternoons, but if he lived near any of the football grounds where nearby residents have suffered terrible afflictions because of football hooliganism, his attitude would be somewhat less light-hearted and more serious.
Dr. Cunningham : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not have a sense of humour, but I am grateful to him for giving way. I never said that this is a laughing matter. What I said was laughable was the performance and proposals of the Secretary of State.
As the hon. Member for Luton, North has made an allegation, I should make it clear that I am very familiar with the conditions and the circumstances around many soccer gronds--for example, St James's park, Roker park and Elland road--and rugby grounds, too. I am a regular--although, unfortunately, not as frequent as I would like--attender at sports occasions. I watch Sunday soccer and a lot of schoolboy soccer. My greatest pleasure is watching my son play centre forward for his comprehensive school team.
Mr. Carlisle : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman a little later, because I know that he will probably want to intervene. For many of us the Bill has been a long time coming. Inevitably, there was a right and seemly delay after Hillsborough. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for listening to those of my hon. Friends who thought that we should sit back and wait for some interim comments from Lord Justice Taylor, and as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, at the end of the day to take into account the findings of Lord Justice Taylor.
Over the years, this game--I remind the House that, after all, it is only a game--has attracted an element of hooliganism and criminality which has resulted in deaths and injuries, in towns and cities on Saturday afternoons being turned, by military operation, into no-go areas, and in public transport being completely unsafe for those who wish either to travel to the match or to the area of the match. Those living around football grounds have suffered
Column 865the desecration of their gardens, broken windows and abuse. Regrettably, all those matters are associated with football. It is a fact that the crowds have halved in about 20 years and that the disgraceful behaviour of our so-called soccer fans abroad has brought shame and disgrace on the name of this country and on many of our towns and cities. That is why I salute what the Government are doing. They will not sit back and let the problem continue.
The saddest night of my life was in March 1985 when I attended the FA cup quarter final. My club, Luton Town--just outside my constituency--was playing Millwall. I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends, who may be worrying about the Bill, that had they been with me that night--some of them may have experience of what football hooliganism really means--they would have seen the way in which people behaved. Half-crazed with drink and with the knowledge that their team was losing, those hooligans took vengeance on my club by ripping out the seats, by tearing down the goal posts, by bursting through the fences and by injuring people. The situation was so bad that the young cadets of the St. John's ambulance, who were there to help those who needed help, were not allowed out on to the pitch. The police were attacked with iron bars and seats. On that night the whole area around the ground was devastated by the damage inflicted by those hooligans.
My hon. Friends say to me, "Yes, but is this the answer? Have we really come to the stage where we must force people to have membership cards?" I tell them that, if they had seen those scenes--which have sadly been repeated in and out of football grounds throughout the country--they would perhaps have some sympathy with the arguments of my constituents.
Mr. Ashton : Is it not a fact that Luton Town was very much to blame on that night? First, it did not print any replay tickets and did not have them ready to give to Millwall supporters on the previous Saturday, which has been standard practice for many years ; secondly, it let 8,000 people into a section of the ground which probably would hold only 5,000 ; and, thirdly, the Bedford police were not ready, despite warnings sent from St. Pancras station, and had no experience of such trouble. The crowd had to invade the pitch to save themselves. When Luton Town and the police realised what a massive clanger they had dropped, to save itself from an investigation, Luton Town brought in its scheme. Much of the problem was due to bad organisation. Luton Town let far too many into the ground and was not able to police it.