|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 878The family is breaking down and we no longer see three generations together. There is no trouble at rugby league where three generations of family watch the game. However, once adolescents and peer groups get together, there is trouble. We are separating the old people into sheltered accommodation so another generation is being isolated. The second generation must move 20 or 200 miles away to gain economic prosperity. There is nothing wrong with that, but it makes it difficult for the children and the three-generation family breaks down.
The churches are relatively empty and the local government reorganisations of 1964 and 1972--which I opposed at the time and still oppose--put people into units to which they did not want to belong and in which they had no history. In most cases we do not even know where those places are now.
There is a breakdown in security and behaviour in many of our homes, schools, and in large areas of our towns. A rootless adolescent generation has grown up and it is almost ungovernable. It accepts no standards apart from its own immediate egoistic satisfaction. That is basically the problem.
A survey carried out in 1988 by the National Union of Teachers, of which I used to be a district committee member in my trade union days, showed that one in three teachers expected a major disruption in the school year at some stage. Half the teachers surveyed said that there was frequent indiscipline in their schools. A National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers survey in 1986 showed that 4 per cent. of teachers had been physically attacked in the previous six months and 25 per cent. had been threatened with physical attack. Worst of all, the National Association of Head Teachers' survey of nursery schools showed that one in five schools for three and four-year-olds was out of control. If we cannot control children at the age of three or four, how can we control them when they are adolescents?
All that assumes that the children go to school. A survey of a well-run Labour borough--this applies to other boroughs ; I am not making any political points here because there is a deep sickness which both Labour and Conservative must deal with--showed that in three big comprehensive schools the attendance of 15 to 16-year-old boys was 47 per cent., 48 per cent. and 52 per cent. That means that half the 15 to 16-year-old boys did not attend school that year or they did so on a rota system. They would come in on alternate days while another boy worked on the market. If we cannot get children into school, how can we get them to behave? If they are living on the fringes of society, at war with society, getting mixed up with all sorts of things outside, they will be undisciplined and there is no solution to that.
These pupils will be uncontrollable in adolescence. No matter whether we have plastic, wooden or golden football identity cards, it will make no difference to those adolescents because they have got away with it for years and they will get away with it again. They are at war with our values in society. The Children and Young Persons Act 1969 caused untold harm by not making young people liable for their actions, particularly when we consider how young people grow up more quickly these days.
School breakdown, family breakdown and schools giving pupils little or no faith in past or present-day society, with little knowledge of our history and literature,
Column 879mean that we have prepared what we called during the second world war a Molotov cocktail for adolescents, which will blow up under us. The Education Reform Act 1988, which I supported, is an attempt to introduce some sense and control. I understand that the national curriculum will be retained whichever party is in control in Parliament in the future. But in addition, we have television, videos and magazines glorifying brutality. Those magazines can be picked up in all the newspaper shops. There are no restraints. Self-fulfilment becomes self-gratification. Self-expression becomes self-absorption and we reap the dastardly flowers of a permissive age gone mad. All that applies to 10 to 20-year-olds, from whom the violence comes. The average age of the male criminal today is 14 years and seven months. Violence is happening not just at our football matches, but in society generally. If we have football identity cards, are we to have cards for those who riot outside pubs? The licensed victuallers have sent out 500,000 applications for cards to prove that people who drink are of the age of 18. Are we then to have a card for those who visit public houses? There will soon be more cards than there are bankers' cards.
On new year's eve last year 128 people were arrested in Trafalgar square. Are we to have cards to admit people into Trafalgar square on new year's eve? More were arrested on that occasion than at most football matches. At Pilton pop festival in Somerset 106 people were arrested recently. Are we to have pop festival cards? Will all the cards be different colours--if enough colours exist?
Only this weekend two policemen were hurt and 13 youths were arrested after a one-hour running battle in Andover in Hampshire. According to newspaper reports 11 "tanked up" youths were arrested at Blandford in Dorset last week. Are we to have cards for "tanked up" youths as well?
I support compulsory identity cards. Some hon. Members would not go along with me on that. However, I am trying to carry people with me, so if I lose some on the way I shall try to rope them in again later. I know that the wild libertarians on the Conservative Benches do not support compulsory identity cards. I am glad that we have Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) who makes me look like a moderate. Long may he remain here. I am a middle-ground man compared with him. I must introduce him to my wife. Such a card should carry a photograph, fingerprints, blood group, a section to say whether the bearer wants to leave his kidneys as a donor and a national insurance number. If freedom of information means that we know what the Government are doing, it should also mean that the Government should know what the individual is doing. It should work both ways in our society.
I wonder whether the Bill is necessary and whether it will work. According to my figures, there was one arrest for every 5,000 attending a first division match last year, and one arrest for every 3,233 attending all division matches. Last year, 25 times as many people were arrested in London for offences against the person committed well away from football grounds as for offences committed in or near the grounds. More than 75 per cent. of the 92 teams had fewer than five arrests last year, yet they will all be landed with the scheme. If ever there was a case of burning villages in Cyprus, this is it. If one person misbehaved, the lot had to be destroyed and everybody
Column 880was lined up and shot. I thought that we had passed that stage, given the respect for the individual that we are supposed to have now.
As for turnstiles, I should like those who wrote the Bill to travel on the underground with me. We would have to travel for only two hours before one broke down. They are a form of all-in wrestling. They are certainly good for muscle development. Turnstiles do not work on the Underground, so why should they work at the football grounds? As hon. Members have already said, if they break down, people will riot and move in.
If the cards do not carry the owner's photograph, many people who set out for the game will not arrive there. A mile away from the match they will be locked into the nearest cupboard--I trust that they will live through the experience--and somebody else will go to the match with their card. However, it will be a clever machine that can read a photograph. We do not yet have such a machine on the Underground, but I look forward to the day that we do.
The four tribes that make up these islands have always been difficult to discipline. We talk about them being law-abiding, but only those who have not read history can believe that. They are law-abiding only when the law has been enforced from above. Let me give just one illustration of English youth, without referring to the Irish, Scots or Welsh. Remember the 6,000 London apprentices whom Taine reminded us formed the garrison of Calais and tyrannised the countryside for miles around. When they succumbed to superior numbers they died to a man, fighting savagely to the last. That is why the English are such brilliant infantry. We have the only Army in the world which prefers the bayonet to the bullet. Those who say that the British are law-abiding do not know what they are about.
Look at the early industrial revolution. Those of us from Lancashire and the north know what happened in its early years. The situation is complicated by the new industrial revolution. I agree with the Government's economic policy. I might lose any friends that I have on the Opposition Benches by saying so. There is a heavy price to pay for our new economic prosperity. That price is being uprooted from one's community. Fathers are away from their children. Just like the industrial revolution, it will impose a great penalty on adoloscents growing up.
I would support a Bill that returned caning to schools so that we could have order in our schools ; heavier punishment for hooligans ; enforced rather than the voluntary attendance at school that exists in many local authorities ; identity cards for all ; that said that three generations should meet at least once a week--perhaps, for the Jewish, on a Friday night--so that grandparents could recognise their grandchildren, and vice versa.
Such a Bill would shut any school that did not have a 95 per cent. attendance rate, and change the management immediately. If I catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the debate on Friday on policing in London, I may also be able to put forward my thoughts on some form of local national service which would be a cross between dad's army and an
Column 881Outward Bound school. Unless we organise people, they will organise themselves. That is what is happening. People are at war with us. Let me return to what I said at the beginning on legislative hyperactivity--the greatest disease in Britain at the moment-- and the need to debate the major problems of our society. We need to debate why crime is so high in our society. It should not be so high. We should debate why 250,000 people are unemployed in London despite there being plenty of jobs in my area ; why there is such a huge number of family breakdowns ; why there is such a dependence on drugs and drinking among people growing up ; why many parts of London are so seedy ; and why we have so many dropouts. These are not problems of capitalism or Socialism. They are signs of a breakdown not just among adolescents, but in the unity of our society. We will not solve those problems by throwing accusations across the Floor of the House.
On 2 July it will be the 500th anniversary of the birth of Cranmer, whose Book of Common Prayer is one of the finest pieces of the English language. I am not suggesting that by returning to religion everyone will learn to behave. I am not saying that an agnostic or an atheist cannot behave. But we have lost a means of establishing standards.
The Bill deals with symptoms, not causes. The symptoms are a sign that there is something seriously wrong with the way in which we in Britain are bringing up our adolescents. We need more debates on such matters in the Chamber rather than on the continual legislation which exhausts those who debate it throughout the night. In that way, we may start objective thinking again, which would be a good thing. 6.38 pm
Ms. Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : I am very pleased to make my maiden speech in a debate on a subject about which not only I but millions of people throughout the country feel passionately. I begin by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members and the staff of the House for their kindness in welcoming me as a new Member of Parliament. I have been offered everything from tours of the House and rundowns of right hon. and hon. Members to avoid, to advice on rules to obey and not to obey. I have also been inundated with offers to pair. I have reached the conclusion that there are some drawbacks in being a new Member of Parliament. Perhaps I may misquote Oscar Wilde, who in the circumstances in which I find myself might have said, "A lady without a desk may be considered unfortunate but a lady without a desk, a telephone or a chair to call her own may be called careless." I do not wish to appear to be a person who is the victim either of misfortune or of carelessness, because I want to be earnest, but at the moment I have nothing to call my own in this House. Nevertheless, I shall not dwell on that but will move on to speak about happier matters.
My predecessor, Stuart Holland, worked conscientiously for all his constituents. His case-load was huge and he was held in great regard by the people of Vauxhall. I am sure that the House wishes him every success in his new responsibilities in Europe. I thank him for the support that he gave me over the past few weeks.
Column 882I am also honoured to succeed another hon. Member who was well known to the House, George Strauss, who spent so many years here. If there is one thing of which I am certain, it is that there is no way that I could spend the number of years in this House that he did, because to do so I would have to reach a very, very old age. I am fortunate that there are in my constituency many of London's famous landmarks. They include Lambeth palace, the south bank centre, St. Thomas's hospital and the Oval cricket ground. I was most disappointed that the Government missed an opportunity to provide a community sports centre at the Oval, and I only hope that in the next few weeks it will bring better news of England's cricketers in the final Test.
On a more serious note, I remind the House that every night in my constituency, and within a mile of this Chamber, between 1,000 and 2, 000 men and women sleep out in cardboard city on the south bank. Many of them are young people without any hope of ever having a roof over their heads. Most feel totally alienated from politicians and from everything that we do in this House. The population of my constituency comprises a disproportionate number of young people aged between 16 and 24, and it is those very young people whom the Bill's provisions will directly affect. The Government cannot provide them with homes, the Government cannot provide them with jobs, and now the Government want to alienate them even further.
Most right hon. and hon. Members probably remember their first visit to a football match. I can vividly. I recall being taken by my father to Windsor park in Belfast, where I unfolded my stool and happily watched the match from the terraces. Existing supporters are very much the vital link in the marketing of football, for they create the customers of the future. Sponsorship and the income that derives from it can never replace supporters and the income from them.
We are all aware that football has attached to it an element that we would all like to see removed, and that hooligans in football colours have vandalised trains and stations. However, a vicious circle has been created whereby the precautionary measures taken by British Rail, civil and transport police and the clubs feed the negative image of soccer fans so that they are all treated, carte blanche, as potential hooligans, and are herded and hounded in an unnecessarily provocative way. When fans are marched through the streets and forced on to already scruffy and vandalised special trains, it breeds a resentment that can, sadly, manifest itself in more unsocial behaviour.
Conservative Members must be continually reminded that the overwhelming majority of men, women and children who attend football matches are peaceful, law-abiding supporters, yet the Bill treats them all as potential hooligans. What angers me most about the Football Spectators Bill is that the only relevant people who were not consulted were the spectators themselves. Where were the supporters' organisations on the working party? They did not serve on it, and they were not consulted. Why is there no place for the supporters' organisations on the Football Membership Authority? The Football Supporters Association, of which I am proud to be a founder member, produced excellently researched evidence. Part II of the Bill contains a proposal to prevent convicted hooligans from travelling abroad when English teams or clubs are playing there by making
Column 883them report to attendance centres. That was urged by the FSA a number of years ago. Why not direct a similar effort at the home-based problem and leave the rest of the supporters alone? Why does no one want to listen to those who most want to see football thrive--its supporters?
Let us make supporters real members of their clubs, with all the privileges as well as responsibilities that membership traditionally confers-- especially the right to be properly represented. Why is the Minister for Sport not pushing through a genuine membership scheme? Does anyone really believe that the FMA, made up as it will be of members of the Football League and of the Football Association, will ever force clubs to adopt genuine membership? The Government failed dismally to exploit the opportunity with which they were presented. The Minister for Sport cannot possibly believe that compulsory identity cards will solve the problem of football hooliganism. They will create a nightmare of bureaucracy that will do nothing to stop the hooligan element but much to prevent the genuine football lover from attending matches. If a person's ID card is taken away from him, he will simply borrow one from another member of his family. If he cannot do that, the genuine hooligan will go out and mug a 10-year-old on his way to a match. Ticket touting will be replaced by ID card touting. Stan Flashmans of the ID card will be springing up all over the country.
It is sad that after the Hillsborough tragedy the Minister for Sport did not have the courage to take on the Prime Minister, because everyone in football, from board chairmen and players to the authorities and spectators, realise that it is not the Minister for Sport who is pushing through the Bill but the Prime Minister. Football supporters are the greatest asset that the professional game has, but it has taken the football authorities a long time to acknowledge that. Recently a quarter of a million people signed their opposition to the Bill, and at last there is co-operation between the FA, clubs and supporters. In Committee, my right hon. and hon. Friends will build on that co-operation to ensure that, whatever may be the outcome, football's relationship with its supporters will never be the same.
There is still time for the Government to think again. I was encouraged to hear the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Sir N. Macfarlane) say that he has not yet made up his mind about the Bill. If the Minister for Sport is not convinced by his hon. Friend's opinion or by me, perhaps I will be able to convince his predecessor. We should build on the opportunity created by the spirit that came out of Hillsborough, which we all felt. There are so many good examples of football clubs working to involve their supporters. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) mentioned the hooligan problem at Millwall. I remind him that this year Millwall won the award for being the club that has done most to solve the problem of hooliganism.
I believe that sport in its wider context is crucial to the future of our young people. I hope to play my part in its development in this House. Above all, it is to the people of Vauxhall that I pledge my time in the House in working to represent them, and I hope to continue to do that for a number of years.
Column 8846.49 pm
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) :It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) and to be the first to congratulate her on the quality of her maiden speech. As I live in her constituency, I take a great interest in her activities. I make a public offer to pair with her. I have never succeeded in finding a pair, even though I have been a Member of Parliament for 15 years. The hon. Lady's involvement with Arsenal football club makes her well qualified to comment on our national game and to take part in the debate in the informed, concerned and lucid way that she demonstrated in her maiden speech. She has also demonstrated the energy that is necessary to achieve a seat, a telephone and a desk, the raw materials that would enable her to perform her task well. I am confident that she will make her mark. I am also delighted to say that I agree with the broad thrust of her speech, especially her recognition of the value of football supporters in our national game.
I approach the debate with considerable sadness. For the whole of my life I have been a keen football supporter. I am also a great supporter of my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport. It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to be in disagreement with him and the Government over the Football Spectators Bill. We all recognise that there is a problem but many of us find it amazing, following Hillsborough and all that has been said, that this should be regarded as a party political issue. Concern about football hooliganism ought to unite both sides of the House.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment insists that Parliament must take a decision tonight. Many of us know that all sorts of things--the European election results, loyalty to party, which the Secretary of State has referred to in a letter, a three-line Whip and considerable persuasion--have brought that about. It leads me to believe that it is not the quality of the argument that will prevail. The fact is that the Government want the Bill, willy-nilly. We shall force through a Bill for a national scheme in a relatively short time, despite the reservations of many of those who are affected, including Conservative Members as well as Opposition Members who know something about football.
I find it difficult to understand why we need to pass the Bill at this time. The argument is that, if the Bill is not passed now, 12 months will be lost. We are already committed to debating Lord Justice Taylor's conclusions, although we have not had an assurance that they will be taken into account. That is a grave weakness in what has been said so far by Ministers. There is little prospect of those conclusions being published until the New Year. We have been told that we shall be able to debate them in the New Year. We should base our views on the conclusions and on the work that we can do between then and now, not on what we think at this moment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whose integrity I respect, has also assured me that he will not introduce or approve any scheme until he is satisfied that it is workable. I should like to know the basis on which he will decide that a scheme is workable. What tests and what criteria will there be? The very professional Arthur Young report includes all sorts of bar charts as to what must and must not be done. It came to the conclusion that, even if the Bill had been passed within the original time scale, the
Column 885scheme could not be implemented before 1991- 92. What, therefore, is the reason for the inordinate hurry to pass the Bill at this time, with all this pressure?
I object in principle to the Bill. I question the Government's purpose. They say that it is not to deal with hooliganism but to separate hooliganism from football. I am a great supporter of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) who has talked about the problems of hooliganism. The general public are not concerned simply about hooliganism connected with football ; they are concerned about hooliganism, wherever it takes place. I regard the Bill as social engineering. We are trying to break away the working-class football hooligan from football so that it is a better game for those of us who are not broken away from it. That is a very grave legislative principle.
Football is a national game and a national activity, just as going to the theatre or watching cricket and rugby are national activities. At Saturday lunchtime during the winter, people make a choice about what they would like to do. That happens in families. It also happens in my surgery. I might say to a councillor who has sat with me all through the morning surgery, "Would you like to go and watch a football match this afternoon?" About 5 million out of the 18.5 million who attend football matches go on a casual basis, and about 25 per cent. of those who attend football matches go to only four matches a year.
People have the right to make a spontaneous decision to take part in a lawful activity. It will be a grave attack on that right if their names have to be registered on a central computer and if they have to carry an identity card simply to attend a football match. To do that, just to isolate over 1,089 people who have committed football-related offences, needs to be argued with greater force than it has been so far.
I support a national ID scheme. It would bring great benefits in terms of both international security, fraud and other matters. However, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister regards it as anathema to the British people. One of my colleagues could not understand why football supporters feel even more strongly, simply because they will be required to carry an identity card, for no other reason than to go to football matches. However, it causes grave offence to many of my constituents. They feel that it means that they are such a risk to others that they will have to carry an identity card, on top of their season ticket and their membership ticket for their club. It is a grave infringement of people's liberty. A great deal has been said about the number of police who are required to attend football matches. I define what we are trying to do in part I of the Bill as the fruit machine approach or the needle in the haystack approach. The reason for such complicated access through many turnstiles on a Saturday afternoon by means of an identity card is because, suddenly, one of the many thousand turnstiles will flash red, since one of the 1,089 people who has been accused of a football-related offence has tried to cheat. I wonder how many police will be required to man every turnstile at every football match, in every division, in case there is a flashing red light? It is the needle in the haystack, the fruit machine, the chance approach.
If people do not want to be dissociated from football and do not intend to practise their hooliganism elsewhere,
Column 886they will play the game of beating the system. Therefore 500,000 people will have to watch those going through the turnstiles. There will be endless nil returns every week. however, the system will have to be operated in case one of the 1,089 people tries to cheat and to get into the ground against the rules.
That is a tremendous overreaction to a relatively simple problem to solve. Having said that, I appreciate the need to provide a constructive alternative, and there has been a shortage of those in the debate. In seeking such alternatives, it is necessary to spend more time in the short term considering carefully the way forward. Other hon. Members have spoken of the way in which people will be convicted and will not be able to travel to games abroad. In part II of the Bill we deal with the exclusion of people who have committed a football-related offence. We assume, in that part of the Bill, that they had been charged with some offence, and there is an assumption that people who are hooligans in this country wish to be hooligans overseas. I suspect that that is not a genuine assumption to make. For example, I recall that many of those who offended us all in West Germany went there wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, "England's invasion of Germany 1988." That had nothing to do with football. Nor did it mean that they had been hooligans in this country. That aside, since 1987, since exclusion orders were introduced, there have been 1,889 such orders. Considering that 18.5 million people attend football matches each year, that is a tiny number of exclusion orders.
It would make more sense to have attendance orders, not exclusion orders. Let us focus on those who cause the problems rather than on the 999.97 in 1,000 who do not. I propose that we examine the Bill carefully, abolish part I and amend part II so that anyone who has committed a football- related offence would be required to attend on the Saturday when there is a match.
If I were a chief constable, I would rather be responsible for looking after the 1,889 attending a police station than search through 500,000 people--on the fruit machine principle--in case a red light flickered and they were trying to get in. That would be a more sensible way of targeting on those who cause the problem rather than on the vast majority who do not.
Reference has been made to inconsistency. I shall not rub that in. There is an inconsistency in relation to, say, a dog registration where a dog is required to be registered only once in its lifetime. That scheme was regarded as costly, complicated and bureaucratic. The scheme proposed for football fans would mean people registering every week. That would prove more costly and complicated and even more bureaucratic.
It is also a mistake to think that other options have not been considered. The Dutch and Germans, for example, have a problem of football hooliganism. They have approached it on a more sensible basis, by targeting on clubs where offences are committed--six out of 34 clubs--and requiring them to implement an away members' scheme. I have in my pocket the card which members are required to carry. At least, I had the card in my pocket and I proposed to display it to the House, but I seem to have mislaid it. That is one of the problems with the football scheme as proposed in the Bill ; if one cannot find the card,
Column 887one cannot get in. I have now found the card in my pocket, and as I hold it up, hon. Members can see what it looks like.
In other words, another country with similar problems is adopting a more selective and sensible approach. It does not require all the 34 clubs--in our case it would be 92 clubs--to go through this enormously complicated and bureaucratic procedure. It targets on those clubs where there is a problem, and we could easily do the same.
Mr. Wilson : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that even with such a reduced scheme, during a recent Netherlands-West Germany international game, alleged supporters of those clubs, through contempt for a membership scheme of any kind, did not apply for membership cards, were therefore unable to get tickets for the international and instead of going near the ground, waged a running battle with police through the streets of the city while the game was being played?
Mr. Lester : I am trying to demonstrate that we could take one of several different approaches, instead of running away with the idea that we must do something in a hurry because we have a problem, saying, "We are doing something. We are taking this action. Therefore you should vote for it." In my view, it is not the only answer. There are other constructive ways to approach the problem and I am putting some of them forward as best I can.
There is a great deal of research going on in this country which I believe shows, for example, that 52 per cent. of arrests--bearing in mind that we are talking about arrests and not charges--occur at 21 per cent. of grounds. The idea that we must lump all 92 clubs together in one scheme, when the problems affect a much smaller number of clubs, offends my principles, and I should have thought that that offended the principles of many of my hon. Friends. We must also consider the political consequences, an issue that people might like to wish away. I judge from the community where I live and where I have lived all my life, that the party that I support and represent is not entirely popular. It has been said that the message we are trying to put over is not being presented properly. I get the feeling that the problem is not the way in which the message is being put across but the fact that the message is being well understood, and the Bill epitomises much of what people are beginning to dislike about my party.
It has been pointed out that football supporters have not been involved in the discussion of the scheme. Indeed, Conservative Members have not been involved in the scheme's evolution. There have been no policy discussions other than a rather scrappy working party report.
Despite that, we seem to be certain that we have the answer, and that is why, the Government say, they are going ahead with the scheme. They are going ahead whoever objects, be they football supporters, the industry or the police. "We shall impose it," they say. That arrogance--of saying "We know best," whatever the subject--is starting to get reaction from our traditional supporters. I warn my hon. Friends, especially those who represent marginal seats--I have two good hon. Friends in Nottingham in marginal seats ; we also have two good football clubs there--that we must think carefully about what is proposed and the effect that it will have on marginals. People do not like their liberties being
Column 888challenged. They do not like schemes being imposed on them against their better judgment. In other words, we should think carefully about what we are doing before we proceed further.
I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House believe in the rule of law. If we impose a law on people who do not understand it and who resent it, we challenge the rule of law. Remember, there appear to be constructive alternatives to what is being proposed. To impose fines and create criminal offences in the way proposed in the Bill will, I fear, defeat, or at least challenge, the rule of law. Bearing that in mind, I have a last plea to make to the Government. I have been involved with several measures by way of the special Standing Committee procedure. For hon. Members who are not aware of that procedure, it means that the Standing Committee for the first three sessions--I would be happy if, in this case, it could be done in a week--turns itself into a special Standing Committee. On the basis of the legislation, the members of that Committeee, chaired by the Chairman of the relevant Committee, hear evidence from all sources on the impact of the legislation in question. That has a salutary effect on legislators, for they are in a position to hear and challenge the view of those most affected and who wish to give evidence. To cool the temperature and make better legislation than we have before us, but in particular to show that we are interested in the views of those concerned and are not trying to impose a measure on them against their will, we should support the principle of adopting the special Standing Committee procedure in this case.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : With the exception of the contribution of the Secretary of State, we have heard some excellent speeches this afternoon. But none was better than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey), who I am glad to welcome to our deliberations. I lived for 16 years in the constituency that she represents and I am aware of some of the problems with which she must contend. She made an admirable speech, a pearl among maiden speeches, and it is refreshing to have a woman colleague taking part in a debate on a subject such as football and contributing with such expertise and knowledge of the subject. If she is selected to be a member of the Standing Committee, she will be a great asset to the deliberations.
We are witnessing the Government attempting to use the King Herod principle. Throughout 2,000 years of history it has been proved that King Herod-type legislation does not work. Under such legislation, the whole community is punished to catch the 1 per cent. of people who are causing the problem. Invariably, such legislation fails. It failed to impose prohibition in America in the 1920s and 1930s and it failed when the Labour party tried to introduce a prices and incomes policy to govern everybody's pay rises. Such legislations usually ends in tears, and that will be the fate of this Bill, under which 99
Column 889per cent. of innocent spectators will be punished in an effort to catch the fewer than 1 per cent. of the guilty who will indulge in crime and vandalism wherever they go.
I was at Hillsborough two months ago and witnessed the disaster. Although booze was a factor, the membership card system would only have made the problems worse. It would have meant people queueing for longer to get into the ground, it would have been more difficult to gain admission and the riots would have occurred earlier. Many hon. Members have received an excellent brief from the Football League committee pointing out that, at the Arsenal-Liverpool match a few months ago, when 51,000 people were trying to get into the ground, the membership card system would have meant an additional 37 minutes queueing, on the assumption that it takes four seconds to produce a card to get through the turnstile. That would have caused more panic, more annoyance, more problems and more riots. Hillsborough proved how easy it was to bribe the man at the turnstile. In many instances, he takes £10 to allow people to climb over the turnstile and not go through the existing apparatus. As I understand it--at least, it is what the Minister said on television--the Minister is proposing a simple card that will be pressed flat against a disc, which will light up if the card is genuine. If the light does not appear, a steward and a policeman will have to apprehend that person and throw him out. Grounds such as Manchester United and Hillsborough have about 80 turnstiles, so that will mean 80 stewards and 80 policemen.
I assure the House that the fans will just do what we did when I was in the Royal Air Force. If we did not have train tickets, when we arrived at the station four of us would line up and the first person would give the ticket collector a used ticket and then run. Those behind would say to the ticket collector, "Don't worry mate, we'll catch him," and we went through the barrier as well. It was all timed to coincide with the arrival of the train, and away we all went. The same will happen with membership cards. The guy who does not have one obviously knows that he does not have one and the guys behind him probably do not have one either. They will either pay or not pay according to how they feel at the time. There could be 51,000 people trying to get into the ground at 7 o'clock on a dark, wet, January night for a mid-week cup tie replay, and the computer will probably be frozen because it has been standing unused all week. It will be chaos.
It was wrong of the Secretary of State to suggest that the Opposition were trying to make political capital out of the problems and were supporting hooliganism. He should not have suggested that we would not support sensible measures ; we would. If he agreed to adapt the scheme so that it applied only to away supporters, I would vote for it because it would work. We should seriously consider that possibility when we reach the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman should understand that every team has away supporters, who would not object to carrying identity cards. They are proud to be identified with their clubs. It should be a voluntary membership scheme, and priority should be given to those voluntary members. They could have certain concessions--for example, season ticket holders could have 10 per cent. knocked off the price
Column 890of their tickets. I am sure that in those circumstances many supporters would voluntarily become members of the scheme. Under such a scheme, away supporters could be segregated at the home ground. I am sure that they would accept the need to park in specific areas. They could be given maps showing how to reach the ground. A voluntary scheme would solve 98 per cent. of the problems because every ground would be required to designate an area for scheme members. I am not sugesting anything similar to the Luton scheme where away supporters are banned. That is an infringement of civil liberties and it stops me watching Sheffield Wednesday playing at Luton, as it also stops thousands of people who should never be excluded from matches.
I am certainly not a football hooligan. Why should Luton Town have the right to tell me that I cannot go there to watch my team playing? That is not fair ; there is nothing clever about that. Perhaps the club now has fewer problems, but it is denying football supporters their basic right to watch their team--and I am one of them. That is not right. I do not wish to be personal, but the chairman of Luton Town--the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans)--is sitting on the Conservative Benches. He should not have the right to tell me that I cannot go to the Luton ground to watch Sheffield Wednesday. He is exceeding his powers--
Mr. David Evans rose--
Mr. Ashton : I cannot give way, as I am running out of time. No one has mentioned the cost of the scheme to third and fourth division clubs. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister continually throw out the suggestion that there is plenty of money in football because of the transfer fees. It is not that they do not understand the system, it is that they deliberately refuse to accept that the transfer money goes round in a circle within the game. It is not like money spent on bricks and mortar, on stands or on seating, which is money gone for ever. One club buys a player from another and so the money goes round and perhaps dwindles from Liverpool paying £1 million to Hartlepool, for which £20,000 would be a large sum, as my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) knows because he is a director of Hartlepool. Let the Government tell Hartlepool supporters that their club will be put out of action, and watch their reaction.
One of my local football clubs is being put out of action because the ground is being sold over its head to provide a site for a supermarket. There is a gut feeling among supporters of the small clubs. I am a shareholder in Sheffield Wednesday and we are surrouned by clubs such as Mansfield, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham, Leeds and a host more. Every one of those clubs has the right to exist, but the Bill will knock them sideways because they cannot afford to lose their 20 per cent. casual support.
I did a Central Television interview with the chief culprits of the problems in Germany. They were proud of what they had done. They were not football supporters ; they openly admitted that not one of them had ever been to a match. Indeed, they could not afford to go to the match because they had travelled overnight, boozing all the way on £20 spending money. They were not interested in watching football, just in fighting world war 3. I am as keen as anyone to stop those people causing trouble, but the Bill will not do that.
Column 891Last week I was part of a Select Committee trip to Washington to study the problem of drugs. We saw 12-year-old kids being arrested and put into handcuffs for selling crack. We visited a huge place in Washington which reminded me of "Oliver Twist". Those kids were being organised to sell drugs, whereas Fagin taught his to steal handkerchiefs. It was a step back to 100 years ago. Those kids have no other outlet.
Football is the opium of our people, and we must not kid ourselves about that. It releases an enormous amount of tension, energy and aggression among teenagers, which used to be dissipated by national service, by carrying bricks on a hod up a ladder or by working in a rolling mill or a coal mine. Those means to release tension no longer exist, so football is a wonderful safety valve. Countries such as America, which do not have that safety valve, instead have drug pushers on the corners peddling crack at $5 a time to give some euphoria, some release or some high kick that our teenagers get from going to football matches and cheering their teams when they have the ecstasy of seeing them score goals or win the cup.
If we curtail that activity and deter supporters from attending football matches, we shall simply build up the social problems. It is no coincidence that a great deal of lager lout violence occurs in towns that do not hold football matches, such as Aylesbury, Stroud and Amersham. They have affluent lager louts. They do not have football teams--
Mr. Ashton : I must conclude, as I have been called to order. I hope that some of the points that I have made will hit home. I also hope that I will be chosen to serve on the Committee, because I am sure that this Bill is not the way to solve the problems.
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield) : I shall not take up time answering some of the unfair comments and criticisms that have been made about Luton Town football club, but I will point out that Luton Town is a privately owned club and that we choose whom we like to have in it.
The issue that we are discussing today is not narrow and parochial. It has to be seen in the context of Britain's international standing. The problem addressed by the Bill is crucial. The Bill constitutes a serious attempt to deal with the problem. I contend that the problem is too important to permit delay.
Football is the traditional national game of the country. It used to be a matter of national pride. Each Saturday, thousands of spectators, integrated, would pack the terraces. Fathers were accompanied by their children and there was little trouble. When there was overcrowding or over- enthusiasm, spectators did as directed by police officers. Hon. Members may remember the famous occasion of the single officer on a white horse who served as a potent symbol of the good order and humour that characterised sport at that time. Today, unfortunately, the game is a matter not of national pride but of national shame. Football hooliganism on the terraces and on the streets is seen overseas as part of the English disease. It has led to the fortification of our football stadiums and the banning of English clubs from European competition, and it has contributed to the
Column 892general perception abroad of the British as a nation of thugs, exemplified by the hooligan on the terrace and the lager lout in the bar of the foreign holiday resort.
The disease can no longer be ignored. Much of the problem arises from a lack of discipline. When there is no self-discipline, it has to be imposed, ideally by the family, but ultimately by society itself. Imposing discipline by law is the least preferable method, but when other methods have failed, as they surely have, we must resort to it. Hence the Bill.
The demise of our national game, on and off the field, is not a recent phenomenon. Indeed, the game has been in steady decline for almost the entire post-war period. I suggest, however, that 1966, the year when England last won the World Cup, marked a watershed in the recent history of the game. Since then, attendances have fallen by over one third, from 34.5 million a season to about 20 million. There has also been a sharp decline in the number of professional footballers in the game.
It was about that time that sponsorship became a significant feature of the game. Winning became all-important if clubs were to attract much-coveted sponsors. Freedom of contract brought higher salaries but fewer players. Certain teams began to interpret the rules of the game in a way that had never been envisaged. The professional foul, time wasting, the questioning of decisions and other forms of cheating became the accepted norm. Combined with the use of the offside tactic and the increasing exodus of our best players to foreign clubs, the game became much less interesting to watch.
The lack of sportsmanship and the increased hostility among players on the pitch soon became a feature of behaviour on the terraces. The so-called fans began to chant obscenities and to fight among each other on the terraces, and, whenever possible, on the pitch. Some found themselves segregated and later penned in by fences. The result is that today football matches are played in an almost warlike atmosphere. Fans are herded to grounds with the help of dogs and horses. They are frog-marched. Then they are caged in like animals and watched over by video surveillance. It takes 5,000 police officers, at a cost of about £300,000 per-Saturday, to control their activities.
Not surprisingly, a significant proportion of the decent, law-abiding, football-going public has abandoned the game. The position is not getting any better, as some would have us believe. In the 1987-88 season, there were no fewer than 6,147 arrests at football grounds, an increase of 11 per cent. on the previous season. In April of this year, just a week after the Hillsborough tragedy, 94 were arrested at Chelsea and 24 at West Ham. The last Saturday of the season witnessed trouble up and down the country, including a pitch invasion by Birmingham fans at Crystal Palace that put 16 people in hospital. Not by any means for the first time, the England- Scotland game was marred by the antics of the mindless minority, with 150 of them being arrested.
What then have those responsible for the game, the football administrators, done to try to stem the steady flow of deteriorating standards of the national game? The answer is, not a lot. The game is run by hooligans for hooligans. Not only have the administrators failed to come up with any effective solution, but they have constantly discredited constructive suggestions put forward by the Government.
Just a few years ago, for example, the Government asked football to put its own house in order by introducing
Column 893a 50 per cent. voluntary membership scheme. Only one big club, Manchester United, made a serious attempt to introduce such a scheme ; within weeks it had a voluntary membership of some 40,000. Most clubs chose to ignore the Government. Because of the incompetence of the Football Association and the self-interest of the twits in the management of the Football League--it has had three presidents in the last year, which shows the contribution that it can make--the Government's request went almost completely unheeded. The reaction of the football authorities fulfilled in no way the Government's intentions in respect of the scheme.
It is primarily because of the ineptness and lack of effective leadership by the football authorities that the Government have found it necessary to introduce the Bill. As for the clubs themselves, they have been happy to spend millions on transfer fees and exorbitant fees, but they plead poverty when it comes to spending money on improving safety and facilities at their grounds.
The Bill is essential to the very survival of the game. A comprehensive, computerised national membership scheme, drawn up and implemented by the football membership authority, will discourage the yobbo from attending matches. Those that attend and continue to indulge their anti-social behaviour will find that they wait a very long time--five years--before they can attend another match. The benefits of the scheme may not become apparent overnight, but I believe that in time we will rid ourselves of the scourge of hooliganism and entice back the millions of football-loving families.
The members-only scheme that we introduced at Luton Town football club in 1986 is often used as a yardstick against which to measure the Government's proposals. However, it needs to be remembered that ours is a members-only scheme for Luton supporters ; under the Government's proposals, all fans will belong to a national scheme. That makes strict comparisons difficult. Nevertheless, contrary to some of the wild and inaccurate reporting, the scheme at Luton provides some useful pointers.
In the 1985-86 season, the last season before the scheme was introduced, there were 104 arrests, four of them for stabbing offences. During the subsequent three seasons, the police at Luton have had to make just one arrest. Those encouraging statistics have not been achieved at the expense of the club's finances or support. The scheme was closed last December with 20,000 members. A waiting list now applies. The average attendance last season of just under 10,000 per match represents an increase of 21 per cent., the fourth highest increase in the first division. The club is in a healthy financial state, thanks in part to additional sponsorship and to the fact that 28 companies have prepaid for the construction of executive boxes. Those companies and our sponsors have made it clear that they are happy and indeed keen to be associated with a club free of hooliganism.
Despite the success at Luton and the obvious benefits inherent in the Government's proposals, there are many who oppose the Bill. They claim that it encroaches on our civil liberties, that it will force small clubs out of business, that it is unworkable in practice and that it fails to address the problem of trouble outside the ground.