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Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) : Not only is the Bill unacceptable to the people of this country ; not only is it typical of an attitude which, especially over the past six to nine months, has cost the Government dear in votes--not least in my election to the Vale of Glamorgan seat ; it is typical of legislation that shows the Government to be out of touch with the attitudes and views of the people.
The Bill is particularly insulting to the people of Wales. There is, in fact, no reason for it to apply to them, as Welsh league teams do not suffer from the problems that we have seen in England. As the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) pointed out, this is a particularly English disease.
Column 907clubs in the leagues that they share? He is suggesting that Welsh club supporters should be able to arrive without identity cards to watch league games in England--that there should be differentiation between the two sets of supporters. That is an odd suggestion.
Mr. Smith : It highlights the problems in the Bill. Not only will it not work--not only will it penalise the vast majority of decent football spectators, such as my family--but it will penalise Welsh football clubs, which do not share the problem.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), who drew attention to the sad plight of Cardiff and the problems associated with violence there. The situation in Cardiff has improved dramatically over the past decade. Of more concern to those living in the vicinity of Cardiff City's ground, Ninian park, are the crimes of violence committed on the streets after dark, which have made many women and elderly people afraid to go out at night. That is what frightens people in the area, especially since the present Government came to power--much more than isolated problems of violence at football matches.
I share with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North a love of our country's national sport, rugby, but I also love soccer. I enjoy taking my two boys to matches, accompanying my nine-year-old but allowing my teenage son to go alone, in the knowledge that there will be no trouble and that they will come away from a good day's entertainment with no risk of violence. On the day of a major rugby international in Cardiff, however, the city is almost a war zone. Does the Minister mean to extend the identity card system to include our much-loved national sport? According to Conservative arguments, there is a greater case for applying the system to rugby in Wales than there is for applying it to soccer. We were not banned from Europe after the Heysel stadium disaster.
Mr. Gwilym Jones : The hon. Gentleman has almost invited me to respond. I challenge him to produce any statistics concerning arrests or other information from the police to suggest that international rugby matches in Cardiff have generated the same problem as soccer matches. I think, however, that the hon. Gentleman is agreeing with me that we should warn people in advance that if a problem developed with rugby matches we should need to take appropriate action.
Mr. Smith : Let me draw the attention of the House to the statement made by the director of our local football club, David Sylvester. Although the club is not in the league, he--as a lay person--is committed to the great sport of soccer. He said that there is a problem ; and that the reputation of soccer as a whole has been affected by isolated offences perpetrated by a few people. He also said what every sensible person in the country is saying : that an identity card system would be utter nonsense.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : After the Hillsborough disaster, in which many of the large number of Liverpool supporters whom I represent were injured and two were killed, I thought that there was hope for the game of football : that it would be shaken into reality, that behaviour would improve and that we would see change.
Column 908When the Government decided to suspend consideration of the Bill, I imagined that we would see a new dawn ; but we have seen anything but a new dawn.
Four weeks later, on the day of the game between Crystal Palace and Birmingham City, 300 people were arrested at football matches, 16 of them at that game, where the pitch was invaded and one person was stabbed. The message was clear : nothing had been learnt by football supporters since Hillsborough.
We have a duty to look at the history of football over the past few years, and to establish what has been achieved and what we can do to improve standards of behaviour. I have been a football supporter since the age of about eight, when I started to go regularly with my father to see Manchester United play. I have been to semi-finals, European cup semi- finals and European cup finals at Old Trafford, and since that young age I have seen the standard of football spectators' behaviour deteriorate continuously.
Before I was elected I earned my living in the courts, and defended football supporters day by day. Many came back to my office to be represented time and again. The situation needed to be taken in hand. It got to the stage where I could trace the grounds at which a client's local team played by looking at his record of court appearances. That sort of thing must stop.
By 13 May, four weeks after Hillsborough, the minority of football supporters had learnt nothing. I agree that they are a minority, but we cannot operate the law on the basis that because only a minority cause the trouble, we should do nothing about it. That would result in anarchy. Although these people are in a minority, thousands of them get into trouble at football matches. We must take action that will allow football matches to be enjoyed by the majority so that it becomes a family sport, free from fear and violence. The Bill sets out to achieve that.
The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said that the scheme is without precedent in Europe. It is, but it is without precedent in Europe that one country--England--is banned from competition in Europe because of the behaviour of its supporters. A problem without precedent needs serious and tenacious measures to deal with it, and the Bill does that.
I do not regard a national membership scheme as a breach of civil liberty. Nobody has the right to go everywhere. Nobody can go into private premises, which is what a football ground is, as of right. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who is the chairman of Luton, said that he and his directors reserve the right to deny entry to their grounds. Football authorities generally should do the same but they cannot because, under the powers of the courts and the law as it stands, the mechanism is not there. The Bill will allow them to do that through banning orders.
It has been said that the Bill will not deal with the problem outside the grounds. However, Luton Town does not have trouble outside the grounds. There has been only one arrest there recently. There is no trouble because people know that if they turn up at Luton Town without a ticket, they will not get into the grounds. Therefore, they do not turn up. I accept that the Hillsborough situation was different, and we can deal with that when we have Lord Justice Taylor's report, which will make recommendations about the problem of ticket touts. However, if fans know that they will not get into grounds without tickets, they will not travel long distances to get to such grounds.
Mr. Hind : I would normally, but many hon. Members wish to speak. Football is a business, and the Government have told those who are making money out of it that they should put their house in order. The football authorities achieved a certain amount, but they have not achieved enough. If they had achieved more, the events of 13 May at Crystal Palace would not have occurred. Three hundred fans would not have been arrested around the country on that date. Therefore, the Government must step in to lay the foundations of a scheme to sort out the problem.
I know that there is a lot of strong feeling about it, but this is an enabling Bill, and the public must realise that. This is not the end of the matter. We have two further chances to consider the details. Before we next debate the matter, we shall probably have in our hands a report from Lord Justice Taylor. I know of people who died at Hillsborough and we owe them detailed consideration of that report before we take the next step. However, if we do not take the opportunity to put this enabling Bill on the statute book, it would be two years before we could introduce such a scheme, if we decided in those two further debates that that was the appropriate way to deal with the matter. The football authorities have not put their house in order, so we must do it for them. Therefore, I shall have no hesitation in supporting the Government and voting in favour of the Bill.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : I start by declaring an interest as a Crystal Palace supporter. I had better do that because, under the provisions of the Bill, if I give the wrong allegiance when I apply for an ID card, I shall be committing a criminal offence. That shows the bureaucracy of the scheme. Both Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic play on the same ground, but if people are forced to choose allegiances, those who will be put off are those who support football rather than supporting a particular team. There can be no doubt that most football fans want to see an end to pitch invasions and violence. They want to see a game, to see good football. The chants of "Off, off, off" that come from ordinary supporters when there is bad behaviour at a ground proves that point.
I object to the Bill on principle. Being a football supporter does not make me a member of a feral species. I do not need to be licensed like a wild animal. I do not want my name being put on a computer and I do not want to opt for a team preference. When I go to the north of England on holiday, I want to go to see Manchester United. Because I am a registered Crystal Palace supporter, I do not want to be forced, when I go to Old Trafford, to go to the Millwall end rather than to the Manchester United end.
My main objection to the Bill is on the grounds of practice. The House of Commons has an ID scheme for all staff, including research assistants. The Minister for Sport knows one or two things about this. If our ID scheme cannot keep out undesirable people, how will a scheme that is supposed to operate for 20 million people, rather than a few hundred research assistants, keep the hooligans off the terraces? People will make false applications for membership. There will be a good deal of crime as people
Column 910will be robbed of their membership cards so that others can get into the ground. There will be many other practical difficulties. We shall do terrible damage to the game, and I can illustrate the truth of that statement by applying it to my local team. On 19 November last year, Crystal Palace stood ninth in the league. In the 16th game, it won by four goals to two against Leicester, and the attendance was 8,843. By 3 December, the team had dropped to 13th, when it drew 0 : 0 against Manchester City, although the attendance was rather better at 12,444. By 17 December, when the team drew 0 : 0 against Leeds, it was 14th in the league and there was an attendance of 9,847.
I am reminded of a colleague of mine, a former hon. Member for Vauxhall-- not the present incumbent my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) whose speech I commend, but the former Member, Mr. George Strauss, who saw me going down to the constituency night after night during the municipal elections which I am afraid we lost heavily. He said to me, "You know the mistake you made, John? You peaked too early." Crystal Palace did not peak too early. It was 14th with an attendance of 9,800.
Crystal Palace suddenly had a run of wins. By the time it reached the second leg of the play-off against Swindon Town, which Palace won 2 : 0, the crowd had risen to 23,000. At the final match of the play-offs, when Palace played Blackburn and miraculously won one of the most exciting football matches that I have seen in my life, there was a capacity crowd of 30,000. That is what the scheme will kill. The Bill will kill that great surge of support for football teams which do well in the league or the cup. In some cases attendances swell far in excess of the usual 8,000 or 9,000. That is the problem with Luton Town. Any examination of the attendances at Luton Town will confirm that.
The identity card scheme will act as a massive disincentive to supporters who swell into a ground when a team is doing well. That is part of the magic of football. A team doing badly during the season and then having a good run in the cup will suddenly have a surge in attendance and people who do not support the team all the time will go to watch it play. That is the great thing about football. That is what the Bill will kill. This Bill will not prevent people being killed at football matches : it will kill football.
I want to consider what happened at Selhurst park when Crystal Palace played Birmingham City. None of us wants to tolerate the kind of behaviour shown by Birmingham City fans on that occasion. It arose from frustration because Birmingham City had just been relegated. If Crystal Palace had won that game, it might have been promoted if Manchester City had lost against Bury.
Hundreds of fans invaded the pitch at Selhurst park, but nothing in the proposed scheme could have prevented that. If the proposed scheme is to work, that game would not simply have been delayed for 15 minutes or so ; it would have been delayed for hours or abandoned so that the fans who had invaded the pitch could be arrested to ensure that they lost their membership cards. The cause of that pitch invasion was due to too much alcohol and a certain amount of frustration about the relegation of Birmingham City. However, it also occurred because the barriers had been taken down, quite sensibly and prudently, immediately after the Hillsborough disaster.
Column 911One of the problems in our football grounds is that there are V-shaped, or funnel-shaped, enclosures for away fans. There is the same problem of crush in those enclosures as that which occurs in the bay of Bengal when the wind comes up. Because of the V-shaped nature of the enclosure, a surge can take place, resulting in death and injuries. That is a problem of crowd organisation and it will not be solved by this Bill.
The problem with the Bill is that it is devised in the main by the greatest hooligan and vandal of them all. It has been devised by that woman who incidentally is not having much support in playing in an away match in Madrid. The Prime Minister is the political vandal who is now becoming a football vandal. I hope that the House will express its true view about the Bill. I am sure that there must be massive reservations among Conservative Members and I hope that the Bill can be defeated. We all want to defeat football hooliganism and violence. This Bill is not the way to do that. If there is ever a huge surge in a crowd at a cup final or at a major league match and people cannot get into the game as the computer has broken down because the scheme cannot work physically, those who have introduced this Bill may have many lives and injuries on their hands.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : In his autobiography "Arsenal from the Heart", Bob Wall, the former Arsenal secretary, devoted a whole chapter to the problems of football hooliganism. That book was published more than 20 years ago. The hooligans of the 1960s are now the parents of the hooligans of the 1980s. Problems of hooliganism and yobbish behaviour are endemic in our society. The tragedy about this debate is that we are being asked to vote on a Bill which holds out a utopian solution for the ills of football, but we cannot reflect on Lord Justice Taylor's report into the worst tragedy in the history of football.
I must declare an interest. I am a lifelong football enthusiast, having been associated with York City football club of which I am now president, and I am also a very keen follower of Arsenal football club. It would not be inopportune of me now to congratulate Arsenal on winning the first division championship. I mention that because 10 million people watched that final exciting televised match at Anfield which showed the reasons why so many of us are so enthusiastic about our exciting game of football.
Following two football teams can lead to divided loyalties, such as when York City beat Arsenal 1 : 0 in the FA cup four or five years ago. Emotions and loyalties are also strained by the Bill. The Government have come in for a great deal of criticism over this measure, much of it unjustified. The Bill is not born out of malice for football, it is born out of malice for football hooligans and those mindless yobs who besmirch the name of their country, their town, their city or the club that they purport to represent. My argument with the Government is not about whether more action may be needed. It is about whether this is the right measure. I do not believe that it is, and I regret to say that I cannot support it in the Lobby tonight. I am opposed to the principle of what almost everyone associated with football as well as the police have rejected and criticised --the requirement that every fan may enter a
Column 912soccer ground only by means of an identity card which in effect is nothing more than an electronic key. That is not club membership : it is a gross violation of the dignity and freedom of the law-abiding individual which would not be tolerated by the public in any other part of society. That is a recipe for yet more disasters outside football stadiums on match days. The tragic irony is that every fan at Leppings lane, Hillsborough, would have been a member of the proposed membership scheme.
The recent events at Crystal Palace and Bristol on the last day of the soccer season serve as a reminder of the worst features of soccer violence which the Bill is trying to resolve. Those events reinforce the view of the police that away supporters are most often at the centre of violent incidents. Unless the problem caused by away fans can be resolved, football will ultimately face the unenviable choice of an enforced 100 per cent. membership scheme, which the Government have in mind, or a ban on away fans.
I believe that the full membership scheme for away supporters only, which was originally suggested by the House of Commons all-party football committee and which was recently endorsed and embraced by the FA secretary Graham Kelly in his working paper, offers a realistic and practical alternative. There is little difficulty in segregating fans on match days. That is already a regular feature of match policing and it is helped in no small measure by the determination of young travelling fans to join their pals and occupy the terraces allocated to away supporters. Many clubs achieve that through their travel clubs whereby only members of that travel club can gain tickets and therefore access to those terraces.
If those terraces were designated for away clubs only, we could achieve the desired objectives of discouraging misbehaviour and the easy identification of any troublemakers. Most matches in the lower divisions--between third and fouth division clubs which face the prospect of going out of business if the Bill is enacted--attract a relatively small number of away supporters. If by accepting a membership scheme for them we can avoid the more damaging consequences of a 100 per cent. scheme for everyone else, such a proposal would be a worth while addition to the current soccer scene.
For home supporters, clubs should promote meaningful membership of the kind originally envisaged by Lord Justice Popplewell. "Members only" turnstiles could facilitate discounts to home supporters and allow police and stewards, as now, to concentrate supervision on the remaining turnstiles to ensure that young hooligans following the away team or belonging to another club do not infiltrate home supporters to cause trouble. Regular fans could be encouraged to become members by providing benefits, not an electronic key for entry. Casual fans and visitors could still attend matches without difficulty. The Government have already accepted in the other place that arrangements will have to be made for non-members.
When I put those proposals to the 48 chairmen of the third and fourth division clubs at their annual general meeting two weeks ago, they unanimously agreed to support them. That shows that some elements of the football world can speak with one voice and respond favourably to the fact that more needs to be done to deal with the hooligan element associated with football.
Understandably, the first and second division clubs, facing larger crowds, have not yet endorsed them and can
Column 913see some difficulties. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will be able to say that the Government are still willing to consider how the football membership scheme should be drawn up, perhaps to embrace such proposals so that we can avoid the damaging consequences of yet more trouble outside football grounds which seems likely to result from the scheme, and to protect the interests of particularly the smaller clubs.
Let there be no glib solutions to the control of large crowds. The terrors of what can occur provide every justification for the harshest punishment of the minority who cause the trouble, without which neither football nor society will ever be rid of the yob element.
The Bill is a lost opportunity. The public are rightly asking : why stop at football? Violent and drunken behaviour is seen all round us, not only in our cities, but in our towns and, I regret, even in our villages. We need a charter for hooligans wherever and whenever it occurs. The Government have embodied a workable solution in part II by requiring convicted hooligans to report to attendance centres. But why stop at international matches? Why not extend that principle to domestic matches, too?
In his letter to colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment implied that the reason why the right of exclusion orders under the Public Order Act 1986 had not stamped out hooliganism is that, if one club bans hooligans from its ground, they can travel to another club to cause trouble. The Government's solution is to police them out with these electronic keys, but what is to stop hooligans causing trouble outside or somewhere else? What is to prevent the 18-year-old thug who has been banned from football from robbing a younger fan of his card to gain admission to that match? That is what happens now with all-ticket games. What is to stop multiple card applications? There is only one certain way in which to stop the hooligan causing trouble, and that is by policing him out of society and making him go somewhere else. Those are matters we shall no doubt wish to debate further in Committee. The enactment of penal legislation in Parliament can never guarantee universal success in coercing elements of society into behaving in a particular way. If it could, we would not have drunk drivers, drug addicts or a host of others whose personal behaviour the majority find unacceptable. The core proposal in part I will not end all hooligan behaviour inside and outside football grounds. Measures already taken, for which the Government deserve credit, should be built upon, not by restricting the freedom of law-abiding fans, but by imposing proper harsh restrictions and punishments on those who cause the trouble.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) on her fine speech. In a recent newspaper article, she said that she wished to be the first woman Minister for Sport. After the recent European election results, she may get her wish sooner than she thinks. I also pay tribute to the law-abiding football supporters in Britain, and, specifically, in my constituency of Leicester, East.
The Bill represents the most sustained attack on the game of football by any Government in our history. The
Column 914hooligan who is currently playing away in Madrid--to borrow an image from my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser)--has achieved something unique. She has united the football clubs and the national supporters groups as they seek to reclaim the game not from the hooligans but from the Government. I and many other hon. Members have had numerous letters from supporters representing a cross-section of our constituencies opposing the scheme.
I have to declare an interest as the president of two local football clubs- -Hillcroft football club in Netherhall, and Thurnby Lodge football club in the Thurnby Lodge estate. I had the pleasure of meeting both those clubs at the end of last week and they both urged me to voice their opposition here and, on their behalf, the opposition of millions of other football supporters to the Bill. The Bill will do nothing to improve the game's image. It will do nothing to improve the safety of football grounds. It will do nothing to improve the ability of football spectators to enjoy the game. It will do nothing to increase the number of spectators at games. It will do nothing to end the violence that has afflicted society over the past decade.
Last Friday, the Home Secretary came to Leicester and I and others presented him with a petition of some 10,000 signatures from pensioners and others who were desperate as the result of the high level of crime in Leicestershire. It is wrong that the Goverment should be obsessed merely by the small incidence of football hooliganism. Lawlessness has increased enormously over the past decade.
The Bill will increase the risk of violence outside grounds. It will decrease the number of football supporters and it will cause the decline and closure of many clubs. So much could be done by the Government and the Minister for Sport to improve the image of football and to ensure that football becomes a truly recreational facility. They could remove the current restrictions on local authorities, such as my own in Leicester, enabling them to enhance a partnership with private football clubs. The hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Carlisle) said that his was a private club and that he could decide who entered it.
My local authority would be keen to assist local football clubs to develop recreational facilities, but they need the spending power that the Government do not allow them. I recently visited my local football club, Leicester City, and I commend its scheme to the House. That is a voluntary, not a compulsory scheme, with a current membership of 61 per cent. That club has a good relationship with its supporters and with supporters of visiting teams. It also has a good relationship with the police. When I visited, I went into the police control box and I know, in contrast to what the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), the paid consultant for the Police Federation, said, that the police in Leicester would be opposed to a compulsory scheme.
Recently, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) visited Leicester City football club and was given a tremendous reception by the supporters. We went on to the pitch and presented him with a certificate for his many years of service to sport, along with a compulsory identity card. The reaction of the football supporters showed that they were completely against the scheme. Recently, in a football magazine, the secretary of Leicester City football club, Alan Bennett, said :
Column 915"we do not believe such a scheme will help the problem that we all face of bad behaviour, and it would be suicidal for soccer to voluntarily introduce a scheme which we believe is unlikely to work and certainly is likely to reduce our attendances drastically." Alan Bennett, a man of considerable experience, described it as suicidal.
I now refer to the civil liberties implication of the scheme. It is a back- door attempt by the Government to impose a compulsory identity scheme on every citizen of the country. Those who disagree must look at the Government's record and the restrictive legislation on civil liberties that has poured out of the Home Office. I refer to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986 and other such pieces of legislation. If the Government impose a compulsory membership scheme on football supporters, it will be imposed on other sports and on all citizens. We will have the absurd scenario of citizens' cards being removed because those citizens have behaved in a particular way. We will all bitterly oppose that. I echo the sentiments that have been expressed by many hon. and right hon. Members who urge the Government to wait for the outcome of the Taylor inquiry. Ministers should wait, because that inquiry will contain a great deal of information that will be of direct benefit to the House when considering what needs to be done. The Government are hell- bent on a strategy that will increase disorder, not decrease it. They want to destroy the game of football, and this horrible measure is their means of doing it. The verdict of sporting history will be harsh.
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham) : The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) wishes to start his speech fairly soon, so I shall be brief. He and I have one thing in common in this debate : we are the two hon. Members who have two league football grounds in our constituencies. [Interruption.] I apologise to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). There are three hon. Members with that considerable honour. However, the two football grounds that I have the great honour to have in my constituency--Fulham and Chelsea--exemplify some of the problems from which football has suffered in recent years. As has been said, over the past 20 years, attendance at football games has dropped from about 34 million to about 21 million. That is a drop of about 40 per cent., which is a problem from which football suffers in a way that is hard to explain. Undoubtedly the problem does not arise from a single source.
Without question, violence plays a serious role in the problems in which football clubs find themselves. Clubs have done a great deal to tackle the problems. They have taken considerable measures inside their grounds, and some clubs--Fulham is one--now claim not to have any problems with their own fans. However, Fulham and Chelsea in particular have problems with away fans who travel to watch grames and are outside their control. They cause problems inside the grounds and even more difficult problems outside the grounds. Problems outside the grounds have not been successfully tackled, even though there has been massive policing at many football matches. Local residents have suffered considerably, particularly near urban football grounds where there is little parking and where it has proved extremely difficult to get fans into the grounds. Local residents have suffered violence, vandalism, racial abuse and sexual harassment. All the
Column 916problems are associated with crowds getting out of control, and they have led to the difficulties in which football now finds itself. The Bill addresses those problems.
The Bill is far from anti-football. In many ways, it will be the saviour of football. It will enable football to return to the family sport and the violence-free experience that families can enjoy. It will allow football to be as popular as it was immediately after the war. The police have been tackling problems associated with violence. That in itself has caused considerable problems. The cost of policing football matches is astronomical and only partly offset by the clubs. The three clubs within the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham pay less than 20 per cent. of the costs incurred by the police in providing residents with the type of protection from fans that they need. That hides most of the problems.
It has been rightly said that, if one wishes to commit a crime, one picks an area in which a home football match is going on. One is able to get away, as there are no police on the streets. One knows full well where they are likely to be. Residents have suffered badly. I believe that the scheme will iron out many of the problems by ensuring that those who attend football matches are identified as committed football supporters. It will keep out those people who are known troublemakers--those who are known to the courts and also those who are known to the clubs. They will be identified as they try to go through the gates and they will be kept out, whether or not there is a court order against them.
One of the most important aspects of the Bill that has not figured largely in the debate is the licensing of grounds. The Secretary of State will be able to impose conditions that will enable football clubs to treat their fans like human beings. Fans are treated like animals far too often. If people are treated like animals, either they stay away or a small minority start to behave like animals. It is unreasonable of any club nowadays to expect fans to stand. Even if some fans claim that they derive a kind of macho enjoyment from standing to watch a match, stadiums ought to provide seating throughout the ground. Fans should not be forced to suffer for their football.
There are positive aspects to the membership scheme for clubs. The problem that faces Fulham football club best exemplifies them. Its average gate for each home match is about 4,000. The club admits that it is losing about £500,000 a year. The losses are made up by rich benefactors. However, it is unreasonable to expect a league club to survive indefinitely if it makes losses of that size. The club also faces enormous problems over its ground, which, for a variety of historical reasons, was sold.
If one assumes that the 4,000 gate does not consist only of regular supporters, those who actually support Fulham on a half-regular basis will number between 12,000 and 15,000. If most of those people joined the membership scheme, Fulham football club would be able to identify 12,000 or even 15,000 people who claim to be Fulham football club supporters. The scheme would enable them to appeal for money to their real supporters, whom at the moment they do not know. It would also enable the club to market many of the things that a modern football fan might wish to have. For example, if only 4,000 out of 12,000 to 15,000 supporters have seen a match, the other 8,000 or 11,000 might like to buy a video recording of the
Column 917match. That could be done quite cheaply. Fans would be able to see a match that otherwise they would not have seen because it was not shown on television.
The scheme will provide small clubs with the opportunity to get themselves out of their financial plight. It would identify their supporters and rally their support. It would enable clubs to become part of the entertainment industry, which is what football really is. The details of the scheme need to be worked out. Success or failure will depend on whether the scheme is able to tackle violence outside the ground. Many of my constituents say that they do not care if the fans kill themselves inside the ground, as long as they behave themselves outside the ground. If the scheme manages to sort out the problem of violence outside the ground, it will be widely supported and will lead to the regeneration of league football.
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : We have had a fascinating debate. Not the least of our delights has been the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey). She is an international sportswoman in her own right and gave an international performance for us all today. She spoke with feeling, particularly about supporters' rights, and asked why they have not been consulted by the Minister for Sport and why he continues to insult them, with all their collective wisdom, by not having them on his working party.
The Minister will not have them on his working party. They will not be allowed to serve on the Football Membership Authority. The Minister is not prepared to listen to their collective wisdom. That is one of the reasons why the Government are getting into such difficulties over the scheme.
Mr. Moynihan : So far, so bad. Will the right hon. Gentleman now inform the House correctly, first that I consulted the football supporters on two occasions, and secondly that there is no decision about who should constitute the FMA? I think it eminently sensible to consider whether supporters' representatives should be considered in due course as possible members of the Football Membership Authority.
Mr. Howell : The Minister wants 20 minutes in which to reply to the debate. Perhaps I may take some injury time to deal with his intervention. I am patron of the National Association of Football Supporters Clubs and I have been in close touch with the Football Supporters Association. They both tell me--
Column 918event, you would never be the sort of Minister who would sit on the Front Bench interrupting almost before the Opposition spokesman has begun his comments.
The supporters' association tell me that they went to see the Minister, that he did not stop talking from the moment they got into his office and that he did not listen to anything they had to say. That is the trouble with the hon. Gentleman. He does not listen. He just talks, and that is one of the troubles to which the football people draw our attention. They say that the Government will not listen. "They talk at us all the time," they say. Nobody would object if they talked sense, but they keep talking nonsense. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, who precipitated this crisis in my speech, put her finger exactly on the point when she said that the football supporters' association have a good deal to say.
The only justification for the measure I could find in the remarks of the Secretary of State was that we must deal with football because of violence in society. The Government describe it as football hooliganism. I confess that I do not believe there is any such thing as football hooliganism. There is criminality in society and there is violence--
Mr. Howell : I will come to the question of whitewash, the word that the Secretary of State shouts at me from a sedentary position. This is the promise that the Conservatives made in 1979, the rule of law with which they said they would deal :
"The most disturbing threat to our freedom and security is the growing disrespect for the rule of law. In government as in opposition, Labour have undermined it. Yet respect for the rule of law if the basis of a free and civilised society. We will restore it".
That having been the promise, let us look at the facts so that we can put the matter in perspective.
The number of crimes of violence against the person in 1979, when that promise was made, was 94,960. In 1988, the last recorded figures available, the number was 158,248. There has been an increase in violence under the Conservatives of 67 per cent. The Government should be dealing with that today. That is where their priorities should lie. They issued figures last week showing that the number of crimes of violence in the first quarter of this year went up by a further 11 per cent.
There has been nothing like an increase of that magnitude in violence on football grounds or in football, as despicable as any violence is on football grounds. That is why the Government have chosen football violence, so-called, for this measure. They have totally failed to deal with violence in society and they want a scapegoat. The scapegoat is football, and that is why we have the Bill today.
The Secretary of State asked for examples of what we should be doing. We should be having a more intelligent policy to deal with violence as it exists in football. That should be done by targeting the place where the violence is likely to occur, not by having a blanket restriction on civil liberties applying to everybody who is likely to go to a football match.
The Minister might like to comment on some figures that I obtained from the Sir Norman Chester centre for football research at the university of Leicester. They are as available to the Government as they are to me. About 52 per cent. of arrests occur at 21 per cent. of the grounds ; 35
Column 919per cent. of the grounds are responsible for 8 per cent. of arrests ; 26 clubs have less than one arrest per match. yet all the fans, all the civilised supporters going to the grounds, will be subject to a massive restriction on their civil liberties even though the problems can be targeted and should be dealt with by the Government. Last year, seven clubs had fewer than 10 arrests during the whole season. We need an intelligent approach to the problem. Although 10 grounds had more than 2,000 arrests, 82 clubs had only two arrests. To produce a blanket solution to such a disparate problem is a monumental abuse of government and of civil liberty.
We all know that the problems stem from a small number of fixtures that produce a large proportion of arrests. If the Government concentrated on them we would support that sort of policing. It would be sensible to deal with the criminals where they are active--and as I said, it is criminality rather than hooliganism. As the hon. Member for York--[ Hon. Members :-- "Ryedale."] Of course, I meant the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who represents York City. He said that it would make more sense to apply the principle of part II of the Bill--which has a little merit--to part I by identifying people and making them appear at attendance centres. However, that solution does not find favour with the Government.
Mr. John Carlisle rose --
Mr. Carlisle rose --