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Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : Can the hon. Gentleman answer the reverse of the question put to my right hon.Friend by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)? If the report from Lord Justice Taylor says that a football membership scheme would help to defeat the hooligan, will the Opposition withdraw their objection to it?
Mr. Dobson : We shall consider it-- [Interruption.] --and so should the Government. We shall consider any proposition from the Taylor inquiry, but as the Government continually say that Mr. Justice Popplewell recommended this scheme, and he did not, we should need to examine closely anything that they claimed emanated from the Taylor report.
After what they considered a decent interval, the Government pushed the original Bill through the Lords. When it arrived before this House, it was still so exclusively concerned with hooligans that amendments designed to deal with other aspects of safety would have been out of order, so the Government had to introduce a special procedural motion to empower the Committee to deal with any aspect of crowd safety. The Committee cannot do that properly, because Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster finished taking evidence only last Friday.
Instead, we are told that the Bill will leave everything on crowd safety to the discretion of the Secretary of State. The Bill will enable him, after Lord Justice Taylor reports, to look at the recommendations of the judicial inquiry, and will give the power to him alone to accept, reject or vary its recommendations in any way he chooses. He will then propose regulations relating to crowd safety. Any regulations that he comes up with will not be capable of amendment by the House. We know his track record on regulations and on safety, because on Wednesday this week--
Mr. Vaz : My hon. Friend mentioned the Secretary of State for the Environment. Has he had a chance to see the reply to my parliamentary question, in which I asked the Secretary of State to list the number of football matches that he had attended and the number of football grounds that he had visited over the past year? Is he aware that the Secretary of State has not visited a single football ground or attended a single match in the past year? Does he agree
Column 44that it would be appropriate not to proceed with the Bill until the right hon. Gentleman has had a chance to attend one?
Mr. Dobson : The right hon. Gentleman is more familiar with the Eton wall game than with Britain's national sport. On Wednesday, he is asking the House to approve no fewer than 15 sets of regulations under the Water Act 1989. That Act is the brainchild of the Secretary of State and he has drawn up the regulations. The House will have just three hours in which to debate 15 sets of regulations. That is less than a quarter of an hour per set. At least the context of those water regulations should have been partly covered in the debates on the Water Bill, but that will not be the case for any regulations made by the Secretary of State based on the recommendations of the Hillsborough inquiry which, if the guillotine motion is passed, will not have been considered in Committee at all. Less than a day will be provided to consider them on Report. They will be the product of those who introduced this barmy Bill in the first place.
If his record is anything to go by, the Secretary of State will be more concerned with the control of ordinary citizens than their safety. He was previously Secretary of State for Transport. London Regional Transport was enjoined by law to secure the efficiency, economy and safety of its operations. The Secretary of State decided to spell out his priorities for LRT in a letter. In his 823-word letter he talked only about efficiency and economy, and about cutting costs and staff. It was not that he did not put safety first ; he did not put it anywhere. The word "safety" was not mentioned once in his letter.
His record shows that when it comes to the safety of ordinary people the Secretary of State literally does not give a damn. That is why any safety measures to be implemented following the Hillsborough inquiry cannot be left to him. Nor can they be left to any other Ministers or to any of his successors because, as we know, they are just as bad. After all, his successors permitted the installation of the death-trap ticket barriers on the tube. The recommendations of the Hillsborough inquiry must be discussed in detail and decided in the House. The guillotine motion will deny us the opportunity to do that.
Mr. Dobson : The right hon. Gentleman says that that is pathetic. It was pathetic of him to pay no attention to the safety of people on London transport, and it is just as pathetic to introduce a Bill that pays no attention to the safety of football spectators.
All those objections to the guillotine relate to what is left out of the Bill. What it includes is just as ludicrous. The greatest victims of hooligans in football grounds have been the rest of the spectators. They have suffered from what the hooligans do. The Government do not propose to deal with the minority of troublemakers. The Bill is not targeted on them. It proposes to inflict a form of collective punishment on the innocent victims, the law-abiding spectators. It will impose extra costs on them and interfere with their right to watch a football match. It will impose on them the inconvenience of having to obtain an identity card. It will erode their civil liberties by requiring compulsory selective identity cards in a country which does not require such cards to be carried by any comparable group.
Column 45Against all those costs to spectators, what would be the benefits? Most people in football, most of those who go to football matches and most of the police believe that the proposals will not improve matters, but make them worse. Set against that wealth of experience, we have a Prime Minister whose direct knowledge of football grounds seems to have commenced at a Wembley cup final which she saw from the royal box, an old Etonian Secretary of State who does not even claim that, and a Minister for Sport who would do anything if he thought that it would help him keep his job, even volunteering to be a target at a clay pigeon shoot.
Those are the people who insist, for example, that women should be included in the scheme. There is no evidence that women have been involved in violence at football matches. What do the Government fear? Apparently, they are frightened that hooligans will dress up as women or girls. If Ministers lived in the real world they would know that the average heavily tattooed skinhead does not look right in a frock. These Ministers do not know that, because they do not live in the real world.
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : Many thousands of football supporters will be upset that the hon. Gentleman thinks that they are all heavily tattooed skinheads. Is he aware that at Newport some 40 men went to the local Oxfam shop, bought clothes and dressed up as women in order to get into the game? As such, many were arrested. That could happen again if women were exempted from the scheme. That is the problem with the hon. Gentleman's proposal.
Mr. Dobson : In response to the hon. Gentleman, who spends as much time representing Johannesburg, South as Luton, North, I would say that not all football supporters are skinheads--and, for that matter, not all skinheads are hooligans. I was talking about hooligans who, in the fantasies of the Government Front Bench and apparently the hon. Gentleman, might dress up as women. We should not pay any attention to what he said.
The Government also insist on pensioners having identity cards. The consequence of that will be rotten. What about the grandad who has not been to many matches in recent years, but who reminisces about Stanley Matthews or Jackie Milburn or, going further back, Dixie Dean? One fine Saturday or perhaps a Boxing day his children or grandchildren may say to him, "Come on then, it's a nice day, we'll take you in the car. We'll be able to get a seat. They're playing Wolves. See how you rate this new lad Steve Bull." The old man will perk up but then they will say, "Oh no, you haven't got a flaming ID card. We won't be able to go." That is what will happen in the real world inhabited by football spectators but not by the Government.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : If we assume that we have a scheme where people have to put a card through a machine, surely the more exemptions there are, the more bunching there will be, so the less safe it will be to arrive at the gates. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that danger is the more likely one?
Mr. Dobson : All sorts of provisions could be made for various types of spectators. There could be separate turnstiles, children's enclosures and family enclosures. All sorts of practical, targeted measures can be taken to reduce
Column 46hooliganism so that non-hooligans who go to football matches feel safe. The whole preposterous scheme will not achieve that. The final reason for the guillotine is the Government's embarrassment about losing all the arguments. They have lost the argument with the public, in the House of Lords and on Second Reading when my right hon. and hon. Friends, and, to be fair, some Conservative Members, ripped the Bill to shreds in a cracking series of speeches. The same has been happening in Committee. The Government have only one answer to the weight of the arguments-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) says, "Oh." On one occasion when I listened to the Committee he was talking about compulsory ID cards for pensioners. He said that pensioners would be encouraged to get involved with Bury football club by being forced to have an ID card. That is a peculiar form of encouragement.
Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : It is to his disadvantage that the hon. Gentleman did not stay longer. My point was that the violence has discouraged several pensioners in Bury and elsewhere from going to the game. My point was that there are already safe enclosures which are advertised as such, and many people take out membership of them. I argued that that concept should be extended to the whole ground. In that way, the whole ground would be safe, and pensioners would benefit.
Mr. Dobson : Why is the answer to make it compulsory for pensioners to have ID cards? If the scheme, in dealing with people below pensionable age, results in the grounds being safe, pensioners will be safe wherever they go in those grounds. The hon. Gentleman's arguments are just preposterous. We have this guillotine because the Government have lost the argument and are using the crude weight of their majority.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : My hon. Friend may not have had time to read the Official Report of last Thursday's sitting, which shows the statistical evidence about people aged over 65 who committed offences in the last season. Only three cases could be found. The first involved a pensioner who was arrested while trying to steal a car outside Chelsea football ground ; the second was an over-65 person found illegally selling hot dogs outside Norwich ; the third was a very elderly gentleman arrested outside Southampton ground late one afternoon in an inebriated condition and pretending to be Father Christmas. Charges have not been brought against that man.
The Bill is like the Government : it ignores the things that it ought to do and fails to do the things that it claims to do. It is out of touch. It owes everything to the Prime Minister and nothing to common sense. Its only role is propaganda and publicity. It flies in the face of practical experience. It will create more problems that it resolves. It is not up to the job--it never has been and it never will be.
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Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield) : The Opposition object to the motion on two grounds--that it has come too early in the Committee proceedings and that we should wait for Lord Justice Taylor to produce his report on the Hillsborough tragedy. I reject both grounds.
On the first ground, my argument is that the motion should have come earlier. In 1985, the Procedure Committee recommended timetabling of Bills. The automatic timetabling of contentious Bills would make good sense. Under present procedures, when a Bill gets bogged down in Committee or looks as though it will, a guillotine motion is introduced. That happens under all Governments. Precious time on the Floor of the House is wasted discussing the motion. The Opposition, of whichever party, criticise the motion and the Government of the day defend it. It is all a load of nonsense. A rational timetable aids sensible debate and ensures that all parts of the Bill receive consideration. It does not rob the Opposition of any of their rights. As the Procedure Committee recognised in 1985, the power of delay is a myth. Attempts at obstruction reduce rather than enhance the likelihood of the Government making concessions. In the interests of more rational debate, I support the motion and I hope that we can look forward to the automatic timetabling of Bills in the future, thus avoiding the need for motions such as this.
As for the Opposition's contention that we should not rush proceedings but wait until Lord Justice Taylor's report is to hand, I take the contrary view. The Bill is an enabling Bill and deals with an issue that is different from that being considered by the Taylor inquiry. To wait for the Taylor report would confuse rather than clarify the issue. The Bill is about separating the true football fans from the cowards, the bullies, the hooligans, the criminals and others of that type. Safety at football grounds, and at all sporting stadiums, is an important issue which needs careful consideration, free from the controversy that surrounds the subject of hooliganism and membership card schemes.
Contrary to what opponents of the Bill may like to think, nothing has changed as a result of the awful tragedy at Hillsborough. Hooliganism was ruining our national game and dragging this country's name through the gutters of Europe before Hillsborough and, unfortunately, it has continued to do so unabated since then. The need for action to tackle the problem of hooliganism is as strong now as it has ever been. The events of the last two months of the season bear this out. In the Littlewoods cup final at Wembley, when Luton played Nottingham Forest, mounted police had to separate rival fans who were fighting outside the ground. There were 66 arrests and 65 were subsequently charged. Not one was a Luton fan. The scheme had worked there.
On 22 April, just one week after the tragedy at Hillsborough, 94 people were arrested and 28 were ejected from the ground during a match between Chelsea and Leeds United. Arrests took place before, during and after the game. Something similar happened at the game between West Ham and Millwall, during which 24 people were arrested and 24 were ejected. On 13 May, the last Saturday of the season, trouble throughout the country culminated in over more than 200 arrests and dozens of injuries. After a pitch invasion by Birmingham fans at Crystal Palace, 16 people ended up in hospital, the game
Column 48was held up for 26 minutes and 24 people were arrested. Some 200 Sheffield United fans went on the rampage in Weston- super-Mare after the team had lost to Bristol City, and 24 were arrested. Some 40 Leeds yobboes were arrested after fighting in a pub on their way back from a match with Shrewsbury. Chelsea fans celebrated promotion by causing thousands of pounds' worth of damage.
Mr. Wareing : Would the hon. Gentleman care to give the House the advantage of his experience and explain how 52 people from Luton in a coach coming back from a game with Ipswich Town managed to damage the coach, and spent some time in a local lock-up? Why did the Luton ID card scheme not prevent that from happening? The incident involved 52 arrests and was not the one mentioned by the Minister in a parliamentary answer.
On 13 May, there was also trouble involving Plymouth, Bournemouth and Bristol Rovers fans--the latter were returning from Gigg lane, Bury--and on 27 May more than 150 were arrested after the England v. Scotland game at Hampden. Offences included a breach of the peace, spitting on shoppers, resisting arrest, fighting and swearing. One fan was charged with being in possession of a CS gas canister and discharging it into the crowd. This was all immediately after the Hillsborough disaster.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Will the hon. Gentleman give a detailed list of the matches at which no people were arrested, or hardly anyone was arrested, or after which few were charged and no convictions followed? We need a full picture of what is happening. We cannot base our response on specific instances, although we want them to be dealt with.
Mr. Evans : I do not intend to go though all the matches at which there were no arrests. I am trying to explain to the House the seriousness of problems affecting the national game, and its possible demise if we are not careful. I am all for identifying the bullies and the hooligans, and stopping them attending football matches for two or three years afterwards, or perhaps for ever.
The Government are right to bring forward this enabling Bill, and it is right to proceed with it now and to try to get it on the statute book during this parliamentary session. Only then can we hope to salvage a dying game. Let us by all means address ourselves seriously to improving crowd safety when the Taylor report is published, but let us not confuse that with the need to do something now about the scourge of hooliganism. Once the Bill is passed and in place, it will be much easier to take action after considering any recommendations from the Taylor report. Let the Football Membership Authority, which will write the scheme, include them if it wishes. The guillotine motion is eminently reasonable, and I support it. 5.10 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : The Leader of the House has said that I am an expert on guillotines. I can tell him that I am a greater expert on watching football. I have probably watched more away games than most hon. Members put together. First, in 1934, I watched my team--Plymouth Argyle--taking two points from Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart lane on Christmas day. I have been
Column 49watching away matches ever since, and I have seen some home games as well. I have had plenty of opportunity to see what really happens at away games.
I am bitterly opposed to the Bill because of the widespread injury that it will inflict on football, especially the small teams. There is not the slightest doubt that, if the proposed scheme is introduced, it will reduce the number of away supporters who attend matches, at least for a number of seasons. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) drew attention in Committee to the consequences. The numbers of casual supporters who decide on the afternoon that they will attend a match, or only a day or two before, will be seriously reduced. In addition, the paraphernalia of an identity card scheme will reduce numbers.
Many of the smaller teams, perhaps in the third and fourth divisions, will be driven out of business, but the Government seem not to give a damn that. What will happen in the towns and other places where young people have been reared to give allegiance to their clubs? It is a proper pursuit that many of us have followed over many years. In the places where clubs are knocked out, the increase in hooliganism will be incalculable. The Government do not understand the cause of the hooliganism that has increased so rapidly during their period of office. If clubs throughout the country are caused to close, the chances of many young people to attach themselves to a club and see it prosper will be swept away by a Government who do not give a damn what happens in football and have never taken the trouble to find out.
Anyone who examined the facts could see what was likely to happen outside football grounds. By pursuing the Bill, the Government will add to all the problems of bitterness, rows and arrests. Many more Hillsboroughs could be provoked by the scheme. That is the view of many police forces, but the Government do take no notice of what the police say on these matters. They are apparently not interested in what the police have to do outside the grounds. The risks and dangers will be enormously increased by the Bill. In effect, the Government are saying, "We are not even going to listen ; notwithstanding what happened outside the ground at Hillsborough, we intend to go ahead with the scheme." There will be a far greater risk of roughhouses outside grounds. It is scandalous for the Government to proceed in such a way.
Mr. John Carlisle : The right hon. Gentleman has said, in effect, that the police have forecast trouble. I trust that he will acknowledge that the police were members of the original working party and that they have had a major input in the discussions on the proposed scheme. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman made some serious remarks about the Hillsborough disaster. I put it to him with all due respect that it is dangerous to allege that Hillsborough could happen again as a result of the introduction of the membership scheme. If a membership scheme had been in existence at Hillsborough, the police might have had a better facility by means of a filtering process to prevent many people from getting to the ground. First, they could have ensured that people had tickets. Secondly, they could have ensured that individuals had membership cards. In those circumstances, the police might have been able to prevent some of the trouble by ensuring that those without tickets did not get to the ground.
Mr. Foot : That was not a proper intervention. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a speech, let him make one. I shall reply, however, to the issues that he has raised. It cannot be denied that the police have been opposed to the scheme from the beginning. The Government have used every method available to them to try to persuade the police to produce different evidence. Anyone who has studied the facts knows that when the Government first came forward with their cock-eyed scheme the football clubs were against it. Only a few supported it. I understand that Luton, for example, has a scheme designed to stop away supporters from attending matches. That is a scandalous interference with the individual's right to watch a football match. If such a scheme were applied throughout the country, football would be wrecked. What is football but a contest between two sides at which supporters can express their support from both sides? The Luton scheme would wreck British football, but the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) apparently supports it.
As I have said, the police were against the proposed membership scheme from the beginning, and I am sure that that is still their position. I am sure that, whatever differences of view emerge as a result of the evidence given about the Hillsborough disaster, the police will still be against the scheme, but the Government are not prepared to take any notice of that. I shall consider it an amazing event if the Taylor report comes out in favour of the scheme. Of course, it would be a great victory for the Government. If the Government do not bring pressure to bear on Lord Justice Taylor--I am sure that he would be able to resist it if they did--there is an overwhelming certainty that the report will only add to the arguments that those who know about football have advanced from the beginning. In other words, the Taylor report will fortify the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath and many others. The Government are wasting a great deal of parliamentary time. There may be a few obscure recommendations in the Taylor report which will be used by the Government to support their argument. I believe that the report will be written clearly and will not support the Government, but if the report blurs the issue, what will happen? It is monstrous for the Government to say that they will wait until the Taylor report is produced, consider what it recommends and then bring forward proposals which cannot be altered by amendment in the House. The Leader of the House should be in his place to respond to this. The Minister for Sport merely takes the orders of the Prime Minister. The Bill is clearly the Prime Minister's responsibility. If the Government had a real leader of the House, a real Minister for Sport and a real Cabinet, the Bill would never have been presented to the House. Unfortunately, Cabinet members are afraid to oppose the Prime Minister and simply agree with virtually everything she says. That attitude should have changed over the past few months. The Prime Minister's authority has been greatly weakened following the elections. The atmosphere in the Cabinet, in Parliament and throughout the country is changing. Secondary Ministers who might have some interest in their future careers should have plucked up the courage to tell the Prime Minister that it is nonsense that a measure such as this Bill should be proceeding through the House. It is shameful that the Minister for Sport supports the Bill, and it is even more shameful that
Column 51members of the Cabinet--many of whom will probably be shunted into other jobs when our discussions on the Bill come to an end in a few weeks' time--have lent their support to it.
The Minister for Sport has never been able to persuade the football authorities, the police or anyone else that the Bill has merit. One of the reasons for that is that, when he meets the clubs and others, he spends far too much time talking and scarcely listens to anything that others have to say. That applies even more to the Prime Minister. It would be best if we could finish off the Bill here and now, but if we cannot, let it be finished off soon. The Minister for Sport will go into obscurity as the Minister who tried to ram through a measure that will do nothing but injury to the greatest of British sports.
Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South) : I follow the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) with some reluctance, not least because his reputation as a parliamentary speaker has no equal, but also because his knowledge of the guillotine probably makes him the world's greatest expert on it.
I support the motion because of the experience of my membership of the Standing Committee. At times I felt isolated and lonely because at every juncture when hon. Members on both sides felt obliged to speak, they prefaced their remarks by expressing their love, devotion, commitment and knowledge of the game of association football. After a time, I began to think that that commitment was a condition of membership of the House. Hon. Members combined that commitment with pointing an accusing finger at the guilty men--those who, especially in the eyes of the Opposition, know nothing about football. I must make it clear that although I have attended the occasional match, I am not the world's greatest expert on football. I make no apology for that, for three main reasons. First, since coming to the House it has been my experience that lack of knowledge has never prevented hon. Members from making speeches either in this Chamber or in Committee. Secondly, in view of the state of association football, the declining gates, the conditions of the grounds and the way in which the game is perceived both here and abroad, I realise that those responsible for all that are people who know about the game. Perhaps it is time for those who do not know very much to have their say--
Mr. Denis Howell : If the football authorities are responsible for the malaise of the game, why are the Government proposing to put them in charge of the Football Membership Authority which will regulate this ludicrous Bill?
Mr. Sumberg : They are being involved simply because of force majeure. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that in Committee my hon. Friend the Minister made it clear that he is prepared to consider the involvement of other people and other bodies in the football membership scheme. I hope that he will do so.
Thirdly, I make no apology for supporting the motion because it gives me an opportunity to speak for the
Column 52forgotten majority--not the majority of decent, honourable, peaceful football supporters, because powerful and influential voices already speak for them, but for the vast majority of the population who never go to a football match, and never want to go to one, but who foot the bill for the behaviour of the mindless few who create all the mayhem at football games. If it can be argued, as I believe it can, that law-abiding football supporters have had a raw deal from football, it can be argued that the millions of people who never go to the game have had an even greater raw deal.
Mr. Meale : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that about 32 million people in Britain support one sport or another? Is he further aware that hooliganism occurs across the whole spectrum of sport, including rowing, rugby union and cricket, to almost the same degree as in football? Why does he not argue that a similar scheme should be introduced for every sport?
Mr. Sumberg : I sometimes wonder what Labour Members do and where they have been. Of course there are outbreaks of violence at most sports, but the predominant problem is with the game of football. If the Opposition do not recognise that, we shall not make much progress. Every Saturday throughout the season, our cities and towns become almost semi-military encampments with masses of police patrolling the streets. The ordinary people have to think about changing their plans as they face the fact that there may be violence against themselves or their property. Above all, the cost of providing protection for them and their property falls on the ratepayers and taxpayers. They are entitled to be heard in this House.
Without the guillotine, the behaviour of some Opposition Members will continue unabated. There will be yet more hypnotic law lectures from the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) ; we will hear yet again the same stories from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) about his wartime RAF experiences and his distinguished service for the Crown on the railway stations of Britain ; we will hear again about the wonderful moment in the career of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) when he discovered, or so he thought, the fatal flaw in the Luton Town membership scheme. We have heard those stories time and again. Indeed, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) retold, even today, the story of three old-age pensioners who apparently were arrested outside a football ground. Having heard those stories many times, I have a great deal of sympathy for Members' wives and husbands who have to listen to the old jokes and stories and smile politely each time we tell them at every meeting that we attend.
Another theme that came out in Committee is worthy of mention--the class war. Conservative Members thought that in the modern, chic, radical, cordless-telephone Labour party, the class war was dead and gone. I have news for the House--it is alive and kicking in Committee. "This is a working-class game," runs the Opposition argument, "and we do not want it interfered with by the public-school twits on the Conservative Benches." If it is a working-class game, the working classes have had a pretty raw deal from it. They stand on awful terraces supporting clubs that will spend £1 million on a player but not a penny on their grounds. They watch their
Column 53favourite clubs being bought and sold in boardroom coups over which they have no control. They suffer violent attacks from the mindless hooligan minority.
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : Although my hon. Friend may be right to suggest that some clubs do not do their best by their supporters, no one is compelled to attend a football match or to endure such conditions if he chooses not to do so. The only element of compulsion entering football is the introduction of the Bill, whereby one is not allowed to watch a football match unless one becomes a member under the Football Membership Authority scheme.
Mr. Sumberg : My hon. Friend's point goes to the fundamental principle of the Bill, but I happen to believe that it is not the greatest infringement of civil liberties to compel a person to hold a membership card to prevent the sort of behaviour to which I referred.
The party of the working class may think that the conditions that I mentioned are good enough for the working class, but we do not. Such conditions are not good enough for the working, middle, upper or any other class. That is why the Government mean to do something about them.
At the start of my remarks, I freely confessed to knowing little about association football--but because many of my constituents are interested in football, I thought that I should know more about it. I accepted an invitation from the chairman of Manchester United, Martin Edwards, whom I know, to visit that club's ground, together with one or two Opposition Members, to watch a match. During the interval, I met another guest, who was Asian. He told me that he was a keen football fan but did not regularly attend matches. I asked him why not. He answered, "Mr. Sumberg, if the colour of your skin was the same as mine, you would not go to football matches either. At best, you would receive taunts and jeers--at worst, a brick or bottle on the back of your head."
Mr. Sumberg : That is an appalling indictment of the game. If the Government fail to do anything, it will be an appalling indictment of them. I do not pretend that the Bill is the whole answer to football violence, but it can play a vital part. It is time that football had a better deal, and time that the Bill became law.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : Such is the nature of the Government's majority in the House that I harbour no doubt that the motion will pass at the due moment. When it does, that will be eloquent testimony to the Government's obduracy and intransigence, because there is no need for the motion. To go beyond that, there are very good reasons why it should not pass.
Those right hon. and hon. Members who have participated in the Committee stage have known since it began that the passage of the legislation is much more important to the Government than its intrinsic merit. That belief is based on an ill-concealed, blind and insensitive determination on the Government's part to drive the legislation through. The less time the Bill spends in Committee, the less time there will be for the scrutiny which is required--and which would make it obvious that
Column 54the Government have created expectations that they are unable to satisfy. The more detailed the examination, the more flawed the Bill has appeared.
The guillotine is not being introduced as an expression of the Government's frustration : it is provoked by their realisation of the extent to which the Bill exposes them to political and intellectual embarrassment. The guillotine is not justified by the nature of the legislation. Such legislation should in any case be non-partisan and ought to command the support of right hon and hon. Members in all parts of the House. Notwithstanding that, however, the Government are determined to press ahead.
The guillotine is also not justified by the views of many right hon. and hon. Members who, while they oppose the legislation, are as determined as any Conservative Member to find a solution to the problem of football hooliganism and to ensure, so far as they can, the speedy return of English clubs to continental competitions. Neither is the guillotine justified by the parallel inquiry of Lord Justice Taylor, whose preliminary report may be available by the end of this month. Instead, the guillotine will prevent the Standing Committee appointed by the House to consider the Bill from examining Lord Justice Taylor's proposals. That is why many right hon. and hon. Members find the introduction of the guillotine at this stage so objectionable.
In Committee, the mask has slipped on occasions--usually in the absence of the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)--and reasonableness has made a brief appearance. From time to time, the Minister for Sport has conveyed a properly constructive attitude to matters brought to his attention in the context of safety. That is hardly surprising, because in the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), the Committee has two Members who were present on the occasion of the Hillsborough disaster, and who bring to the Committee's work not only considerable experience of and a deep love for football but an appreciation of at least some of the conditions which gave rise to that most tragic occurrence. That spirit of constructiveness could have been more effectively utilised if the Government had been willing to exercise greater sensitivity towards Opposition Members who, while opposed to the principle of the Bill, are none the less determined to ensure that the eventual legislation is the best possible.
If we must have a Bill, it should be the best Bill possible. That requires proper scrutiny of the terms of the legislation and adequate time for that scrutiny. If we must have a Bill, it should be based on the best available information--which requires consideration at least of Lord Justice Taylor's interim report. The guillotine will allow neither. For that reason, it ought to be opposed.
Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : I follow the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) in his reminiscences, and I am pleased to be the first Conservative Member to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg). As the House may know, we share the same metropolitan borough and often find that we have both parallel and tandem interests. My hon. Friend confessed that he was speaking for a group of people who are not football supporters and who attend few matches, but who have a legitimate interest in
Column 55the outcome of the Bill. I speak for a different group of people again--for those who were football supporters but who are no longer. My credentials follow more those of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent than those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South. I spent my formative years as a football supporter following a small town club. I refer to my local team, Bury. My father has been a season ticket holder at that club for 40 years, which is a triumph of hope over experience. The club had occasional cup triumphs, with victories over West Bromwich Albion and over Middlesbrough, when they were a force in the first division. They have had good cup runs, poor seasons and good seasons, but Bury has always been a friendly club and I am grateful for the support and friendship that I have enjoyed from its chairman and directors--
Mr. Ashton : On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the debate should concern itself with the question of whether or not there is a need for a guillotine. It is not another Second Reading, or an opportunity to reminisce.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : I have been listening carefully to the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), but he has said nothing out of order. It is in order for a debate on a timetable motion to be fairly wide-ranging.
The kind attention that the local club has paid to my work on the Bill is very welcome and I appreciate the attempts of the current chairman, Terry Robinson, and the other members of the board to develop the club over the past few years. There is no doubt, however, that the game has changed, as has its impact on local society. Years ago it had a positive image in Bury- -people were interested in the club's affairs and results, and wanted to be involved--but that is no longer so. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent properly drew attention to the fears among small clubs about the membership scheme as a result of declining attendances. I wonder where he has been for the past 30 years.
Over the past few years, as a result of the constant decline in attendances, my club and those of hon. Members on both sides of the House have been put into a precarious financial position, and they are now wondering what to do. They are worried less about what will happen in the future than about the damage that has already been done.
Column 56whether the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was in the Chamber at the time, but he certainly arrived relatively recently.
Our reason for wanting a speedy enactment of the Bill is our concern about the decline in attendances, and the part that violence has played in removing spectators from the terraces. I have expressed that concern on behalf of sports clubs.
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde) : The hon. Gentleman asked where my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) had been for the past 30 years. I must ask where the hon. Gentleman has been for the past three. Since closed-circuit television has been placed in every ground and segregation and policing have been better organised, gate takings have increased year by year, up to the past three years. That applies to the hon. Gentleman's own team. He must ensure that his information is up to date before bringing such charges against my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Burt : The past 30 years show a pattern of continuous decline, followed by a rise in the past two or three years. If the hon. Gentleman turns his attention to other spectator sports, he will observe that there has been a return to attendance at them as well. It is a general and common trend. Our argument is that the damage done to football, and to football clubs in particular, is peculiar to violent hooliganism and it is lasting damage which will take more than a small rise in attendance over the past two or three years to correct it.
Conservative Members need no lessons or diktats from the Opposition about the purpose of a guillotine. At the beginning of his speech, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent was kind enough to say that he knew all about them --and so do Conservative Members. Five in a day is quite a record. Timetable motions happen--Governments of all persuasions use them, and ours is no exception. I am quite prepared to give the reasons why we need this Bill.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made two points in particular which require answers. The first referred to the serious issue of safety : was it correct for the Bill to proceed without due reference to the findings of the Taylor report? I feel strongly that, although Hillsborough was a watershed in terms of safety in football grounds, it was not--sadly--a watershed in terms of dealing with violent spectator behaviour. That has been amply chronicled by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) who described what happened immediately post- Hillsborough. I say "immediately post-Hillsborough" because, according to my recollection, within four days Blackpool and Bolton supporters had been reported for fighting. I accept that Hillsborough has made an enormous difference to the way in which we shall look at public safety in football grounds in the future, but it has not had the same impact on the way in which violent hooligan spectators are dealt with, which is the main point of the Bill.
The Government must consider carefully what Taylor has to say about every aspect of the problem. There will be some overlap, which I believe will be covered by the fact that the Bill will have to return to the House in the autumn, and also by the fact that the scheme cannot be put into effect without a further order of the House--long after the Taylor inquiry has reported. If, as is quite likely,
Column 57major safety flaws are revealed, we should produce either separate orders relating to safety in grounds or a separate Bill. I feel that the point about safety made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, although well meant, is wide of the mark.
Mr. Burt : As I said earlier, there will be a degree of overlap between aspects of football hooliganism and violence and what the Taylor inquiry is considering. We know that the causes of the Hillsborough disaster were many and various, and that they do not relate to the substance of the Bill. I feel that it is perfectly sensible to allow a small overlap, but that it is far more important to wait for a Bill which will deal fully with public safety. Secondly, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras questioned the benefits to spectators that would result from the Bill. Earlier I drew a distinction between two points of view. On Second Reading and in Committee, the hon. Gentleman and his friends took the side of committed present-day football supporters, and defended their right to the status quo above all else. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) described clearly what the present status quo in football means to many spectators--standing around in inadequate grounds, standing on the terraces in the open, or being handled with the most utmost rigour and control by security forces.
Let us consider the average Saturday afternoon spent by a group of away spectators visiting a large first-division ground. They may have committed no offence, and may intend to commit none. They arrive by train--free of drink, because they have been deemed not responsible enough to travel on a train providing it. Arriving at the railway station, they are met by policemen, often with dogs and horses if the game and the crowd are big enough. They are then marched to the ground, under guard, enclosed-- imprisoned--in the appropriate section and physically segregated from other supporters, because they cannot be trusted to mix. During the ensuing 90 minutes they are watched constantly by means of closed-circuit television. At the end of the game they are detained, possibly against their will--no one says anything about civil liberties in such cases--until the other spectators have gone ; then they are marched back to the station, under police protection, at great cost to the ratepayer and everyone else.
Mr. Burt : If my hon. Friend will look into the future, he will see that that is possible. [Interruption.] Hon. Members on both sides of the House may scoff, but I am making a serious point. We live in what is all too often a cynical and defeatist world, and one of the problems is that over the past 20 to 30 years no one has successfully tackled the virus afflicting football. We have all believed in some form of gentle containment, but no one has stood out against the problem because we all assumed that it could not be beaten. Opposition Members say that the Bill cannot tackle the problem because, in their heart of hearts, they do not believe that it is possible to change the attitudes on the