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Column 109power for the Secretary of State to require an increase in the proportion of seating as against standing accommodation at specified grounds. As the House knows, exercise of that power will be subject to detailed parliamentary approval. It is also a subject on which we look forward to Lord Justice Taylor's comments. Thirdly, there is power for the Football Licensing Authority to review local authorities' performance in relation to football grounds under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975. Finally, there is power for the courts to impose restriction orders on convicted hooligans to prevent them from travelling to designated matches abroad. I repeat that I take on board the point made by the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme).
These measures can have a major impact for good on the future of football in this country. I recognise that the membership scheme has aroused a great deal of controversy in football and elsewhere. It is, of course, the right of those who oppose the scheme to advance their arguments, although I deplore some of the disinformation that has been promoted. Nevertheless, the Bill will shortly be law and it is time for football to start to adopt a positive approach to the scheme.
I commend the way in which my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has taken the Bill through the House. I commend also the helpful support of my hon. Friend the new Minister for Industry, the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd). My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has repeatedly stressed the positive benefits that the scheme can bring to clubs and to their supporters if they approach it in a positive light. Not only does it offer the prospect of an end to the ever-present threat of hooliganism but, as those clubs which have recently begun to develop their own membership schemes have seen, it can bring a club and its supporters very much closer together. It is, above all, in the interests of football that those concerned should begin to take a positive rather than a negative approach to the scheme. That is the message that I shall give to the president of the Football League and the chairman of the Football Association when I see them shortly, and it is the message that I give to the House now. I am pleased to be able to commend the Bill to the House. 9.29 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : I welcome the Secretary of State to the deliberations on the Bill. He has been brought off the substitutes' bench to strengthen the team. In football, they would refer to a fresh pair of legs, but what the legislation really needs is a fresh brain. My impression was that his obligatory speech on Third Reading was part of the price that he paid for getting the job in the first place. He would have been better advised to give this one a miss. I do not know whether he can confirm the story in the Lobby that there have been so many recent Cabinet changes that Cabinet Ministers, too, will be required to carry identity cards so that the security men in Whitehall can recognise them when they go to No. 10.
For all the Secretary of State's presentational skills, which he has again deployed at the Dispatch Box this evening, he is not going to convince the overwhelming majority of people that the legislation is right or likely to be effective. We said at the outset that this was the wrong
Column 110Bill at the wrong time and that it was also the wrong Bill at any time. That remains our view. It remains the view of people involved in our national game--spectators and players alike, management, administrators, some important sections of the police and certainly the overwhelming majority of the British public, who remain unconvinced of the merits of compulsory identity cards for football spectators.
Petitions including the signatures of 2,000 professional footballers and over 430,000 football supporters have urged the Government to think again. We share those views. The long weeks of debate and discussion of the proposals in Committee have increased opposition, not just on this side of the House but in the country at large. We have opposed the proposals for compulsory identity cards for football spectators in part I of the Bill because they are irrelevant and will have serious implications in some circumstances for crowd safety.
The Under-Secretary of State has said several times that there may be a test of the technology involved in setting up the system. We would welcome such an experiment, provided that it was a proper test that was undertaken, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) has said, over a sufficient length of time--a season--and provided also that it covered all the various circumstances that arise throughout a season's fixtures. That would be a realistic and a reasonable test, but we remain deeply sceptical about the technical capability and efficiency of the proposed system.
With the growing number of Cabinet reshuffles, perhaps the best experiment for these ideas would be to test the technology at Cabinet meetings, to see how long it takes the ever-changing round of Ministers to get in and out of No. 10 Downing street. We read that the Prime Minister is erecting palace gates at the end of Downing street. Perhaps she should include a turnstile in them while she is at it and let Ministers experience what they are going to impose on thousands of law-abiding citizens every weekend as they go about their business of enjoying, or trying to enjoy, a lawful sport. We know, however, that an experimental period would not be acceptable to the Prime Minister, who is the real force behind the legislation.
When I listened to the Under-Secretary of State talking about pensioners and violence, I came to the conclusion that he had probably been the victim of too many handbaggings by a woman pensioner with whom he spends a bit of time. Certainly there is no other evidence to support the Government's contention that women and pensioners should be subject to the provisions of the Bill. It beggars belief to hear the Minister for Sport say that Chelsea Pensioners decked out in brightest scarlet and visible like beacons for miles around could somehow commit some misdemeanour at a football match and slink away quietly into the crowd without being recognised--it does not bear examination.
It is not only nonsense to include women, pensioners and unaccompanied children over the age of 10 : it is insulting to them. It is grotesquely insulting to say that somehow these people represent a threat to public order and good behaviour. The Secretary of State and Conservative Members are apparently cowed by the manic obsession of the Prime Minister, but whatever else the legislation will achieve it will not increase the gate for the Conservative party at the next general election : quite the contrary.
Column 111Football identity cards appear to be one of the Prime Minister's pet projects ; that is why the idea is being forced through the House and why all the evidence, all rational argument and sensible debate--I accept, like the Secretary of State, that it has been passionate at times, but always good-humoured and courteous--have been largely ignored by the Minister. He has not been allowed the latitude to accept even one reasonable amendment since the legislation first came before the House.
The signs are that, this season, league attendances are up by about 11 per cent. on the same period last year. If that continues, they could return to about 20 million for the first time since the early years of this decade-- all without the imposition of the compulsory identity card scheme and the extra financial burdens that it will entail, particularly for small clubs, which are often hopelessly unable to bear such extra burdens.
A card scheme would work the other way, pushing attendances down by deterring many decent cut casual football supporters who attend several matches a season and who are estimated to account for about 20 per cent. of total attendances. We all know from personal experience that that is particularly so at bank holidays, Christmas and local derby games. I shall be at St. James's Park at Newcastle on Saturday when there is a derby game against Middlesbrough. There will be an extra large attendance
Dr. Cunningham : I shall indeed form part of the extra numbers. One of the regrettable aspects of being in Parliament is that I attend fewer football games than I would like to. Attendance will be swollen at that game because it is a popular local derby, and many thousands of casual supporters will come who were not there last Saturday and will not be at the subsequent home game.
I noticed that the Minister and supporters of the legislation shy away from the fact that the problem--and there is one--is no longer inside the grounds. Having an identity card will not stop people causing trouble in town and city centres and on trains and boats. The Secretary of State is aiming at the wrong target ; so much has been apparent from the outset, but we have been unable to get Conservative Members to face up to the facts.
It is also worth reiterating that the 6,147 arrests related to football matches during the 1987-88 season represent a tiny proportion--0.03 per cent.--of the 18 million attendances at games in that season. Many of those offences also occurred away from grounds and were not related to violence or serious disorder. In that sense, too, the problem which has attached itself to football and which has been stuck to football by the Government's attitude has been exaggerated.
There is simply no guarantee that an ID card scheme will reduce the numbers of police required inside and around football grounds. In order to prevent potentially dangerous problems of fans arriving at computerised turnstiles just before kick-off, it is quite conceivable that in some cases we shall have to maintain, if not increase, existing levels of police at important games. We reject the underlying reason for these measures.
Mr. Burt : In relation to evidence about decreasing police charges, the hon. Gentleman could look at Luton Town and the way that it has managed. In the year prior to its scheme being introduced, there was a charge of £66,200 for the police. After three years of the scheme, the charge for the police had come down to £25,000. Does that not show the savings that can be made through the scheme?
Dr. Cunningham : Thanks to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), I have looked at Luton Town a great deal. The hon. Gentleman is talking about a scheme which does not allow, at least in theory, away supporters. Are we suggesting that the future of the game will depend on a legal ban on away supporters and people travelling to the games? Are we to say that, on Saturday, people will not be allowed to travel from Tyneside to Teesside to watch a football match at St. James's park ? That is the sort of scheme that operates at Luton Town.
Dr. Cunningham : I did let the hon. Gentleman finish, but he is not letting me finish. It is like asking me to answer a question when I am already trying to do so. The hon. Gentleman should contain himself.
I do not think that outside Luton there is a scintilla of support in football for the kind of scheme that the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) is proposing. If he can mention any other club that is proposing to emulate that scheme, I should like to know about it.
Mr. John Carlisle : The hon. Gentleman said that in theory Luton Town bans away supporters, and he gave en example of supporters from Tyneside and Teeside. He will understand that, if Sunderland operated that scheme, there would be nothing to stop others joining it. The hon. Gentleman also said that he did not think that any other club supported the Luton Town scheme. If he looks at the records he will see that the Police Federation favours a no-away-supporters scheme such as that put forward by Luton Town.
Dr. Cunningham : Yes, but the Police Federation is not a football club. It may have a team, but the federation is not a club. I live between Tyneside and Wearside, where it is impossible to tell who are the home supporters and who are the away supporters. One week they go to Sunderland and the next week they go to St. James's park in Newcastle. We cannot look to the future of football on the basis of home supporters only. That is preposterous.
We reject the Government's arguments for these measures and their use. They are a smokescreen for the Government's failure properly to address the growing level of violence in all aspects of life in Britain. That is regrettable but true. The overwhelming majority of football fans in England and Wales, decent law-abiding citizens, are having their civil liberties infringed in an attempt to divert the public's attention from the growing levels of disorder under the Government.
We are extremely doubtful whether the last-minute substitution of the new Secretary of State for the Cabinet's own-goal specialist can prevent the Bill from turning into yet another Government own goal. As I have said, I hope that no Conservative Member who votes for this measure
Column 113will think that that will resolve the problem or will increase support for them or their Government when the inevitable test of public opinion comes.
Since we support the principles of part II, as my right hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) have said, I say, more in regret than sorrow, that it will not work. Let us take the case of the match in Sweden, to which the Secretary of State referred. Six people were charged with offences on a cross-Channel ferry. No one was charged with any offence in or at the ground. What is the outcome of that to be? The people who were there--we may agree that they should not have been there--were not charged with an offence and subsequently could not have any action taken against them under this proposal.
In the recent game in Poland, no charges were levelled against British fans, because they did nothing wrong. Unless people can be charged with something in this country, part II simply will not work. I would like to see it work, because I agree with the Secretary of State that we simply cannot tolerate our name and reputation being damaged. My hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)--I have to get his constituency right in view of the shadow Cabinet elections this week-- pointed out that the Bill does not apply to Scottish fans, and quite rightly. We cannot tolerate people from England and Wales besmirching the reputation and name of our country. We want action taken. However, I say with no pleasure that part II will not work, because it does not contain the right provisions.
The Under-Secretary said that safety is at the heart of the Bill. I do not know how he can say that, when the Government have insisted on proceeding with this legislation in advance of the conclusions of the Taylor report. I sincerely hope and believe that the Taylor report will be a watershed in these matters, and it will be disappointing if it is not. To legislate in advance of the report is extraordinary, to say the least. As I understand it, Taylor is due to report towards the end of the year, perhaps in December. We may have the chance to debate the report and its conclusions in the early part of next year, but on that time scale, we shall not be able to do anything about this legislation until the autumn of 1990 at the earliest, and that is ridiculous. It is rather like the Secretary of State responding to our request to produce a White Paper on environmental policies but introducing a Bill first. "Let's have the legislation before we see the evidence" seems to be the name of the game in the Department of the Environment. I thought that we were getting away from that with the arrival of the right hon. Gentleman, but apparently we are not. In view of all the evidence, of all the public opposition, of the gaping holes in the legislation, and of the imminence of the Taylor report, one would have thought that some of these arguments would have got through to Ministers. Not a bit of it. They are driving ahead with manic obsession behind them. The momentum is not theirs but that of the Prime Minister. That is why we have this Bill. That is why the Secretary of State is making a speech in support of legislation that I believe, in his heart of hearts, he would prefer not to touch with a bargepole. We shall implacably oppose this legislation in the Lobby, because it merits our total opposition.
Column 1149.49 pm
Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North) : I spoke against the Bill on Second Reading and I remain unconvinced that I was wrong to do so. I shall speak briefly tonight to support the arguments that I adduced at that stage.
I oppose the Bill as a soccer supporter and as a believer in law and order. We are faced with a national law-and-order issue which is not party political in its nature. There has been a breakdown of law and order among adolescents in our society, and if we keep them out of football grounds they will go somewhere else. They will not go home and read Aristotle, Socrates, Marx or Burke. Nor will they join the Workers Educational Association. They are likely to go steaming on trains, to use a modern term, to engage in muggings or to take part in robbery and the rest. Unless we tackle the problem of adolescents in revolt who are uncontrollable, our society is threatened by breakdown.
In a speech at a Conservative gathering on Saturday, I referred to three comprehensive schools in a reasonably well-run London borough. When attendances at those schools were checked over the spring term in 1987--the check covered 15 and 16-year-old boys--it was found that they were 47 per cent., 48 per cent. and 52 per cent. Half of the boys were not attending throughout the year, or they ran a rota system that determined the days when they did attend. If boys in that age group are not attending schools but are running loose for the last two years of their schooling, they will be uncontrollable for the rest of their lives. At some stage discipline has to be inflicted--I mean inflicted, if necessary--on all people.
In London, in 1977, a check was made when it was not known that there would be a test or examination in every school. The check was made in secondary schools in London and it was found that 28 per cent. of the pupils were missing. The check revealed that some 40 per cent. of 15 and 16-year-olds in London were not in attendance. I do not think that many hon. Members are aware that there is a decline in competitive sport in our schools where there is proper refereeing and generally proper control. Rugby and soccer are collapsing. There are schools in our main cities where those sports are not played. The fighting in our playground spreads to fighting on the terraces and everywhere else. Responsibility lies with the Department of Education and Science. Unless soccer and rugby are played in our schools, with proper referees and the knowledge that the referee's whistle is final, we face a further breakdown in our society. If that takes place, football will become a riotous act, and the future will be even worse.
There will be difficulties for the police in patrolling outside football grounds. Unless there is a massive police presence, cards will be stolen. Photographs of all spectators will have to be checked, and that will lead to more fighting outside the ground. The idea that these people will behave properly to get into the ground is not realistic. They will find a way to get in. Many of them will have spent two years escaping from their schools, so they will seek to escape the law once they leave school. They will have been bred for that for some time.
When there is rioting outside a ground, the gate will be opened and the rioters will gain entry. The Bill will do nothing to improve behaviour outside football grounds.
Mr. Shersby : Does my right hon. Friend understand and accept that the police, in trying to implement the scheme if it comes about as a result of the Bill, will have to exercise the most ruthless scrutiny of supporters? They will have to ensure that if they are carrying membership cards the cards match the identity of the carriers. The police recognise that that will be a difficult task. Does my hon. Friend accept that that could have some benefit in controlling the difficult problems that occur outside grounds?
Sir Rhodes Boyson : My deduction is entirely different from that of my hon. Friend. If everyone is to be checked to that extent, we had better start getting the crowds outside the grounds on Friday night. If not, there will not be a kick-off at 3 pm. If the police have to check everyone before he or she enters the ground, there will be only four matches on a Saturday afternoon. There will not be enough constables to go round. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) intended to present me with the greatest argument against the Bill that I have ever heard. I am grateful to him for advancing it for me on my behalf. He adopted a clever and subtle approach.
I still do not understand why everyone should not have an identity card. One public house near where I live will not admit anyone unless they have a card issued by the licensed victuallers showing that they are over 18 years of age. We all need to carry cards for one purpose or another. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), who is a notable football supporter, shows me his own identity card.
Mr. John Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that his proposal is for a card that proves the identity of the holder, whereas the scheme provides that a piece of plastic will become an electronic key allowing the holder to gain admission to a football ground? I suggest that we are not talking about identity cards or meaningful membership in the terms of Lord Justice Popplewell's report.
Sir Rhodes Boyson : I agree with my hon. Friend. He reminds me that those of us who travel on the Underground will also be interested to see how long it is before the turnstile machinery breaks down. The automatic ticket barriers on the Underground serve to prepare ordinary people for all -in wrestling, or soldiers for assault courses.
It will then take one constable or two constables per man to ensure that everyone behaves, which will make the situation even more like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan than I previously imagined. However, I must not make too many rash statements--[ Hon. Members :-- "More."] I claim your protection, Mr. Speaker, from the pressure being put on me to attack the Bill even more. I want to be as impartial as I can.
What is needed in our society is compulsory school attendance between the ages of 15 and 16 and courses in secondary schools that are meaningful for those who attend them and which offer a job at the end. Young people will then know that it is worth attending school because there will be a job at the end of it. We must also pull together the extended family, which is breaking up in our society, and rebuild local loyalties. Today, loyalties are being built up against us. The little platoons of Edmund Burke are being broken up and in their place are being formed little warrior platoons against society.
Column 116Unless all those things are achieved, there will need to be Bill after Bill in an attempt to control our young people, which should be both unnecessary and unsatisfactory. I shall vote against the Bill, not because I do not want law and order--I do--or soccer to be run properly--I do--but because it deals with symptoms and not causes. 9.57 pm
Mr. Menzies Campbell : There has never been any dispute about the desirability of eliminating football hooliganism in England and Wales. Nor has there been any dispute, since the Bill began its progress in this House, about part II. However, there has been a substantial dispute about the principle which lies behind part I, and in Committee and on Report there was substantial dispute about the practicality of the proposals enshrined in the Bill.
One issue that has to a large extend been brushed aside is civil liberty. The Bill requires that an activity which until now has been entirely lawful will be unlawful unless a person wishing to indulge in it takes the step and overcomes the obstacle of obtaining an identity card. It is that, among many features of the Bill, which makes it so unacceptable to many right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
The principle of universality is more offensive than almost anything else that the Bill requires. The absurdity of including pensioners in the football supporters scheme has already been eloquently demonstrated. Earlier this evening, we witnessed the absurdity of hon. Members arguing that women should be included in the scheme lest supporters anxious to evade their responsibilities visit charity shops and clothe themselves in dresses before returning to present themselves at the turnstiles. When such an example has to be prayed in aid, the absurdity of the principle that the Government are seeking to apply is surely proved beyond question.
For me, and I suspect that I am not alone, this evening marks a sad and sorry end to the progress of an unhappy and ill-conceived piece of legislation. The Bill could have been a memorial to those who died at Hillsborough rather than a monument to Government intransigence and insensitivity.
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Brunei (Appeals) Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Football Spectators Bill [Lords]
Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Mr. Campbell : I well remember the atmosphere in the House the Monday after Hillsborough, and the disbelief felt by many of us when the then Home Secretary came to the Dispatch Box and told us that, after a period of reconsideration, the Bill was to continue its progress through Parliament.
This should not be a partisan measure. The elimination of hooliganism should be a matter of agreement throughout the House. I suspect that few Bills could be shown, on critical examination, to be as devoid of merit as this Bill has been, perhaps by the unforeseen but
Column 117illuminating events that have taken place outside. Hillsborough should have provided an opportunity, but instead it has been used to demonstrate the Government's determination to ignore the obvious. The Government would have commanded great support and respect if they had come to the House after Hillsborough and said that they would wait for Lord Justice Taylor's final report. I suspect--recent events may confirm my judgment--that the doctrine of infallibility pervades all the attitudes of the present Government. No argument in principle, and few arguments in detail, have deflected them from their predetermined course, as was demonstrated by the publication of the Bill in its original form.
Football is the poorer for this measure but, unhappily, football will have to live with it. The Football League and the Football Association will have to make the measure work, but responsibility for it will rest with those who have promoted it so enthusiastically, and I believe that they will come to regret that enthusiasm. 10.2 pm
I agree with everything said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). It was not so much the technical objections to the Bill that we paraded in Committee ; our opposition comes down to a matter of principle. I believe that it is a gross infringement of personal liberty to impose the Bill on so many law-abiding citizens. It challenges the lawless to try to defeat it, and we shall certainly see such action.
I can tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the Bill is causing great distress to those who have supported their teams for many years. Season-ticket holders who are committed to their teams will be required to join the scheme, as will those who are already members of their club schemes, young reds or blues--depending on their team colours--and under-10s accompanied by adults. I cannot imagine even East Germany trying to impose a scheme with such draconian requirements on so many in order to isolate so few.
We have debated the anomalies and the omissions. We have discussed the fact that Scotland, which has a greater record of arrests than many clubs in England, is to be excluded, and that we are including all the member states of the European Community which may wish to cross the Channel to watch a football game. We are not even satisfied with that : the legislation will also apply to American tourists. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) mentioned football in America. I assure him that if he goes around the stores in the United States he will find many tee-shirts inscribed with the names of such famous teams as Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. It is so unreasonable that someone who comes to Britain for a fortnight as a tourist cannot watch a football match unless he joins the scheme. One hopes that there is still time for reason to prevail, and that when the FMA looks at the scheme it will build on everything good that has happened in football in recent years, such as the way Millwall has turned around from a club which was condemned to one which, through universal membership, has dealt with the problems of away supporters by putting
Column 118big screens at the Den so that people who cannot go to away matches can watch the match from their own ground.
The final principle I wish to mention, and the reason why I shall continue to oppose the Bill, is that one cannot impose a law without the consent of the majority of people who will be affected by it. The majority of people who provide the sport--the players--are against it ; as are 91 of the 92 chairmen who run the clubs. About 500,000 regular football supporters have signed a petition which has been presented to the House individually by club and by the total membership of the Football Supporters Association. One cannot impose a law on an industry to that extent and hope to succeed. For those reasons I shall oppose the Third Reading.
As a Welshman approaching soccer, one has to be modest, to say the least. There are now only three Welsh league teams in the third and fourth divisions. Rugby is our national sport, so I approach the Bill from a rather different angle. My worry and concern is that the Bill will not stop where it is planned to stop--within league football. The hon. Member for Broxtowe and others have demonstrated the absurdity of including women and old-age pensioners in the scheme. Another absurdity is the way in which the scheme would treat the Liverpool v. Spurs match that we saw yesterday on television in the same way as the Rochdale v. Scarborough match attended by 1,400 people last Saturday. Rochdale and Scarborough will have to have the same membership scheme with its plastic cards for a match watched by perhaps 1,500 to 2,500 people.
The argument why that is necessary, repeatedly produced by the Minister, is that, if we do not have a comprehensive scheme that includes teams such as Rochdale and Scarborough as well as Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the thugs will go up the road to clubs not covered by the scheme.
In south Wales the growing non-league sides have got into the Vauxhall League, and, by a marvellous rapid promotion through three leagues Merthyr has even played a European Cup tie, beating a first division Italian side. There was an amazing, wonderful sense of community spirit. My worry and concern is that the next league in which the scheme will intrude will be the Vauxhall league. Already many clubs such as Merthyr are drawing crowds bigger than those at third and fourth division matches. The Government plan to draw the line at the fourth division. But the Bill does not draw the line. Another body that has emerged from our discussions is a huge new quango called the Football Licensing Authority. Ministers, the Football Licensing Authority and the Football Membership Authority will not only become involved in league football, but will have to decide when to designate matches involving non-league clubs versus league clubs. I suggest that when the Secretary of State leaves the Chamber he watches the first round draw of the FA Cup today. Twenty of the matches are between non- league and league sides. We discussed that issue
Column 119throughout our discussions in Committee. One of my functions was to identify the interface between non-league and league football. If the Bill were enacted, it would have to be decided which of those 20 matches would be designated matches. What consequences would flow from their becoming designated matches? I think that the Secretary of State may have made a factual error when he said that every designated match will be covered by the comprehensive membership scheme. I hope that that is not true, because I believe that many matches will be designated but will not be subject to the membership scheme. If they are subject to it, half the clubs competing in the first round of the cup will be dragged into the scheme, making it difficult, if not impossible, for many fans of non-league clubs to support their team.
Anyone who has followed the debates on the Bill will be aware of, first, its gross absurdity and, secondly, its creeping bureaucracy. The new and elaborate Football Licensing Authority and the Football Membership Authority--two new quangos--have been established to handle the problem of hooliganism.
Yesterday, we watched magnificent football being played at the Liverpool- Spurs match. People who were unable to attend that match saw it on television yesterday afternoon. As a casual football spectator, one is shaken by the fact that teams such as Liverpool and Spurs cannot play in Europe, and by the fact that Ministers are ensuring that they cannot do so, which is disgraceful. The actions of a mindless group of hooligans mean that great clubs such as Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur cannot play in Europe. The day that this awful Bill becomes an Act, I trust that Ministers will say to the European football authorities, "This is our solution. We support the inclusion of our great clubs in European football." Whether it be Merthyr Tydfil playing Atalanta or Liverpool playing Real Madrid, there is no excuse for the way that Ministers have behaved to football fans over the past 12 months, as represented and signified by the Bill. 10.12 pm
Mr. Burt : Listening to the debates on Second Reading, in Committee and now on Third Reading has been an enormously enjoyable experience. For many hon. Members, it has been one of those rare occasion when something that has been a hobby for many years has been discussed on the Floor of the Chamber. Most hon. Members were football supporters long before we knew anything about politics. An attachment to and love of a football club is deeper than an attachment to or love of a political party or Government.
Mr. Burt : It is no shame at all. It is a subject which goes very deep. That is why the emotions aroused inside and outside the House have been so great. The argument is all about romance and the differing views of the game, both past and future.
Conservative Members and the Bill, but not Labour Members, have seriously addressed the state of football today. We have asked whether it is good enough, and if there are problems what to do about them. Currently, the game is not in a good state, and has suffered decline for
Column 120many years for various reasons. Most football clubs are in debt not because of a football membership scheme or the Prime Minister but because insufficient people watch the game.
A public perception of violence has surrounded the game for the past 20 years, some of that has been based on truth, but much has also been based on media myth. The media have blown up incidents and suggested that they happen all the time. Most hon. Members who attend football regularly know that violence does not occur everywhere. However, if one asks the mums and dads who used to take their children whether they think that it happens, or ask a mother whether she is prepared to let her children go to a game alone, or whether those who grew up standing on the terraces with their dads would let their children go, they say "No, we dare not take the risk." That perception of the game, which has helped its decline, has been tackled by the Bill. It is important to change people's attitudes. The Bill, with other measures, will do that.
The romance that I mentioned is a romantic attachment to the belief that the way in which people carried on in the past should continue, without any need of legislative change. I do not believe that that can happen.
Mr. Lester : Is my hon. Friend aware that on Saturday last at the Nottingham Forest match a great part of the ground was full of children under 10 on their own, called Young Reds? They thoroughly enjoyed the game, to which they had gone because they had been encouraged to join that scheme. Does my hon. Friend realise that his efforts to encourage the attendance of young people who do not go to football matches by imposing this new scheme will mean that the people who already go to football matches will not go? They do not want to be members of this scheme in addition to being Young Reds. My hon. Friend is pitching for people who may or may not understand what is happening in football at the expense of those who do.
Mr. Burt : I understand what my hon. Friend says. It has been a feature of his contributions, like those of many Opposition Members. I do not believe that that is true. The attachment that those young people already show to football and their desire to watch the game will not be affected by their becoming members of another scheme. The fact that they are already loyal to a club and want to take part in its activities suggests that they will happily take part in this scheme, especially if there are associated benefits--for example, if it is fitted into the activities of their junior members' clubs. It will not act as an extra barrier.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the tragic events at Hillsborough. Hon. Members should be reminded that, on page 55, Lord Justice Taylor's report states :
"Regrettably, only a month after Hillsborough, there were incidents that showed that violence and hooliganism are still liable to erupt at football grounds."
Lord Justice Taylor went on to detail the events on 13 May at Selhurst Park and on 20 May at the Cup final. He said that such incidents were still happening.
Hillsborough was not caused by hooliganism. Alas, we cannot say that it was a watershed for football hooliganism. I hope that it was a watershed for public safety, but hooligans are still causing trouble. Although we acknowledge that Hillsborough was not the fault of hooligans, I stress that it is the hooligan shadow of the
Column 1211960s that caused those deaths, in three ways. First, the police fear of fans moving across Sheffield led them to decide to place the fans at the wrong ends of the ground in terms of space. Secondly, the existence of perimeter fencing was a legacy of the fear of pitch invasion, and it contributed to deaths. The third spillover from the past was the police perception at the time the problems arose. They feared an invasion of the pitch more than any great disaster not caused by hooliganism. That is why the shadow of hooliganism of the 1960s caused the deaths at Hillsborough and why we cannot exclude those factors from our thinking.
Mr. Wareing : The hon. Gentleman referred to the FA cup final on 20 May. All the evidence from that cup final shows that the crowd was able to see the match unsegregated--there was no evidence of widespread hooliganism --and that is always a feature of derby matches, wherever they are played, between the Everton and Liverpool clubs. In the season before last, there were only 24 arrests at matches associated with Everton and 33 at Liverpool, but 452 at Glasgow Rangers.
Mr. Burt : I make no comment about supporters of Everton and Liverpool. The hon. Gentleman knows more about that than I do, but he also knows, because he was at the cup final, about the pitch invasions and other incidents that took place. They were not major, but they happened. I am afraid that the atmosphere which may exist between Liverpool and Everton did not exist recently when Manchester City met Manchester United, when there was a problem because opposing supporters were mixed in together.
Mr. David Evans : Is my hon. Friend aware that at this year's FA cup final, for the first time in the history of the competition, the cup could not be taken round the ground and paraded to the fans simply because the players were nervous of what might happen to them?
Mr. Burt : My hon. Friend makes his own point. The point that I seek to make is that all is not well with the state of our game. The Bill has been an attempt to try to do something about that. What have we heard from the Opposition about what they or others would do? I am pleased to answer now the point raised by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). He knows enough about my attitude to the game and the Bill to know that I do not support the Luton scheme strictly. Earlier in the debate, I raised a point about the decrease in policing costs to show that the changing nature of the crowd and the atmosphere at Luton had led to a reduction in policing costs. I genuinely believe that, although away supporters must continue to be part of the football scene, a change in atmosphere produced by the membership scheme can achieve that and can assist in lowering costs.
I hope that the segregated grounds, the closed circuit televisions and the police escorts to and from the station, which are a common feature of first division matches today, will not remain a feature of the game when people realise that they cannot go on like that. We talk about civil liberties here. We should consider the civil liberties of supporters kept penned in after the game against their will to allow the rest of the crowd to disappear, thus enabling them to return to the station safely. That is the status quo in some grounds today. We do not want that to be part of
Column 122football and we must do something else. I do not support the Luton scheme or the Police Federation's view that the only future for football is to abandon away supporters. The Bill is football's last opportunity to ensure that that does not come to pass.
The Opposition have presented a negative approach to the scheme. I understand the reasons for that and why keen football supporters and the Professional Footballers Association have adopted the same approach. However, now comes the point of change. Once the Bill becomes an Act, we shall all have a vested interest in ensuring that as many people as possible join the national membership scheme. If we do not do that, it will not be my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or the Government who suffer. [ Hon. Members :-- "Yes it will."] No, it will not. The first to suffer will be the clubs which we want to protect and support by going to matches.
It will be necessary for people to work and to promote schemes in their areas. I bet that most hon. Members will be among the first queuing at their clubs at the start of the appropriate season to pick up their membership tickets because they want to be associated with their clubs and their local areas, and they want to do something to help. The scheme offers the opportunity to raise money for football and to put it back into the stadium and the fans, as we have been asking all along. This is a positive opportunity for football, which football can grasp.
We can be positive about the Bill. If we speak privately to supporters or to executives of the PFA, we realise that they know that football's future, when the Bill is enacted, will be dependent on the membership scheme becoming a success. I want to quote from an important article by David Miller, the sports writer for The Times, which he wrote in January this year. I quote this article in response to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who raised the question of civil liberties. He should take note of David Miller's words :
"speaking as one who has watched nearly 4,000 matches, I am convinced that a marginal loss in liberty for the general spectator is worth the saving of a beautiful game for future generations and worth the restoration of a decent society. The framework is capable of bringing back to a fine sport some of the dignity and sportsmanship among spectators which has been foully corrupted and of preventing known criminals from attending overseas matches." If membership is made attractive and the Football Membership Authority has the opportunity, the game will be able to rid itself of its present image and will have a great future. Football should not see itself as being picked upon. Football will be seen as the game that began the great community fight-back against hooliganism and violence in which the football supporter finally shed the unfair image which the violent offender had cast round him. At last our great national game will recover its self- respect.