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Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : I do not know whether it was the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) who had a public meeting in his constituency--perhaps he will confirm that--where all the football supporters turned up and took a vote and the hon. Member lost by 300 votes to 10.
The Bill has nothing to do with football. It has to do with politics, law and order and votes. After the 1983 and 1987 victories, the Prime Minister decided that there were many working-class votes to be gained by emphasising law and order. She may have had a point in the case of some of the inner cities where crime and unemployment were growing and where people living in tower blocks were scared of being mugged or burgled. The Prime Minister associated football with the crime problem. She looked at the figures and found that 450,000 people went to a football match one week and perhaps a different 450, 000 people the next week--given that clubs only play at home in alternate weeks. She realised that there were 900,000 regular spectators, and the opinion polls showed that about 70 per cent. were in favour of something being done--or something being seen to be done.
I suspect that the Prime Minister sat there one night with Denis over a glass of whisky and asked, "What can we do?" and Denis said, "Why don't you do what our golf club does? Everyone has to be a member and that is how we keep the riff-raff out. That is the only way to run it."
We have seen the Prime Minister's attitude to the Chancellor and to Ministers of Sport, the previous two of whom she sacked, probably because they had the integrity and honesty to tell her that the scheme will not work and is impracticable. It may be a wonderful theory, just as prohibition, prices and incomes policies and other policies over which Governments have made mistakes may be wonderful theories.
The Government think that the scheme can be imposed on a section of the community, but people have to volunteer to accept the law. People may say, "Okay : we don't agree with the breathalyser"--or the highway code or code of conduct--"but we shall go along with it." In this case, however, 98 per cent. of those connected with football--Conservative directors, the fans who stand behind the goal, the players and even the police--say that the scheme will not work. They know that the scheme is impracticable and will cause more trouble than it is worth.
The Prime Minister is a very determined woman and she refuses to accept that fact, just as she refuses to accept arguments at a higher level--about the economy, perhaps--or to take the advice of the Chancellor. When she has rows with the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, exactly the same thing applies. In this case she has plucked an idea out of the sky and seeks to impose it on almost a million people, saying, "This is the way that it will be done." The Prime Minister has not realised that in every society there needs to be some outlet for violence. I did two years of national service. When we had national service, there was a natural outlet for young people's aggression. Wars, too, have provided an
outlet--although not, perhaps, a satisfactory one. There has to be some release of high spirits and tension. We need something to get rid of the natural macho over-enthusiasm of young people, and if football did not exist, something would have to be invented to take its place. If young people can go to football matches and indulge in a spot of harmless tribalism and shout their heads off or wave rattles as they used to in the old days, or chant or sing songs, that prevents crime.
Column 124The reason for the terrible crime problem in America is that there is no collective sports outlet. I was recently in Washington with other members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs and we saw the effect of crack on black teenagers, who have no such outlet. They cannot go along and support a football team, because a ticket for a football match in America costs $40. Baseball is much cheaper, but in America football is a middle-class sport.
Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that football should be a cathartic experience for hooligans and that either working-class kids should be allowed to vent their spleen--if they are in the small category who are yobs--through the sport or we must invent another outlet for their problems?
Mr. Ashton : There must be an opium for the people. In Spain, Italy, Holland or South America or in the inner cities in England, in Liverpool or at Arsenal, there are huge masses of young people who do not have much hope or expectation. They may have miserable jobs and have to stand by conveyor belts all day. They may even be unemployed. They need something to believe in and it is better that they believe in their football team than in the IRA, or in peddling drugs, muggings, stick-ups or heists and everything else that they have in America. I am not defending the hooligans, but there would be much more hooliganism if football did not exist.
There are problems on new year's eve and at the Notting Hill carnival. There are problems in towns like Aylesbury and Stroud which do not have football teams. Those are lager lout areas where there is no football team to provide a safety valve.
Mr. Carrington : I think that I must be misunderstanding the hon. Gentleman. He seems to be implying that not only should violence at football matches be tolerated for the greater good of society, but it should be encouraged for the greater good of society. I hope that I am wrong, because if that is what the hon. Gentleman is saying, that is the greatest justification for the Bill that I have heard.
Mr. Ashton : The hon. Gentleman is deliberately distorting what I have said. There used to be national service for young people aged 18, 19 or 20. I did national service and it tamed us. However, it does not exist any more. There used to be wars, but they do not exist any more either. The public schools produced the Hooray Henrys, for want of a better word. There will always be a surplus of energy among 18, 19 and 20-year-old males. That will always exist. If there is a natural safety valve for that whether it be playing football or standing on the Spion Kop linking arms and singing songs to get rid of that tribalism, that is a very good and necessary safety valve.
Mr. Ashton : No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman will just distort what I have said. he has not been listening carefully. [Interruption.] It is no good the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), interjecting from a sedentary position ; he is far too fat to have played any sport in his life.
Bombs were set off at football matches in Holland. The Dutch introduced a membership card scheme, but only for the five worst clubs. However, they have had to drop that
Column 125scheme because it does not work. The hooligans laughed at it, the police said that they could not impose it and the Dutch Government had to drop it. The Dutch Government are a laughing stock. Never let it be said--but it has been said--that the Opposition support the hooligans. We do not, because we go to the matches. There is no way that I can support the hooligans when I have been involved--innocently- -in punch-ups in the past. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may laugh, but they have never been on the Spion Kop. I doubt whether any Conservative Member has paid to go and stand up at a football match on the Spion Kop over the past five or 10 years.
Mr. Ashton : The Government Whip, the fat guy at the front there, has never paid to stand on the Spion Kop. If he had, he would understand the problems with hooliganism. Anybody who has paid to go and stand on the Spion Kop knows that the hooligans must be eradicated. Several things are being done to eradicate the hooligans.
The Football Trust, which the Opposition have supported, is putting £9 million into football every year. For example, I refer to video cameras. It has been proved possible to arrest a hooligan within 30 seconds. If Conservative Members went to football matches they would see video cameras around the grounds. Hon. Members have seen the video cameras in the Chamber -- [Interruption.] Conservative Members have all had a drink. I am quite prepared to let them have a laugh. It is half-past 10. They have been in the bar, studying the affairs of the world. As in the Chamber, video cameras at football grounds can zoom in and pin-point a hooligan inside 30 seconds. The man in the control box simply phones down to the policeman who is nearest to section C1, C2, AB or AB2 and so on, and the hooligan is immediately arrested. That is done time and again. That proves that policing works to a great extent inside football grounds.
As the Minister said, the system has fallen down at
Column 126Crystal Palace--not at Blackpool, because the trouble was outside the ground. There has been one instance inside a ground, and that was at the Birmingham City v. Crystal Palace match at the end of last season. Information was passed on to the police that the average Birmingham away crowd of 3,000 or 4,000 would be doubled or tripled. Thousands of people travelled to Crystal Palace. They went to the wrong ground--the running track--but the police directed them to the right ground. The police took no notice of the advance information that the fans were travelling overnight, and they were caught unawares. That is why, if the supporters were allowed to sit on the Football Membership Authority and add their intelligence to the authority, such instances could be prevented in future.
The obvious, chronic lack of understanding means that we will get no further. The Conservative scoffers never pay to go to a match, never stand in a queue in the rain, and never see the way in which crowds are ripped off. They never get off a tube at Wembley to be forced into a tunnel in exactly the same way as happened at Hillsborough--the tunnels are still there. The authorities know that the tunnel is a death trap. The authorities at Wembley have said that they will put up £1 million so that fans can go straight to the entrance to Wembley. Brent council and London Transport have offered to put up £1 million each, but the Government will not put up their quota. No doubt, when there is a disaster at Wembley and people are killed, it will be the fault of the fans.
Time after time, when people such as myself who stand behind the goal tell the authorities what is wrong, we are jeered at, laughed at and scoffed at until another 95 people are killed. Suddenly, when another 95 people are killed, the scoffers are all experts. This House has 300 or 400 experts who know exactly what is wrong, but none of them was at the match. None of them will pay for a ticket or travel to support a club. None of them has stood in the rain. None of them has been like the kids who go on the Kop and pay two days' pay to stand and watch their favourite team. We have to listen to the scoffs, the jeers and the experts until the next disaster or punch-up happens. Once again, it will be the fault of the people behind the goal and not the fault of the authorities.
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Mr. John Carlisle : The speech by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) will have been enjoyed by members of the Committee and others in the final say of this great game that we have been playing over the past few months. The hon. Gentleman made some remarkable statements. The romantic side of the story which he normally portrays to the House was overwhelmed by some of his strange theories. None the less, he is not the only one who pays to go to a football match. He is not the only one who stands behind the goal. He is not the greatest living expert on football. Many Conservative Members share his sentiments and experiences as youngsters or even as adults. I remember that, as a small boy, I went to Kenilworth road at a time when small boys could go and watch the great games at Luton. Many of us understand the problems that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw has put before the House. He is right to say that there are several experts-- [Interruption.] There are several who are sitting behind him now who have made a late appearance, perhaps because they have nowhere else to go at this time of night ; they are probably now experts on something that we have been considering in detail over the last few months. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) : it was an extremely good Committee. We discussed the many real problems. Regrettably, as I think the hon. Member for Bassetlaw knows, we shall have to discuss them again, because this scheme is not the ultimate answer.
I do not believe that we shall see the end of football hooliganism as a result of the legislation that we are about to pass. However, we have gone a long way down the road towards arresting a problem that has been the scourge of the game for so long. What amazes Conservative Members, and also many people outside football, is that, when the Government make an attempt- -in the opinion of Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends, a somewhat lame and misguided attempt--to try to remove from football the very problem from which football has suffered, which has had a devastating effect on the game in terms of its public support, by cleaning up the game and pushing hooliganism elsewhere--many of us accept that it will go elsewhere--they are derided and told that they are misguided and that basically all is well. If all were well with football, there would have been no need for the legislation that has taken up a lot of the time of the House.
I regret the need for the Bill. I said that many years ago, and I think that many of my hon. Friends agreed with me. However, something had to be done to save the game as well as to save those who are, regrettably, afflicted by football hooliganism. That is why I was proud to be a member of the Committee. I was also very proud that my right hon. and hon. Friends have brought the legislation before the House, framed, as it has been, by the experience of my own club at Luton.
There was no doubt in the minds of those of my constituents and myself who were at Kenilworth road on that very dark night in March 1985 and who saw the type of havoc that was wrought--some hon. Members on both sides of the House saw it for themselves, either first hand or on television--that something had to be done.
Column 128Fortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) was chairman of the club. He and his fellow directors decided that something had to be done.
We could not sit by and watch our town be desecrated by hooligans. We could not sit by and see the support for our club suffer because of a few mindless yobs who decided that night to break up the turnstiles, the pitch, the seating and the benches and to damage my constituents' homes, their garden walls and their cars. Everyone knows the picture that football hooligans paint as they whip through a town and the damage that they inflict upon its residents. That is why the scheme was introduced in the town. It has brought with it a variety of benefits, which I shall outline to the House.
The scheme has brought peace to the town, something that not many towns and cities can claim on Saturday afternoons. It has also brought peace for the residents who live around the ground, for the members who live in and outside the town and for those who come into the town to shop or to visit relatives. As my hon. Friend for Bury, North rightly pointed out to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), it has meant the deployment of police away from the ground to other areas of the town and county. We in Luton regrettably suffer from a high crime rate, but it has been arrested. At least we can now direct the police to areas where they are needed, instead of having to herd fans to and from the ground.
The scheme has also brought my town a sense of safety. People can travel on public transport--trains, buses and taxis--or in their own cars in and around the town in the sure knowledge that they will reach their journey's end unscathed. That cannot be boasted by many of our towns and cities.
The scheme has brought peace to those who want to shop in and around the ground, where the shops now stay open right up to kick-off time--and are open when the fans come out. It has brought peace to the pubs, which now stay open and whose takings have risen. We do not have to shut our pubs in Luton just because there is a match on a Saturday.
The scheme has brought commercial advantages to the town centre, where people have returned to shop. Shopkeepers in and around the centre of the town will testify that, since the scheme came into force, people have flocked to shop in Luton, because they know that they will not be interrupted in their shopping by gangs of marauding fans getting off trains and buses on the way to the ground. The scheme has attracted business men to the town, in the sure knowledge that they can set up their businesses without the thought that every other Saturday they will have to shut them when the fans come through. More than anything, it has brought a pride to our town that we did not possess before. We have become an example to the nation--our arrests are the fewest in the league. That is remarkable for a first division club. Granted its gate is moderate, but it is considerably more than that of many other clubs in the country.
Column 129arrest, and that, even with the seven, we have fewer arrests than any other club in the League--including the third and fourth division clubs.
Luton supporters have not complained about many of the things that Opposition Members think they should. They have had to go and buy a membership card, at a pound a year, and about 20,000 of them have done so. No one has complained to me, or to my hon. Friends the Members for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) or for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) that his civil liberties have been eroded by this. It is nonsense to say that people will not buy tickets. If they are keen football supporters, it is a small sacrifice to make for the benefits that have been well paraded this evening and in Committee. People have not complained, either, about the fact that they can now watch football in peace. They can go to a game with their children, or their children can go on their own. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) that people will not allow their children to go to matches at many clubs because of the history of hooliganism--or worse, the fear of it. At Luton, they do not complain about that, because they know that they can watch the game in comfort and peace.
People do not complain about the commercial advantage that the scheme has brought their club. The books are now balanced and we are attracting more sponsors than ever before. Luton fans do not complain about that, although the Opposition think they should.
Luton people also do not complain about being shouted at and abused by a load of youths, or about hearing racial chants and obscenities. The Opposition say that that will not be eradicated by the scheme. They do not complain about being able to walk to the ground without having been herded in by police horses or dogs. Residents do complain of having to be escorted to their homes by the police at night, as they are at Highbury on big match days. That does not happen at Luton. Fans can go to the ground in peace and comfort in the full knowledge that they will not be attacked as they approach. No longer do they complain when they return to their cars that they have been scratched and damaged, because they are intact now. When they get home their garden walls are still standing
They do not complain that some yob has pushed down their walls or jumped into their garden.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is a latecomer to these proceedings. Many hon. Members in the Chamber and in Committee have thought long and hard about this subject and have discussed it at great length and with great seriousness. The levity that he tries to bring to the debate is to be regretted. I shall not give way to him because he is a late comer and knows little about our proceedings. Perhaps he had better make a contribution somewhere else.
Mr. Corbyn : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Member, who did not give way to me, was clearly referring to an incident that occurred in my constituency last week. Common courtesy suggests that he should give way to me to allow me to explain.
The Bill and the scheme will mean that everybody will be able to enjoy what we enjoy in Luton. As the Minister has said many times, people travelling abroad will be able to do so with a degree of safety and, hopefully, in the knowledge that when they go to a match abroad they will not find the games interrupted by fans who go to wreck matches and not to watch them.
Mr. Pendry : We have heard a great deal about the virtues of the Luton scheme. The hon. Gentleman says that there have been very few arrests at Luton during the last two seasons. We know that, when the scheme was introduced, the former secretary of Luton Town said that it was to save visiting supporters from the Luton hooligans. May I remind the hon. Gentleman of a reply that I received from a Home Office Minister last year? He said that 52 Luton Town supporters were arrested following a match with Ipswich Town the season before last. The hon. Gentleman should correct the record.
Mr. Carlisle : The hon. Member knows that I always try to be helpful to him, because I know that he has ambitions. With departures impending on the Opposition Front Bench, he will need my help and the help of some of his hon. Friends to put forward his point of view. He should have listened to the extensive replies in Committee which showed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield will confirm, that those 52 so-called Luton supporters merely came from the Luton area and were not travelling on a coach approved by Luton Town football club. That shows the strength of the Luton scheme. We know and can approve certain carriers for our fans and we know that the fans will behave.
Mr. Carlisle : My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield and I have paraded the Luton scheme and will continue to do so, because it forms the basis of this excellent Bill. We look forward to hon. Members enjoying the advantages of the membership scheme, as we have done over the last three years. In more ways than one, this is a momentous night for football. At the end of the day, when crowds begin to flock back to our national game, a great deal of gratitude will be extended not only to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has led us splendidly over the last few months, but to the Government, who have had the courage to tackle a problem that was ignored by the Opposition.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Luton Town is a shattering irrelevancy. It is the reason behind the Bill that the hon. Members for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) have been forcefully pushing from behind the scenes. However, the provisions of the Bill will not apply to Luton Town, because clause 1(10) allows the exclusion of people from grounds even if they have national identity cards. That will
Column 131apply at Luton, because the police in Luton are asking for that. The scheme at Luton will continue, and it will not be the scheme that will be applied elsewhere. All the detail, discussions, statistics and information about the changed nature of life in Luton will be irrelevant to the rest of the universe.
The Bill is inside out, the wrong way round. It is a procedural mess. It went first to the other place, rather than coming here. Any measure of such great significance to the interests of our constituents should come to this House before going to the other place, which can examine, revise and make suggestions for change ; rather than the other place setting the scene before the Bill is brought to us. Then, in Committee, we tried to open up the discussion and have a logical debate on the Bill. We wanted to look first at part II, which deals with exclusion orders, making people attend police stations or perhaps do community service during match times. That is a way to tackle the problem of hooliganism in that they are targeted, and then action is taken against them. However, we were not allowed the privilege of a sensible debate on that before going on to debate identity cards. That provision was steamrollered through. All the Committee's debate took place before Taylor's interim report. It was available when we discussed the ways and means resolution, and for Report and Third Reading, but it has not been debated, except when the Opposition have initiated a debate, and there has been no response to the problems with which it deals. It is a disgrace that passage of the Bill was not delayed until Taylor had reported fully. In his interim report, Taylor says that he will not discuss ID cards because he wants to deal with them in the full report.
On Friday, we discussed the ways and means motion and the money resolution before we discussed the Bill itself. The Government's timetable was in a mess, and they had to deal with the Companies Bill and the Children Bill. Therefore, they decided to squash the remaining stages of this Bill by dealing with the Children Bill once they had the timetable motion for this Bill. They forced the closure of the debate, thus preventing Labour Members from participating in the debate.
The guillotines that have fallen on our debates have made a nonsense of them. We dealt first with six groups of Government amendments, and they had only two non-Government groups of amendments, one from the Opposition and one from rebel Tories. That left 12 groups, including those dealing with some important measures--for example, the exclusion of third and fourth division clubs from the scheme--which were never discussed.
Furthermore, we are involved in a great act of hypocrisy in that we are establishing a system of ID cards that will be collected and paid for by about 1 million people, and will be responsible for 400,000 people attending matches each week. This will be done by a Division being called in which 500 of us will go through one or the other Lobby, and in 15 minutes we shall decide how many Members are here. If there is any need for "smart cards" it might be in this place, because the match played out here has involved no more than one tenth of the hon. Members who will vote.
We witnessed a timetabling disgrace in Committee, which meant that we had only 16 sittings. The timetable
Column 132motion was introduced before we reached some of the more important items in the Bill. There has not been full and proper discussion of part II and the developments that could flow from it.
The Government have used the most dubious statistics in trying to establish their position. They have been selective and have used specific examples-- serious ones, to which we should respond--for universal application. The result is that their conclusions are irrelevant.
We need to know what is happening at the grounds in terms of violence and arrests. We must know also where the arrests take place and of the arrests and charges that ensue. That information has not been made available to us. A written question of mine was answered on 19 December, which was reproduced in many newspapers and described as a league of shame. The figures showed that there were certain areas where problems needed to be targeted, but the average number of arrests--not convictions--was five per match. At the average club, there were three arrests per 10,000 spectators, and there were 22 clubs between Manchester and Colchester where there was one arrest per 10,000 or less. At Colchester, there were in fact no arrests at all. That is better than the much-vaunted Luton record.
The details supplied by the Arsenal football club include nine cases of theft, eight of ticket touting and 12 drug cases. What are the offences that lead to arrests throughout the country? Let us have that information, so that we can respond with the appropriate targeting.
Mr. Corbyn : Is my hon. Friend aware that last week, in advance of the scheme being introduced, there was a capacity crowd at the Arsenal ground? The police decided to throw a quarter-mile cordon around the ground. No one could break the cordon unless he had a ticket for the match or could prove that he lived within the area enclosed by the cordon. In effect, there was an identity scheme for the match and for the residents in the area. There have been no problems at Arsenal during the past year.
Mr. Barnes : The Arsenal problem will develop and expand with the introduction of the identification scheme. The police will seek to stop people as they arpproach the ground to ascertain whether they are entitled to be in the vicinity, and that will lead to potential danger.
The ID scheme will lead to considerable dangers, including a breakdown of order, confusion and financial loss. The card system will prove difficult to implement. The Minister has told us that at each ground the names--and numbers, presumably--of those who have been excluded will be supplied by means of a telephone computer, for example, so that thos responsible will know exactly who has been excluded. We have been told, however, that it will be possible to purchase new cards on the day at post offices and grounds, and that at the Halifax and Hartlepool sheds, for example, it will be possible to obtain information to enable people to get new cards. It will be possible for hooligans who are the subject of an exclusion order to obtain extra cards so that they can enter the ground. The system will not prevent that.
There will be crushes at the grounds. The crush that developed at Hillsborough will be seen at other grounds, and to an even greater degree. It is likely that the scheme
Column 133will not reflect the halcyon dream of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt). Instead, there will be greater problems and greater trouble. Hooligans will be encouraged to beat the system by snatching cards, in the way that they snatch tickets now from people as they arrive at matches. They will even engage in games, challenging people to present their cards. Supporters will find themselves in trouble if their identity cards reveals that they do not belong to the "right" club. The House should instead be developing the provisions in part II and amend the Bill accordingly.
The scheme will interfere with freedom of access to grounds. The Government are introducing internal passport systems for football matches at about the same time that barriers between European countries are being removed to allow the individual more freedom of movement. The Government will criminalise fans while still being unable to contain hooliganism.
I shall be among those who will not seek to obtain an identity card. Two weeks ago, I attended a match at Upton park, to watch West Ham play Sunderland, which I support. I decided to dash out to Upton park only about an hour before the game, which I watched from the terraces behind West Ham's goal. Under the scheme, I would not have been able to do that--which might have been just as well, given that my team was beaten 5 : 0, which did not make it a particularly enjoyable occasion. However, on other occasions I might want very much to gain admission to a match at the last moment.
Identity cards have massive civil liberty implications. Plastic cards are not only used by burglars and others but can be stolen by hooligans, and even used as weapons--especially if they are cut up. In certain circumstances, even being in possession of a plastic card could be said by the police to be possessing an offensive weapon. Not only can identity cards set off security systems such as those found in the House of Commons: they may also be imprinted with confidential information about their holders. That aspect has not been hemmed in by the Bill. Cards can hold information that is irrelevant to the claimed purposes of the Bill, which has been given as the need to curb hooliganism--but another reason for the legislation is commercial.
Conservative Members have stressed different aspects of the Bill, with some being much keener on its commercial potential than on its value in containing hooliganism. The scheme will allow information to be collected about the matches one attends, the turnstiles one enters, one's creditworthiness, and information provided by other organisations. The cards could even hold information about the holder's non-payment of the poll tax and any problems he might have in that connection.
In Committee, stress was placed only on the scheme's commercial value and not on improving the situation on terraces in the future. The hon. Member for Bury, North suggested that the identity card scheme will change the face of football. In fact, it will restrict attendances, push up prices and sanitise soccer to make it fit for the credit card-carrying classes. The Bill will provide a vehicle for all kinds of advertising material and junk mail. The consequence will be, as at Luton, that people will carry a plastic card enabling them to watch plastic football played on a plastic pitch.
Column 13411.8 pm
Mr. Carrington : We have heard a great deal about the problems that face football, and there can be no doubt that what we have heard exemplifies the violence from which it has suffered over the past few years. We have heard much about violence inside the ground, and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) has described the difficulties that Luton used to experience from violence outside the ground.
We have heard, too, about the problems inherent in estimating the size of the violence problem from the number of arrests made at matches. I suggest that the number of arrests is no gauge of the degree of violence. The problem is not the spectators who are arrested, but inherent hooliganism which is not bad enough for the police to take direct action--or, indeed, which happens away from the police presence.
One of the great benefits that the Bill will bring is an overall reduction in the level of violence. Violence outside the ground is the most pernicious. That is the violence that has earned football the worst name that it has had for perhaps 50 years. It is often claimed that the Bill would not address such violence, but I suggest that once a full membership scheme is brought in and people intending to go to a match who behave in an anti-social manner find that if they are identified--not just by the police, but by the club--they will be prevented from going to future matches, they will no longer visit that club or congregate outside because there will be no purpose in doing so if they know that they will not be allowed in. Away supporters will not catch the train from their home town to see the match and local supporters will stay at home, and perhaps watch "Match of the Day" on television--they will not stand in the street outside the ground creating mayhem.
The Bill constitutes a major benefit for those living near football grounds. It will remove from them the Saturday afternoon threat, not of being beaten up or otherwise assaulted, but of racial abuse, sexual harassment, urination in their front gardens and vandalism of their motor cars, the threat of not being able to go out and do the shopping, and lead a normal, active life on a Saturday afternoon. That, I feel, is the negative side of the Bill. The positive side is much more exciting for the clubs themselves. As one whose constituency contains two league clubs, I can see the advantages that the Bill will bring to both of them. For the first time they will know who their supporters are, and will be able to identify not only paid-up members and those who have bought season tickets, but everyone who claims to have allegiance to them.
I understand that Luton regularly has gates of some 10,000 for a home match. Its present membership scheme comprises 20,000, and is closed. The membership scheme could well increase that number. If we assume a doubling of the average gate as the number who will identify themselves as supporters--the small clubs will, of course, benefit particularly--we can take that to be the number who, having been identified by name and address, will be available to those clubs, which will be able to solicit financial support from them. More important, the clubs will be able to find out why those people do not attend on a regular basis to watch their teams play.
That will help clubs such as Fulham which, regrettably, has fallen on rather hard times, with the average gate below 4,000 for a home match. It will enable the club to
Column 135find out why it is attracting such a small number, and to find ways of increasing support, to become financially viable and to bring about a resurgence in football's popularity.
The ability of the Secretary of State to license grounds will do much to see that managements, at League and club level, live up to their responsibilities. Throughout these debates we have heard how it has not been possible to ensure that managements run their clubs in a safe and proper manner. If, once the Bill becomes law, a management runs a club in a way which seems to encourage violence or with a lack of safe procedures, the Secretary of State will have power to threaten and, in extreme cases, to withdraw the club's licence. That will oblige managements to come more into the 20th century and be fit to run clubs in the 21st century.
The problem that hon. Members have highlighted with part II is that it excludes from attending overseas matches only those who have been identified as having committed an offence here or abroad. The success of that provision will depend on our convincing Governments abroad to prosecute British fans who misbehave at matches overseas, and I feel sure that we shall do that.
In general, the Bill is greatly to be welcomed and its passage will help to make football the popular family sport that it once was. 11.16 pm
Mr. Pike : It is a pity that after the many hours that hon. Members have debated the Bill--I regret that I was not a member of the Standing Committee, much though I should like to have been--the Government remain determined to press ahead with it. The Bill should have been given a red card long ago and consigned to the rubbish bin, and I hope that even at this late stage, the vote soon will result in it having that fate.
The Government made the basic mistake at the start of identifying hooliganism as a football problem, when it is clearly a general problem of society. Hooliganism is occurring throughout Britain, not only in cities and towns but in villages, on Fridays and Saturdays, and often it has nothing to do with football. The present trend to hooliganism must be examined in a different way. It will not be tackled by this measure.
The Government were also wrong to call hooliganism an English football problem. One need only examine the problems that are associated with the game in other countries. In any event, the Government have a responsibility to prove that their legislation will deal with the problem that they claim exists. Or has the Prime Minister alone decreed that it exists? They have failed to show that it will tackle the problem effectively. Having studied what was said on Second Reading and in Committee, nowhere can I find proof that, had the Bill been law, the problems that the Government have identified would have been avoided. Our fear is that the measure will create more problems than we already have.
Nobody connected with football wants hooliganism to continue. The trouble is that the hooligans, who are certainly not football fans, will find a way through the system and into the grounds. The Bill will create more problems at gates and outside grounds and will not help to reduce the numbers required to police matches.
Column 136Burnley football club invited local Members of Parliament to visit its ground, meet its directors and watch a match. Its policy is that anyone who is convicted of a football-related offence is barred from Turf Moor for life. Only the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) and the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee) accepted the invitation. The right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington) and the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier) chose not to attend, but they will support the Bill tonight. The hon. Member for Pendle has not been convinced that the Bill will deal with the problems that the Government have identified and has chosen to abstain. The hon. Member for Hyndburn will be voting against his party and the Bill. Other hon. Members should recognise that the Bill will not tackle the problem of football hooliganism.
If the Bill is forced through, it will lead to the destruction of many football clubs. The financial implications of installing and running the system, and the Bill's effects on attendances, will cause drastic problems for clubs that are currently experiencing financial difficulties. That will be regretted by many people such as myself who have been football supporters for many years.
As Labour Members have said, football depends not only on regular supporters but on casual supporters, such as those who are visiting relatives at Christmas and want to see a match. Often, when a team starts a successful run, casual supporters follow that team at further matches, but the membership scheme will deter that. The Bill is bad for football, and it will be a bad Act, if it receives Royal Assent, because it will not deal with football's problems but will cause more difficulties.
Unfortunately, after the Hillsborough tragedy the Government continued to press forward with the Bill. Local government, the police, football management and football supporters should have awaited the final report of Lord Justice Taylor in order to achieve a solution that is better than the Bill for football.
The Government must recognise that the Bill has not commended itself to anyone who supports football. It is opposed by all but one of the football clubs, by the Football League and by the Football Association. Everyone who has the interests of football at heart recognises that if the Government persist with the Bill they are once again being foolish. I hope that the Minister will recognise that and, even at this late stage, be prepared to withdraw this nonsensical Bill.