Previous Section Home Page

Column 33

intends that the new licensing arrangements should make their duties and obligations absolutely clear, but the fact that there is concern and confusion about Lord Justice Taylor's interim report, especially about perimeter fences, shows the need to make the powers absolutely clear in the Bill.

4.15 pm

One of the main grounds of opposition of hon. Members who oppose the Bill is the practicality of the computer system and the problems that it could cause outside grounds. At this juncture, and in the light of the terrible Hillsborough tragedy, the safety of supporters must be paramount, which is why I tabled amendment No. 55. Concern has been expressed that the amendment might encourage hooligans to wreck the scheme, and we saw such an attempt during the recent trial scheme in Holland. I recognise that risk, but it will exist in any event, because people may try to wreck the scheme whether or not we make the powers of the police clear. That does not therefore obviate the need to ensure that the powers of the police are properly set out in the Bill.

Recommendation No. 29 of Lord Justice Taylor's interim report says :

"The option to postpone kick-off should be in the discretion of the officer in command at the ground. Crowd safety should be the paramount consideration in deciding whether to exercise it." It is incredible that that recommendation should have to be included in the report. If crowd safety is to be paramount, police officers should have the power to ensure that a match is postponed. That is a criticism not of the police but of the Football League and the Football Association. There is no doubt that they would welcome amendment No. 55 to ensure that the powers of the police are made absolutely clear.

We are told that the Bill is an enabling Bill. We do not yet know what the technical specification of the scheme, or the different schemes, will be. The scheme could embrace a number of different schemes at different levels of football, particularly in the light of Government amendment No. 1. I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that it would be extremely difficult to define in the Bill "a serious emergency".

The amendment deals with the possibility of computer failure or failure of equipment. Such a failure need not be malicious. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) tabled amendment No. 56, which deals with the need for a prolonged test of the equipment, including throughout the winter. As we are passing this enabling Bill, it is right to consider every possible eventuality. Judging by the failures that one experiences daily in the performance of computer systems, whether they be cash-dispensing machines or ticket machines at Underground stations, failures will occur.

We must ensure that the senior officer at a football match has the power to suspend the scheme and, therefore, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will agree, none of the offences outlined in the Bill in relation to entering a football match would apply. Even at small clubs the amendment could be essential. At a big match involving clubs such as Arsenal, a commander of the Metropolitan police may be in charge of police operations. However, at a small club such as York City--of which I am president--where crowds are

Column 34

smaller, only a police inspector or chief inspector may be in charge and it is important that he knows what his powers are to suspend the scheme should equipment fail.

I recognise that the police have wide powers already, and it has been suggested to me privately that the amendment may not be necessary. However, I suggest that the amendment is appropriate in the light of what happened at Hillsborough. We know only too well that the police were criticised for treating the event as one of public order, when it was a serious problem of crowd safety. That must never happen again. As a former police officer, I deeply regret much of the criticism heaped upon the police, since in my judgment they were in an impossible position. I do not want to see that occur again.

There are five reasons why I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will support the amendment. The first reason is because of what happened at Hillsborought. Secondly, we do not yet know what Lord Justice Taylor's final recommendation will be with regard to membership schemes and the policing of football matches. Thirdly, this is an enabling Bill. Fourthly, there is a need for clarity, and finally, there is an overwhelming need to put safety first. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : The comments of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) have a great deal of force and merit. He has set out to provide, in the sometimes frantic circumstances that might attend the 10, 15 or 20 minutes before the kick-off at a major football match, a degree of certainty and a clarity of responsibility. That should commend itself, even at this stage, to those on the Treasury Bench. That absence of clarity detracts substantially from the advantage that might have been conferred on the Bill by the insertion in clause 9 of the defence of what might be called, for shorthand purposes, the defence of emergency.

The House will appreciate that clause 9(2), to which amendment No. 33 appplies, contains two defences. The onus of establishing these defences will rest upon the person charged with the criminal offence. The additional defence that it seeks to insert is

"that the spectators were admitted in an emergency".

That will still need to be proved, by the person against whom criminal proceedings are to be taken. If that defence is to have any substance or be of any real value, it is only right and proper that the word "emergency ", which is such a substantial part of that defence, should be further defined.

I accept that that may be difficult. However, it is not all that difficult for a draftsman to arrive at a form of words that would give the person charged with a criminal offence some clearer indication of the factors upon which he or she might be able reply. For example, an "emergency" might be defined as circumstances in which there was a threat to public order and safety or injury to persons or property.

Those factors are clearly defined and would make clear to a person seeking to rely on the defence precisely what the ambit of that defence was. They would also give the courts, which will be responsible for derterming whether a criminal offence has occurred, a set of criteria by which to measure the defence.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : The hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to define "emergency". Amendment No. 55 refers to a "serious emergency". Is there a legal difference between the two?

Column 35

Mr. Campbell : For the moment, I am concerned with Government amendment No. 31, which provides for an additional defence under clause 9. Courts do not have any difficulty in determining what application is to be given to the word "serious". They may find difficulty in dealing with the use of the word "emergency" without any further definition of the criteria by which an emergency is to be established.

For that reason, I hope that Ministers will consider--as I think they are still technically able to do before the Bill finally receives Royal Assent- -whether a definition of "emergency" can reasonably be inserted in the Bill to provide the clarity and precision that all of us believe such legislation should have.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : I wish first to declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. I should like to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). Clarification of the word "emergency" is necessary, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for saying that he will consider this matter again before the Bill finally receives Royal Assent.

We all know that the police have the primary responsibility for deciding what is and what is not an emergency. That is well established. The police must make such decisions every hour of the day and every day of the week. Given everything that has happened during the past year, especially the Hillsborough stadium disaster, the utmost clarity is essential if the police are to be able to do their job properly and have the support of the public, especially those who attend football matches regularly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) has put his finger on an important point in amendment No. 55, to which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will give serious consideration. My only doubt is whether the amendment will encourage those elements which we know exist to press all the more strongly in trying to wreck the scheme from its inception. I should like to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say. I want to be sure that the amendment does not contain anything that will have the opposite effect to the one intended. All hon. Members recognise that, unfortunately, there are hooligans in our community who are determined to wreck any attempt to impose this or any other scheme that is designed to avoid the terrible problems that we had at Hillsborough. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that specific point.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Amendment No. 55 seems very reasonable and it was described persuasively and reasonably by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I hope that the Minister will accept it. Do not the police already have such powers to act in an emergency? Hon. Members who ask for definitions of "emergency" ask for a particularly obscure form of definition. Naturally, "emergency" must cover any foreseeable or unforeseeable circumstances. A definition of "emergency" is precisely that--emergency. One does not define it further. I should have thought that in those circumstances the police would probably have such powers anyway to set aside the scheme.

This is the real point. As we all know, the one thing about which we can be sure with a computer system is that it will break down sooner rather than later, usually sooner. There was that embarrassing experience for the

Column 36

Government, including the Minister for Sport, when the computer system broke down at the Conservative party conference, and there were difficulties in getting in. Why on earth anyone wanted to get into a Conservative party conference I do not know, given that most of the violence was already occurring inside. I do not believe that the breakdown was a major problem, but it showed that computer systems can break down, as undoubtedly they will under the scheme. If the police do not already have the necessary powers, clearly they must be given them in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister can clear up this matter.

4.30 pm

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : I especially welcome the Government amendments on the opportunities to evade conviction because of a good and sound defence. I especially commend to the House the Government amendments that relate to the responsibilities of club officials. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to pay tribute to the club officials from whom so much will be expected through the scheme.

Over the past 20 years, club secretaries and chairmen have had to cope with the problems of crowd control, violence and disorder. Some of them, especially at small clubs such as Bury, my own local club, were concerned that the Bill would add to their responsibilities and might lead to the problem that if there was an emergency and they let people into the ground, they might face the penalty of being fined or even going to prison. My own chairman, Terry Robinson, was especially worried about that. I reassured him that I was sure that something would be done to relieve his anxiety, and I believe that the Government amendments do that.

May I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to pay tribute to the work of the various officials who have already done much for football and who will be expected to do more? Will he confirm that these proposals should remove some of the anxiety that the officials felt about what would happen if emergencies arose outside the ground?

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I support amendment No. 55 and endorse everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) in his opening remarks. My opposition to the football membership scheme is on record in the House and outside. I do not believe that the scheme will work, and I believe that such money as is spent on it would be infinitely better spent on introducing all-seater stadiums and better facilities for spectators. Having said that, I am wholly persuaded that it would be nonsense for us to create a situation whereby the Hillsborough inquiry might recommend a scheme--I recognise that I am not the fount of all knowledge on the subject, any more than anyone else is--and we did not have the legislation in place to cater for such a scheme. For that reason alone, I shall support the Bill, although I have also made it plain that, if the Hillsborough inquiry does not recommend the introduction of a scheme, I shall not suport its introduction. I hope that, in the light of my reasonable attitude, my hon. Friend the Minister will take an equally reasonable approach to amendment No. 55.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to an incident at Blackpool, when there was a small computer failure as a result of which a large but extremely orderly body of people were required to wait on the pavement. I shudder to think what might have

Column 37

happened had such a scheme been introduced earlier and been in place at Brighton, for example, where the crowd would not have been quite so orderly, or were 40,000 or 50,000 football spectators to be kept out of a ground as a result of a computer failure and, therefore, of a membership scheme.

It is clear that the police must have the necessary powers to act swiftly and, if necessary, an individual police officer must have such powers in what he or she believes to be an emergency. It would be quite appalling, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will accept, if a major emergency were to turn into a disaster because a single police officer was unaware that he or she had the power to fling open the gates if necessary.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : I am a great admirer of my hon. Friend. Does he agree that there are many instances in which policemen on duty at football matches do not have personal radios? Usually, there are only enough available for a particular shift, and if policemen come on duty as a result of rest day working or overtime, they are in a football crowd without any personal radio and it is impossible for them to be in contact with their senior officers.

Mr. Gale : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. That is why I laid some emphasis on my belief that the individual man or woman on duty should have the power--and know that he or she has the power- -to make an instant decision, if that becomes necessary. That is the spirit in which amendment No. 55 has been tabled, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise it as such. I hope that he will feel able to accept the amendment.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : I want to speak briefly to amendment No. 55, the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) because I suffered particularly as a result of the failure of the computer scheme at the Conservative party conference. My wife was excluded and I had to stand outside with her for two hours in the rain while we went through the whole procedure for the third time to try to get her admitted. I accept, therefore, that computer failures can happen and that they can have very serious consequences.

I do not think that we should say that we cannot accept an amendment that makes sense because those who might seek to break the scheme might take advantage of it. I hardly think that those who would anyway seek to break the scheme will claim in their defence that amendment No. 55 allowed them to take on the whole scheme. Some football supporters will regard the scheme as a great challenge, as the Dutch fans did, but our job is to pass good, sound and clear legislation under which everyone knows where they stand. People's safety should be the paramount consideration. I support the amendment whole-heartedly because it clearly defines under what conditions and by whom the scheme may be declared temporarily suspended in the interest of saving lives.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). Like him, I have a lower division club in my constituency and policing at its ground is under the supervision of a comparatively junior officer. It will be essential that the person in charge of the police on match days has full knowledge of what he or she may do, in terms

Column 38

of allowing fans in, to bypass the equipment that has broken down. I beseech my hon. Friend the Minister to take that into account in his final thoughts on the Bill.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : Many points have been made, but I may succeed in being brief nevertheless because some of them have been fairly similar.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said that he did not like the creation of what he saw as a new offence. I would say to the hon. Gentleman --at least, I would say to the hon. Gentleman if he were still in his place --that the amendment would not create a new offence but provide a new defence which has been generally welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Gentleman was worried that an individual might be prosecuted and say, "Well, I am sure that there was an emergency because somebody told me so but I do not remember the name of the person who declared the emergency." The evidence that the supporter was inside the ground unlawfully will be given either by the club or by the police, one of which will have declared the emergency. The inability to identify the person who has declared the emergency should not, therefore, prove to be a problem. I have much sympathy with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), and I understand what his worries are. He wondered who would have the primary responsibility in such cases, and wanted that to be set out clearly. As I said earlier, the primary responsibility for the declaration of an emergency will belong to the police, although there will also be a responsibility belonging to the club as the licence holder. One would expect clubs and police to negotiate.

As I have said before, these matters will be spelt out much more fully in the licence, and it is right that they should be spelt out there, rather than in the Bill, because different circumstances pertain for different clubs and different grounds and each licence should take those circumstances into account. Most important of all, before the licence is finally approved there should be consultation, not merely with the club officials but with the police and other responsible people so that there is no doubt whatever regarding both their general responsibilities and their responsibilities by reference to the particular ground and the particular club. The reason that I cannot accept the amendment, although I am sympathetic to it, is that it would enable police officers--and, indeed, by implication, club officials--to suspend the provisions of the Act.

We do not want the new Act to be suspended in an emergency. We want the police and club officials to be able to take the right decisions without the fear of innocent people discovering that they have transgressed the law. If I accept amendment No. 55, no penalties could be applied to anyone for unauthorised attendance on that day because the Act would not have force for that particular match. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale would not want that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale was understandably worried about a difficulty that fell short of an emergency in which there might be risk of injury. He referred to the possibility of a computer breakdown. If a breakdown led to huge queues which caused a police officer to believe that the situation might become an emergency, the provisions of amendment No. 31 would

Column 39

come into effect. However, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale has something else in mind in his amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale may have in mind a situation in which the computer system breaks down. Instead of an emergency developing, the queue may simply get longer and snake back away from the ground. At such a typical football ground, there may be no sign of disorder. The fans might be good humoured and patient, but there is a huge problem of actually reading each individual membership card. Such a situation would have to be considered within the terms of the licence. Therefore, alternative arrangements could be brought into force, short of suspending the Act.

People should be let into the ground, but their cards will not be passed through the computer. However, each individual must show his membership card with his ticket. If he does not, he will not be allowed in. It will not be possible to read the details on each card, but that would be the best effort that the club could make in such circumstances and the law would not be breached. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and the hon. Member for Newham North-West (Mr. Banks) were worried about a situation which fell short of an emergency. If such a situation arises, it can be taken care of in the normal flexible course of applying the rules of a particular licence.

Mr. Denis Howell : This is an extremely important matter. Some of our most important football grounds have 100 or more turnstiles. If a computer breaks down, it is not simply a question of one or two local police officers deciding what to do. If the computer breaks down, 100 turnstiles may be affected. If a turnstile breaks, that is a more local problem.

The sense of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) is overwhelming. There are still a few more days before the Bill goes to another place. I hope that the Minister will accept the rationale of this argument. We cannot allow a situation to develop 10 minutes before kick-off at say, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool or Manchester United when the computer system has broken down and then discussions must take place to allow a pre-arranged system between the clubs and the police to come into operation. That is not right, and I beg the Minister to think again.

Mr. Lloyd : I believe that it is right that the clubs should consider what might happen if there are mechanical or other breakdowns. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) referred to a turnstile becoming stuck: clubs must plan for such eventualities to deal with them when they occur. I understand the particular concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale. His concern is genuine, but we do not require a special amendment--or amendment No. 55 which he has tabled-- to meet his concern.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : A little earlier the Minister said that it would be an offence to be in a ground without holding a membership card. I thought that we had decided in Committee that it would not be an offence to be inside a ground without a card. It will be an offence to be inside a ground if someone is not

Column 40

a member of the scheme. It will not be an offence to be inside the ground without a membership card as such. Will the Minister confirm that? A little earlier I thought that he said that people must have their cards to be inside grounds.

Mr. Lloyd : If there was a breakdown and a member of the scheme did not have his card, he could expect to be refused admission to the ground. If he was in the ground having left his card behind--I wait to be corrected by my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport who has guided the Bill through Committee--I imagine that that person would not have committed an offence if he could show that he was a member of the scheme. I was referring to whether he would be allowed into the ground. Without a card, he would very properly be turned away because he could not demonstrate that he was a member.

4.45 pm

Mr. John Greenway : I accept my hon. Friend's point with regard to the licensing arrangements. I am sure that he understands that we must have primary legislation in the Bill. We cannot have separate arrangements for different police forces in relation to different football grounds.

If there is a mechanical failure at a turnstile and the machines do not read the computer cards, it need not necessarily follow that all the other turnstiles have broken down. The problem may affect only a block of turnstiles at a particular ground. Certain police officers will be presented with a difficult situation. Do they allow the fans to pass through the turnstiles? There is no question here of a suggestion that the gates should be opened, because the club will still want to collect the admission fees. However, membership cards will not be checked if there is a breakdown.

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend that the scheme could be operated so that if someone enters a ground, but is not a scheme member, he would still be guilty of an offence even though scheme cards had not been processed. My point is that club officials need to know that the police have the power to take whatever action they think is fit with regard to crowd safety. My hon. Friend the Minister should make that abundantly clear. If the position is not clear, it should be made clear in the Bill.

Mr. Lloyd : I have made it abundantly clear that it is mandatory in the Bill that licences should cover those eventualities. However, I disagree with my hon. Friend in that I believe that there must be different arrangements according to different grounds and different circumstances. That would be reflected in the licence and that is why we will operate the detail through the licence, not on the face of the Bill.

Mr. John Greenway : What about police powers?

Mr. Lloyd : The police powers are such as to allow them to take the appropriate decisions, particularly in emergencies. If the computer at one entrance point breaks down, that is not an emergency in that sense. It is a difficulty which each club will have considered and will have means to overcome. The most obvious way to do that is to have a sight check of membership cards of people entering that gate. Of course the cards will not be machine-read in detail, but at least such a check would show the almost certain probability that the people

Column 41

entering the ground were members in good standing. It would be perfectly proper for the club to do that and it would be something of which the police would approve-- [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Small Heath may chunter, but as he is a man of common sense, that is the kind of thing that he would do if he was in charge.

Mr. Denis Howell : That is utter nonsense. A computer could break down and people might be entering a ground at a rate of more than 1, 000 a minute through 100 turnstiles. Even if people hold their cards up, it will be impossible to inspect them. The Government should not try to rest on that ludicrous hypothetical situation.

Mr. Lloyd : The card readers may be independent of each other. If one breaks down there is no likelihood that the others will break down as well. Although I was not present in Committee, I imagine that the right hon. Member for Small Heath and his colleagues claimed that reading cards would hold spectators up. The cards will not be machine-read but will merely be looked at in the same way as a ticket is looked at. All the Opposition's arguments suggest that this arrangement will work particularly well in the event of a breakdown.

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield) : I shall try to help my hon. Friend. At Luton Town football club, if the computerised system breaks down, we have a visual check, and it works very well. At Manchester United, half the ground is entered by people carrying membership cards. Its turnstiles have broken down, and once again a visual check has proved to be quite adequate and there have been no problems. Entry has not been delayed at all.

Mr. Lloyd : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows what he is talking about. He confirms that there is no particular problem, although I understand concern being raised about this point. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) was worried about some of the points that I have already covered. He was concerned about somebody being prosecuted for being unauthorised, possibly because he had not got a membership card--I suspect, not one who had been disqualified--and having to prove that there was an emergency. He would not need to prove that there was an emergency. It would be for the police or club authorities to say that there was an emergency. That would be a complete defence for that individual, even though it might be arguable whether the police or the club had correctly defined an emergency. Those about whom the hon. and learned Member was worried do not have a problem.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : I was particularly concerned about the position of a responsible person under clause 9(2), which sets out two defences. The purpose of one amendment is to add an additional defence--the emergency defence. The onus of proof of that defence will rest on the person attempting to establish it, who will be the person who was accused of a contravention of this part of the Bill. On that basis, is he entitled to know in advance what criteria he can plead in support of that defence?

Mr. Lloyd : He will see very much more clearly from the licence under which he operates. That worry is more theoretical than practical. Who is to produce the evidence to prosecute such a person? It will be either the police or a club official. As they will be most concerned and will

Column 42

consult each other, I suspect that they will arrive at the conclusion that there is an emergency and that they should act. I understand also that the court would act on the basis of what it was reasonable for someone to assume. Because of all the problems that it creates, it is very unlikely that either the police or a club official will unreasonably declare an emergency. I see the hon. and learned Member's theoretical point, but I do not think that it is practical.

I understand the special concern and interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). I agree that clarity is necessary. I hope that clarity will exist in the licences, because there will need to be consultation with the police before licences are finally issued. The police input will be real and extensive before licences are in effect. The police will work under arrangements that they have helped to make.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West made some sensible observations. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is often sensible, but usually not when he is commenting on things that I have said. I am particularly grateful to him. He is quite right that it would be a mistake to try to define "emergency" too closely. All sorts of unexpected situations can arise, and it would be a pity if they were excluded by the tightness of the language that we decide to adopt in the Bill for the sake of clarity.

I can satisfy the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) that we should acknowledge the role that officials will play. We understand that they have performed and will continue to perform an onerous job under this legislation. I hope that, in some respects, their job will be easier because the licences will clarify their role and that of the police. Nevertheless, it is an onerous role and, in exercising it in good faith, they will run no risk of prosecution. If they do their job as well as they can and seek to take the decisions that seem to them to be right at the time, they will have nothing to fear.

I am glad to have the conditional support of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). I hope that, at the end of my remarks on this set of amendments, I will have his whole-hearted support. The police need to know what their powers are. Again, that is part of the purpose of the licence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Lester) raised certain points. I am sorry about his wife not getting into the conference. I am sure that she had a valid ticket, that she did not riot outside or complain, and that the turnstiles were able to be sidestepped, as would happen in any well conducted football ground.

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman). With that, I again commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Randall : I compliment the Minister on giving such full replies to many of the issues that have been raised today. However, his reasons for rejecting amendment No. 55 were quite inadequate and unconvincing. He said that it was the right decision because it would result in people not transgressing the law and so on. All hon. Members are concerned about the safety of people. That is the paramount argument in the debate. Amendment No. 55 states that we should suspend this complex system.

We have a complex piece of legislation and complex licences which will all be different throughout the country because all football grounds are different. Because safety is paramount, we must make sure that the licences and the legislation in no way constrain the police to make the right

Column 43

decision in the event of unforeseen emergencies. The Minister has said that he would prefer to keep the system in place and to have the decision-making process through this complex licence arrangement, whereas the Opposition and the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) believe that, in terms of decision making and the safety of football fans, it would be better to suspend this complex system. The Minister has failed to convince the Opposition and other hon. Members. We are talking about emergencies. We do not know what they are, and it is impossible for us to define them. Because one cannot foresee all emergencies and what they entail, and if we put people's safety before everything else, it must make absolute sense to suspend the system. The amendment is convincing, and I am disappointed at the Minister's failure to make a good case for not accepting it. Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3

The Football Membership Authority

Mr. Moynihan : I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 5, at beginning insert

Subject to subsection (3A) below,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this is will be convenient to discuss the following : Government amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 11, at end insert--

(3A) The Secretary of State shall not designate any body corporate as the Football Membership Authority unless he is satisfied that its articles of association make provision securing-- (

(a) that its Board shall comprise a Chairman and six other members, of whom the Chairman and four of the other members are persons approved by the Secretary of State before their election as Chairman or as member, as the case may be, and the remaining two members are persons nominated by the Secretary of State, and

(b) that the Chairman shall be a person who has no such financial or other interest as is likely to affect prejudicially the performance of his functions as Chairman ;

and all the members of the Board shall hold office in accordance with the articles of association of the body corporate.

(3B) The Secretary of State may withdraw the designation of a body corporate as the Football Membership Authority if he ceases to be satisfied of the matters mentioned in subsection (3A) above. Amendment (a) to the Government amendment, in paragraph (a), leave out six' and insert eight'.

Amendment (b) to the Government amendment, in paragraph (a), after first "Secretary of State", insert

being members of the Football Association and the Football League.'.

Amendment (c) to the Government amendment in paragraph (a), after second "Secretary of State", add

being one representative each of the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs and the Football Supporters Association or, if they have ceased to function, their equivalents.'.

Government amendment No. 4.

Mr. Moynihan : The Government amendments relate to the composition of the Football Membership Authority. They follow an undertaking which I gave in Commitee to consider an amendment to make provision on the face of the Bill concerning the chairmanship and membership of

Column 44

the authority. I said also that I would consider an amendment to involve the supporters organisations in the running of the FMA. That is the subject of a later Government amendment, but I will refer briefly to it in my comments on these amendments.

I promised to consider an amendment about the composition of the authority in response to Opposition amendments on the subject tabled in this House and in another place.

The Bill, as introduced, said nothing on the subject, because the Football Membership Authority will be a private company, not a quango like the National Rivers Authority or the Football Licensing Authority. We should not, therefore, be in the business of spelling out detailed rules on how the FMA will operate, as we have to do for the Football Licensing Authority. I recognise, however, that there is a strong desire to see certain aspects of the chairmanship and membership spelt out in the Bill.

5 pm

The Government amendments require that the authority shall have a chairman who is independent of any financial interest or any other area of potential conflict with football and that it shall have six other members. Two of those six members will be nominated by the Secretary of State. The remaining four will be approved by him and will, we hope, be agreed with the football authorities if they take on the responsibility for the FMA. The Chairman will also be approved by the Secretary of State, in agreement, we expect, with the football authorities.

The amendment does not refer to the football authorities by name because we must take account of the possibility--a very small one, I hope--that they may decide not to take on the FMA. I cannot, therefore, accept the Opposition amendment to that effect. At the same time, the working party set up by the Football Association and the Football League to prepare for the FMA has been hard at work since the Bill's Committee stage, and we envisage that together they will set up the company which the Secretary of State will designate as the FMA. The Government amendments do not refer specifically to members appointed to represent the interests of football supporters. I do not rule out that possibility, although the public comments of the chairman of the Football Supporters Association appear to suggest that his personal attitude to the FMA would be a negative one. It is hard to believe that he would want to be associated with the FMA. I have always accepted, however, that there is a case for football supporters to be mush more closely involved in running the game. That is why we have tabled amendment No. 8, which would require the FMA to give the representatives of football supporters an opportunity to make representations about the content of the football membership scheme. I understand that the football authorities' working party on the scheme has already held one meeting with both the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs and the Football Supporters Association.

The Bill has already begun to have desirable effects. Our amendment will ensure that they keep the consultation process going. I commend the approach that the Government amendments take on the subject rather than that of the Opposition in enlarging the number of members and then seeking to spell out who should appoint the members of the authority. Of course football must be fully represented on the authority. It remains our hope and

Next Section

  Home Page