Previous Section Home Page

Column 45

expectation that the football authorities will form the company that will be designated as the FMA, but if they should decline the offer made to them for first refusal to establish the FMA, or fail to live up to the conditions indicated in that letter, or if something should go wrong with their appointment as the FMA, the legislation must allow for the possibility that someone else, or other nominees from football, will and can be appointed.

Mr. John Carlisle : Have official moves been made inviting the Football Association and the Football League to be members of the FMA? If such an approach has already been made, what has been their response?

Mr. Moynihan : I am not aware that any of the organisations representing football supporters have made formal representations to be appointed to the FMA. A number of people within the world of football--not least those identified by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) in his amendment which was not accepted for debate--might like to be considered for representation. Some of them have said informally that they would like to be considered. Suffice it to say that we shall consider carefully the nominations. I hope that the football authorities will carefully consider the nominees who might be put to them as part of their team--be it from the supporters' organisations, or representatives of the Professional Footballers Association and other bodies.

Mr. Tony Banks : The Minister has referred throughout his speech to the "chairman" of the FMA, and that word appears in the amendment No. 3. Is that normal Government use of sexist language, or will the Minister contemplate the possibility of a woman being the chair of the FMA?

Mr. Moynihan : I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is traditional language which has been employed by his party as well as ours in legislation of this kind. In no way does it rule out the possibility of a woman being appointed as chairman of the FMA.

The third amendment is a drafting amendment. It relates to the possibility that a body established as the FMA might give up the job. In that event, the technically correct phrase is that its functions would be divested rather than withdrawn, as the Bill says at present. The amendment will put that drafting right.

The effect of the Government amendments is to spell out that the chairman of the FMA, be it a man or a woman, must be independent and that there will be six other members--two of them appointed by the Secretary of State and the other four approved by him, or her. If all goes well, that will also be agreed with the football authorities. The amendments carry forward the undertaking that I gave the Committee, and I commend them to the House.

Mr. Denis Howell : Although the Minister tabled the amendment, if falls far short of what we were led to believe the Government intended to do. The Minister has fallen into the trap of believing that football should be represented by the two governing bodies and by no one else. As we know from the petition that was recently presented to the House, over 500,000 people watch football on any Saturday afternoon, but the Minister is

Column 46

telling us in these amendments that they have no right of membership of the Football Membership Authority. That is monstrous. The Minister says that a later amendment gives to the Football Supporters Association and the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs the right to make representations. How very kind of him. What a big deal that is.

The Chester committee of inquiry into football reported 30 years ago and recommended that all those with an interest in football should have a place on the Football Association's governing body, and that that should include the Professional Footballers Association as well as the supporters. Thirty years later that recommendation has not been accepted. That does not give us confidence that the Football Association and the Football League will pay any attention to the inclusion of representatives of supporters and players. Parliament ought to insist that, as of right, they should be represented. When the social contract that is to be enshrined in European legislation is universally applied, the Professional Footballers Association will have the right of membership of the FMA. However, we hope to have that provision in place before then.

We do not seek in our amendments to displace the chairman and the six other members. We wish to increase that number. I have to confess that we have made an error. Instead of increasing that number to eight, we ought to have increased it to nine. When the Bill reaches another place later in the week, I hope that our omission will be rectified. Apart from the Football Association and the Football League, three organisations are entitled to membership of what the Minister says will be a limited company. Therefore, the House ought to say exactly who should be represented on that limited company. The two football organisations that I have mentioned and the Professional Footballers Association ought to be represented, and that brings the number to nine. The Minister and the House of Lords will have the opportunity to consider that later.

We have thought it right to include the Football Association and the Football League by name. The Minister just gave an extraordinary reason for not agreeing to that : he said that they might decide not to co-operate, so he might have to impose some scheme on them and appoint people to run it. Even if the league and the FA say that they will not co-operate, I cannot believe that it would not be possible to obtain the names of people from those organisations to meet the terms of our amendment. The only circumstances in which the FA or the league would not co-operate would be those in which a scheme was forced on them and football was not represented as the majority--

Mr. John Carlisle : Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that if the FA and the league express, as they have, their opposition to the scheme and the opinion that they will not join the FMA if invited to do so, his idea is that they should still be invited on to the committee? We all know of the right hon. Gentleman's close relationship with the Football League and the FA, so perhaps he can inform us of what would happen. Is he saying that those bodies will refuse to serve on the FMA because of their opposition?

Column 47

Mr. Howell : I am saying no such thing : that is what the Minister is saying. The Minister cannot accept our amendment, in which we name the Football Association and the Football League, on the ground that they might not agree to serve. I say that there are members of those organisations-- one is sitting here now : the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans)-- who could fall into the necessary category. Of course the FA and the league are opposed to the scheme, because they know that it will not work, that it will cause mayhem at the turnstiles and that it is an affront to civil liberties which will cause a considerable fall-off in gates among casual visitors, particularly at Christmas and during the holidays. That is why they and we oppose this ridiculous scheme. However, they are democrats and, I am sorry to say, most of them support the Government, although their support is dwindling. If the House puts the Bill on the statute book, members of these organisations will do their best, as law-abiding citizens, to make it work. I think that they would be better advised to have nothing to do with it, because it will not work, and we should not make the representatives of football accept a lawful responsibility, through a limited company, to operate a scheme which they know will not work--but that is their decision, and I understand that they want to participate in the scheme as best they can.

The FA and the league's position is that, although the scheme is a bad job, it should at least be run by football people who understand the difficulties and who will do their best to make it work. I respect that argument, although I am somewhat sceptical about it. The Minister gave us a clear undertaking that the Football Supporters Association and the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs would be able to serve on the scheme, so why has he gone back on that? I do not know why we need an amendment to give the right to make submissions--that is meaningless flannel. Anyone can made representations, but these bodies should be participating--

Mr. David Evans : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that football club supporters' views are not co-ordinated and that the bodies that he is talking about have only a minuscule representation of football supporters? The vast majority of the 500,000 people that he is discussing are not represented by these two football bodies.

Mr. Howell : That was an extraordinary intervention, given that on Friday I presented a petition signed by 500,000 people, every one of whose signatures was gathered by these two organisations. Before this debate started, the Professional Footballers Association presented me with a petition against the Bill which I will be sending to the Prime Minister and which every professional footballer in the country has signed. These people should have a place : every footballer to be found on the fields of England opposes the Bill, but they, too, are disregarded and are not even to have a place in the working of the the scheme--

5.15 pm

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : Would my right hon. Friend wish to point out that not only are these bodies well organised but the Football Supporters Association is so

Column 48

well thought of that Lord Justice Taylor insisted that it be given legal advice and be able to give evidence to his inquiry?

Mr. Howell : I am grateful--

Mr. John Carlisle : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Howell : No, I shall deal with my hon. Friend's intervention. If I do not deal with it satisfactorily I shall give way with my customary courtesy--I seem to spend more time at Luton Town than at Villa Park these days, which is sad.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Lord Justice Taylor said that the FSA should have the right of audience and of counsel paid for from central funds--expensively--and I understand that he continues to seek its advice on points that have arisen during his deliberations. Both these organisations, as anyone who has had anything to do with them will know, are most responsible. I declare an interest in that I am the patron of the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs, which may well be even more responsible than I am, because it does not have to bother with political points.

These organisations clearly have more information than the Minister has. I spent the weekend in the company of one of their officials who gave me a blow-by-blow account of what went on in Poland at the last international match--an area with which we shall deal in part II of the Bill. The Minister may think this amusing--perhaps he can tell us more later. Perhaps he can confirm that the National Front and other organisations behaved contemptibly during the England-Poland match--they went to Auschwitz and behaved in a way that no hon. Member would condone. We tried to raise this matter, but the Chair did not accept our amendment, so I can mention it only in passing. The information on which I based the amendment came from these organisations, which took careful note of what happened--as did the Mail on Sunday reporter who, much to his credit, wrote a vivid report. People of this sort who travel with football supporters can gather this kind of information and know what is actually happening. Most of the directors of the league and the FA, like many of us, have not stood on the terraces for a long time, much less travelled with the England football supporters to see the antics of these disruptive people. The case for having them represented is so that they can say in the councils of the Football Membership Authority, "That is what is happening, gentlemen, and we must direct our attention to it." Having an audience is no substitute for having a responsibility for the government of the scheme.

Mr. John Carlisle : We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the advice that he has supplied about the Football Supporters Association. Can he help us by giving some information about the representation and membership of that association? We are confused because the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends have put down an amendment which talks about

"the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs and the Football Supporters Association or, if they have ceased to function, their equivalents."

The right hon. Gentleman has a deep knowledge of the workings of the Football Supporters Association. Can he tell us how many people it represents? There is no point in the right hon. Gentleman saying that he presented a

Column 49

petition with 430,000 signatures gathered by the FSA. How many members does the FSA have, whom does it represent and what other organisations of equivalent status which are within what we might call the supporters league, could say to the right hon. Gentleman that it also wants to be represented on the FMA?

Mr. Howell : The hon. Gentleman has not sought to amend my proposals and that suggests that he does not know of any other organisation. The Football Supporters Association is like many Conservative organisations: it does not have members, it has supporters.

Mr. David Evans : How many?

Mr. Howell : I do not know. Nobody knows. If there is no membership how the devil can one say what the membership is? It is sufficient for our purposes to know that it exists, speaks for at least 500,000 people and has therefore a legitimate voice. That voice should be heard and the FSA should be a member of the FMA. The National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs is easier to define because as far as I know most of the Football League supporters clubs are members of it. There may be one or two that are not.

Mr. David Evans : Three months ago the total membership for both supporters associations was not more than 15,000 people. The right hon. Gentleman talks about 500,000.

Mr. Howells : I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got that figure. All I can tell him is that every supporters club known to me is in membership of the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs.

Even if Conservative Members are right and I am wrong about the definition of a body that represents supporters, it would be totally wrong to say that supporters should have no right of membership of the FMA. Equally, it is quite wrong to say that professional footballers, almost 100 per cent. of whom are members of the Professional Footballers Association and who signed a petition today, should not have the right to be on this body. Their livelihood is at stake and they should have a right of audience.

Our amendments should be accepted by the Government. If they do not accept them it will be a serious affront to all the people who pay to keep professional football going and to all the people who play it.

Mr. Lester : I shall be brief, because we had a long debate in Committee about the position of football supporters. Surely the debate is not a nice legal argument about membership and whom an organisation represents. The scheme is complicated and difficult enough and one cannot imagine it having any chance of operating unless it has the good will of the Football League, the Football Association and the football supporters' clubs, whether they are federated from individual clubs or members of the national scheme. The real point is that whoever is appointed as a result of the Government amendment will not have a cat in hell's chance of making the scheme work if they do not have an interest in working with the grain of football. That is the point that we seek to make. If the Government want to have any chance of even making the scheme tick over, never mind work in terms of excluding the 1,800 people

Column 50

who are the subject of exclusion orders, they must have the good will of the Football Association, the Football League and the football supporters' clubs.

There is no point in knocking or criticising those bodies, because they run the industry and have the greatest involvement in and knowledge of it. They are most anxious to get rid of the hooligans--a point which is constantly forgotten--because they would lose more from hooligans than anybody. The central point that the Minister must consider is how to keep moving along while retaining the good will of those involved in the industry. Without that good will, whom ever he appoints to the body will have no opportunity to make the scheme work.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : I was astounded by the Minister's reason for ignoring the Football Supporters Association and the other body representing football supporters. The only reason he gave was that one representative of the Football Supporters Association had seemed to signify that he would not be interested in being a member of the Football Membership Authority. The Minister has admitted that he has never had discussions with the Football League or the Football Association about whether they would be willing to be members of the FMA.

Mr. Moynihan : I am more than willing to assist the hon. Gentleman on that matter. He is wrong. The Football Association and the Football League have indicated their willingness to serve on the FMA. Indeed, they have gone further and have asked for first refusal at the time of the Secretary of State's appointments to the FMA. They have been co-operating for months on a working party to establish detailed proposals for a national membership scheme. From over 100 potential suppliers they have produced a short list of six and are working on the terms of reference to go out to tender. They have been keenly working on the details, but, of course, they have made their overall position clear about the national membership scheme. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) was right to say that despite the opposition in principle, the Football Association and the Football League consist of honourable men who will work within the law to ensure that the scheme works effectively, as I am sure it will, as soon as possible.

Mr. Wareing : The essential point is that, from the outset, the Football Association and the Football League, like the Football Supporters Association, have been completely opposed to the scheme. Only one club in the country is in accord with the Minister's desires and the Prime Minister's maniacal desires. That is Luton Town football club, whose attendances are falling and whose chairman was the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans).

There is something about what the Minister said in the debate that suggests some sort of attempt to cover up in future anything that happens in football by saying that the Football Membership Authority is a plc and is independent of the Government. At the same time, the Secretary of State will have the right to determine that, if the FMA does not live up to the desires of the Prime Minister, it can be disbanded and a new FMA set up. What plc in the country can be abolished by the Secretary of State and a new one brought into existence?

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) made all sorts of attacks on the Football Supporters

Column 51

Association. He asked how many members it has and how many people it represents. The real reason for his questions is that he does not want any football supporters represented on the FMA. No Conservative Member would ask the same questions about any other quango-- and, plc or not, the FMA will be a quango. No Conservative Member asked such questions about the membership of such organisations as the Port of London Authority or the Merseyside development corporation. They have only asked questions about something to which they are opposed in principle, but they are afraid to say that it is opposition in principle. The Government do not wish football supporters to be represented on the body, and that is the top and the bottom of it. 5.30 pm

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : I am pleased that Conservative Members have spoken about recognition and how many people are represented by these organisations. However, it is peculiar that they have raised it only now, bearing in mind their recognition of organisations that are thinly disguised as something else. For instance, they recognise the Federation of Professional Railway Servants and other organisations in industry and the Association of Conservative Trade Unionists, which represents little. The membership of the 92 league clubs is proportionately higher than Conservative party membership in the 650 constituencies. Where is the balance?

Mr. Wareing : As my hon. Friend is pointing out, it is ludicrous for Conservative Members, as members of an organisation that lacks much of what is regarded as democratic, to attack football supporters associations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) has made the essential point that the football supporters and their associations are the consumers of the football industry, and consumers need to be represented. Consumers in all industries should be consulted when their essential needs are the subject of discussion and debate.

The FMA can be certain of carrying with it the weight of the opinion of football supporters only if they are represented on the authority itself. I would not say that all football

directors--certainly not the ones that I have met in the House--are the most sensible of men. I remember some years ago the former professional player of Sunderland and Newcastle, Len Shackleton, writing a book, "The Clown Prince of Soccer", in which he had a blank page. At the bottom, he said, "This is the average football director's knowledge of the game." I would not go so far as to say that, except of Luton Town.

Football directors, the Football Association and the Football League should be represented on the FMA, and we seek to enshrine that in statute with our amendment, but so should football supporters, because they are at the rough end not only of this measure but of hooliganism. They are the sufferers, and they are entitled not just to make representations to, but to be represented on, the FMA.

Mr. Couchman : My hon. Friend the Minister is right not to be too prescriptive in laying down who should be members of the new FMA. However, he has given scant

Column 52

information about whether these people will be paid and if so, whether, like those who will become members of the Football Licensing Authority, they will be disqualified from becoming Members of the House of Commons. He has not said whether the chairman, in receiving remuneration, would enjoy the same sort of position as the chairmen of health authorities. He might have given more information about who will be members of the new body.

However, I agree that to have been prescriptive in the way that the Opposition wish my hon. Friend to be prescriptive would be to limit severely his opportunity to appoint the most appropriate people to the new FMA. He owes a little explanation on whether this will be a remunerated position, and under what circumstances. However, he should resist the Opposition's desire to pack the new FMA with people who have a highly vested interest in football.

Mr. Tony Banks : I wish to pick up something that I raised with the Minister earlier about the language in the amendment and its reference to a "chairman". It was not just tokenism. I feel strongly that consideration should seriously be given to having women representatives on the FMA. Many of us feel that if the influence of women were stronger and more obvious within football, both in management and on the terraces, some of the macho male domination and violence associated with football would be assuaged. The Minister should consider that.

Football has many women supporters, although not as many as there should be, because the violence deters them from going to matches. I would be interested to know how women have been arrested for violence either outside or inside the grounds. I suspect that, although one or two women have been arrested, that is all. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will bear this point in mind when he comes to study the nominations for the members of the FMA, and that he will make sure that women representatives are on it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) is right to say that it is preposterous that there will not be clearly designated places on the FMA for supporters, through whatever body speaks for them. I should like to see a body much larger than the one that exists now, but no one can deny that it speaks for supporters. The various discussions in which Mr. Rogan Taylor has been involved have not only elevated him to a justified position of national significance, but have shown that he speaks a lot of good sense. We need to encourage such people. Many football supporters have views similar to those expressed by Mr. Taylor, and that should be taken into account. We tend to see football supporters as a mindless bunch of lumpen proletarians, interested only in kicking the hell out of old ladies. That is not true. Those who know anything about football know that that is a gross caricature. However, unfortunately, that is the unjustified image of football. The Football Supporters Association had done a great job in raising the reputation of the great mass of football supporters. It is churlish of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) to sneer at the Football Supporters Association by querying how many members it has. The hon. Member Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) dismissed it because it has only 25,000 members. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) said, in proportionate terms, that represents a large membership,

Column 53

and it is growing apace, because football supporters clubs can also affiliate. Therefore, the FSA can justifiably speak for the great majority of football supporters.

Mr. David Evans : Is the hon. Gentleman therefore suggesting that Manchester United, which has 95,000 members, should also be a member of the FMA?

Mr. Banks : If there was someone from Manchester United who was a genuine supporter and part of the supporters' club, that person would probably be a valued member of the authority. We are saying that there should be someone who clearly speaks for football supporters, and the only organisation that makes it clear that it speaks on behalf of supporters is the Football Supporters Association.

Mr. John Carlisle : If I heard the hon. Gentleman aright, he said that the membership of the Football Supporters Association is growing apace. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham Small Heath (Mr. Howell) said that he did not know how many members there were, what is the basis for the hon. Gentleman's figures? How does the hon. Gentleman know how many members there are?

Mr. Banks : I have been reading the back pages of sufficient newspapers, when I have not been reading and laughing at the articles on the front pages about the crisis that the Government have got themselves into over the resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to know that the number of applications that are being sent to the FSA is increasing enormously. It is a growing body. The more that supporters realise that there is a body that is prepared to speak for them, the more likely they are to join it.

We are faced with the prospect that football supporters will have as their mouthpiece a bunch of handpicked Tory stooges. No doubt the Thatcherite dictum will be applied : "Is he one of us?" That is something that we must resist.

The question has already been asked, "Why don't we have someone from the Professional Footballers Association?" There can be no argument about how many people the PFA represents. It is obvious that it speaks for professional footballers. Why is it not represented on the Football Membership Authority? It has an authentic voice and a legitimate claim to be heard.

It is not good enough for the Minister to say, "The Association can write to me." If there is to be something called a Football Membership Authority, we want to see supporters, however they are selected, and players, however they are selected, represented on it. We suspect, with some justification, that when the Minister decides who will become members of the FMA, the first and major qualification will be a Tory party membership card and not some knowledge of football. It is no good the Minister saying that he will be different and not follow the practice of the past, because we know how all quangos have been approached by the Government.

Mr. Meale : Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1983 a survey was carried out of health authority membership? When previous Governments were in office, the balance between Conservative and Labour Members was about 60 : 40. Following the election of the Tory Government in 1979, it was found that by 1983 the membership was 9 : 1 in favour of the Government. That reinforces the fears that my hon. Friend is expressing.

Column 54

Mr. Banks : Indeed. The statistical as well as the anecdotal evidence shows that the present Minister for Sport, or any Minister who takes his place--no doubt two or three will do so before we have the Football Membership Authority up and running, if it ever is brought to that stage--will have as his primary consideration the affiliation and loyalty to the Conservative party of the individual that he is considering. That is not good enough, and that is why we have tabled amendments (a), (b) and (c).

I much regret that I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill. I have asked my colleagues who were members of it whether there was any mention in Committee of members of the Football Membership Authority receiving payments. Will the chair of the authority receive any form of payment? That is an important matter which we should know about, along with all the others that I have raised.

I ask the Minister to outline his proposals and not merely to say, "Anyone can write to me. I wish it to be understood that my door is always open." We must ensure that there are authentic spokespersons to represent the supporters and the players.

I have never heard the hon. Member for Luton, North question whom the National Viewers and Listeners Association, with Mary Whitehouse, represents. She and the association constitute one of the strongest supporters of the Conservative party. It is listened to more than any other organisation within the Conservative party when it comes to broadcasting standards. I doubt whether Mrs. Mary Whitehouse represents any more than a mere handful of loonies and nutters within the Tory party in the shire counties. It comes ill from the hon. Member for Luton, North to tell the Football Supporters Association that it does not speak on behalf of football supporters.

5.45 pm

Mr. Burt : I differ from Opposition Members, because I do not believe that the door is being shut in the face of supporters or anyone else who wishes to become a member of the Football Membership Authority. The Bill makes it clear that there is no prescriptive right for anyone to be a member of it, but the door is open for anyone who is nominated and supported. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), in his confusion, talked about whether his party should have asked for eight or nine places. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) found himself in difficulties when he was led down the road of considering whether there should be a member of the Football Membership Authority who was a representative of large football supporters' clubs. There could be a huge FMA if the Bill were prescriptive. It is far better to leave open the question of membership, but I say that with some qualifications, which I shall outline.

Some attention has been paid to the important role and development of football supporters' associations. There is no doubt that over the past few years these associations have come into their own. In a sense, the Bill gives them quite a boost. It will provide them with an opportunity to organise and to work. For some individuals--Rogan Taylor comes to mind--it has meant a profile, and I think that in the main he has responded very well to that. He has become an effective and coherent voice for the supporter.

Column 55

He has done much to change some of the public attitudes that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West was talking about.

None of us believes that the football supporter is the sort of person that the hon. Gentleman described. The football hooligan fits that description, and he is the villain we should be aiming at. The supporter has many of the characteristics that are represented by Rogan Taylor and his colleagues.

As the various groups evolve, we cannot have a clear idea of their structures. We cannot be clear about membership or anything else. I have no doubt, however, that in time the supporters will be properly organised. Probably the distinction will be lost between the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs and the Football Supporters Association. Until that happens, I think it best that the Bill remains open. I strongly counsel my hon. Friend the Minister--he knows that I feel deeply on this issue--that there should be space for a representative voice of the football supporter within the Football Membership Authority.

It is open to question whether there should be representatives from the Professional Footballers Association. Many people believe that the Secretary of the PFA should be a commissioner for football as a whole. Some of us support the Bill because we see it as a turning point in the administration of football. We see the FMA as an embryonic body that can be used as a launching pad for a new approach to football. If the FMA is to have a membership that will take part in changing the face of football, ridding it of the old image which has lost it public support at the turnstiles, it is important that it is a tightly organised body that is determined to make certain changes with an eye to the future. That is a positive step that can be taken in the implementation of the scheme.

The difference between the positive and negative attitudes to the scheme has been evident throughout our consideration of the Bill. Opposition Members retain their view that the Bill is a bad measure and that only negative responses will flow from it. My hon. Friends and I believe that positive opportunities will flow.

I counsel my hon. Friend the Minister not only to consider the arguments of football supporters to be represented on the FMA but to ensure that its members have a clear understanding of the commercial opportunities presented by the membership scheme in changing the face of football. My belief is that only people one step removed from football administration can take a clear view of the future. We all agree that football administrators of the past made mistakes and that a new view should be taken by outsiders of changes that should be made.

Only a few years ago, the two great sports of the United States--football and baseball--were in disarray. Attendances were falling and public interest was slight. Although neither sport suffered from the hooliganism that affects soccer in Britain, both national games were in trouble. Consequently, their structure was reorganised, and football and baseball appointed commissioners to examine the way in which public attitudes to those games could be altered.

Today, as a result, American football and baseball are singularly successful. American football is now so

Column 56

successful that we can even watch it on television in this country. We gave soccer to the world, but if one walks down a street in Bury, one can see plenty of youngsters wearing tee-shirts featuring American football teams. How many kids in Chicago walk around wearing Manchester United or Football League tee-shirts? There are many opportunities to be exploited for the future of British football to earn revenue that can be returned to the clubs and to their supporters--and they are the people who have been missed out in many of the revenue-gathering operations of the past.

My hon. Friend the Minister should by all means keep the composition of the Football Membership Authority tight, but he ought to ensure that its members are forward-looking and make the most of the opportunities to change the way in which the man in the street views football--so that he, his wife and his children are wooed back to the game. If my hon. Friend the Minister also keeps his options open in respect of support from whichever may be the best suited football supporters' organisation, the Football Membership Authority will be ready for the future and able to exploit the changes that the Bill offers.

Mr. Joe Aston (Bassetlaw) : First, I declare an interest as vice- president of Sheffield Wednesday supporters' club, unanimously elected at its annual general meeting--yet I would not touch the Minister's proposals with a bargepole. The Bill will be the biggest disaster to beset football in a lifetime. It will be an immense, gigantic cock-up of the first order. Any football supporter who wants to be associated with the Football Membership Authority ought to have his head examined.

It surprises me that the Minister for Sport is not sufficiently astute to offer at least four or five places on the FMA to football supporters, so that if the scheme goes wrong he can say, "They helped to start it up. It is all their fault." The Minister does not even have the political nous to look for scapegoats. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer was at least able to blame trade unions for contributing to inflation by making excessive wage demands, but now that the Government have destroyed the trade unions, they can no longer be targeted.

I hope that the supporters' clubs have nothing to do with the FMA, which is 100 per cent. the brainchild of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Sport, and the two apartheid supporters from Luton--the hon. Members for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and for Luton, South (Mr. Bright)-- who do not believe that anyone at the bottom of the social scale should have a voice. Blame for the scheme's shortcomings should be left fairly and squarely on their doorsteps, and they should sink with it.

Mr. David Evans : My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) hit the nail on the head. The Football Association, which has governed the sport for as long as any of us can remember, has made a complete and utter mess of it. The game has lost half its supporters and half the number of people that it previously employed. It frightens me, to say the least, that consideration is being given to inviting the failed administrators responsible for that situation to sit on the FMA, which offers football another chance in its last breath. This is the last time that our great game of football has a chance of rescuing itself from the depths of depression, from hooliganism, and

Column 57

from criminal activity. I am nervous that we are about to embark on a course that will involve the total idiots that have been running the game for so long.

The association has had three presidents in only one year, and it has been trying to appoint a chief executive for 20 months. It has interviewed 68 candidates but has been unable to find one suitable person to run the Football League. Supporters should be represented on the FMA, but whom does one choose? There are 90,000 Manchester United supporters and even 20,000 paid-up Luton supporters--yet only 15,000 people belong to the Football Supporters Association, which is a ludicrous situation.

For goodness' sake, the Minister must not involve too many failed people from the Football League and Football Association. There is criminal activity both inside and outside the game, and it has not gone away. One thinks of Blackpool and of Stockholm. Far from going away, the problem has grown worse. I recommend that my hon. Friend the Minister chooses carefully from the league and the association those who are to sit on the FMA.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I want to respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) but, unfortunately, he has left the Chamber. In arguing against football supporters being represented on the FMA at this stage, he stressed that the Bill offers tremendous commercial advantages. It is because such arguments are used by Conservative Members that football supporters should be involved. They bring an entirely different set of values to bear from the commercial interests that have often influenced Conservative Members.

In Committee, a fracture was evident, in that some hon. Members saw the Bill as a way of containing hooliganism--which it is ill equipped to do-- whereas others stressed its commercial potential. People are jumping on the back of a spurious attempt to minimise hooliganism in order to change the whole nature of the game and to bring about a situation of a kind that has been compared with American baseball. We may therefore expect to see the sale of popcorn at half-time and other forms of commercial activity, rather than a continuation of the sport's traditions, whereby supporters attend a match solely to watch their team play. It is the Rogan Taylors of this world who should be involved in the running of the scheme, to bring some semblance of sanity to the Government's proposals.

Mr. Shersby : Much has been said about supporters' clubs being represented on the Football Membership Authority, but perhaps the Minister can say more about its chairman. If the authority has any chance of working well, it needs an outstanding chairman--an outstanding man or woman who is acceptable not only to the world of football but to the police, to this House, and to everyone else who takes an interest in crowd safety.

Can my hon. Friend reveal the chairman's term of office, his job specification, and who will take responsibility for preparing that job specification--particularly bearing in mind that we have been told today that the FMA will be not a quango but a limited company? Can my hon. Friend say also who will be responsible for drawing up the FMA's articles of association? One presumes that that will be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but that is not clear from the amendment.

Column 58

Further, when is the commencement order likely to be laid? As I recall, we were clearly told on Second Reading that the House would have an opportunity to vote on the commencement order when it was laid. I assume, therefore, that the order will incorporate a list of authority members and another of the organisations that nominated them, and, above all, that it will deal with the important question of the chairmanship.

6 pm

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : I agree with the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) that the chair of the football authority will need to be a genius to save, if not the game, at least some clubs from potential destruction. I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) severe doubts about whether supporters ought to be involved : it seems almost like participating in one's own funeral as a pallbearer.

In the past, I have spoken rather harshly about the Under-Secretary of State, but I do not propose to do so in the future, for good practical reasons. After all, I do not know whether tomorrow he will be Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary or Secretary of State for the Environment. If a former Lambeth borough councillor can become Chancellor, I do not know what will happen next. The actions of the chairman of selectors for the Government have been somewhat unpredictable recently, so I think that we had better be polite to the Under-Secretary.

If people are to be involved in decision making--I am thinking particularly of exemptions from the scheme--those people should include football supporters. It is unthinkable that, when a statutory body such as this is set up--be it a quango or a limited company--primacy should not be given to those actually engaged in the game of football.

We hear talk of the need for self-regulation in the City, and the need for it to be carried out by those most closely involved ; similarly, it would have been inconceivable for the Manpower Services Commission not to be composed primarily of employers and trade unions. That is customary in the case of nearly every statutory body. The recently established Legal Aid Board, for example, although not composed exclusively of lawyers, contains a sensible number, who know what is going on. Although the Under-Secretary may not wish to write such a requirement into the statute, he should give a clear undertaking that those most closely involved in football will have a part to play and the ability to comment.

In my experience of the terraces, supporters want to get on with watching the game without interruptions or hooliganism. I often hear more sensible suggestions about policing from supporters than from the governors or the police themselves. They complain that all the supporters of the home team must diagonally cross the path of all the away team supporters, and their suggestions about how entry and exit should be organised demonstrate that they have far more common sense than many others who are involved.

The overwhelming majority of supporters want an end to the pitch invasions that hold up games. The Under-Secretary has often referred to the invasion of the Crystal Palace pitch by Birmingham fans, but the last thing that the Crystal Palace fans wanted was such an invasion : that is how any supporter would feel when his

Next Section

  Home Page