|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 59team was ahead and had a chance of going into the first division or taking part in the play-offs. He does not want to see the match abandoned and the team having to start all over again, perhaps on a neutral ground, thus losing its advantage. There is much good sense among supporters, and much will to make the game work without hooliganism. It would be monstrous for the Government not at least to give an undertaking that supporters and others closely involved in the game will be members of the authority.
Mr. John Carlisle : I am sorry that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), whose opinion most Conservative member respect, prefaced his remarks with a personal attack on my hon. Friend the Minister. That was quite unnecessary and, if I may say so, somewhat unneighbourly. One of the Bill's merits is that it is rather difficult for casual supporters such as the hon. Gentleman to drift into the Chamber and make such comments. His later comments, however, were more creditable, and, indeed, more in the spirit of the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell).
I am also sorry that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) are not in the Chamber. They were worried--as perhaps we all are--about the composition of the Football Membership Authority, fearing that it might be peopled by Tory stooges, as I believe they are described. The hon. Member for Newhan, North-West also accused my party of putting nominated members on to health authorities, and pointed out that there were more Conservative members of such authorities in 1983 than in previous years.
Those hon. Members are like the pot calling the kettle black. When Labour has taken office in local authorities--which, thankfully, has occurred very little recently--it has unhesitatingly removed Conservative councillors from school governing bodies, for instance, and has appointed its own supporters to local authority posts with no compunction. Unlike the Conservative party, Labour has not left even a vestige of opposition to its views. If the Secretary of State decides--as I am sure that he will not--to place Conservative supporters on the authority, on the nomination of six members, that will be by no means unfortunate, as they may be the only people willing and sensible enough to see the scheme go through. The only sense spoken in this debate and in Committee has come from Conservative Members. The right hon. Member for Small Heath--much though we respect his views--let the cat out of the bag. His amendment requires members of the football supporters' associations to be members of the FMA, yet he admitted to the House that those associations had no members, which seemed to come as a complete surprise to Opposition Members. He could not tell the House exactly what their composition was. Obviously they have officers ; perhaps we should ask the right hon. Gentleman whether those officers are self- apppointed, or whether elections take place. Who are the members of the associations? But I must correct myself : according to the right hon. Gentleman, they have no members.
How, in all logic, can the right hon. Gentleman put down an amendment requiring bodies with no members to be represented on the FMA? If the FMA were to say to the
Column 60supporters' associations, "Please nominate one of your members for representation," the associations would have to reply, "I am sorry, we cannot do so, because we have no members."
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) pointed out, in his utter confusion the right hon. Gentleman stated in amendment (a) that the authority should have eight members when he meant nine. There is, indeed, complete confusion on the Opposition Benches about who represents football supporters. Is it the National Federation of Football Supporters' Clubs, or is it the Football Supporters Association? Is it the members of Manchester United supporters association, the 20,000 members of Luton supporters association or, indeed, the many people throughout the country who are members of associations supporting their individual clubs, but not necessarily members of the FSA?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that our experience in Committee with FSA members--particularly my experience--was less than fortunate. The only hooliganism that took place, albeit after the Committee had risen for lunch, was perpetrated against me, when a member of the FSA brandished papers and threatened to inflict physical violence on me because of what I had said. If that is the sort of person that the Opposition would like to be represented on the FMA, so be it, but they must decide for themselves exactly who should be nominated. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that we have not yet reached amendment No. 8, in which my hon. Friend the Minister speaks of giving
"such persons as appear to represent the interests of football supporters an opportunity to make representations."
Perhaps that would be a better idea. There is no doubt whatsoever that the confusion spread by the right hon. Member for Small Heath and his hon. Friends makes it difficult for us to see who should be on the FMA. We are far better to take the wise words and counsel of my hon. Friend the Minister, as we have throughout the Committee, that the FMA and the Secretary of State will have the wisdom and foresight to include on that authority representatives of the supporters' groups.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) accused me of wanting to have no supporters on the FMA. That is a total misrepresentation, although that has not been unusual for the hon. Gentleman in our deliberations on the Bill. I agree with him that the supporters should have a voice. But regrettably, the Opposition in their ineptitude have not been able to suggest anyone who would be truly representative or able to nominate anyone. [ Hon. Members-- : "Who would the hon. Gentleman suggest?"] Opposition Members ask who I would suggest. As my hon. Friend the Minister has suggested in amendment No. 8, I would be happy for representatives of football supporters' associations to suggest particular names. When I refer to football supporters' associations, I refer to associations throughout the country, not to that mysterious, ghostlike organisation that exists with no members, when we do not know whether its representatives are elected or appointed, whom they represent and where that representation will go.
My hon. Friend has the utmost support from Conservative Members, who throughout the passage of the Bill sought clarity of purpose, and wish to make sure that those involved in the running of the FMA know something about the game. He has our support because we are convinced that we have the right formula for correcting
Column 61the problems that have been listed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Therefore, I fully support the amendment.
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde) : I intend to detain the House just for a moment. I had no intention of speaking in this debate until I heard the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). It is as well to put the record straight. Many hon. Members from both sides of the House were present at that Committee meeting. It is true that when the Committee adjourned for lunch, one supporter, who rightly felt very angry at some of the nonsense from the hon. Member for Luton, North, voiced his opinions very strongly. But there was no physical contact and he only brandished a piece of paper. We witnessed that, and it was most unfair of the hon. Gentleman to raise that matter and slur the organisation concerned. I hope that is clearly on record, and I see that my hon. Friends agree that that is an accurate description of what took place.
We should take some credit for the fact that until now the Minister has appeared to be converted to the idea that football supporters should be heard in the higher echelons of the game. Not only has he said that in the House, in committee and in other forums throughout the country, but he said it to a very wide audience on "Wogan". He said that supporters should be heard by football clubs at board level. If he feels that they should be on the boards of football clubs, it is a short step to allow them on the FMA.
I hope that the Minister will say clearly that he is in favour of the Opposition amendment. It is clear that the people who represent football supporters are the true lovers of football. They are the people who stand on the terraces whatever the weather supporting that great game. They bring an element of sense into the whole debate. That has been recognised by most people involved in the game, including Lord Justice Taylor, who now turn to those bodies because they talk the level-headed sense that we expect from genuine football supporters. Therefore, we urge the Minister, who has turned a little in our favour, to come full circle, accept the force of our argument and ensure, on the face of the Bill, that those representatives are on the FMA.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and me that six members were not sufficient and that there ought to be eight. Tonight he suggested that the figure should be nine. One could go on and on, but the real issue is that in drafting the Bill and concluding our deliberations on it, we must be sure that it specifies the right number of representatives. That number has to be sufficient to ensure that there will be room for organisations with a valid claim to be represented on the FMA. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to state clearly that he recognises the overwhelming argument for representation not only from the FA and the Football League which have suggested that they are willing to serve but from the Football Supporters Association.
As the House knows, I am not a proponent of the Bill. In general, I am against it, but if we are to have a Bill and
Column 62a scheme, it behoves all of us involved in football to try to ensure that the scheme works. If, as the proponents of the Bill suggest, its purpose is to police out the hooligans, we shall be left with the overwhelming majority of law-abiding supporters attending football matches. If we are to have membership schemes, we want meaningful schemes along the lines of those that Lord Justice Popplewell suggested in his report, so that fans and clubs feel a much closer sense of identity with one another.
I have put my name to amendment (c) tabled by the right hon. Member for Small Heath. Although it may be inappropriate to add those words to the Bill, will my hon. Friend give a firm assurance tonight that there will be an opportunity for football supporter representations on the Football Membership Authority?
Mr. Moynihan : I start on an exceptionally serious note by saying that of course I am totally at one with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) about the ugly and sickening behaviour of some fans who travelled to Poland. I had extensive reports from officials working at the match. Moreover, I received reports at first hand from travelling fans, not least through the usual obscene and sickening messages, written on the back of postcards displaying black and white pictures of Auschwitz and coffins. That was in addition to the excrement, the death threats and the used condoms which my secretary finds far too regularly in the morning post. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that is utterly sickening. Individuals who bring the game into disrepute internationally should be brought to book in whatever way possible for that aspect of their behaviour. That is something on which the right hon. Gentleman and I are totally at one.
I recognise his point about individuals who posture as National Front supporters, although I doubt whether they have the faintest clue what the National Front stands for. I believe that, subject to the will of Parliament any aspect of that behaviour should be covered by the conditions of membership irrespective of whether people are in favour of the scheme. The FMA, whoever is on it, should take the firmest action against behaviour that brings the game into disrepute, wherever it exists.
The right hon. Member for Small Heath mentioned the membership of the FMA, which has been well debated. For different reasons, which I accept, hon. Members have spoken for and against football supporters' representatives being members of the FMA. I shall repeat the clear undertaking which I gave in Committee. I said that we are sympathetic to the involvement of football supporters' organisations in the running of the FMA. I continued :
"It would not be helpful to refer to the existing organisations by name in the Bill because there would be difficulties if they were to go out of business, or if a new supporters' organisation appeared."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 12 July 1989 ; c. 336.] Two years ago, we would not have been debating the Football Supporters Association, and it is important to bear that in mind when placing the names of existing organisations on the face of legislation that will last a long time.
I repeat that I am sympathetic to the notion of directly involving supporters in the running of the FMA. The amendment is drawn sufficiently widely to ensure that, from the four appointments and two nominations, the
Column 63Secretary of State will be able carefully to consider the nomination of football supporters' organisations when considering the establishment of the FMA.
I hope that, by emphasing that point, I have satisfied not only my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) but my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) and other hon. Members. We could have had an equally sensitive and detailed debate on the merits of a range of footballing bodies being represented on the FMA. We could have argued a strong case for the Professional Footballers Association, for the Referees Association and the Football League executive staffs association. A strong case can be made for the consideration of supporters and their organisations, and I hope that nominations for the consideration of the Secretary of State will come from as wide a representation of bodies involved in football as possible. I strongly repeat the undertaking I gave about the sympathy of the Secretary of State for the direct involvement of supporters in the running of the FMA.
I had hoped that the debate would not be as lengthy as it has been, because we responed directly to amendment No. 54, which was moved in Committee by the right hon. Member for Small Heath, who kindly said that we had responded to a number of his suggestions. He moved an amendment to ensure the independence of the chairman of the FMA. He was keen to ensure that the chairman is not involved in the ownership or management of any premises at which designated football matches are played. He suggested that no fewer than six members of the authority should hold office under the terms and conditions laid down in the schedule. In practice, we have moved to seven members for the authority.
I hope that I have responded fully to the right hon. Gentleman, and I appreciate the point that he made about eight members of the FMA. I hope that he recognises that it is important that his concerns about the independence of the chairman, which are shared by the football authorities and the Government, are met by amendment No. 2. Payment and the terms of appointment of members of the FMA will be delt with in the articles of association of the company. As hon. Members who served on the Committee know, it will be a private company and not a quango. We should therefore keep the role of legislation in it to a minimum.
We have responded to the points that were pressed most strongly in Committee about the independence of the FMA, but it will be for the bodies that form the company to draw up its articles of association and deal with the term of the chairman's appointment, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman). The Secretary of State will take an interest in such matters, because he will be considering the appointment of the FMA, but he will not write its articles of association.
The FMA is very different from the Football Licensing Authority, which is a quango and is thus subject to all the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham made about health authorities and the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Those points will not apply to the FMA.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) mentioned terms of office, job specifications and
Column 64articles of association. All those issues will be worked out by the FMA and will be subject to the futher consideration of the Secretary of State when he approves the FMA, subject to the will of the House in the first of the two debates that are expected to take place following Lord Justice Taylor's final report.
I recognise that that may not completely satisfy Opposition Members, but I hope that the firm commitment that I have given, in the light of the conflicting views that have been expressed, proves our keen and determined willingness to ensure the active involvement of football supporters not only in then FMA but, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) said, in their clubs and, through their clubs, in the running of the game. There are many international examples that British football can readily follow, not least Portugal. Although that argument is tangential to the Bill, it must nevertheless be considered carefully by football's authorities.
Naturally, we are disappointed by what the Minister said. Normally, we would have sought to divide the House on the three amendments, but as we are already hours late, and as that would take 45 minutes, we shall not do so. I am advised by my right hon. and hon. Friends that we shall have one vote at nine o'clock, which will illustrate our various objections.
I thank the Minister for moving half a step in our direction, which is all that we can expect at this hour of the night.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made : 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. No. 4, in page 3, line 19, leave out withdrawn' and insert divested'. [Mr. Moynihan.]
( ) Where the Secretary of State withdraws the designation of a body as the Football Membership Authority, he shall, as soon as it appears to him to be appropriate to do so, lay before each House of Parliament a report stating his reasons for the withdrawal.'. In Committee, I explained that it was the Government's intention that the Secretary of State should report to Parliament on any decision to withdraw his designation of
Column 65a body as the FMA. I promised to consider whether it was necessary to provide for this on the face of the Bill, and, if so, to bring forward an appropriate amendment on Report. That issue was again raised tonight by Opposition Members.
Amendment No. 5 follows from that undertaking. It requires the Secretary of State to explain in a report to each House the reasons for the withdrawal of his designation, and for the report to be laid as soon as the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to do so. The reference to timing is important. If the Bill were to require the Secretary of State to make his report within a specified period, as was suggested at an earlier stage, the circumstances of a particular case could make it very difficult, or perhaps impossible, for him to comply. If, for example, there were allegations that those running the FMA had committed criminal offences, it would clearly be impossible for the Secretary of State to make his report in advance of the resolution of the associated legal proceedings. The amendment will ensure that Parliament is fully informed as soon as possible of any decision that the Secretary of State takes to withdraw his designation.
Amendment No. 6 requires the FMA to consult the Football Association of Wales and fulfils an undertaking I gave in Committee to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is, with the assistance of a working party of interested parties set up for the purpose, looking at the matches in Wales to which the scheme should apply. It is important that the Football Association of Wales should have the opportunity of making an input as the scheme is drawn up or in the event of its being modified. I am happy, by way of this amendment, to ensure that the association is given this opportunity. The third amendment concerns the important matter of safeguarding the interests of football supporters. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) moved an amendment in Committee to add the Football Supporters Association and the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs to the bodies that the FMA must consult under clause 4(2). I explained in Committee that the Government are sympathetic to the notion of involving the football supporters' organisations and I said that I would consider how best to achieve it.
As I have explained fully to the House, it remains my view that it would not be helpful to refer to the existing supporters' organisations by name in the Bill, not least because there could be difficulties if they should cease to exist, or if a new organisation should be formed. The
Column 66amendment therefore provides for the FMA to consult supporters' organisations. Those organisations would then have the opportunity of making representations on the detailed scheme as it is drawn up or on any changes made to it. I commend this approach to the House. The Football Membership Authority's working party on the scheme is already consulting the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs and the Football Supporters Association. However, I regret that the chairman of the FSA may not take the positive approach to the scheme that I had hoped for. Nevertheless, it is important that the FMA should consult supporters. The Government are fully committed to involving football supporters in drawing up the scheme. They must be involved and given the chance to have their say. The amendment will bring that about.
Mr. Rowlands : I thank the Minister for responding to our call in Committee to ensure that the Football Association for Wales will be properly and statutorily recognised in the consultation process. As the Minister will acknowledge, we made strenuous efforts to exclude Wales from the Bill but, having failed to do so, it is right and proper that the Football Association of Wales should have a proper statutory role in the consultation process. I hope that the Football Association of Wales will seek to strengthen and develop its links with football and football supporters in Wales.
The association had the image of an aged establishment that was not capable of responding and relating to the widespread and growing support for football--both league and non-league--in Wales. Having been given that function and role, I hope that, in future, the Football Association of Wales will start to reflect the energy, excitement, support and commitment of a large number of people. Although rugby is our national sport, football has great support in the Principality. I welcome the opportunity that the Minister has provided for the Football Association of Wales to take part in the vital consultation process.
Mr. Tony Banks : The Minister kept saying that the Government were determined that supporters should be consulted. However, what matters is not what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box but what is written in the Bill. If the Bill is amended as the Minister expects it to be, it will provide for consultation with the Football Association and the Football League, but football supporters will have only an "opportunity to make representations." Anyone has the opportunity to make representations to the FMA. The Minister should find some other way of ensuring that football supporters have a statutory right to be consulted, rather than the wishy- washy permissive approach that he is enshrining within the Bill.
"give such persons as appear to it to represent the interests of football supporters an opportunity to make representations." That is a strong commitment. I have no doubt that, if lively and active football supporters' associations were not given the opportunity to represent the interests of the bodies that they form, they would act swiftly to seek judicial review.
Amendment agreed to.
Column 67Amendments made : No. 7, in page 3, line 47, after Association', insert
,the Football Association of Wales'.
No. 8, in page 3, line 48, at end insert
(b) give such persons as appear to it to represent the interests of football supporters an opportunity to make representations.'.-- [Mr. Moynihan.]
Provided that the Secretary of State and the Football Membership Authority are satisfied that any equipment to be used for the operation of the scheme has been thoroughly tested for a sufficient period of time as to allow such testing to take place during the winter months.'
The amendment is tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). It spells out clearly the test of the Government's good faith. All along we have given credibility to the Government's promise that they would not implement any scheme unless they were satisfied that it was technically sound. We need to insert the amendment because we all recognise that the technology needs to be tested in a full profile of the football season. It will not be enough for it to be tested for a brief period during a certain time of the year, because in football things happen at odd times. For example, cup matches are played late in the season and a first division club could play a "giant-killing" non-league club. Nobody can predict when such matches will occur. We need to cover occasions such as Boxing day. Many people go home to spend Christmas with their families and it is popular to go to a football match. Throughout the country such matches attract many casual supporters and the system needs to be tested to ensure that it causes no problems.
Those of us who are familiar with technical equipment know that the equipment will be used only at weekends and not necessarily every weekend. We need to be sure that it does not respond to adverse temperatures and condensation. I am sure that if he were here my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) would agree that the Luton scheme, with which the House has been bored on more than one occasion, has sometims failed because of condensation. We need to ensure that the technical equipment functions in all weather conditions.
Perhaps the most important point to put to the Minister is that we must test the criteria by which the machinery operates. After Hillsborough, is the criterion to ensure that the maximum number of people gain entry into the ground with the least possible trouble? That is the crowd safety argument mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale in a previous debate. Are we testing the ability to exclude people? One of my principal criticisms is that we may be putting up to half a million people through machinery every weekend in an attempt to try to exclude any one of the 1,839 who have been excluded from matches since 1987.
The police are concerned to know what rights they have to arrest anybody who has gone through the equipment and whether the flashing red light is sufficient evidence to arrest or keep people outside the ground. That is an argument that we have had many times. It is not a popular argument, because keeping people outside creates tremendous pressure outside the grounds. Is it the intention that people should be let in and subsequently be
Column 68taken away quietly to some other place within the club precincts to be questioned to find out whether the machine has made an error? Some hon. Members have referred to the errors made by computer-type machinery. When I was at a football match this weekend I looked to see whether the flashing light referred to the right person. When a light flashes at a turnstile there are many people around, and we have to ensure that the card applies to the right person.
Mr. Pike : Is it not possible that all the turnstiles in that row-- they are always in blocks--will flash red at the same time? Is that not one of the difficulties that will be shown up if the Bill is forced through Parliament and a reason why it is important that the equipment should be tested in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman?
Mr. Lestor : The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. Most members of the Committee who oppose the Bill, on grounds both of practicality and of principle, feel that great store must be placed on the Minister's pledge not to implement the scheme unless he is totally satisfied that it is the correct one. There must be exhaustive testing.
Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am vice-chairman of Hartlepool United football club. The other day, I had the pleasure of welcoming the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) to the club--
This is a good amendment. If the equipment kept breaking down in winter, it would cost money to repair it. We have just spent nine hours at Hartlepool discussing our financial problems--that is on the record in the newspapers. The Minister says that we shall have to contribute towards the cost of installing the equipment. During the winter months, the equipment may continually break down and we may have to fetch in electronic engineers and computer experts, at great expense. I am sure that I speak on behalf of dozens of football clubs when I say that the cost of repairing the equipment will be a great drain on our resources.
Mr. Lester : That is a point of finance, but the point that the hon. Gentleman makes from his detailed knowledge of the game is valid. From 5 May, in the run-up to the World cup, there will not be many opportunities to test these machines. My hon. Friend the Minister should tell us how he thinks testing can take place and, on the point made by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), how it can be financed and who will finance it.
I am sure that there will be no great rush of volunteers among the clubs to be the test men.
Mr. Randall : I have a reservation about this. Rather than my making a long speech about it, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can comment on it. The amendment places great emphasis on equipment. If we are to test the scheme, should we not test the whole system, not just the hardware and the software? After all, pages 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Bill are about the licence. Should not the amendment, therefore, be just a little wider?
Column 69which must be tested exhaustively before the authorities can even proceed to issue licences. I cannot imagine any clubs rushing to volunteer to be test men and putting their supporters through the business of taking out cards, or using whatever system is recommended, to find out whether the system works. I have heard that it will cost £2.5 million to carry out testing, before we get anywhere near the major scheme. It will be interesting to know who is supposed to provide the £2.5 million to the volunteer clubs--which I suspect will be unwilling to take part--to see whether the equipment works. These questions and the amendment deserve careful consideration.
Mr. John Carlisle : Can my hon. Friend tell the House what definite information he has on the cost, if indeed there will be a cost? Might not the scheme be implemented by some companies at no cost to the clubs due to the commercial opportunities which might spin off from it, and would my hon. Friend welcome that?
Mr. Lester : I would welcome anything which imposed no financial cost on clubs, many of which are already struggling to make ends meet, but I suspect that my hon. Friend would be as amazed as I if any fairy godmothers were found waiting in the wings to come forward with free schemes. Whatever the criteria to be included in the Bill, we must be sure that the equipment and the scheme are workable. The onus must be on the Government, who are proposing this legislation, to ensure that it will work. I cannot see how all the testing can be done before the 1991 season, as the Arthur Young report stated. The onus on the Government is heavy because they proposed the legislation against the better judgment of 91 of the 92 clubs, the 430,000 regular football supporters and the totality of football players, as we have heard today. The Government must be sure that they are right and that their scheme will work, against the overwhelming evidence of all those who are closely involved in the game and who would be the first to rush to the Government if they were as afraid of the problems of hooliganism as some Conservative Members have suggested they are.
I am happy that this is the fourth year in which attendances at football matches have increased. At the weekend, I had a good look around to see how many ladies and children were in the audience at the match between Nottingham Forest and Queen's Park Rangers. I am happy to say that a high proportion of women and children were present on that happy and enjoyable family occasion. They came to a good match and enjoyed the whole game.
Mr. Menzies Campbell : I support the amendment. Many of us who are most strongly opposed to the Bill oppose it as a matter of principle. Throughout its passage, there have undoubtedly been a considerable number of occasions when the practicalities of the measure have seemed as important to those of us who oppose it as a matter of principle as the principle itself. If the scheme is to be approved, it must work in all circumstances and have the capacity to deal with the improbables and, indeed, the
Column 70very emergency which we discussed earlier. For that reason, I believe that the amendment is clothed in common sense. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept it.
Implicit in the amendment is the suggestion that one is necessarily dealing with electronic equipment. I know that at least one of the six proposals that are still before the Minister for consideration does not necessarily involve electronic equipment. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to offer any announcement this evening, but the House wants to be assured that the most careful consideration will be given to all the options so that the option that is finally chosen is regarded as the best possible means by which the scheme should be operated and is subjected to the most rigorous testing. In a sense, if the means by which the scheme is to be made to work at football grounds on Saturday afternoons are wrongly chosen or in any way defective, the apprehensions of many of us--that the difficulties outside football grounds may be compounded rather than alleviated--may turn out to be well founded.
The Government have chosen to embark upon this scheme. It is incumbent on them to satisfy themselves by the most rigorous and compelling evidence that it will stand up to all the strains and stresses to which it will necessarily be subjected.
Mr. John Greenway : I want to deal only with matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) did not mention. Even though some of us oppose the Bill, as I mentioned earlier, it is vital that if we are to have a scheme, it should be seen to work. The confidence of the supporters that the scheme will work is crucial. At some stage, we shall have to stop talking down the Bill and ensure that fans are not put off coming to football matches because of their concern that dreadful events may happen at games.
The equipment that may be used in introducing the scheme lies at the heart of that concern, not only because the fans are worried about safety, but because they are worried about whether they will be admitted to matches to which they are entitled to be admitted and whether there may be some malfunction of the equipment, which may misread their cards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe is right to include the words "winter months" in the amendment. About three seasons ago, York City football club played Arsenal and Liverpool in FA cup matches, one in the fourth round and the other in the fifth. Both matches were played on Saturdays in February and the fans had to clear about a foot of snow off the pitch and terraces so that the game could go ahead. The television cameramen were also keen to help us to ensure that the games went ahead, and both matches were played in sub-zero temperatures. It is important that the electronic equipment used is shown to be capable of working in such conditions.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said, FA cup games throw up unusual fixtures and they are usually played in the winter months. It is important that the equipment is seen to work and to be capable of dealing not only with winter fixtures, but with large crowds at some of the smaller grounds, which are used to seeing only 3,000 or 4,000 spectators on Saturdays--and sometimes, sadly, even fewer--and which suddenly have to deal with 15,000 or 20,000 spectators, if they are some of the bigger stadiums in the third and fourth divisions. The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) made a point about the cost of repairs. He tried to
Column 71suggest that if the test is carried out for too long, we could be throwing a considerable amount of money at testing and dealing with breakdowns. The finances of most third and fourth division clubs will not allow for a massive influx of money to make the equipment repairs to which the hon. Gentleman referred.